Murder of Helle Crafts

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Helle Crafts
Helle Crafts.jpg
Helle Crafts
Helle Lorck Nielsen

(1947-07-05)July 5, 1947
DiedNovember 19, 1986(1986-11-19) (aged 39)
OccupationFlight attendant
Known forMurder victim
Spouse(s)Richard Crafts

Helle Crafts (English: /ˈhɛlə ˈkræfts/ (About this soundlisten); born Helle Lorck Nielsen, July 4, 1947 – November 19, 1986) was a Danish flight attendant murdered by her husband, airline pilot Richard Crafts. Her death led to the first murder conviction in Connecticut without the victim's body.[1]


Helle Nielsen and Richard Crafts married in 1979 and settled in Newtown, Connecticut. Helle continued working while raising their three children. By 1985, Helle had learned about Richard's several affairs. In September 1986, she met with a divorce attorney and hired a private investigator, who snapped photos of Crafts kissing another flight attendant outside her New Jersey home.

On November 18, 1986, friends dropped Helle off at the couple's home after she had worked a long flight from Frankfurt, she was never seen again. That night, a snowstorm hit the town, and the next morning, Richard Crafts said he was bringing Helle and their children to his sister's house in Westport; when he arrived, Helle was not with him.

Over the next few weeks, Crafts gave Helle's friends a variety of stories as to why they were unable to reach her: she was visiting her mother in Denmark, he did not know where she was, she was with a friend in the Canary Islands. Helle was not reported missing until December 1.

Because friends knew about Richard's aggression and temper, they grew concerned; Helle had told some of them, "if something happens to me, don't think it was an accident."[2]


The private investigator whom Helle Crafts had hired, Keith Mayo became convinced that Richard Crafts was involved in her disappearance. According to Mayo, he shared his concerns with local law enforcement, but the police did not seem eager to closely investigate Crafts for murder. Crafts had been a volunteer constable in Newtown and was a part-time police officer in neighboring Southbury.

Finally, on December 26, the county prosecutor referred the case to the Connecticut State Police. On December 26, while Crafts was vacationing with his children in Florida, troopers searched his home. In the Crafts' home, police found pieces of carpet taken from the master bedroom floor; the family's nanny recalled that a dark, grapefruit-sized stain had appeared in an area of the carpet, which was later missing. There was also a blood smear on the side of the bed; the forensic investigation was led by Henry Lee, who at the time was an investigator for the Connecticut State Police.[1]

Crafts's credit card records showed several unusual purchases around the time Helle vanished, including a freezer that was not found in the house, bed sheets, a comforter (quilt, duvet), and rental of a woodchipper. Among papers provided to a private investigator by Richard Crafts was a receipt for a chainsaw, which was later found in Lake Zoar in Newtown, Connecticut, covered in hair and blood matched to Helle by DNA.[1]

The key piece of evidence was provided by Joseph Hine, a local man who worked for the town of Southbury and drove a town snowplow in the winter. On the night of November 18, hours after Helle had been seen for the last time, a severe snowstorm hit the area. Hine was plowing the roads in the early hours of the 19th when he noticed a rental truck with a wood-chipper attached, parked close to the shore of Lake Zoar.

It was only after the state police had searched Crafts's house that Hine reported what he had seen, he led detectives to the location, where they examined the water's edge, and found many small pieces of metal and some 3 ounces (85 g) of human tissue, including the crown of a tooth, a fingernail covered in pink nail polish, bone chips, 2,660 bleached-blonde human hairs, and O type blood, which was the same type as Helle's. This led the police to conclude the remains had likely been fed through the wood-chipper Crafts had been seen towing.

Investigators concluded that Crafts struck Helle in the head with something blunt at least twice, staining the carpet with blood, then kept her body in the freezer for hours until she was frozen solid, he then cut her apart with the chainsaw, and then put the pieces through the wood-chipper, probably projecting her fragmented remains into the truck and then shoveling them out onto the shore.

A homicide prosecution requires an official determination of the death of the alleged victim; typically this is done by identification of a body – which was not available in this case. With the help of a forensic dentist, the tooth crown found on the water's edge was positively matched to Helle's dental records. On this evidence, the Connecticut State Medical Examiner's Office issued a death certificate on January 13, 1987; Crafts was immediately arrested.

In preparation for trial, state Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver obtained a pig carcass that was fed through a wood-chipper. The shape of, and marks on, the pig's bone chips after this process were similar to the shape of Helle's bone fragments, strengthening the hypothesis that Crafts had used a chipper to dispose of his wife's body.[3]

Crafts's trial began in May 1988 in New London, Connecticut, where it was moved due to extensive local publicity, and ended in July with a hung jury when a single juror refused to vote for guilt, walked out of the deliberations and refused to return. A second trial (in Norwalk, Connecticut) ended in a guilty verdict on November 21, 1989. Crafts was sentenced to serve 50 years in prison,[2][4] he will be eligible for parole in 2021.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

The special edition DVD of the 1996 film Fargo contains a statement that the film was inspired by the Helle Crafts case.[6]

In "The Good Doctor", an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the investigation into the missing wife of a plastic surgeon leads to a successful conviction without a corpse, under the theory that the body was dissolved in sulphuric acid in the bathtub, and the bones dumped out of the husband's single-engine aircraft.

The opening episode of Forensic Files was about Helle's murder.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Woodchipper Wife Killer. Crime Stories. 2008.
  2. ^ a b Gado, Mark. The Woodchipper Murder Case Chapter 13 – A Verdict Arrives. truTV Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods. Time Warner. Retrieved 2010-03-11.
  3. ^ Dave Altimari (May 23, 2013) Chief State Medical Examiner Carver Retires, Hartford Courant, accessed 14 July 2018
  4. ^ "Sentence". The New York Times. 1990-01-09. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  5. ^ McMurray, Kevin (November 18, 2009). "23 years ago, Richard Crafts was more willing to part with his wife than his money". Danbury News-Times. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  6. ^ Gado, Mark (1986-11-18). "All about the Woodchipper Murder Case". Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  7. ^ "The Disappearance of Helle Crafts" – via


  • The Woodchipper Murder by Arthur Herzog