Joseph Force Crater
|Joseph Force Crater|
January 5, 1889|
Easton, Pennsylvania, United States
|Disappeared||August 6, 1930 (aged 41)
New York, New York, United States
|Status||Declared dead in absentia
June 6, 1939
|Alma mater||Lafayette College
|Occupation||Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court for New York County|
|Known for||Unexplained disappearance|
|Spouse(s)||Stella Mance Wheeler|
Joseph Force Crater (January 5, 1889 – on or after August 6, 1930) was a judge in New York City who disappeared on the night of August 6, 1930. He was last seen leaving a restaurant on 45th Street. He had stated earlier that he was planning to attend a Broadway show. His disappearance became one of the most famous in American history and pop culture, and earned him the title of "The Missingest Man in New York".
Early life and legal career 
Crater was born on January 5, 1889, in Easton, Pennsylvania, the eldest of four children born to Frank Ellsworth Crater and the former Leila Virginia Montague. He was educated at Lafayette College (class of 1910) and Columbia University.
He was an Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court for New York County. He had been appointed to the state bench by then-Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt just four months before disappearing on August 6, 1930. He issued two published opinions; the first, Rotkowitz v. Sohn, involved fraudulent conveyances and mortgage foreclosure fraud. The second, Henderson v. Park Central Motors Service, dealt with a garage company's liability for an expensive car stolen and wrecked by an ex-convict.
Receiving a phone call while on vacation 
In the summer of 1930, Judge Crater and his wife, Stella Mance Wheeler, were vacationing at their summer cabin at Belgrade, Maine. In late July, he received a telephone call. He offered no information to his wife about the content of the call, other than to say that he had to return to the city "to straighten those fellows out".
The next day, he arrived at his 40 Fifth Avenue apartment but instead of dealing with business, he made a trip to Atlantic City with his mistress, a showgirl named Sally Lou Ritz. He returned to Maine on August 1, and traveled back to New York on August 3. Before making this final trip, he promised his wife he would return by her birthday on August 9. Crater's wife stated that he was in good spirits and behaving normally when he departed for New York City. On the morning of August 6, Crater spent two hours going through his files in his courthouse chambers, reportedly destroying several documents. He then had his law clerk, Joseph Mara, cash two checks for him that amounted to US$5,150 (equivalent to about $70,777 in today's funds). At noon, he and Mara carried two locked briefcases to his apartment and he let Mara take the rest of the day off.
A ticket to see Dancing Partner 
Later that evening, Crater went to a Broadway ticket agency and bought one seat for a comedy called Dancing Partner that was playing that night at the Belasco Theatre. He then went to Billy Haas’s Chophouse at 332 West 45th Street for dinner. There, he ate dinner with Sally Lou Ritz and William Klein, a lawyer friend of Crater. Klein later told investigators that Crater was in a good mood that evening and gave no indication that anything was bothering him. The dinner ended a little after 9 pm, a short time after the curtain rose on the show for which Crater bought a ticket, and the small group went outside.
Last known sighting 
Crater's two dinner companions entered a taxi outside the restaurant. Both later testified before a grand jury that they last saw Crater walking down the street. (This differs from the popular story that Crater entered a taxi and waved to his companions before speeding away.) What happened to him after that remains a mystery. Theories about his disappearance have suggested that he was murdered, that he ran off with another woman, or that he had been involved in corrupt practices which were about to be revealed, and therefore fled.
Delayed responses to disappearance 
There was no immediate reaction to Judge Crater's disappearance. When he did not return to Maine for 10 days, his wife began making calls to their friends in New York, asking if anyone had seen him. Only when he failed to appear for the opening of the courts on August 25 did his fellow justices become alarmed. They started a private search but failed to find any trace. The police were finally notified on September 3 and after that, the missing judge was front-page news.
