Trial Opens In Murder Trial; Wood Chipper Allegedly Used In Cover-Up
NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) _ Prosecutors subpoenaed 90 witnesses and planned to present a chain of circumstantial evidence as testimony began Monday in the trial of an airline pilot charged with killing his wife and running her body through a rented wood chipper.
Prosecutors say they can connect Richard B. Crafts, 50, of Newtown, with the murder of his 39-year-old wife, Helle, a flight attendant.
Crafts, an Eastern Airlines pilot, is accused of killing his Danish-born wife in November 1986, shortly after she told him she planned to get a divorce. She was last seen on Nov. 18, 1986, when friends drove her home following a flight from West Germany.
The prosecution, which doesn’t plan to say how Crafts killed his wife, said it will present medical evidence that includes body fragments found near a lake close to the couple’s home.
The defense contends that the state doesn’t have enough proof that the mother of three young children is even dead. The prosecution says Crafts ran her body parts through the wood chipper to cover up the crime.
The case was moved from Danbury, the western Connecticut jurisdiction where the crime allegedly occurred, to this coastal city because a judge decided that pretrial publicity would prevented him from seating an impartial jury.
Crafts, also a former part-time police officer in Newtown and Southbury, has been held in lieu of $750,000 bail since his arrest nearly 15 months ago.
Before testimony began Monday, Judge Barry Schaller ruled that the prosecution cannot use as evidence wood chips and a clump of tissue-like material with human blood seized from Crafts’ car.
However, Schaller said he will permit evidence taken from the Crafts’ home, including 51 firearms, carpet samples and a pair of men’s shoes.
State’s Attorney Walter Flanagan, who had characterized evidence taken from the car and home as crucial, said after the judge’s ruling, ″It was obviously a significant piece of evidence.″ Defense attorney J. Daniel Sagarin had argued that investigators improperly seized the evidence.
A private investigator hired by Mrs. Crafts, a stewardess for Pan American World Airways, to obtain evidence about her husband’s alleged infidelity filed a missing person’s report on Dec. 1, 1986.
An attorney who was handling Mrs. Crafts’ divorce case testified during pretrial hearings that she told him he should be suspicious if anything happened to her.
In court Monday, Mrs. Crafts’ mother, Elisabeth Neilsen of Denmark, testifying through an interpreter, turned over a series of letters she had received from her daughter in 1986.
In the letters, read outside the presence of the jury, Mrs. Crafts said she had told her husband she wanted a divorce and that he was ″seemingly not happy about the idea.″ She also said she no longer trusted him.
Schaller said the parts of the letters in which Mrs. Crafts described her husband’s reactions wouldn’t be allowed as evidence.
The state medical examiner’s office issued a death certificate on Feb. 6, 1987, listing the cause of Mrs. Crafts’ death as unknown. The certificate was based on an examination of body parts, including a piece of a tooth and a piece of a finger, found by police.