Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wood Chipper Murder Case

The Evidence Builds

Keith Mayo was not a happy man. Since the first day that he found out that his former client, Helle Crafts, was missing, he immediately thought Richard Crafts was responsible. He met with friends and attorneys and solicited their opinions on the case. After a review of the events surrounding her disappearance and Richard's reaction to it, they too agreed he acted in a suspicious manner. They could not understand why Richard would offer so many different explanations of what happened to Helle. Mayo decided that he needed evidence to convince the police, who seemed unenthusiastic about the case. When he learned that Crafts cut out pieces of his bedroom rug and discarded them at a local dump, Mayo decided to search for the pieces, which he felt could contain blood evidence.

With the help of the local trash pickup crew, Mayo was able to ascertain that Newtown's garbage was deposited in the Canterbury dump, about two hours east of Newtown. He recruited a few helpers, and for the next several days he searched through the mountains of trash at the dump. Knee deep in household garbage, the team searched through a seemingly endless stream of stinking refuse that had them gagging and cursing. But they succeeded in locating a portion of rug that was nearly identical to the rug at the Crafts residence. Mayo was sure it was the missing piece and the rug also had stains that appeared to be human blood. The article was taken to the state police laboratory in Meriden, led by one of the country's foremost forensic scientists, Dr. Henry C. Lee.

In the meantime, the press finally caught onto the story of the missing suburban housewife. On December 17th, the Danbury News Times published the first story on the case under the headline: Police Seek Missing Newtown Woman. "At this point, we consider this to be a missing person case," Newtown Police Chief Louis Marchese told reporters. But Keith Mayo told the same reporter, "I don't think she disappeared on her own accord." He also challenged the Newtown police when he said, "I'm concerned that they are going after this piecemeal." Pressure was building for tangible results on the case. The Newtown police were being criticized on several fronts and the state's attorney's office wanted jurisdiction handed over to the state police.

But the investigation received another setback when Dr. Lee reported his findings on Mayo's rug samples from the Canterbury dump. "After four hours of back-breaking work carried out on the carpet," wrote Dr. Lee, "none of the stains tested positive for blood." Mayo's dogged pursuit of evidence, however, had another unanticipated result. It focused even more attention on the case, which seemed to be floundering at the hands of the Newtown police. Helle's friends also kept up a non-stop campaign of calling the police for updates on the investigation. As a result, the state attorney's office decided that the investigation would be handled in total by the state police investigators.

Detectives from the Western District Major Crimes Unit began to look deeper into Crafts' activities immediately before Helle's disappearance. They pulled his credit card purchases and phone records for the month prior to November 19. On his Master Card credit bills, investigators found several interesting purchases. On November 13, Crafts bought a large capacity Westinghouse freezer at an appliance store in Danbury. He paid $375 for it and picked it up at the store on November 17. During the same billing period, detectives noticed that he rented some type of machinery at Darien Rentals, which generated a charge of $900.

Why did Crafts need such an outsized freezer in his house, they wondered, and what type of machinery cost so much money to rent?

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