Murder of Helle Crafts

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Helle Crafts
Helle Crafts.jpg
Helle Lorck Nielsen

(1947-07-04)July 4, 1947
DiedNovember 19, 1986(1986-11-19) (aged 39)
OccupationFlight attendant
Known forMurder victim
Spouse(s)Richard Crafts

Helle Crafts (English: /ˈhɛlə ˈkræfts/ (About this soundlisten); 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; she was visiting her mother in Denmark, he did not know where she was, she was with a friend in the Canary Islands.

Because friends knew about Richard's aggression and temper, they grew concerned; 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 (quilt, duvet), and rental of a woodchipper. Among papers provided to a private investigator by Richard Crafts 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 fingernail 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] Medical examiner H. Wayne Carver obtained a frozen pig carcass that was fed through a woodchipper. The shape of, and marks on, the pig's bone chips after this process were very similar to the shape of Helle's bone fragments, strengthening the hypothesis that Richard had used a chipper to dispose of his wife's body.[3]

Investigators concluded 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][4] He will be eligible for parole in 2021.[5]

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[6].

In "The Good Doctor", an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the investigation into the missing wife of a plastic surgeon leads to a successful conviction without a corpse, 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.

The opening episode of Forensic Files was about Helle's murder.[7]

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. ^ Dave Altimari (May 23, 2013) Chief State Medical Examiner Carver Retires, Hartford Courant, accessed 14 July 2018
  4. ^ "Sentence". The New York Times. 1990-01-09. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Gado, Mark (1986-11-18). "All about the Woodchipper Murder Case". Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  7. ^ "The Disappearance of Helle Crafts" – via


  • The Woodchipper Murder by Arthur Herzog