Fargo. For those who are familiar with the movie in which I am referencing, you are likely horrified, and about to click over to your happy place, be it Amazon, Target, Walmart or what have you, in order to get the pure trauma out of your mind. Those who are not familiar, and even those that are, I ask that you read on, as you are about to learn all about what it takes to be a true forensic renegade, if you will. Fargo, based in South Dakota, was actually the academy award winning film BASED on a true crime that occurred in Newton, CT back in November of 1986. Some may also recall this was the very first episode ever of the amazing series Forensic Files, which ran for 14 seasons, and over 400 episodes (and, according to word on the street is RETURNING in February 2020), this case was THAT much of a precedent setter. Changing the face of forensics with his innovative approach to investigation, puzzle solving, and using the highest level of professional and forensic evidence with the utmost integrity, Dr. Henry Lee made the murder of Helle Crafts a true grand slam for the entire world, sit down, I’ll explain just how.
A decade prior to being an expert consultant in the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman, Dr. Lee was known throughout the country and the forensic field as a ground breaker for his work in 1986 regarding the murder of Newtown, CT wife and mother, Mrs. Helle Crafts. Known as the “woodchipper” murder, the disappearance and murder of the beautiful airline stewardess, working for Pan American, who met her husband, an pilot for Eastern airlines, Richard Crafts, marrying in 1979, and settling down in the town of Newtown, Connecticut, where they had three children. Taking on a second job as a local law enforcement official on a volunteer department, Helle continued to raise her children while still working as a stewardess, and things seemed to be going swimmingly. Well, in brief, there was some serious cheating, lying, debt accrual (on the part of Richard who bought expensive and odd items for the home like a giant back hoe, with no plans or discussion for construction) and although the second job Richard kept was a problem a few years into the marriage, as he garnered no respect from his fellow officers due to his overstepping boundaries, and investing HUGE amounts of money into building his own custom cruiser. Yup, you read that right.
The night of November 18, 1986, Helle was dropped home by a friend after completing an assignment, and was tired and with an incoming nor’easter, had said she planned to go inside and head to bed. Unbeknownst to ANYONE in Helle’s life, including her mother home in Denmark with whom she was EXTREMELY close, she had recently hired a PI to catch Richard with another woman when he claimed he was on a run for Eastern. That evening, was the last evening anyone saw her alive, and of course even with his odd behavior no one suspected anything nefarious, that is, until the PI showed up looking to talk with Helle after several missed calls and attempts to connect. Working with the evidence found by the PI in the office of the home, which included receipts for a wood chipper, which was rented, a rental truck etc., and the phone calls coming in concerned for her whereabouts by close friends living nearby, and eventually eye witnesses, the state was able to build an incredible case with parts no one would believe if they weren’t on record, especially me! As it turns out, and please do yourself a favor and look into the actual details more, as I am trying to present only one particular aspect and there are so many more SUPER INTERESTING ONES, no lie, the PI ordered a group of men who did work for him per diem, to go to a dump site for the trash collection in Canterbury, Connecticut, when he got word from an in home servant working with the family, the two feet by two feet pieces of bloody carpet were cut out and eventually had gone missing from the floor of the master bedroom. A piece of carpet that size in a generic blue color soaked in blood you would think wouldn’t be easy to find in the place where all the trash from a few towns collects, but it took mere minutes for them to locate this item, and only a few hours for the PI to drive it directly to the states forensic and ME office, run by Dr. Carver and Dr. Lee. Dr. Lee, working with minimal technology at his fingertips those days, was able to type the blood and match it to Helle, although nothing was in existence yet to say whether a blood sample was “positive” or “negative” it didn’t matter, it was enough for them to launch an insane investigation, and they began where the first eyewitness sent them.
