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Joseph Force Crater becomes the missingest man in New York

Joseph Force Crater becomes the missingest man in New York

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On August 6, 1930, New York Supreme Court judge Joseph Force Crater vanished on the streets of Manhattan near Times Square. The dapper 41-year-old’s disappearance launched a massive investigation that captivated the nation, earning Crater the title of “the missingest man in New York.”

Born to Irish immigrants in 1889, Crater grew up in Pennsylvania and received his law degree from Columbia University in 1916. As he worked his way up from a lowly clerk to a successful lawyer, he cultivated numerous political connections throughout New York City. In April 1930, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Crater to the state bench, passing over the official candidate put forth by the powerful and corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. Rumors swirled that Crater, whose alleged fondness for showgirls had already earned him a shady reputation, had paid off the Tammany bosses for his lucrative new job.

A few months later, on August 3, 1930, Crater returned to New York from a trip to Maine, leaving behind his wife, Stella, and promising to return within a week. His law clerk later reported that, on the morning of August 6, the judge destroyed various documents, moved several portfolios of papers to his Fifth Avenue apartment and arranged for $5,000 to be withdrawn from his bank account. That evening, he left his office, bought a ticket to the Broadway comedy “Dancing Partner” and shared a meal with his lawyer friend William Klein and a showgirl named Sally Lou Ritz at a Manhattan chophouse. His dining companions claimed they last saw Crater walking down the street outside the restaurant, presumably on his way to attend the play.

News of Crater’s disappearance broke on September 3, triggering a dramatic manhunt and investigation. The missing judge’s suspicious behavior in the days leading up to his disappearance spawned rampant speculation that he had fled the country with a mistress or been a victim of foul play. His sensational story captured so much media attention that the phrase “pulling a Crater” briefly entered the public vernacular as a synonym for going AWOL. Comedians, meanwhile, seized upon the unsolved case as fodder for their standup routines, using the line “Judge Crater, call your office” as a standard gag.

At his wife’s request, Joseph Force Crater was declared legally dead in 1939. In 2005, New York police revealed that new evidence had emerged in the case of the city’s missingest man. A woman who had died earlier that year had left a handwritten note in which she claimed that her husband and several other men, including a police officer, had murdered Crater and buried his body beneath a section of the Coney Island boardwalk. That site had been excavated during the construction of the New York Aquarium in the 1950s, long before technology existed to detect and identify human remains. As a result, the question of whether Judge Crater sleeps with the fishes remains a mystery.

Joseph Force Crater

Joseph Force Crater (January 5, 1889 – disappeared August 6, 1930, declared legally dead June 6, 1939) was a New York State Supreme Court Justice who went missing amid political scandal. He was last seen leaving a restaurant on West 45th Street in Manhattan and entered popular culture as one of the most mysterious missing persons cases of the twentieth century. Despite massive publicity, the case was never solved and was officially closed forty years after he disappeared. Crater's disappearance fueled public disquiet about New York City corruption and was a factor in the downfall of the Tammany Hall political machine.

The Missingest Man in New York

Every Aug. 6 for more than three decades, an attractive older woman entered a Greenwich Village bar, a place that had been a restaurant back in the Jazz Age. She sat alone in a booth and ordered two cocktails. She raised one, murmured, "Good luck, Joe, wherever you are." She drank it slowly, rose and walked out, leaving the other drink untouched.

Thus Stella Crater mourned her vanished husband, Justice Joseph Force Crater, who became famous on Aug. 6, 1930, when he, as the Daily News later said, "disappeared efficiently, completely, and forever."

Born to Irish immigrants in Easton, PA, in 1889, Joe Crater worked his way through Lafayette College and Columbia Law School. He opened his office at 120 Broadway (the Equitable Bldg., a huge white marble pile that was once the largest office building in the world) and joined the Cayuga Democratic Club, the power base of Tammany district leader Martin Healy, where Crater spent thousands of hours organizing election workers and representing the club in election law cases. He also married Stella Wheeler, whom he had represented in her 1912 divorce.

State Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Wagner Sr., who became a United States senator in 1926, appointed Crater his secretary in 1920. Joe was also an adjunct professor at Fordham and New York University law schools. But most of his income came through his law practice, which was enriched by his political connections. At first, he received the usual minor appointments from the courts: receiverships, refereeships, guardianships. Over time, Crater's pieces of pie were cut large. In February 1929, he was appointed receiver in foreclosure of the Libby Hotel. Four months later, the hotel was auctioned for $75,000 to the American Mortgage Loan Co. Two months after that, the City of New York condemned the hotel, paying American Mortgage Loan $2,850,000?a profit of $2,775,000 on its two months' investment of $75,000. Some cynics suggested American Mortgage Loan's managers knew about the city's plans before buying the building.

Crater could afford a new apartment: a two-bedroom cooperative at 40 5th Ave. He became president of the Cayuga Club and Martin Healy's right-hand man. And on April 8, 1930, Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him to a vacancy on the state Supreme Court (among New York state courts, the Supreme Court is actually the lowest court, comparable to superior courts in other states). Politics had everything to do with it. So did ability: even the respectables at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York supported Joe's appointment.

He was 41 years old?young for a Supreme Court justice in New York. Crater was a well-tailored 185-pound 6-footer, with fleshy features and slicked-down iron-gray hair that made him seem older than he was. He was a fine pianist, a good dancer and liked theater.

When the courts recessed in June 1930, the Craters went to their summer home in Belgrade Lakes, ME, six miles from the nearest telephone. In July, they read that New York County District Attorney Thomas C.T. Crain was charging Healy with selling judgeships. Crater seemed undisturbed then, although he went away for two days in late July to confer about Healy's legal problems. On Sunday, Aug. 3, one of the locals dropped in with a message that the judge had received a long-distance telephone call at the town's drugstore. Crater went into town to return the call. When he returned, he told Stella he had to go to New York for a few days. "I've got to straighten out a few people," he said. Then, promising to return for her birthday on Saturday, Aug. 9, he left for the city. He arrived at their apartment on Monday. Crater gave the maid a few days off and saw his doctor about an index finger crushed in a car door some weeks before.

On Tuesday, he worked in his chambers at the New York courthouse at 60 Centre St. On the morning of Aug. 6, he spent two hours going through the files in his chambers. He had his personal assistant, Joseph Mara, cash two checks for him amounting to $5150, worth roughly $50,000 in today's money. He and Mara went by cab to the Crater apartment with locked briefcases containing five large portfolios, which Mara left on a chair. The judge then dismissed Mara for the day.

That evening, Crater bought a ticket for that night's performance of a new hit comedy, Dancing Partners, at the Belasco Theater on W. 44th St. He had dinner nearby at Billy Haas's chophouse, with two friends, William Klein, a lawyer specializing in entertainment law, and Klein's girlfriend, Sally Lou Ritz, a showgirl generally considered one fine-looking babe. Afterward, the trio stood on the sidewalk chatting and laughing. Although the curtain had gone up on Dancing Partners, Crater seemed unhurried. Between 9 and 9:15, he hailed a passing cab. Klein later recalled it was tan. Crater waved his Panama out the window to his friends.

On the record, no one saw Joe Crater again.

Someone called for the ticket at the Belasco's box office. No one knows if that person was Crater.

At first Stella had been miffed that he had missed her birthday but thought he had been detained on political or legal business. His friends and colleagues thought he was in Maine. After a week, though, she began telephoning his friends in New York such as Simon Rifkind, who had succeeded him as Wagner's secretary. Rifkind reassured her that everything was all right, that the judge would eventually turn up.

The Supreme Court opened on Aug. 25. Justice Louis Valente telephoned from New York to ask whether Joe was still in Maine. His fellow justices arranged a discreet inquiry. On Sept. 3, when the inquiry proved fruitless and the court remained one justice short, the police were notified. Joe Crater became front-page news, with the tabloids suggesting he had been murdered, had vanished with a showgirl mistress or disappeared to avoid the Healy scandal.

