January 13, 1987
Connecticut
Richard Crafts (49) is arrested for the murder of his wife

Helle Crafts (39) was last seen on November 18, 1986. The following morning, Helle’s husband Richard Crafts woke their live-in nanny to inform her the power was out, and he was taking her and his three children to his sister’s house to keep warm. The nanny asked where Helle was, to which Richard responded she had already left to go to his sister’s. According to the nanny, the Crafts’ youngest child left her gloves inside and wanted to go back into the house to retrieve them, though Richard refused to allow her. When the family arrived at Richard’s sister’s home, Helle had not arrived. Richard suggested she had gone to a friend’s house instead.

Helle Crafts

On November 21, Richard told the nanny Helle had called to report she “was in Denmark because her mother took very ill. She had to go out immediately.” That same day, the nanny noticed a black spot, approximately the size of a soccer ball, on the carpet in the master bedroom. She offered to clean it, but Richard refused and explained “he just spilled kerosene there.” The following day, the carpet was removed almost in its entirety, leaving only a small strip along the walls. On November 24, Richard came to the nanny with another story regarding Helle’s whereabouts, claiming she had “gone to the islands with one of her friends.”

Richard became the immediate suspect in his wife’s disappearance, owing largely to his evasive answers when questioned by authorities. Investigators also found Richard had rented a wood-chipper in the days leading to Helle’s disappearance, and purchased a chest freezer and new bedding the day after his wife went missing. The Crafts’ house was searched and a blood smear — consistent with Helle’s blood type — was discovered on their mattress.

Richard Craft as he is led to Superior Court for bond hearing, Jan. 20, 1987
via Boston.com

A witness came forward to state they had seen a wood-chipper near the Housatonic River, and the area was searched. Detectives found an envelope addressed to Helle near the river, and divers recovered a chainsaw and serrated cutting bar, with human hairs embedded in the teeth, from the river. The snow in the area was thawed and the soil sifted, revealing 2,660 hairs, teeth, a tooth cap which matched Helle’s dental records, and a human bone fragment, among other pieces of human remains. It was speculated Richard had dismembered Helle’s body with a chainsaw, used the recently-purchased chest freezer to freeze her remains, then used the wood-chipper to destroy her body.

Various pieces of evidence recovered
via Morbidology

During trial, the Crafts’ nanny testified Helle had confided in her in September of 1986 that the couple was going to divorce. One of Helle’s co-workers testified, “She was very angry. She had found receipts from charge cards that [showed] Richard had been buying Christmas gifts with a girlfriend in New Jersey.” This co-worker also testified that in September or October of 1986, Helle had noted Richard believed “marriage was for life.” Similarly, one of Helle’s friends testified Helle had mentioned in September that she had caught Richard in an affair and decided to divorce him. The friend’s husband testified Helle had told him, “if something happens, I should not believe it was an accident,” and noted that while she was concerned for her own safety, Helle feared she would lose custody of her children if she moved from the house and believed Richard would track her down.

Richard Crafts at trial
via Hartford Courant

Richard’s first trial in 1988 ended with a hung jury, while his second in 1989 resulted in a murder conviction. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison, and maintained his innocence throughout both trials. Richard was released from prison in 2019 at the age of 82, due to a “statutory good time” law which awarded reduction of prison time for good behavior and prison work.

The movie Fargo, a reality-based crime drama which involves the disposal of a corpse with a wood-chipper, was loosely inspired by the Crafts case.

Sources:
“Connecticut man who put wife in wood chipper released from prison 20 years early.” Boston.com. February 1, 2020. Accessed: January 13, 2021. https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2020/02/01/richard-crafts-released-early-1986-connecticut-woodchipper-murder
Gifford, Storm. “Woodchipper murderer Richard Crafts out of prison.” Daily News. January 31, 2020. Accessed: January 13, 2021. https://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/ny-richard-crofts-out-of-prison-20200201-luuvtnnrq5buxhudq73gf5nxwy-story.html
Dempsey, Christine. “Richard Crafts, notorious wood chipper murderer, released from prison.” Hartford Courant. January 31, 2020. Accessed: January 13, 2021. https://www.courant.com/breaking-news/hc-br-woodchipper-murderer-richard-crafts-out-of-prison-20200131-y3v7bj4blrc4zlucdf2tx4zz2m-story.html
Gorosko, Andrew. “Richard Crafts Moved To Homeless Shelter For Veterans.” The Newtown Bee. January 30, 2020. Accessed: January 13, 2021. https://www.newtownbee.com/01302020/richard-crafts-moved-to-homeless-shelter-for-veterans/
“Connecticut man arrested for wood-chipper murder.” History. Accessed: January 12, 2021. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/green-beret-indicted-for-murder
Johnson, Joanne. “Richard Crafts found guilty of murdering his wife.” The Hartford Courant. November 22, 1989
Finholm, Valerie. “Crafts wouldn’t let daughter back in house, ex-nanny testifies.” The Hartford Courant. April 13, 1988
Finholm, Valerie. “Crafts unconcerned at wife’s disappearance, her friends say.” The Hartford Courant. April 12, 1988

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