Nationwide investigation 
The story captivated the nation and a massive investigation was launched. The official investigations started vigorously, but quickly slowed. Detectives discovered that the judge's safe deposit box had been emptied and the two briefcases that Crater and his assistant had taken to his apartment were missing. These promising leads were also quickly bogged down by the thousands of false reports coming from people claiming to have seen the missing man. Crater's wife later found the missing money in a dresser drawer in her home, along with a note from the judge.
In October, a grand jury began examining the case, calling 95 witnesses and amassing 975 pages of testimony. Interestingly, Mrs. Crater refused to appear before the grand jury. The conclusion was that "The evidence is insufficient to warrant any expression of opinion as to whether Crater is alive or dead, or as to whether he has absented himself voluntarily, or is the sufferer from disease in the nature of amnesia, or is the victim of crime."
None of the investigations succeeded in discovering the judge's fate or possible whereabouts. His case—Missing Persons File No. 13595—was officially closed in 1979.
It is sometimes claimed that Sally Lou Ritz disappeared in August or September 1930, but this is not the case. Ritz was interviewed in late September 1930 in Youngstown, Ohio, where she had gone "to be with her sick father." As late as July 1937, Ritz was interviewed by police in Beverly Hills.
Mrs. Crater 
Judge Crater married Stella Mance Wheeler in 1917. Crater was her lawyer in her divorce action against her first husband; they married seven days after the divorce was finalized. During the initial phase of the private search and even after police were notified and began their nationwide search, Mrs. Crater remained at their vacation home in Belgrade Lakes, Maine, until January 20, 1931. It was then that she allegedly discovered checks, stocks and bonds and a note written by the Judge in a drawer that had been empty when police checked earlier. Without Crater's income, Mrs. Crater was unable to maintain residence at their fashionable Fifth Avenue apartment and was evicted. By July 1937, when she petitioned to have the Judge declared officially dead, the judge's apparent widow was impoverished and reportedly living on $12 per week (equivalent to approximately $192 in today's funds) she earned as a telephone operator in Belgrade Lakes, Maine.
It would seem that before the Judge was declared legally dead, Mrs. Crater remarried in Elkton, Maryland, on April 23, 1938, to Carl Kunz, electrical engineer, of New York. Kunz's first wife had hanged herself only eight days before the wedding. The Judge was declared legally dead in 1939 and Mrs. Crater then received $20,561 in life insurance (worth approximately $339,355 in today's funds). Mrs. Crater separated from Kunz in 1950, and died in 1969 aged 70. Her own account of the Crater case, in which she expressed her belief that Crater had been murdered, was written with Oscar Fraley, newspaperman and freelancer and published by Doubleday in 1961.
Recent information 
On August 19, 2005, authorities revealed that they had received notes left by Stella Ferrucci-Good, who died at age 91. The writings identified a location near West Eighth Street in Coney Island, Brooklyn, at the current site of the New York Aquarium, where the woman claimed the judge was buried under the boardwalk. Moreover, the notes identified Crater's killers as NYPD officers Charles Burns (also bodyguard of Abe Reles of Murder, Inc.) and Burns's brother Frank, a cab driver.
Police reported that no records had been found to indicate that skeletal remains were discovered at that site when it was excavated in the 1950s. Richard J. Tofel, the author of Vanishing Point: The Disappearance of Judge Crater and the New York He Left Behind, expressed skepticism of Ferrucci-Good's account.
Popular culture 
Though no longer in wide use, the phrase "to pull a Crater" means to disappear. For many years following Crater's disappearance, "Judge Crater, call your office" was a standard gag of nightclub comedians and was often heard on public address systems.
In order to promote the 1933 film Bureau of Missing Persons, Warner Bros. advertised they would pay $10,000 (equivalent to about $177,352 in today's funds) to Crater if he claimed it in person at the box office. In the third season episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, "Very Old Shoes, Very Old Rice", the character of Rob Petrie mistakes a judge named Judge Krata for the missing judge. A 2010 novel, The Man Who Never Returned by Peter Quinn, investigates the Crater case through the lens of a 1955 fictional detective.
