The Disappearance of Helle Crafts • The Woodchipper Murder
"If something happens to me, don't think it was an accident."
From the outside, it may have looked like Helle and Richards Crafts had the perfect family. A beautiful home in Newton, Connecticut, three young children and living as one of the 5% of wage earners in the US! However, everything was not as it seemed.
Helle was born on July 4th, 1947 in a small village in Denmark. Helle was described as a beautiful and outgoing woman who made friends easily and continued to throughout adulthood. This, as well as her ability to learn languages, were the perfect traits for her new found career as a flight attendant with Capital Airways in France.
It wasn't long before Helle heard of a great opportunity. Pan Am was hiring flight attendants and they would be training in Miami, Florida! Helle was chosen as one of 8 lucky applicants out of 200 to get the job, but she would never know this would be the beginning of the end.
Helle, as well as many other Pan Am employees, lived in a motel near the airport. One day in 1969 at the age of 22 while waiting for a flight at the motel, she met commercial pilot, Richard Crafts.
Richard Crafts was a ladies man, and he had a type - flight attendants. Although he wasn't the best looking, he always had a woman on his arm and an interesting story on his lips. He had been raised in a wealthy family with an extremely successful father with extremely high standards for his son. Richard never seemed to live up to these standards though. He attended private schools, but he did not excel. He tried university for a while, but soon dropped out. Finally, he seemed to find his place in the military.
His military career is hard to verify, he flew helicopters, fixed wing aircrafts and became a certified pilot. It is said that he worked with a branch of the CIA on missions in Asia, although Richard was known to tell extravagant stories.
After Helle and Richard were married, they moved to Newton, Connecticut and had three children. With Richard still working as a commercial pilot, they were in the top 5% of the wage earners of the US at the time and were considered an affluent family - but this is where the daydream seems to end.
Richard was in complete control of the families finances, Helle was not allowed to touch any of it. In fact, Helle was still expected to pay all the household expenses on her flight attendant salary alone. So where did all of Richards money go you ask? His hobbies. Richard spent hundreds of dollars on guns, landscaping equipment and large machinery that he never used. But his hobbies didn't stop there.
Although he was making quite a large sum of money, Richard applied to be a police officer. He would go to expensive trainings, bought the same model car as a police car and even decked it out with expensive bells and whistles.
However, finances weren't the only thing that caused tension in the marriage. Helle mentioned to friends that after she would give birth to her children, Richard would leave without telling her where he was going or when he would be back. She told friends that she would never forgive him for what he put her through.
Soon, Helle would learn even more about her husbands secret life. She discovered that he had been having an affair, not only recently but throughout the entirety of their marriage, and Helle knew that she had had enough.
In 1986, at the age of 39 Helle hired a divorce attorney and private investigator. With proof of the affair, Helle confronted Richard and demanded a divorce.
On the night of November 19th, 1986 Helle was dropped off at her home by a friend, this was the last time anyone saw her.
In the following weeks, many of Helle's friends attempted to get in touch with her, however they were all unable to reach her. Richard would always answer the phone. He provided them with an array of different excuses - Helle had gone to Denmark to visit her family, she had decided to leave him, she had traveled to the Canary Islands with a friend, but they weren't buying his stories.
Helle had discussed divorce with her friends but she had also conveyed her fear of her husband. She had spoken of him being aggressive and how he had a fiery temper and of course her famous line "if something happens to me, don't think it was an accident."
It wasn't only Helle's friends that were worried about her though. On December 1st, 1986 - 11 days after the last time anyone saw her - Keith Mayo, Helle's hired private investigator called the local police department. He told them that his client had gone missing and he suspected her husband killed her.
Because they knew Richard Crafts and he was a police officer, the investigators were not overly worried about Helle's disappearance. It was until they started interviewing a few of her friends that things started to get suspicious.
It was soon discovered by the police that Richard had given multiple different explanations on where his wife was and her friends were desperate for more information. Richard had told one of her friends, Leena Johnson that Helle had traveled to Denmark to be with her sick mother, but she didn't take him at face value. She dug up Helle's mothers number and called her, only to find that she was not ill and did not expect to see Helle for months.
Police then interviewed the Crafts' live in nanny, Dawn Marie Thomas. She explained that the morning of November 19th was not like every other morning. She said that Richard had woken her up abruptly at 6am and said they would be meeting Helle at her sisters house in Westport. At the time, Dawn had thought this was strange, Newtown had had a storm the night before and it wouldn't be very safe to drive. Richard drove them to Westport, dropped them off and left almost immediately. Helle was not at the house, nor did she ever arrive. Richard didn't return until almost 7pm that night.
When they returned back to the family home, Dawn noticed a large stain on the bedroom carpet but it had later been cut out. When she asked Richard about it he told her that he had spilled kerosene on the rug.