In October 1930, District Attorney Crain empanelled a grand jury to dig into bankbooks, telephone records and safety deposit boxes. None of those inquiries led anywhere. Mrs. Crater, bewildered by her husband's disappearance, revolted by the sensational press coverage and enraged by Crain's suggestions that she knew of her husband's whereabouts, refused to go before the grand jury and remained in Maine, outside his jurisdiction.

The grand jury was dismissed on Jan. 9, 1931, after hearing hundreds of witnesses and taking 2000 pages of testimony, concluding: "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 a sufferer from disease in the nature of amnesia, or is the victim of a crime."

Mrs. Crater then returned to 40 5th Ave. on Jan. 18. Three days later, while going through her dresser, she found four manila envelopes in a hidden drawer containing his will, which left everything to her, plus $6619 in cash, several checks, life insurance policies worth $30,000 and a three-page note, listing 20 companies or persons who supposedly owed the judge money. On the bottom of the list was penned a note: "Am very weary. Love, Joe."

The police had already searched the apartment several times, and, although Mrs. Crater insisted that they could not have searched the hidden drawer that held the newly discovered documents, this incident merely deepened the mystery.

The investigation lasted for years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some said he was the victim of amnesia, while a few concluded that he had simply run away with a secret lover. Other theories linked the judge's fate to organized crime. Crater had known Arnold Rothstein, the man believed to have fixed the 1919 World Series, and other criminals. Perhaps he had known too much about something or other and had to be silenced some whispered that Jack "Legs" Diamond had done the job and buried the body in the sub-basement of the Diamond-controlled Peter Barmann Brewery in Kingston, NY.

No one ever found anything illegal in Crater's role as receiver of the Libby Hotel. Yet some persisted in believing some party to the transaction had not received his share of the profits and had taken it out on Joe. Others thought he was abducted and slain by a criminal gang disappointed with one of his rulings. A few thought he had been murdered by some stickup man who had successfully disposed of the remains.

Emil K. Ellis, who represented Stella Crater in litigation against her husband's insurance company, argued that Crater had been murdered in a blackmail scheme engineered through June Brice, a showgirl. Ellis said the large sum of money her husband had withdrawn the day before he disappeared was probably a payoff. He believed a gangster friend of the showgirl then killed the judge when he refused to give her more money. One incident lent this plausibility: on the evening of his disappearance, Judge Crater had been seen talking to Brice, who vanished the day before the grand jury had convened. In 1948, investigators working for Ellis tracked her to a Long Island mental hospital: she was hopelessly demented. Others tied Crater to Vivian Gordon, a prostitute and blackmailer found garroted in the Bronx's Van Cortlandt Park on Feb. 26, 1931. As seems to be often the case, the tabloids suggested that "a red hot diary" found in her apartment listed her wealthy politician and businessmen friends, including Joe Crater.

Gordon had been due to testify before a special state commission investigating the Healy scandal. Even that came to nothing: Healy was acquitted three times.

Yet Crater's actions from Aug. 3-6 seem to foreshadow his disappearance. He purged his personal files, obtained a large amount of money and wrote the letter describing the debts owed to him found five months after his disappearance. Police Commissioner Edward Mulrooney simply expressed common sense when he said, "Crater's disappearance was premeditated."

Herbert Mitgang, in The Man Who Rode the Tiger: The Life and Times of Judge Samuel Seabury, notes that Seabury's investigation of the Healy scandal (which led to other investigations, ultimately forcing the resignation of Mayor Jimmy Walker) found Crater had raised more than $20,000 shortly before his disappearance. This was equal to a Supreme Court justice's annual salary: some noted the Tammany tradition that someone appointed to high office contributed a year's salary to the party leadership. Roosevelt-haters whispered that FDR's friends had killed Crater because his possible testimony before a grand jury about the sale of judgeships to swell party funds would hurt FDR's presidential hopes: "Mr. Roosevelt hoisted himself into the presidency on the body of his friend."

