Murder of Helle Crafts

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Helle Crafts
Helle Crafts.jpg
Born Helle Lorck Nielsen
(1947-07-04)July 4, 1947
Charlottenlund, Denmark
Died November 19, 1986(1986-11-19) (aged 39)
Newtown, Connecticut, U.S.
Nationality Danish
Occupation Flight attendant
Known for Murder victim
Spouse(s) Richard Crafts
Children 3

Helle Crafts (English: /ˈhɛlə ˈkræfts/ (About this sound listen); 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 and began divorce proceedings. On the night of November 19, 1986 a friend dropped Helle off at the couple's home. This was the last time anyone but her husband saw her.

Over the next few weeks, Helle's husband gave her friends a variety of stories as to why they were unable to reach her – that she was visiting her mother in Denmark, that he did not know where she was, that she was with a friend in the Canary Islands. Friends grew concerned because they knew about Richard's aggression and temper; Helle had told some of them, "If something happens to me, don't think it was an accident."[2]


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. 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, a comforter, and rental of a woodchipper. Among papers provided to a private investigator by Helle 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]

A snowplow driver had seen Richard using a woodchipper near the shore of Lake Zoar, during a severe snowstorm late on the night Helle was last seen. In or near the lake police found many pieces of metal and some 3 ounces (85 g) of human tissue, including a tooth with unique dental work, a toenail covered in pink nail polish, bone chips, 2,660 bleached-blonde human hairs, fingernails and O type blood (the same type as Helle's). This led the police to conclude the remains had gone through a woodchipper. The forensic investigation was led by Henry Lee.[1]

It is believed that Richard struck Helle in the head with something blunt (at least twice, leaving the blood stains found) then kept her body in the freezer for some time. He later took the body to the river, where he cut it apart with the chainsaw, putting the pieces through the woodchipper.

A prosecution requires an official determination of death, which is typically done by identification of a body – which was not available in this case. After the tooth found was matched to Helle's dental records, the Connecticut State Medical Examiner's Office issued a death certificate; Richard was arrested in January 1987. His trial (moved to New London, Connecticut due to extensive publicity) began in May 1988, but ended in July with a hung jury. A second trial (in Norwalk, Connecticut) ended in a guilty verdict on November 21, 1989. Richard was sentenced to serve 50 years in prison.[2][3] He will be eligible for parole in 2021.[4]

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,[5] although other accounts exist regarding its basis.[6][7][8][9]

In The Good Doctor episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (season 1), the investigation into the missing wife of a plastic surgeon leads to a successful conviction without a corpus delicti, 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.

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. ^ "Sentence". The New York Times. 1990-01-09. Retrieved 13 March 2011. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Gado, Mark (1986-11-18). "All about the Woodchipper Murder Case". Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  6. ^ Heitmueller, Karl (2005-04-12). "Rewind: What Part Of 'Based On' Don't You Understand?". Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  7. ^ O'Rourke, Mike (1997-02-11). "Reaction to 'Fargo' nomination". Brainerd Dispatch. Archived from the original on Dec 31, 2002. 
  8. ^ Smetanka, Mary Jane (2008-08-08). "We're ready for our close-up, Mr. Coen(s)". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  9. ^ Roberts, Sam (2015-09-05). "T. Eugene Thompson Dies at 88; Crime Stunned St. Paul". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-09-07. 


  • The Woodchipper Murder by Arthur Herzog