Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day 1999, the rest of the story



As tragic as Charles Mateer’s death was, in the back of my mind always lurked the thought that it could have been worse. What if he had not really died in a helicopter crash, but had been captured and tortured?

I figured that perhaps the relatively new tool (at the time), the internet, could help me finally put that nightmare to rest. I located the AIR AMERICA website…..and was able to find a number of veterans who remembered Charles and several who had flown with him, but none of them knew much more about his death than what the CIA had written in their official report.


The trail seemed to have turned cold, until a handwritten letter arrived that was dated, Memorial Day, 1999.

The return address was….a prison in Connecticut. It was from a man named Richard Crafts.

Crafts was the pilot of another Air America helicopter that had landed a few minutes earlier at the landing site where Charles’ helicopter would soon attempt a landing. This is how he described it:


Crafts flew the bodies of Charles and the other deceased pilot to an Air Force base in Thailand where the remains were handed over to the Air Force for return to the United States.

So thanks to Richard Crafts, my nightmare about Charles being captured, etc…..was over.

Unfortunately, his nightmare began a few years AFTER his service in Laos with Air America.
Crafts returned to the United States in 1966, settled in Newton, Connecticut and became a pilot for Eastern Airlines, then one of the largest and busiest airlines in the country. In 1976 he married a stewardess named Helle Nileson from Denmark.

November 18th, 1986 was the last time anyone ever saw her again.

Crafts was later convicted of her murder, which became known as the Woodchipper murder, because of the method in which he disposed of her body.

Her death brought about the first murder conviction in the state of Connecticut in which a body was never found.

Today, Richard Crafts, 71, prisoner No. 152724, is an inmate at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, a high- and maximum-security facility for men in Suffield, Connecticut.

The earliest he can be released is August 2021, when he'll be 84 years old.

So, now you know.............(as Paul Harvey used to say).......the REST OF THE STORY.  -Ed