THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
For the past 11 years, he has been known as Inmate No. A392744.
He has worn a state-issued prison jumper and has been housed among the general population of low and mid-security level prisoners at the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion.
Thomas Craft was convicted of murdering and dismembering his wife, Lynnette Craft, in the last days of June, 1999, inside their white split-level home on Carriage Lane in Swanton.
This is the story of a wounded family’s desperate cry for help.
On June 20, Craft, 48, will be released from prison.
In April, 2000, based on a plea deal, Craft was sentenced to 12 years in prison — 10 for murder and one each for abuse of a corpse and possession of criminal tools.
It wasn’t until a letter was sent from the Fulton County Prosecutor’s Office, dated April 20, that Lynnette Craft’s family learned of her killer’s upcoming release.
Subsequent phone calls made by Mrs. Craft’s younger brother, Bob Quast, revealed shocking and almost sickening news.
The Quasts believed that Craft, after his 12 years in prison, would spend five years in Ohio on supervision. They later learned that Craft planned to move in with his parents, Ed and Janet Craft, of Whitewater, Wis., only five miles from where his two sons, Chris, 20, and Brian, 12, live with their mother’s parents, Allen and Barbara Quast.
The family launched into action, devising a grass-roots effort, reaching out to family, friends, and neighbors, creating a Facebook page, and writing to 545 politicians — congressmen, senators, governors, even President Obama — pushing them to enact emergency legislation that the family called Lynnette’s Law.
The family’s proposal states, “No convicted felon shall be released from prison without first receiving an approval of the conditions of supervision from the victim and victim’s family provided, however, that said approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.”
The family also asked that Craft spend his five years of supervision in Ohio, wear an ankle monitoring bracelet at all times, be subject to a psychological exam, and apologize for committing murder.
“When my father is released, I think it will ruin everything that we have accomplished in the last 12 years,” Chris Craft said in an e-mail. “I have debated about moving and starting all over and having a fresh start.”
He will have to stay in Ohio and spend his supervision at a halfway house in Allen County.
“We did initially submit an interstate compact supervision request to Wisconsin,” said JoEllen Smith, an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokesman.
“However, after obtaining additional information and balancing the needs of the victim’s family and the offender’s best opportunity at re-entry, it was determined it would be in the best interest of all involved if the offender remained in Ohio to complete his period of supervision.”
Craft declined to be interviewed. His parents could not be reached for comment.
A long journey
“I was celebrating,” Bob Quast, 41, said two days ago from what he calls “the war room,” his office turned campaign headquarters in Davenport, Iowa. “Today is the happiest day of my life. I hope to still be able to follow other leads that would keep him in prison. It was a very hard-fought, grass-roots effort by my family.”
It took a long time to get to the happier days, though. The family was haunted and terrorized for more than a decade with the grisly details of Mrs. Craft’s last days.
Mrs. Craft grew up in Whitewater, Wis. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a factory worker.
She met Craft in kindergarten. The couple were high school sweethearts — Mrs. Craft was “the blond cheerleader that everyone wanted to be with,” Bob Quast said.
After high school, the two went to college, where Mrs. Craft studied nursing and Craft studied engineering. The couple married and, after Craft graduated, a job offer in Ohio brought them to Swanton.
The couple then had their first son, Chris. Eight years later, they were expecting again. Doctors told Mrs. Craft she had a high-risk pregnancy. On Nov. 20, 1998, Brian was born.
Hints of abuse
In 1999, neighbors told Blade reporters that Mrs. Craft, who was generally pleasant and chatty, became quiet and distant. Something in her mood and personality shifted.
Bob Quast said it was the result of abuse suffered at the hands of her husband.
On June 25, 1999, Mrs. Craft and Bob Quast had a two-hour telephone conversation. Mrs. Craft said her husband forbade her from attending her brother’s upcoming wedding.
“I said, ‘Lynnette, you must leave, you’re not safe at all,’” Bob Quast recalled.
THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
A missing person
Allen and Barbara Quast called their daughter on June 29; Craft said his wife was at the mall. The Quasts called again on June 30, asking where their daughter was.
“‘I don’t know,’” Craft reportedly replied. “‘I’m getting concerned about that. I think she’s having an affair on me.’”
That night, a voice told Allen Quast, “Go find and save Lynnette.” He got into his car and drove through the night, ending up at the Crafts’ home around 4:30 a.m. on July 1 and fell asleep on a downstairs sofa.
When Allen Quast woke up, he went to the Swanton Police Department to file a missing-person report.
