Thursday, January 22, 2009

True Crime: The Woodchipper Murder

(Arthur Herzog, Zebra,1990; reprinted 2001)
The probable inspiration of the Coen Brother’s excellent flick Fargo, though they have never given it credit (the film itself includes a line stating it is based on a true story, but the two brothers have themselves gone on record that the statement is a joke).
Herzog’s book is a factual, heavily researched and overly detailed account of airline pilot and lady’s man Richard Crafts’ almost perfect murder of his Danish stewardess wife Helle Crafts, who, though still living with her husband at the time of her death on November 18, 1986, was pursuing a divorce.
In all likelihood, were it not for the fact that Keith Mayo, the private detective she had hired to find and photograph her husband in the company of one of his adulterous relationships, "found her sexy," the idea of Helle having been murdered would probably never even been pursued by the placid, disinterested local police. It was Mayo’s insistence, financially supported by a variety of Helle’s friends, that eventually led to the case to be treated as a murder rather than simply as a women’s leaving home, husband and children for places unknown, as Richard Crafts presented her disappearance.
While not saying it directly, Herzog’s description of the events leads the reader to believe that had the state police not taken over the case, Richard Crafts could well be a free man today. The all around slowness, churlish rivalry and inability to work with others that the local police displayed while half-heartedly pursuing the case verges on being incompetent or childish, if not criminal. Despite all the forensic and circumstantial evidence collected and presented in the court, the case went to trial twice—the first one ending in a mistrial, due to the stonewalling of one lone juror—before Crafts was convicted and sentenced to fifty years.
And how did he do it? He killed her, froze her, cut her body into pieces with a chainsaw and then fed the remains through a woodchipper, effectively destroying her completely, but for a finger, a few bone chips, some hair and pieces of teeth.

Images (all found on the web – top to bottom):
1. The good book itself.
2. The good man himself:
Richard Crafts
3. The victim:
Helle Crafts
3. The search and some of the evidence found.

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