Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wood Chipper Murder Case


In the spring of 1969, Richard Crafts was a young, somewhat scruffy-looking airline pilot who wore his dark brown hair in an unkempt style that some women found appealing. Being rough around the edges, he did not fit the stereotypical image of a pilot. Standing just 5-foot-8 with a medium frame, he seemed rather ordinary. But there was a certain attractiveness about him, so Crafts, at 31, never seemed to be without a woman. He dated stewardesses almost exclusively and sometimes told extravagant stories about his past, which included an ill-defined role in the CIA and alleged combat in Indochina.

Crafts was born in New York City on December 20, 1937, one of three children. He had two older sisters. His father, John Crafts, was a very successful businessman in Manhattan who dreamed of living in the suburbs. He later purchased a spacious home in Darien, Connecticut, one of the most affluent communities in the state. A former World War I pilot and college football player, John must have been a formidable image to live up to for young Richard. But his father tried to do the best for his son. Although Richard attended private school, he did not excel. He later graduated from Darien High School without distinction. He tried college for a time but soon dropped out and suddenly joined the Marines in 1956.

Cracking Cases, by Henry C. Lee
Cracking Cases, by Henry C.

In the military, Richard gravitated toward aviation and became proficient at flying helicopters. He trained on fixed wing aircraft and quickly became certified as a pilot in the late 50s. In 1958, Richard was transferred to Korea and Japan. During his time there, he also flew planes for Air America, an organization that was a recognized branch of the CIA. Apparently, Crafts flew a number of clandestine missions in Southeast Asia, which included assignments in Laos and Vietnam. Though it is difficult to state with any certainty his activities during this time, Dr. Henry C. Lee writes in his book, Cracking Cases, that Crafts was wounded during a flying mission over Laos. He remained in the Far East for a number of years flying for Air America and eventually returned to the United States in 1966.

As a pilot, he had little trouble finding work for the next few years; he flew for a variety of outfits until he finally secured a pilot's job in 1968 with Eastern, then one of America's largest and busiest airlines. For the first time in his life, Crafts was making a comfortable salary. Though he had a busy schedule, Crafts still found time for the social scene. When he met Helle in 1969, he was already engaged to someone else. But Helle didn't seem to mind. She continued to see him, despite his relationships with other women. They maintained an on again off again relationship for the next few years. They frequently fought, sometimes in public, but somehow they always wound up together. Helle's friends were suspicious of Crafts and some showed open hostility toward him. Most of her friends could not understand Helle's attraction to Crafts when it was so obvious that she could have nearly any man she wanted.

In 1975, Helle became pregnant with Crafts' child and, in November of that year, they married in New Hampshire.

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