Sightings of Judge Crater were reported all over the country, and for a while, the police followed up every lead. He was seen on trains and ships, driving a taxi in a dozen towns, panning for gold in California and Alaska, sighted in the South Seas or the French Foreign Legion. In the 1950s, a Dutch clairvoyant "sensed" Crater's body buried near Yonkers in 1959, Westchester authorities dug up a Yonkers backyard in search of Crater's bones.

Eventually, detectives would interview more than 300 people and review thousands of letters, telegrams and depositions. They never found a trace of Crater or the papers that he had taken from his files.The state of New York declared Joe Crater legally dead on June 6, 1939, nine years after he went missing. Stella Crater sued three insurance companies to collect her husband's death benefits. Ellis, her lawyer, argued that gangsters had murdered the judge. Eventually, the insurance companies settled the suit.

He became a cultural figure, "the Missingest Man in New York," and the butt of nightclub jokes ("paging Judge Crater. "). As late as the 1960s, the name of Judge Crater was invoked as a symbol of the missing. His name even became popular slang: to pull a Crater is to vanish.

Stella Crater remarried, divorced and never stopped looking for her husband. The police closed the case in 1979. On the record, no one knows what happened to him. In this life, no one will.

Joseph Force Crater becomes the missingest man in New York - HISTORY

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

Above, Big Apple Corner at 54th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. Google Maps.

Above, John J. Fitz Gerald, from the Aug. 15, 1931, Binghamton (NY) Press, pg. 14.

Listen to Robert Emmerich introduce "The Big Apple," a hit song from 1937. Music written by Bob and performed by Tommy Dorsey's Clambake Seven with Bob on piano. Lyrics written by Buddy Bernier and sung by Edythe Wright. Audio provided by Dorothy Emmerich.

Also listen to a 1937 "The Big Apple" song by Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra. See a 1929 photo of John J. Fitz Gerald and a 1931 photo of John J. Fitz Gerald.

Judge Crater disappeared on August 6, 1930. A long search for him was fruitless. Crater was called "the most missingest man" in New York.

However, in August 2005, new details of his murder surfaced.

The slang term "pull a Crater" had been used for people who disappear without a trace.

Friday, August 19, 2005
By Larry Celona, Lorena Mongelli and Marsha Kranes

NEW YORK — The New York City Police Department's longest-running unsolved missing-persons case — the bizarre and legendary disappearance of Judge Joseph Force Crater — may finally be solved.

Judge Crater — who vanished mysteriously 75 years ago — was killed by a city cop and his cab-driver brother and buried under the boardwalk in Coney Island, according to a handwritten letter left behind by a Queens woman who died earlier this year.

"Good Time Joe" Crater was a dapper, 41-year-old judge known for his dalliances with showgirls and his ties to corruption-ridden Tammany Hall (search) — until he got into a cab in Midtown Manhattan one evening in 1930 and disappeared, earning the title of "the missingest man in New York."

The case triggered one of the most sensational manhunts of the 20th century — one that had city detectives fielding more than 16,000 tips from around the country and the world, all of them unsubstantiated.

Although he was declared legally dead in 1939, and his case — Missing Persons File No. 13595 — was officially closed in 1979, Crater's vanishing act has continued to intrigue professional and armchair detectives, clairvoyants and mystery buffs around the globe.

"Pulling a Crater" became slang for vanishing without a trace. But perhaps now, a trace will be found.

Sources told The Post that the NYPD Cold Case Squad is investigating information provided by Stella Ferrucci-Good of Bellerose, Queens, who died on April 2, leaving behind what may be a key to the mystery.

It's a handwritten letter in an envelope marked "Do not open until my death" that her granddaughter Barbara O'Brien found in a metal box in her grandmother's home, the sources said.

7 August 1960, New York Times, pg. SM28:
To look under a bed or chair and say, "I'm looking for Judge Crater," became a popular national joke, and the phrase "to pull a Crater," meaning to disappear, became a part of Broadway argot.

5 August 1979, Washington Post, pg. B6:
Within mere months of his disappearance he had become part of the national folklore, the subject of scavenger hunts and night club routines - "Judge Crater, call your office." The phrase, "to pull a Crater" entered the idiom.

