The Wood Chipper Murder of Helle Crafts
The murder of Helle Crafts would go on to inspire the wood chipper scene in the infamous movie Fargo
From the outside, it seemed as though Helle and Richard Crafts had a normal life. Helle worked as a Danish air stewardess for Pan American, while Richard was a pilot for Eastern Airlines. They met through their work before eventually getting married in 1979 and having three kids in the town of Newtown, Connecticut.
But from the beginning, their relationship was difficult. Richard cheated on Helle before they got married, even stating that he only married Helle because she was pregnant and too far along to get an abortion. From there, things only got worse for the couple.
In 1986, Helle discovered that her husband was once again having an affair. She found phone calls to an unknown number, so she hired a private detective to watch Richard. Her fears were confirmed when the detective handed over photographs, proving without a doubt that her husband was cheating on her. When she saw the proof, she began to cry.
Shortly after discovering the infidelity, Helle filed for divorce. She openly feared for her life, even telling her lawyers that if anything happened to her, it wasn’t an accident. She also admitted that her husband had guns in the house and had physically abused her in the past.
But despite this, Helle decided to go for a no-fault divorce rather than charging her husband with adultery. She was filled with concern over what would happen to the children, along with what the surrounding community would think of her.
But the divorce papers would never be served.
On November 18th, 1986, Helle landed in New York after returning from a flight from Frankfurt, Germany. She carpooled with two other stewardesses, and once they arrived at the house, Helle sighed and said, “Richard’s home.”
She got out of the car and entered the home. After that, no one ever saw her alive again.
After her disappearance, Richard continuously gave varying reports of where his wife was. At first, he told people that she was at work, currently on another flight. But her co-workers were immediately suspicious, as there were regulations that restricted Helle from working again so soon without a rest period.
Richard went on to change his story again, stating that she was in Denmark visiting her sick mother. But Helle’s mother denied these claims, saying that they hadn’t planned an arrangement and she wasn’t even sick.
Again, Richard changed his story. This time, he told friends and family that she was in either Florida or the Canary Islands visiting a friend.
Only days after Helle’s disappearance, Richard’s suspicious activity began. He started to redecorate their shared bedroom and bought a new freezer, which is seen as an unusual activity for someone whose wife had disappeared. He hadn’t even reported his wife missing to the police.
Eventually, one of Helle’s co-workers became increasingly worried about her friend. On the 1st of December, two weeks after Helle disappeared, she reported her missing.
It was soon discovered that Richard was having numerous affairs behind Helle’s back, not the single one that everyone had assumed. These relationships didn’t stop after Helle disappeared, but Richard never once mentioned the case to any of the women he met up with, including the ones that knew he was married.
From the beginning of the investigation, detectives focused on Richard. They immediately knew something sinister had happened to Helle, so they were determined to get to the bottom of it.
The next month, investigators discovered that shortly before Helle disappeared, Richard had rented a 2700-pound wood chipper and a U-Haul truck. He had told the rental service that the equipment was going to be used to cut down some trees on his property.
A highway worker named Joseph Heinz soon came forward to tell police that a day or two after Helle had disappeared, he had seen Richard parked on the side of the road with a wood chipper at around 3 AM. Heinz remembered this clearly, as it was the day he was called in to plow roads for the first snow of the season.
The police quickly hurried to the scene to investigate. While there, they discovered scattered wood chips under layers of dead leaves. But after searching further, they found a human thumb, a fingertip with a nail, blonde hair, a big toe, bone fragments, lacy material from underwear, a crowned tooth with a piece of jawbone attached, and a mailing label with Helle Crafts name on it. An anthropology expert was brought in and he soon determined that the bone fragments were human. A forensic odontologist was also able to connect the tooth with Helle.
Upon further inspection, a submerged chainsaw was found in the Housatonic River, with blonde hair still attached to the chain. A bloodstained carpet was found within the Crafts home and clumps of tissue-like material were found in the rented U-Haul. The tissue was tested and was positive for human blood.
Helle Crafts was soon pronounced dead and Richard Crafts was arrested after arriving home from a ski trip.
As the trial against Richard began, prosecutors discovered that they would have to face a series of challenges. They had to convince the jury that Helle was dead, along with convincing them that Richard was the killer. This was proven to be difficult, as there was no full physical body discovered. As for the motive, they argued that Richard refused to get a divorce, so he killed Helle before dismembering her with a chainsaw and forcing her body through a wood chipper.
Their housekeeper, Dawn Marie Thomas, was brought in to testify. She stated that on the day of Helle’s disappearance, Richard told her to go home early and she had witnessed a fight between the couple only days earlier. Dawn went on to say that Richard had removed both the freezer and a carpet with a large black stain on it.
When Dawn asked about the unusual stain, Richard claimed to have spilled kerosene on it. But what Richard failed to realize was the kerosene doesn’t leave a stain. Dawn also stated that at the time Richard disposed of the freezer, it was working perfectly fine. Prosecutors argued that Helle’s body was kept in the freezer before she was disposed of, but this couldn’t be proven as the freezer was never DNA tested.
Helle’s mother took the stand next. The last time she had seen her daughter was in Denmark on her 80th birthday, where she stayed for three days. A letter written by Helle was presented to the jury, where she wrote to her mother saying, “I told Richard I want a divorce.” The letter went on to suggest that Richard was unhappy with the idea.
Helle’s friend Susan Lausten testified that she had “expressed fear for her safety, from conversations and dealings she had with Richard and was concerned that he may harm her.” Susan spoke about how Richard had physically abused Helle, along with lying about having colon cancer to make her stop the divorce. But Helle had called the doctor, discovering that it was all a lie.
After 17 days of deliberation, the judge declared a mistrial, as one of the twelve jurors had refused to continue deliberations. A second trial was soon scheduled for the next year, and this time, the prosecution successfully argued that Helle was murdered by her husband. The jury found Richard guilty of Helle’s murder and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
The murder of Helle Crafts was the first case in the state of Connecticut where somebody was convicted of murder with no body found. The case went on to captivate the public, even becoming an influence on the infamous movie Fargo.
Sources for this episode include:
Richard Crafts | Photos | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers
Richard Crafts in custody. Helle and Richard Crafts A wood chipper similar to the one hired by Richard Crafts. He put…