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Forensic Scientist Makes Art of Reading Crime Scenes, Recounting Finds

August 22, 1995 GMT

MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) _ Dr. Henry Lee holds aloft a hypodermic syringe. ``A sample of O.J.’s blood,″ he says gravely.

Then, grinning impishly, Lee pushes the plunger. Out pops the business end of a ball point pen.

Meet the director of the Connecticut State Forensics Science Laboratory. Practical joker. Kung fu expert. Rockhound. Gourmet Chinese chef. Forensic scientist nonpareil, with a resume that runs more than 50 pages.

Lee, 57, spent Tuesday afternoon in the Los Angeles courtroom where O.J. Simpson is being tried for murder, poised to take the stand for the defense. Widely recognized as the nation’s premier forensic scientist, Lee testifies annually in more than 100 criminal cases, and his knowledge and wit make him a tremendously effective witness.

Testifying for the defense in the Palm Beach, Fla., rape trial of William Kennedy Smith, he challenged the woman’s story that she had struggled with Smith on the lawn. He said he found no grass stains on her panties.

On the witness stand, he pulled out a grass-stained handkerchief he had wiped across the grass at the Kennedy compound.

When the prosecutor asked him why he’d used a handkerchief, Lee replied, ``Usually, I do not carry panties. I carry handkerchief.″

As he prepared to leave for Los Angeles and the Simpson trial, Lee refused to offer an opinion whether Simpson could be guilty of killing his ex-wife and her visiting friend.

``That’s not my job,″ he said in his lyrical Chinese accent. ``My job is to tell you, on the basis of scientific evidence, how, when, where and what crimes are committed.″

Many of the nation’s biggest cases have found their way onto Lee’s list, including the 1980 murder of Scarsdale diet doctor Herman Tarnower, the aftermath of the 1985 shootout between the Philadelphia police and the radical group MOVE and eventual rowhouse inferno that killed 11, and a search of the ashes of the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, where 81 died in 1993.

But probably his best work came back home in Connecticut in a murder that came to be known as the ``Wood Chipper Case.″

The case concerned the 1986 disappearance of Helle Crafts, the Danish-born, flight attendant wife of airline pilot Richard Crafts. Neighbors and friends told police the couple had not been getting along. But there was no body.

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However, a snowplow driver had reported seeing a man with a wood chipper out on a remote road in a snowstorm at 4 a.m. A team led by Lee then scoured the woods near the Crafts home in western Connecticut. They found a thumb tip, a tooth crown, 56 tiny bone fragments and pieces of hair containing a chemical bleach used at a hair salon frequented by Helle Crafts.

Then Lee ran a test.

He put an entire pig through a wood-chipping machine to try to duplicate the crime alleged against Crafts _ that he killed his wife, cut her up with a chainsaw then disposed of the body parts by running them through a chipper.

Asked about the case, Lee threw up his hands.

``Don’t mention the pig,″ he said. ``When the case was first reported, I got all these angry letters from people who thought the pig was alive when we put it through the wood chipper. They say, `Dr. Lee, we used to like you. Now we don’t like you so much.′

``It was a dressed pig. We got it at a butcher shop,″ he said. ``Believe me, I would never put a live animal through a wood chipper.″

Crafts was convicted on the basis of the physical evidence found at the scene _ less than an ounce of the victim’s remains.

Lee’s work on the case cemented his growing reputation as a world-class crime sleuth.

``He’s the best, the very best,″ said Carla Noziglia, former director of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.

Lee was born in China, but his family fled to Taiwan in World War II. His father was killed by communists and his mother raised Lee and his 12 siblings.

``I owe everything to my mother,″ he said. ``She was a tough parent, but she had to be to survive.″

Eleven of his sisters and brothers have graduate degrees.

By age 22, Lee was a police captain in Taipei. He married a Malaysian woman he met while processing her visa; they came to the United States in 1965.

In New York, Lee worked as a waiter and a martial arts instructor while attending New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

``My wife, Margaret, and I have $50 when we arrive in this country,″ he said. ``I speak about two words of English.″

Ten years later, Lee had a solid grasp of the language and a doctorate degree in biochemistry from New York University.

``After getting my Ph.D., I came to Connecticut to teach but soon am helping the police solve crimes,″ he said.

In his new job at the University of New Haven, Lee established a forensic science department and soon realized he loved crime detection more than teaching.

On the job, Lee spends more time poring over the crime scene than examining bodies.

``The body only tell you so much,″ he said, as he sat down behind his desk and pushed up the sleeves of his white lab smock.

Using the advanced machines in his new laboratory, Lee and his 34-member staff can analyze a single hair and deduce age, gender and race. They can examine a shoe print and determine the weight, height and age of the wearer, as well as shoe size, type and brand.

Lee can look at blood spatters and the position of a body and determine whether a person has been murdered or committed suicide.

He encourages investigators to call him at any hour so he can get to the scene of a murder before any of the evidence has been disturbed.

He’s been visiting crime scenes for 20 years, and estimates he has solved at least 5,000 cases.

``Right now, I have 372 homicides on my hands,″ he said, grimacing as he looked at the mountain of papers on his desk, including a spindle piercing a 6-inch-thick wad of unanswered telephone messages. ``That’s why I work 16 hours a day, seven days a week. I even think about cases when I’m sleeping.″

He has been working for the state full-time since 1979 and now pulls down a salary of $80,000, amply supplemented by the fees he’s paid for his expert testimony.

Lee loves crime-detection so much that he has a forensic lab at his waterfront home outside New Haven and often spends weekends working on cases, with classical music playing in the background.

``I am fascinated by the science and the mystery,″ he said. ``Sometimes, police officer say, `Dr. Lee, I have gut feeling about this case.′ I tell him gut feeling is fine, but he also must have the evidence. The evidence always there, if you know how to look for it.″