A snow plow driver hired by the state/town to plow and lay sand for safety purposes was out during another nor’easter that swept through the area just a day or two after the one that occurred the night Helle was last seen. A man whom was recognized as Richard Crafts, was out using a wood chipper, which the driver pulled over to question, as this was bizarre. Allegedly Mr. Crafts told the driver he was simply “getting rid of some tree branches that fell in his yard” the storm prior, and was using the wood chips to lay out for safety. Noting that there was a white box truck with no identifying details parked nearby, he simply took this explanation as bonkers, but went on with his night. A few hours later in the wee hours of the morning, the same man passed this box truck again, only in a different part of the waters edge not far from the original siting, with a wood chipper strapped to the back of the truck, which was open where he could see it himself. Now, he gets bugged out and tells the authorities the moment he finds out Helle is missing. This was KEY because Dr. Lee ordered, ON CHRISTMAS DAY 1986, multiple entrance level workers at his office to use blow dryers to warm up the snow and melt it, which they did, and immediately revealed oddly shaped pieces of blood, flesh, hair, even a fingernail with polish still on it, and they did this through the day collecting so many pieces, appearing to be of some type of animal or human, carefully so as to protect each tiny piece of it, and being sure not to compromise it in any way. This discovery led to Dr. Lee being granted basically carte blanche, if you will, to ask for whatever he needed to figure this out, and of course, he didn’t need much. Because he is a monster genius. Okay, anyway, so, he gets Dr. Carver to purchase a large frozen pig carcass, as pigs are closer to our genetic makeup than any other animal known thus far, especially where bones are regarded, according to Dr. Lee, and rented a wood chipper for the purpose of feeding the frozen pig, now dismembered through it in parts to reproduce what a body would look like if it had gone through the same steps. Wouldn’t you know, the marks on the body pieces that came shooting out, were the SAME spiral pattern seen on the body parts collected, which pushed the investigation even further. From there, Dr. Lee sent to her home, a group of individuals who were able to collect and hand over for matching, Helle’s nail polish collection- which had the matching shade found on the finger located at the original search site. Working off matching blood to the rented U-Haul box truck seen by Mr. Heinz, snow plow extraordinaire and eye witness, and the now analyzed recovered fragments of tooth, bone, metal pieces that looked like a wedding ring, and blonde hairs the same color as Helle’s, the group of investigators, led by Dr. Lee were able to uncover ONE MORE KEY PIECE (one more of what I will mention here, I mean, their discoveries were literally endless) of evidence, that most scoffed at Dr. Lee for even considering to pursue-the chainsaw used to dismember Helle, prior to placing her in the wood chipper.
Now, not only was this a legit needle in a haystack moment, as they knew Mr. Crafts owned a chainsaw now missing, and being that this whole scene took place on the shores of Lake Zoar where it meets the Housatonic river, together making a MASSIVE search area which was too overwhelming for anyone to comprehend even discussing that option, never mind, diving in it in December and finding a chain saw at all. Oh, the doubt was enough for Dr. Lee to be able to narrow down where he wanted people to dive for the saw, and in short time, what do you know? Up comes a chain saw with a filed off serial number. I heard the crowd working with him, was gaping in shock. So, the serial number Dr. Lee is able to restore, and it matches one belonging to husband of the year, Mr. Crafts.
As if all of this isn’t enough, on trial armed with a lot of evidence but specifically the items and information presented by Dr. Lee this was the first trial where a conviction resulted without a body in the state of Connecticut. Although it had been done a few times prior to this particular case, this case was also the first in the state where cameras were allowed to film inside, making it accessible across the nation, and eventually known worldwide. So many families have reaped the benefits and “resolve” (closure if for buildings, and don’t you ever forget it) from the ability to take the guilty and those suspected guilty to court with forensic evidence and without a body at all, which is so much more hopeful, as so many cases and trials were stymied ON THE SPOT with no body. You are probably thinking, “Sam, he had pieces of body, hairs, nails, this isn’t the same”. However, you would be wrong, as the trials that came after this was complete, never needed even body pieces, though many did have some similar evidence, just forensic support from a high integrity and highly ethical leader with the training and knowledge to provide the court and jury with enough proof to garner a guilty verdict, or set the innocent free.
These days, after retiring from work in the case sector, Dr. Lee runs his own top notch, first of its kind crime study lab affiliated with the University of New Haven in Connecticut. Having special labs for studying spatter, bullet trajectory, drowning death, and accident reconstruction among others, Dr. Lee continues to revolutionize forensics by training those who attend the university and by holding symposiums on multiple topics, as well as weekend classes that cover forensic topics like “serial murder” “fraud detection” etc. Going there to attend one is still on my bucket list. Someday Sammy, some day. Now, this is my first in a short series where I offer up to those of you reading and watching, studying and planning role models and revolutionaries to look up to and strive to be like. We can all use a push, especially in schooling to refocus us, re-light our fire, and keep going through the hard moments, as the heroes and role models of tomorrow are among YOU. Working hard to do a job most others truly cannot do?To see what you see regarding the multiple sides of humanity, the things people will do to each other, and the horrors of crime that sweep our nation, that is some hero work if you ask me. Please know, each and everyone of you have it in you to be the next Dr. Lee, giving families and victims justice denied, and a chance to teach future generations what you’ve learned? That is what is on your horizon, that much I know for sure.
Thank you for the chance to inspire you all. I’ll be back again soon to discuss more inspirational individuals in this field, but I can’t tell you or I’d have to kill you.