Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wood Chipper Murder Case

Merry Christmas

In the police world, working Christmas Day is something that nearly every cop tries to avoid. But in Newtown, December 25, 1986, was of special significance. For days, police put together a search warrant for the Crafts' residence at 5 Newfield Lane. In the eleven-page affidavit, Detectives Quartiero and Byrne listed dozens of supporting facts to strengthen their belief of why a search should be conducted at the Crafts' home. Prominent among these was Richard Crafts' ever-changing statements to Helle's friends concerning her disappearance and his actions on the night of November 19th. He had even told one friend that "Helle was in the Canary Islands with her best friend, Helen Dixon."

Without offering any speculation as to what happened to Helle, detectives were able to say that "based on their experience and training, that crimes of violence involve a struggle, a break, the use of weapons and other instrumentalities, and/or the element of unpredictability. That the person participating in the commission of a violent offense is in contact with physical surroundings in a forceful or otherwise detectable manner ... That traces may be left in the form of blood, physiological fluids and secretions, hair fibers, fingerprints, palm prints" and a long list of other possibilities. The central requirement of any search warrant is to show that probable cause exists to believe that evidence or contraband can be found at a specified location. But it was the final sentence of the affidavit that dispelled any doubts of what police were thinking. "That based upon the foregoing facts and information," Det. Quartiero wrote, "the affiants have probable cause to believe and do believe that evidence of Murder ... will be found within and upon" the premise of 5 Newfield Lane.

Dr. Henry C. Lee, forensics expert
Dr. Henry C. Lee, forensics

Police discovered that Richard Crafts had taken his children to Florida for the holidays. They decided it was an opportune time to execute the warrant. Dr. Henry Lee agreed to be present and oversee the collection of evidence. On the afternoon of Christmas Day, a team of State Police Investigators and crime scene technicians entered the premise of 5 Newfield Lane through a back window.

What they found was an empty home in complete disarray. Furniture was strewn about, dirty clothes lay everywhere, dishes and kitchen utensils were unwashed in the sink and on countertops. Mattresses lay on the bare floor in the living room along with boxes of toys and other items. The carpets were already pulled up and discarded. A freezer was located and searched. There was no body inside. What detectives did not realize at the time, however, was that the freezer they searched was actually Crafts' old freezer. The new one, which he purchased on November 17, had already been removed and later discarded. During the search, dozens of weapons were located and tagged, for any one of these guns could be the one that killed Helle Crafts. For the next few days, the search team went over every inch of the Crafts home and eventually seized 108 pieces of evidence according to the search warrant inventory.

Evidence included several Smith and Wesson .357 revolvers, a few .38 caliber revolvers, Colt Python .38 caliber pistols, Ruger carbine rifles, Finnish semiautomatic weapons, 12-gauge pump shotguns, Winchester rifles, Beretta handguns with clips, .380 automatic handgun, two hand grenades, Beretta Crossbow, Walther PPK handgun, two 9mm semiautomatic handguns, Heckler-Koch .45 caliber pistol, "over and under" style Universal shotgun, numerous clips and an assortment of ammunition. The quality and extent of the arsenal inside the house astounded the search team. Also seized were hand towels, washcloths, fiber samples and a king size mattress with bedding.

Dr. Lee performed a luminol test in various locations throughout the house, which tested positive for the presence of blood. "Of course, we were looking for any evidence of someone attempting to dispose of a corpse," he later wrote in Cracking Cases. Some of the seized towels also later tested positive for blood at the State laboratory. Further, the blood was type O-positive, the same as Helle's. But despite the mountain of weapons and evidence seized, cops still had no viable answer to the most important question of all.

Where was Helle Crafts?
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