Judge Crater's last letter, possibly written on the day of his disappearance, was sold at auction on June 22, 1981 for $700. The letter was marked "Confidential" and began, "The following money is due me from the persons named. Get in touch with them for they will surely pay their debts." It was incorrectly reported that this letter was Crater's will.
See also 
- records of the members of the First Methodist Church, Easton, PA
- World War I draft registration
- Joseph Force Crater in the 1900 US Census; Easton, Pennsylvania
- Harold Leslie Crater, Jr., The descendents [sic] of Moritz Creeter (1703–1772), who arrived at the Port of Philadelphia on the ship Mortonhouse on August 19, 1729 (privately published, 2003), p. 160.
- In New York, the “Supreme Court” is a trial-level court, not the state's highest court. The highest court in New York is the Court of Appeals, whose members are titled “Judge” instead of “Justice”.
- 239 N.Y.S. 639, N.Y.Sup., February 8, 1930.
- 244 N.Y.S. 409, N.Y.Sup., July 11, 1930.
- Staff. Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2012. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
- Garrett, Robert (August 11, 1980). "Good Night, Judge Crater, Wherever You Are". New York Magazine. pp. 11–12. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
- "CNN Transcript: Interview with Richard Tofel, August 22, 2005". CNN. Retrieved August 4, 2010.
- Cohen, Daniel MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES, New York, Dodd Meade & Company, 1976 pages 18 and 19
- Times Wide World Photo. (September 4, 1930). WIDE HUNT IS BEGUN FOR JUSTICE CRATER, MISSING FOUR WEEKS :Drew $5,100 From Banks When Last Seen, Two Days After Tuttle Made Ewald Charges. SECRETLY SOUGHT SINCE Police Take Up the Search as Friends Express Fear He Met Foul Play. TODD TO SIFT EWALD CASE Named by Ward as Taft Asks Broader Inquiry and Socialists Accuse Walker to Roosevelt. Absent From Bench Duties. WIDE HUNT IS BEGUN FOR JUSTICE CRATER Penney Sifting Disappearance. Former Associate Appeals to Police. Reported on Business Trip.. New York Times (1923–Current file),p. 1. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2007). (Document ID: 112687780).
- CITY TO OFFER $5,000 IN HUNT FOR CRATER; CRAIN SEEKS INQUIRY :Mayor Asks Aldermen to Vote Bonds to Provide Reward for Clue to Missing Justice. HE ACTS AFTER RUMORS Unprecedented Move Is Laid to Hints That Tammany Feared Jurist's Return. CORRIGAN ASKED TO ACT He Doubts Legality of John Doe Hearing Sought by Prosecutor-- Hunt Spreads to Chicago. Mara Admits Cashing Two Checks. Mayor's Action Unprecedented. CITY PLANS REWARD IN HUNT FOR CRATER Legality of Inquiry Doubted. Mara Tells of Checks. Early Return Doubted. CRATER HUNTED IN CHICAGO. Search of Hotels Fails to Reveal Clue to Missing Justice.. (September 11, 1930). New York Times (1923–Current file),p. 1. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2007). (Document ID: 11838224
- "Wide Hunt is begun for Justice Crater, missing four weeks," New York Times, Sep, 4, 1930, pg.1
- "Aide denies Crater destroyed papers; hunt is pressed," New York Times, Sep. 5, 1930, p.1
- "Federal men scan Crater bank books," New York Times, Sep. 6, 1930, pg. 1
- "Family asks hunt for Judge Crater," New York Times, Sep. 7, 1930, p.3
- "Search for Crater near a standstill," New York Times, Sep. 8, 1930, p. 5
- "Stella Crater Kunz, Once Wed To Judge Who Vanished, Dead." New York Times (1923–Current file), September 24, 1969, http://www.proquest.com/ (Retrieved August 9, 2011).
- "What Happened To Judge Crater?". Prairieghosts.com. Retrieved August 4, 2010.
