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Richard Crafts Murder Trial Begins

April 5, 1988

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) _ Prosecutors in the murder trial of an airline pilot accused of killing his wife and disposing of parts of her body with a woodchipper tried to prove the woman is dead by noting it was out-of-character for her not to stay in touch with her mother.

Helle Crafts, a flight attendant for Pan American World Airways, was last seen Nov. 18, 1986, when friends drove her to her Newtown home after a flight from West Germany. Her body has never been found, and her husband, Richard B Crafts, 50, was charged with her murder.

Mrs. Crafts’ mother, Elisabeth Nielsen of Horsholm, Denmark, testified Monday that her daughter had written letters to her every two to three weeks and called her once every week or two.

Testifying through an interpreter, Mrs. Nielsen said her last contact with her daughter was a telephone call on Nov. 17, 1986.

Mrs. Nielsen was the first witness called by State’s Attorney Walter Flanagan in a trial expected to last six to eight weeks.

The state also produced a revealing letter the woman’s daughter had sent Mrs. Nielsen in October 1986.

In the letter, read by the interpreter after the jury was ordered out of the courtroom, Mrs. Crafts told her mother she had informed her husband that she wanted a divorce and that he was ″seemingly not happy about the idea.″

Superior Court Judge Barry Schaller ruled that the part of the letter purporting to describe Crafts’ reactions could not be admitted into evidence.

But a portion of the letter in which Mrs. Crafts said she no longer trusted her husband apparently will be allowed into evidence, and Flanagan said he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

The prosecution was dealt a blow before the trial began when the judge ruled that a clump of wood chips and human tissue seized from Crafts’ car could not be used against him.

The chief state medical examiner issued a death certificate based on the tissue found in the trunk and some body fragments, including a dental cap and a finger tip, police said they found along the Housatonic River near Newtown.

Schaller held that authorities lacked the proper legal grounds to seize Crafts’ vehicle.

Defense attorney J. Daniel Sagarin said he was disappointed the judge did not also order the suppression of evidence seized from Crafts’ home, which included carpet samples, a comforter and a pair of men’s shoes.

The judge also ordered the sequestering of all potential witnesses except the principal investigators for the state and the defense.

The ruling brought an objection from Arthur Herzog, a New York author who has a contract to write a book on the case and a film script.

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