5 August 1980, Chicago Tribune, pg. 1:
HE HAS BEEN called the most famous missing person in recent history and the "missingest man in New York." Even 50 years after he stepped into a taxi and vanished into a steamy summer evening, the name of Judge Joseph Force Crater still is synonymous with unsolved mysteries and legendary disappearing acts.

“The missingest man in New York”

Born on 5 January 1889, Joseph Force Crater’s childhood ambition was to be a judge. Having qualified at Columbia Law School in 1916 he joined a Manhattan law firm where his colleagues believed he was on his way to a seat on the United States Supreme Court.

Crater worked on all the cases that other lawyers shunned, writing intricate briefs. On 16 March 1917 he married Stella Wheeler whose divorce he had negotiated exactly a week earlier. In 1920 he became secretary to Judge Robert Wagner of the New York Supreme Court. By 1927 Crater was earning $75,000 a year and he bought a luxury flat at 40 Fifth Avenue and a summer estate at Belgrade Lakes, Maine. Although a womanizer, Crater had a main girlfriend, an ex-model called Constance Marcus for whom he had acted in her divorce. He paid part of her rent and gave her money to run a dress shop.

To finance his lifestyle Crater became involved in dodgy deals. In 1930 he lobbied to replace the retiring New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph M. Proskauer, despite the fact that he would have to take a 75 per cent drop in salary. He used every contact he had, including his mistress, and Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Crater on 8 April. Crater looked forward to the November election and confirmation of the 14-year post with a possible eye on the United States Supreme Court. Political opponents began digging into some of the deals brokered by Crater. He and his wife travelled to their summer home in June. He then returned to New York on 1 August to meet his mentor Robert Wagner.

Back in Maine, he received a phone call on 3 August and told his wife he had to return to Manhattan but promised to be back in time for her birthday on 9 August. By 11am on 6 August he was working hard in his office. He sent a minion to the bank for $5,150. At lunchtime he left the office, with the money and bundles of important files.

At 8pm he went to Billy Haas’s restaurant at 332 West 45th Street for dinner. At 9.15pm he jumped in a taxi for a trip to the theatre. Judge Crater was never seen again. His disappearance, one of the most famous in American history, earned him the title “The missingest man in New York”.

332 West 45th Street, New York City, USA

9.15pm Wednesday 6 August 1930

The City of New York offered a $5,000 reward for information. Judge Crater was declared legally dead on 6 July 1939. In 1985 the New York Police Department officially closed the case. In 2005 a woman died, leaving a note claiming that her late husband, a policeman, and his cab driving brother-in-law were responsible for Crater’s death and his corpse was buried on Coney Island beneath what is now the New York Aquarium.

Crater had two vices – fashion and women – and although one was obvious, he took pains to keep his extra-marital life a secret.

Joseph Force Crater

Joseph was an associate justice on the New York State Supreme Court in 1930. Many people believe that he was appointed to the court because of his involvement with New York City's Tammany Hall Democratic organization. He had a scandalous history that came to light after 1930, particularly due to his association with several organized crime members and a few suspicious financial dealings.

Joseph withdrew $20,000 from the bank at approximately the same time he was appointed as interim justice to the State Supreme Court in April 1930. That amount is close to his yearly salary at the time and was considered the standard amount earned for Tammany Hall positions.

Joseph apparently used the money to become the receiver for a bankrupt hotel in New York City. He sold the building later in the year to a mortgage firm for $75,000. The city purchased the hotel two months later for nearly $3,000,000. The building was demolished due to a street-widening project.

Joseph was married to his former client Stella Mance Wheeler, whom he wed in 1917 after her divorce. He was infamous for his affairs, although many described his relationship with his wife as "devoted." The couple were residing in their summer house in Belgrade Lakes, Maine in June 1930 after the courts recessed.

Joseph received a phone call in Maine in late July and told Stella that he had to travel to New York City to "straighten those fellows out," but he assured her that it was nothing serious. He returned to Maine by August 1, after apparently stopping in Atlantic City, New Jersey with one of his girlfriends.

