November 18th, 1986
Helle Crafts was a Danish flight attendant who was murdered by her husband, Eastern airline pilot Richard Crafts in the infamous “Wood Chipper Murder Case”, the first case in which a defendant was convicted of murder with no body in the state of Connecticut. Helle and Richard Crafts had married in 1979 and settled in Newtown, Connecticut at 5 Newfield Ln, a spacious house in a wooded and private suburb. Helle continued working as a flight attendant while raising their three children. By 1985, she had learned that Richard had engaged in several affairs. In September 1986, Helle met with a divorce attorney and hired a private investigator, Oliver Mayo, who snapped photos of Richard kissing another flight attendant outside her New Jersey home. On November 18, 1986, friends dropped Helle off at the couple's Newtown residence after she had worked a long flight from Frankfurt, West Germany. She was never seen again. That night, a snowstorm hit the area. The next morning, Richard said he was taking Helle and their children to his sister's house in Westport. When he arrived, Helle was not with him. Over the next few weeks, Richard gave Helle's friends a variety of stories as to why they were unable to reach her: that she was visiting her mother in Denmark, that she was visiting the Canary Islands with a friend, or that he simply did not know her whereabouts. Helle's friends were aware that Richard had a volatile temper and grew concerned; Helle had told some of them, "If something happens to me, don't think it was an accident." She was not reported missing until 1 December. On December 26, while Richard was vacationing with his children in Florida, troopers searched his home. Inside, they 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. Richard'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, and a comforter, as well as the rental of a woodchipper. Among papers provided to a private investigator by Richard was a receipt for a chainsaw, which was later found in Lake Zoar covered in hair and blood which matched Helle's DNA. 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 last seen, Hine was plowing the roads during the snowstorm when he noticed a rental truck, with a woodchipper attached, parked close to the shore of Lake Zoar. It was only after the search of the Crafts' 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 that of Helle Crafts. This led the police to conclude the remains had likely been fed through the woodchipper Richard had been seen towing. Investigators concluded that Richard murdered Helle at the residence by striking her 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 woodchipper, probably projecting her fragmented remains into the truck and then shoveling them out onto the shore. Richard Crafts' first murder trial ended with a hung jury when a single juror voted in favor of acquittal before walking out of deliberations and refusing to return. A second trial in Norwalk ended in a guilty verdict on 21 November 1989. Richard was sentenced to serve 50 years in prison. Richard, as of January 2020, has been released from prison and is at a halfway house in New Haven.