NEWTOWN, CT — On January 9, 1990, former airline pilot Richard Crafts, who was convicted of killing his wife Helle Crafts and shredding her body with a wood chipper, was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
At sentencing, Crafts stated that he had been wrongly portrayed as being a cold-blooded killer. ”A great deal has been said about my apparent lack of emotion: ‘He has ice water in his veins,’ ” Crafts, 51, said, according to The New York Times. ”I have feelings like everyone else.”
His sister Karen Rodgers, who was given custody of the couple’s three children, said that her brother had never expressed remorse for killing his wife, who was a flight attendant and mother of three.Prosecutors alleged that Crafts murdered his wife at their Newtown home on November 18 or 19 in 1986 — and then dismembered the body with a chainsaw and then ran Helle’s body parts through a wood chipper.
The couple married in 1979, but by 1985 Helle had learned about her husband’s multiple affairs and planned to divorce him. On the night of November 19, 1986, a friend dropped Helle off at the couple’s home. No one ever saw her alive again.
As time passed, Crafts gave friends and family a variety of excuses for her absence, including telling them that she was visiting family in Denmark. His stories didn’t hold up for too long, though, and people became suspicious, especially as Helle had been known to have said, “If something happens to me, don’t think it was an accident.”
After a witness told police he had seen Crafts using a wood chipper near Lake Zoar, police searched the Craft house and found a blood smear on the bedroom mattress that turned out to be consistent with Helle’s blood type.
A search of Crafts’ credit card records showed that he had bought some troubling items including new bedding, a chainsaw, and a freezer. Police also discovered that he had recently rented a woodchipper.
They did not find Helle’s body, but found forensic evidence including bleached blonde hairs, a tooth, and a toenail that were DNA matched to her on the river bank. The chainsaw was found in the lake, covered in blood and hair evidence.
Investigators theorized that Craft struck his wife with a blunt object and kept her body in the freezer before taking it to the river, where he cut it apart with the chainsaw and used the woodchipper to destroy the remains. After the tooth found was matched to Helle’s dental records, the Connecticut State Medical Examiner’s Office issued a death certificate.
Crafts was arrested in January 1987. After a trial that ended in a hung jury, he was found guilty November 1989. Crafts will be eligible for parole in 2021, when he’ll be 84 years old.
The special edition DVD of the 1996 film Fargo contains a statement that the film was inspired by the Helle Crafts case, although this fact has been debated.
To learn more about this case, watch “The Woodchipper Killer” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Blood, Lies & Alibis on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Richard Crafts of Newton, Conn., is escorted by state police officers at police barracks in Southbury, following his arrest at his home, on January 13, 1987. He is charged with murder in connection with the disappearance of his wife Helle. (AP Photo)