November 18th, 1986. Newtown, Connecticut. Helle Crafts had recently decided that she had finally had enough of her relationship; the lies, the affairs, the unusual spending. The not knowing where her husband was. Sometimes he would occupy himself with a hobby, working part time for local law enforcement but other times he would spend time with one of his many girlfriends. Helle had recently hired a private investigator to help her build an ironclad case against her husband, Richard Crafts. She was fearful of how he would take the news of their marriage ending, she knew he had a temper and he could be abusive, but Helle knew she had to break free. It’s assumed some big news was shared with Richard that night.
The next morning, Richard woke the nanny and the kids bright and early and quickly drove them to his sister’s house because the power had gone out. It was 6 in the morning, and Helle was not in the car with them. When asked about her, Richard said she would meet them later. Richard dropped the family off and went back to the house. Helle never showed up. Her car would eventually be found in an airport parking lot.
A few more days go by and Helle’s friends and her private investigator began to worry about her. It was not common for Helle to just up and vanish like that without warning. One more thing, kept her friends vigilant of the situation. Helle mentioned to several individuals, “if something happens to me, don't think it was an accident.” Her friends knew he could be abusive and thought the fact Helle would stand firm this time on the divorce could lead Richard to do something drastic. However, Richard maintained he had not seen her.
However over the course of the next few weeks, Richard’s story would morph. He would tell one of her friends that Helle had gone to see her sick mother in Denmark, then tell the police he wasn’t sure where she was. He would tell another that she was visiting the Canary Islands. This was a huge red flag that prompted her private investigator to badger police constantly, to not let up the pressure on Richard. Two weeks later she would officially be considered to be a missing persons. Richard had failed to report her missing.
An investigation officially started and flags were raised immediately. One of the first people investigators interviewed was the housekeeper Dawn Marie Thomas. She recalled several strange events that occurred on the 19th and the days following. First she recounted being woken up suddenly and rushed to Richard’s sister. When Helle never arrived she pressed him on the topic and his response was a simple, “I don’t know.” Days would go by and Dawn continued to ask Richard until he finally told her she had gone back to Denmark.
In addition to the strange and changing explanations of Helle’s disappearance, Dawn also noticed, strange stains in the bedroom. Shortly after they appeared, they had been removed. Large chunks of carpet were cut out without explanation. Again when questioned Richard maintained that it was from kerosene. Helle’s Private Investigator felt the investigation was moving too slowly, so upon finding out about the removed carpet, he made his way to the landfill to find the evidence. Eventually he would locate the discarded carpet, however testing proved there was no blood on the carpet.
A few days later a local snow plower came forward with more unusual sightings of Richard Crafts. It was approximately 3 in the morning on November 20th on a road next to Lake Zoar. The truck driver saw what appeared to be a U-Haul with a wood chipper hitched to the back, parked on the side of the road. He saw a man who motioned for him to keep moving. The driver thought little of it and continued to plow the streets.
Once the driver reached the end of the road, he started to turn around. It was now closer to 5am and the truck was still parked but the man was nowhere to be seen. He did not see the wood chipper this time around but did see some fresh wood chips along the shoulder of the road. He found it odd but continued on, focussing on the task at hand.
Now that Police had a place to start looking without a warrant, a massive search was undertaken at and around Lake Zoar. The first area they located was a patch of land with fresh wood chips scattered about. The search would be intense but a necessary hurdle to find answers in regards to Helle’s sudden disappearance. Over the next few days, investigators would find shards of metal, several pieces of torn up mail addressed to Helle, dozens of human bone shards, several pieces of human tissue, two human teeth, a fingernail, over 2,000 strands of blonde hair and several traces blood. It would later be concluded that the blood had the same type as Helle, the hair was the same color as Helle’s and perhaps the most damning, one of the teeth had a crown which belonged to Helle. Also found submerged in the waters of the lake was a Stihl chainsaw where someone had put forth effort to conceal it, as the serial numbers had been filed off.
With the evidence mounting it soon became clear to investigators that Helle would not be found. She was disposed of in Lake Zoar but her body could not be located. Only remnants of her. Even without a body authorities were able to theorize what the last moments of Helle were like.
Authorities suspected that the events all started with Richard bludgeoning Helle in their bedroom. Drops of blood would be found in throughout the bedroom. It was also theorized that the rug was removed to conceal something tied to the murder of Helle. Afterwards Richard took placed his wife into the large freezer he had purchased days earlier and later got his family out of the house. He would return later that day, dismember her body with his chainsaw and place the body back into the freezer. He would rent a wood chipper and wait for night once more. Under the cover of darkness and heavy snow, Richard told friends he was disposing of limbs that fell on his property, but what he was actually doing, was disposing of his wife of over a decade.
To confirm a wood chipper was used, renowned forensics investigator, Dr. Henry Lee lead a group of investigators through a test, where using one of the best analogs for a human being, a pig. The pig carcass was put through the wood chipper and its remains were examined. It bore a striking similarity to the remains found earlier in the month, leading the team to further believe Richard attempted to get rid of Helle in a similar fashion.
Richard thought he had committed the perfect crime. If there was no body, there was no case. It was even alleged by a brother-in-law that Richard commented the following when the search initially started: "Let them dive. There's no body. It's gone." Pretty strange comment to make from a man who claims to know nothing.
On January 11th, an arrest warrant was granted based on the evidence gathered thus far. Law enforcement ordered Richard out of the house but he responded with, "I'm tired. I'll take care of it in the morning." It took some time, but Richard finally relented and he was taken into custody and held on a bail of $750,000.
Within the home, police confirmed that rug had been removed from the couples bedroom. A blood smear was also located within the bed room, just along the base of the bed. Proof of purchase of a large freezer and the Stihl chainsaw was also found within Richard Crafts’ records. Richard was a gun enthusiast and owned several weapons, all of which were seized during the search. Trace amounts of Helle’s blood were also found throughout the house by Dr. Henry Lee. The evidence was mounting and it was becoming clearer and clearer that Richard had disposed of his wife. The prosecution would move forward on attempting to convict Richard without a body.
The trial would first have to be moved from Newtown. The case had gathered momentum and was not talked about nationwide. The trial started in May of 1988 and was moved to New London, Connecticut. A number of witnesses were called to the stand. Helle’s mother spoke of how Richard claimed Helle left for Denmark, while Helle’s mother explained she had not seen her daughter in months. Medical examiners also went over the teeth and tissue found at Lake Zoar and how they had come from Helle.
There was a mountain of evidence but one juror held out. The trial ended with a hung jury and the court was forced to hold a second trial. All evidence was brought forth once more in Norwalk, Connecticut and started on September 7th, 1989. On November 21st, 1989, after both sides had finished their arguments, the jury took 8 hours to find Richard guilty of the murder of Helle Crafts. This was the first murder conviction in the states history where a body was not present.
Richard still continues to deny any involvement in the murder of his wife despite all of the evidence pointing in his direction. He was able to argue in front of the supreme court but his conviction was upheld. He remains incarcerated in state prison.