After talking to Dawn, the police began to get suspicious and requested that Richard come in for a lie detector test, Richard agreed. * you never have to take a lie detector test, listen to the rules of Crime Junkie! On December 4th, Richard passed the test, but police were still suspicious. Helle's friends were demanding answers and their stories were just not matching up with Richards, so they decided to call him back in. Yet again, this conversation yielded more questions than answers, they still didn't have any solid evidence - but a lingering suspicion.
During his conversation with the police, they had asked Richard about the missing pieces of carpet in his house. Richard explained that he had spilled something on the carpet and he was having all the carpets in the house replaced. He said that he had disposed of the pieces at the dump. Upon hearing this, Helle's private investigator, Keith, was determined to find these pieces, and he did. However, after further analysis - the stains were not human blood as he had anticipated. His tireless effort did not go unrewarded though, with his discovery of the piece of carpet, the media had latched on to the case and they were putting increasingly more pressure on the police to solve it.
Detectives started looking deeper into Richard's movements on the days before Helle's disappearance. They found that Richard had made two interesting purchases - a Westinghouse freezer and some type of machinery rental for $900.
On December 25th, investigators were able to obtain a search warrant for the Crafts' property and with Richard and the children in Florida, they felt this was the perfect time to do it. When they arrived at the house they were shocked at what they found. The house was a complete mess. Furniture, dishes and toys were stacked high and all the carpet had been removed or cut out.
They found a freezer, however it was not the new freezer that had been purchased a month before, it was the Crafts' old freezer which was a bit confusing. They found Richards arsenal of guns, which surprised them and they tested for blood with the Forensic File favorite, Luminol and they did find traces of blood which they later found matched Helle's blood type.
Now this is something that absolutely horrifies me and breaks my heart, so get ready. A few days after the initial search, Keith came forward with some information. He provided a receipt that was given to him by Helle Crafts. The receipt was for a chainsaw. Soon after this, the investigators found that the $900 receipt was for a very large wood-chipper and a horrible idea came into the investigators mind.
On December 30th, a Southbury employee came forward and stated that he had seen a wood-chipper and a U-Haul on the banks of the Housatonic River. The investigators began their search in this exact spot. As they searched, the found a sliced piece of mail, it was addressed to Miss Helle L. Crafts. Within an hour many more pieces of mail were found, including blonde hairs, bone fragments, fabric, cloth, plastic items, wood chips and some unidentified material.
Over a two week period, searchers worked endlessly to find Helle. They worked in the river, in the freezing cold with icy winds. By the time they had finished, they had "2,660 strands of blond hair, 69 slivers of human bone, 5 droplets of human blood, 2 teeth, a truncated piece of human skull, 3 ounces of human tissue, a portion of a human finger, 1 fingernail, and 1 portion of a toe nail." The chainsaw was also discovered at the bottom of the river.
On January 11th an arrest warrant was issued fir Richard Crafts. Police surrounded his house and called Richard on the phone. His response to their order to come outside was "I'm tired. I'll take care of it in the morning." After a lengthy series of back and fourth calls, Richard finally surrendered and was brought to jail.
In may 1988, the trial began - the forensic evidence was important to the trial, the forensic odontology being one of the most damaging pieces of the puzzle, however the jury became deadlocked on July 15th, 1988. A second trial ensued and on November 21st, 1989, exactly three years since Helle was last seen alive, he was found guilty and sentenced to 50 years in a state prison.
Although we will never know what really happened that night, police have a theory. They believed that Helle had been attacked in their bedroom, bludgeoned at the foot of the bed, on the morning of November 19th. Richard then brought her body down to the basement where his newly purchased freezer was plugged in, and placed her body inside. He then woke the nanny and children, drove them to Westport and returned to dispose of the body.
At this point the body was most likely frozen solid, so he brought her to one of his properties and dismembered her body with the chainsaw before placing her remains back in the freezer. The following day, Police believe, he brought the pieces wrapped in garbage bags to the bank of Lake Zoar where he placed them in the wood-chipper to be hidden forever in the cold water.
Here are some interesting facts about this case:
- This was the first murder conviction in Connecticut without the victims body.
- This case inspired the 1989 film titled "Woodchipper Massacre"
- It is also said to have inspired the 1996 Academy Award winning film, Fargo
- And it was the first ever episode of Forensic Files!
This was an extremely fascinating episode, filled with horrifying details that are unique to this case alone! I hope that you heard some facts that you didn't know before and that you enjoyed the first episode of Forensic Myles - please stay up to date with new episodes with my Instagram @forensicmyles and my website forensicmyles.wixsite.com/forensicmylespodcast
4. Finholm, Valerie. "Crafts Unconcerned About Wife's Disappearance, Her Friend Says." The Hartford Courant, 12 Apr. 1988, p. 311.
5. Touhy, Lynne. "Helle Crafts Feared For Her Life, Friend Says." The Hartford Courant, 14 Sept. 1989, p. C17.
6. Sederis, Virginia D., and Jon Lender. "Pilot Held in Wife's Death Called Introvert." The Hartford Courant, 17 Jan. 1987, p. C!+.
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