Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wood Chipper Murder Case

The Marriage

The following year, the newly married Crafts bought a one-level ranch home in the city of Newtown, Connecticut. Helle had her first child and over the next few years, she had two more children. Afterward, she returned to her job as a stewardess and hired an au pair, Dawn Marie Thomas, 19, to care for the children. Richard continued his job as an airline pilot and was frequently away from home. Together their income exceeded $125,000 a year, an amount that put them in the top 5% of wage earners in America in the 1980s. Richard managed all the finances in the family, which enabled him to spend a great deal of money on his favorite passion: collecting guns.

He had already built an arsenal of weapons while single but after he purchased a home Richard finally had the space to store his collection. He owned several shotguns and dozens of handguns, including 9mm automatics, .44 caliber revolvers, .357 magnums, high-powered rifles, semiautomatic weapons, crossbows, hand grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition. It was enough to arm 50 men. He spent hours each week tending to the collection, cleaning, polishing and arranging his armament. Whenever there was a gun show in Connecticut or New Jersey, Crafts was there browsing the aisles and spending more money on weapons to add to his expanding armory.

But there was already trouble in the marriage aside from Richard's fascination with guns. Helle appeared in public several times with bruises on her face. One of her friends later told the police that Helle was physically abused by her husband. This same friend also said that Helle was deeply hurt by the way Richard treated her during her first pregnancy and "she would never forgive Richard for what he put her through." After the children were born, Richard would disappear for days at a time and never say where he was. He would simply pack his bags and leave. Several days later, he would return. Helle never knew if he was away on business, at a gun show or somewhere else. Since he controlled all the money in the family, he made Helle pay for all the house expenses while he spent money on anything he pleased. He bought a variety of landscaping equipment, tractors, mowers and a $25,000 backhoe, which he never used. His front yard was a mish-mash of rusting, broken machines and considered an eyesore by his neighbors. It always seemed like the Crafts' house either needed work or repairs were being done.

In 1982, despite his responsibilities with Eastern and his house seemingly in need of constant repair, Crafts became an auxiliary police officer in Newtown. Although he was not paid for his time with the police department, he took his job very seriously. Crafts would frequently hang around the police station, even when he was off duty and sometimes responded to police calls without authorization. In 1986, he was hired as a police officer in the nearby town of Southbury. His salary was seven dollars an hour, far beneath his pay as an airline pilot. He paid his own way for expensive training seminars that gave instructions on police procedures. Crafts performed his police duties with a strange fervor and even purchased a 1985 Ford Crown Victoria, the same type of car the Connecticut State Police used. He outfitted it, at his own cost, with multiple radios, antennas, police lights and a siren.

During all this time, from the year he was married right until 1986, Richard continued to see other women. Helle was aware of his infidelity but tolerated it, perhaps for the sake of the children or maybe to keep up appearances. But their marriage was in trouble and she knew it. Helle openly spoke about divorce with several of her friends. In the summer of 1986, she retained a divorce attorney and later hired a private detective named Keith Mayo, a former Connecticut cop, to gather evidence against Richard.
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