Connecticut man arrested for wood-chipper murder

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/green-beret-indicted-for-murder

Richard Crafts, a Connecticut man accused and later found guilty of murdering his wife and disposing of her body in a wood-chipper, is arrested on January 13, 1987.  Helle Crafts, a Pan Am flight attendant, had vanished on November 18, 1986. Although her body was never found, authorities did find enough evidence to convict her husband of murder. 

Following her disappearance, friends immediately suspected Richard Crafts because his answers about his wife’s whereabouts had been so evasive. When police got involved, Crafts’ version of the events began to crumble. Although he claimed he had not left the house on November 19, credit card records showed he had purchased new bedding. Further inquiry showed that he had bought a chest freezer and rented a wood-chipper in the days right before Helle’s disappearance.

A witness then came forward, saying that he had seen a wood chipper near the Housatonic River. A search of the Craft house revealed a blood smear on the mattress that turned out to be consistent with Helle’s blood type. Detectives also found an envelope addressed to Helle near the river. Divers found a chain saw and serrated cutting bar, which had human hair and tissue embedded in the teeth. This led to a search for further evidence, which began on December 30, 1986.

Thawing the snow and sifting the soil, detectives found 2,660 hairs, one fingernail, one toe nail, two teeth, one tooth cap and five droplets of blood. From this microscopic evidence, doctors were able to prove that Richard Crafts had disposed of his wife’s body with a wood chipper near the river. The most important evidence was that the tooth cap matched Helle’s dental records.

Crafts’ first trial in 1988 ended with a deadlocked jury, but the following year he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Until recent advances in forensic science, a murder conviction without a dead body was nearly impossible. But as this case proved, it is more difficult than ever to get away with murder. Crafts was released from prison in 2019.