"On a dark, rainy day in the fall of 1986, Helle Crafts learned from a private investigator that her husband was having an affair. Shortly after this meeting, Helle Crafts disappeared. This is the story of how forensic science solved the puzzle." — Peter Thomas, narrator
Danish flight attendant Helle Crafts was found murdered by her husband, pilot Richard Crafts, on November 18, 1986. The case was of significant forensic science history, leading to the first murder conviction without a victim's body in the state of Connecticut.
The marriage of Helle and her husband Richard Crafts was on the verge of collapse. Richard was said to have several extramarital affairs and a bad temper. Prior to her disappearance, Helle had warned her friends that "if something happens to me, don't think it was an accident."
On the night of November 18, 1986, Helle was dropped off at her home by one of her friends and was never seen again.
Upon learning that Helle had missed her flight assignment, her friends and colleagues contacted Richard who gave them one explanation after another. Concerned that something wrong had happened to her, they reported her disappearance to the police, but were given a deaf ear. So Keith Mayo, the private detective that Helle hired, decided to launch his own investigation.
He interviewed the Crafts' live-in nanny who disclosed that she found big dark stains on the carpet of Helle and Richard's master bedroom. He also learned that Richard had ripped up the carpet without a reason and that a large freezer in the garage had gone. Credit card receipts also revealed that the husband rented a commercial woodchipper. Everything happened right after Helle Crafts's disappearance.
Keith Mayo's discoveries were enough to convince the police to investigate. Richard Crafts was subjected to a polygraph test where he was asked if he killed his wife, knew her whereabouts or had somebody kill her. He denied any involvement and passed the test.
Without any leads or witnesses, Connecticut State Police contacted forensic expert Henry Lee.
Blood stain examination
While accompanying the police serving a search warrant on the Crafts', Lee discovered five small blood stains so minute that they were barely visible and a blood smear on one side of the mattress. Using various tests – including an orthotolidine test, a species test, an antigen test, and a microscopic test – he concluded that the blood belonged to a person with type O-positive blood, the same as Helle Crafts's blood. Microscopic examination also revealed the blood was circulation blood, ruling out the explanation that its may have come from menstruation.
Lee went on to study the angle and intensity of the blood's impact. Medium-velocity blood spatters gave the picture of a person being hit with a blunt object, falling down by one side of the bed and grazing his or her head on one side of the mattress which resulted in the six-inch blood smear.
The bathroom towels were also subjected to an orthotolidine test, which showed that they had been soaked in blood – evidence pointing to a great effort by the perpetrator to cleanup the scene.
Finding the body or the remains
Without a body and a witness, the police looked for unusual events that may be linked to Helle Crafts missing. The investigation produced an important lead: a snowplow driver reported seeing a wood chipper by the river in the early hours of November 19. He led the police to the spot.
The police searched the river bank and initial attempts uncovered a mail addressed to Helle Crafts and a lot of blond hair. They also found blue fibers, bone fragments, a piece of metal and a painted fingernail. Divers were sent to search the bottom of the river and recovered a chain saw whose serial number had been scratched off. On the chain saw, they found human tissues, bluish-green cotton and some human hair.
Blue fibers found on the river bank and the bluish-green cotton recovered from the chain saw were matched to Helle's favorite sleeping gown. The cut pattern on the bone fragments was found to be similar to those found on bone fragments of a frozen pig fed to an identical wood chipper. The paint on the broken fingernail was matched to the bottle of nail polish found on Helle's nightstand. The hair was matched to those retrieved from Helle's comb. The most incriminating piece of evidence was the serial number on the chain saw – unmasked by applying a chemical solution to reveal the digits below the scratched surface – which helped identify Richard Crafts as the one who rented it.
Further examination of the bone fragments allowed investigators to conclude that the human being who those bones belonged to had died since some of them came from the skull. The bones were revealed to come from a human with type O-positive blood, Helle's blood type. Sifting through the river bank, odontologist Gus Karazulas found a tooth that matched Helle's dental record. This final piece of evidence gave the name of the individual and was enough to convict Richard Crafts.
Richard Crafts was found guilty of his wife's murder in January 1990 and sentenced to 50 years in prison. He maintains his innocence to this day. According to the Connecticut Department of Corrections, Crafts was released in January 2020, after earning years off of his sentence for "good behavior".