A police report from July 1, 1999, says Allen Quast reported Mrs. Craft missing at 8:37 a.m. The report also states that Allen Quast “was told by his son-in-law, Thomas Craft, this morning that he had not seen Lynnette since … noon on Wednesday … Allen Quast was concerned about his daughter but did not know what to do, that [Lynnette] has done this before in the past, but she would always return.”
At approximately 6:30 p.m., a Washtenaw County sheriff’s detective called Swanton police saying he was investigating a possible homicide. Pieces of a body, which he believed belonged to the missing Swanton woman, had been found. The detective said they found legs, from the knee down, and feet, at a McDonald’s on Zeeb Road in Michigan’s Scio Township near Dexter.
Among the trash and body parts were clothing and an Ohio driver’s license belonging to Mrs. Craft.
Craft, then 36, holding Brian in his arms, was arrested and charged with murder. Brian was taken under the protective wing of a neighbor, Mildred “Pinky” Oberheim, until he was put into foster care. Allen Quast called his wife to tell her the news and then returned to Wisconsin to inform the rest of the family.
Bob Quast had just bought a house, and his new six-car garage was flooded from heavy rains. When his phone rang, he was trying to clear out the water.
That’s when he learned his sister was dead.
“I’ve never screamed so loud in my life,” he said. “I fell to my knees and collapsed in the bathroom and started throwing up. It was the worst moment of my life.”
A claim of suicide
The pieces of Mrs. Craft’s body that were found were buried in a cemetery near her parents’ home.
Bob Quast said forensics experts used black lights and found blood in the couple’s bathtub, underneath carpet, and in the couple’s garage.
He said Craft did a “dry run,” stopping at all of the locations where he dumped body parts, asking people what time trash was picked up. He said the crime was cold and calculated.
Unless, of course, you’re listening to Craft’s version of the story.
The convict’s version
Mrs. Craft took her own life and Craft, wanting to spare her Christian family the misery, tried to cover up the suicide, Craft’s attorneys contested in court.
A coroner’s ruling declared the cause of death was “undeterminable.”
In April, 2000, Craft entered an Alford plea in Fulton County Common Pleas Court — not an admission of guilt but acknowledging the strength of the state’s case. With a plea bargain, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Since Mrs. Craft’s death, her two boys have grown up with her parents. The boys didn’t learn the full details of their mother’s death until recently.
The full story came out on Mother’s Day after the Quast family learned of Craft’s plans to release a book in July about what he contends was a wrongful conviction, Bob Quast said.
span class="libobject mceNonEditable">OBJECT8cf30d33-86c0-4d79-b483-37b25ef9e7f8Mrs. Oberheim, the neighbor, said the crime still weighs heavily on her. She lives directly across the street from the Crafts’ former 218 Carriage Lane home, and the house is a constant reminder.
“I begged her to leave,” Mrs. Oberheim recalled. “I wanted to take her someplace.”
She knew Craft would be released soon. She suspects she might even see him around.
“I’m sure he’ll want to see the house he lived in and the people who hate him,” she said. “I could care less. If he was lying on the ground and a glass of water would save his life, I wouldn’t spit on him.”
“I’ve never forgiven him,” Mrs. Oberheim said. “I pray for them all the time, those two young boys, and I worry.”
Although Chris was only 8 when his mother was killed, he remembers her and finds ways to feel near her.
“My mother loved cats,” he said in an e-mail. “When I went to live with the Quasts, if I had a rough day or missed my mother, I would sleep with my cats from Ohio, Pokey and Black Beard.”
Chris remembers that “as a kid, I was scared of my dad.”
Chris has adjusted. He’s the head life guard at the local pool and a student at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater.
Brian is doing well too.
“I like living with the Quasts and what they do for me,” he said.
The 12-year-old plays soccer — he’s thinking about picking up football. He likes boy things — video games, skate boarding, and riding a four-wheeler. He wants to be a mechanic and open his own garage when he’s old enough.
Chris went to St. Ambrose University in Iowa for his first semester of college but found being away from his family, especially Brian, was too hard.
“I can’t just run away from this,” he said.
So he and the family won’t run. They’ll fight until Lynnette’s Law is passed.
“Victims have no rights and that’s why we set up Lynnette’s Law,” Bob Quast said. “We’re going to change laws in this country no matter how long it takes so victims have rights and not the bad guys.”
But he has also found a measure of peace. He said Saturday that he had mailed a one-page letter to Craft in prison offering forgiveness.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: email@example.com or 419-724-6054.