Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wood Chipper Murder Case


Keith Mayo, private investigator
Keith Mayo, private investigator

On December 1, 1986, the Newtown Police Department in central Connecticut received a phone call from Keith Mayo, a local private investigator. He said that his client, Helle Crafts, had recently disappeared and he feared that she may have been murdered by her husband, Richard Crafts. Mayo was adamant and insisted that the Newtown Police investigate the crime immediately. Mayo said that, according to his information, Helle left her home on November 19 to drive to Richard's sister's house in nearby Westport. But Helle never showed up at the sister's home and hadn't been heard from since that day. Her car was later found in an employee parking lot of Pan Am airlines at Kennedy airport.

Newtown detectives knew Richard Crafts very well. He was an auxiliary police officer in their department since 1982 and was a familiar figure around the police station. He had a reputation as a somewhat rigid patrolman who took his limited responsibilities very seriously. When investigators interviewed Richard on December 2, he confirmed the story and said that on the night before Helle disappeared, "she was happy and showed no signs of being different or upset." He and his wife slept at home and when they awoke that morning, Richard said, the plan was for Helle "to go to my sister's house in Westport because we had no power due to the storm...I have not seen or heard from my wife since Wednesday November 19, 1986."

Nancy Dodd, who was having an affair with Richard Crafts
Nancy Dodd, who was having
an affair with Richard Crafts

Initially, the police did not express too much concern over Helle Crafts' disappearance since missing person's reports are not rare. The overwhelming majority of the missing usually turn up safe and sound after a period of time. A wife who leaves her husband could be having marital problems and need some time alone. As a result, the Newtown police department did not prioritize the Helle Crafts case. But in the next few days, the nature and complexion of the case began to change.

Investigators interviewed friends of the Crafts family, which included neighbors and Helle's co-workers. Virtually all of them agreed on one aspect of her disappearance: Helle was a devoted mother who never would have left her small children in the manner described. Friends also told police that Richard Crafts had a series of extramarital affairs, which were well known, and that Helle had recently discovered that Richard had one girlfriend in New Jersey who he had been seeing for years. Before Helle disappeared, she had told several people that she wanted to divorce her husband as soon as possible.

Richard Crafts
Richard Crafts (AP Wide)

Police also learned that Richard had offered several different versions of what happened to his wife. He told a neighbor that Helle had made a trip to Germany and would be returning home soon. He told others that he didn't know where she went. On November 21, just two days after her disappearance, he told Dawn Thomas, the family au pair, that Helle had to fly to Denmark because her mother was ill. She would be back November 24, he said. On November 29, another friend, Leena Johanson, obtained Helle's mother's phone number in Denmark and called her. Her mother was not in the hospital, was in good health and said she did not expect to see Helle until the following April.

Upset by this new information, Leena Johanson went to the police. She told them of a disturbing statement made by Helle to her in early November. "If anything happens to me," Helle had said, "don't assume it was an accident."

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