- Janet Cawley. "Column 1 :Judge Crater case slips into history Police file is closed on 'missingest' person." Chicago Tribune (1963–Current file), August 5, 1980, http://www.proquest.com/ (Retrieved August 9, 2011).
- "Sally Lou Ritz". The Charley Project. Retrieved August 4, 2010.
- "Mystery to Sally," The Daily Times (Beaver, PA), Sept. 25, 1930, p. 6
- CHECK ON BODIES IN CRATER SEARCH. (September 28, 1930). Daily Boston Globe (1928–1960),B2. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Boston Globe (1872–1979). (Document ID: 1999524842).
- "Crater Probe Has Shifted to West" (INS story), Chester (PA) Times, July 26, 1937, p. 1
- By TOM MEEHAN. "Case No. 13595 :It's thirty years later, there's plenty of data – but still no Judge Crater.." New York Times (1923–Current file), August 7, 1960, http://www.proquest.com/ (Retrieved August 9, 2011).
- Exclusive. "JUDGE CRATER'S WIFE ENDS HOPE :Asks Missing Jurist Declared Legally Dead." Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File), July 21, 1937, http://www.proquest.com/ (Retrieved August 9, 2011).
- Special Dispatch to The Post.. "Crater's Widow Wed at Elkton; Husband Gave D.C. Address :Ceremony Took Place on April 23; Jurist Held Legally Dead. Judge Crater's Widow Married In Elkton Rites Crater." The Washington Post (1923–1954), July 14, 1938, http://www.proquest.com/ (Retrieved August 9, 2011).
- Tom Meehan, "Case No. 13595," New York Times, Aug. 7, 1960, p. SM27.
- "Crater Will Case Up May 26." New York Times (1923–Current file), April 28, 1939, http://www.proquest.com/ (Retrieved August 9, 2011).
- Crater, Stella (Wheeler). The Empty Robe. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961.
- By EMANUEL PERLMUTTER. "A Missing Person :THE EMPTY ROBE. By Stella Crater With Oscar Fraley. 210 pp. New York: Doubleday & Co. $4.50.." Review of A Missing person: the Empty Robe. New York Times (1923–Current file), Book Review Section, April 9, 1961, http://www.proquest.com/ (Retrieved August 9, 2011).
- Rashbaum, William (August 20, 2005). "Judge Crater Abruptly Appears, at Least in Public Consciousness". 'New York Times. Retrieved June 06, 2012.
- Gendar, Alison (August 19, 2005). "JUDGE CRATER FOUND? Dead gal's secret letter may solve 1930 mystery". New York Daily News. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
- "Kelly, Jack, 'Judge Crater Vanishes Forever". Americanheritage.com. Retrieved August 4, 2010.
- "The New Pictures". Time. September 18, 1933. Retrieved August 9, 2008.
- "The official website of Author Peter Quinn". New York Paddy. August 6, 1930. Retrieved August 4, 2010.
- Sotheby Parke Bernet, Sale No. 4652E on June 22, 1981, "Printed and Manuscript Americana," Lot 174.
- Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1981
Further reading 
- Crater, Stella (Wheeler); Oscar Fraley (1961). The Empty Robe. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. p. 210. LCCN 61-8880.
- Tofel, Richard J. (2004). Vanishing Point: The Disappearance of Judge Crater and the New York He Left Behind. Chicago, Illinois: Ivan R. Dee. ISBN 1-56663-605-1. LCCN 2004052669.
- Gibson, John Winslow (2010). Judge Crater, the Missingest Person: How He Disappeared and Why They Couldn't Find Him. Indianapolis, Indiana: Dog Ear Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60844-712-1.
- Joseph Force Crater at Find a Grave
- Judge Crater Disappearance Possibly Solved; Aug. 19, 2005; Fox News
- Judge Crater, is that you?; Aug. 19, 2005; MSNBC (includes video)
- JUDGE CRATER FOUND? Dead gal's secret letter may solve 1930 mystery; Aug. 19, 2005; New York Post