Joseph traveled to New York City again on August 3. He had told Stella he would be back with her within a few days, and certainly by her birthday on August 9. He had already ordered a canoe as a present for her. Stella later stated that Joseph was in a good mood and did not seem at all nervous as he packed for his trip.

When he arrived in New York, he stayed at the 5th Avenue apartment he owned with Stella. Joseph reportedly spent two hours in his office during the morning hours of August 6. He removed several files in locked briefcases and brought the papers back to his residence. Joseph's assistant told authorities that his employer cashed over $5,000 worth of checks later in the day before dismissing him.

Joseph purchased one ticket for the Broadway performance of Dancing Partner at the Belasco Theatre later that night. He arrived at Billy Haas's Chophouse in the 300 block of west 45th Street in the borough of Manhattan during the evening hours and met his friend, attorney William Klein. Joseph's girlfriend, showgirl Sally Lou Ritz, was also at the restaurant.

Witnesses stated that Joseph departed from the restaurant at approximately 9:10 or 9:15 p.m., which was after the start time of the play he planned to attend. Klein and Ritz said Joseph hailed a tan-colored taxi on west 45th Street and this is the last time they saw him, but no taxicabs reported having picked him up, and in any case the cab would have been headed in the opposite direction from Joseph's apartment. He has never been heard from again.

Stella stated she became concerned about her husband when she failed to contact him by August 16, 1930, ten days after he was last seen. She sent her chauffeur to look for him the man searched for several days before returning to Stella and reporting that he could not find Joseph but the apartment appeared to be in order.

When Stella went to check the apartment herself, she found that none of Joseph's clothes were missing save the ones he had been wearing when he vanished, and the matching vest to the suit he had worn was still in the closet along with all of his travel bags. Joseph's monogrammed watch, pen, and card case, all of which he cherished and normally carried, were found on his dresser.

Authorities initially believed Joseph would return to New York in short order and did not begin an investigation. A search was initiated on August 25, when Joseph failed to appear at the opening of the courts.

A grand jury was convened in October 1930, nearly two months after Joseph's disappearance. Substantial evidence was collected during the investigation, but the jury members could not decide whether Joseph was deceased.

In January 1931, shortly after she moved back into the Fifth Avenue apartment for the first time since her husband's disappearance, Stella reported that she found four envelopes in their bureau.

One contained $6,690 in cash, $2,600 worth of checks Joseph had signed and made payable to himself, and three endorsed third-party checks totaling $521. The second envelope held four policies on Joseph's life, totaling $30,000, with Stella as the beneficiary. The third envelope contained Joseph's will. It had been written in 1925 and left everything he owned to Stella.

The fourth envelope in the drawer contained a three-page list in Joseph's handwriting of people and companies who owed money to him. It was apparently intended for Stella and was signed, "Love, Joe. This is all confidential." There was also a badly scrawled notation which could be read as either "Am very weary" or "I'm very sorry."

The list, judging by the due dates listed for some of the loans, had been written sometime before September 1, 1930.

Stella turned all of the papers over to the police, but not until several days after she'd found them. Investigators had thoroughly searched the apartment and the bureau five months before, and found nothing as a result, they were of the opinion that someone had broken into the apartment and planted the envelopes in the drawer sometime after the search had concluded.

However, Stella stated that the drawer the envelopes were in was not in plain view and the authorities may have missed it. She later stated she believed Joseph had written the list of debts sometime after his disappearance, possibly while under duress, and had someone else put it in the apartment for her to find.

The apartment had been under 24-hour surveillance from September 4, 1930 until January 1931, when Stella moved back into it. There was some speculation that she had actually discovered the papers at a much earlier date than she claimed, and kept the knowledge to herself for unknown reasons, but she always maintained she found the papers in the bureau drawer in January 1931.

Stella sued several insurance companies in 1937, seven years after her husband vanished. She claimed that he had been murdered by organized crime members. The companies won the lawsuits, but Stella continued to maintain that her husband had been a victim of foul play due to his political and criminal connections.

Joseph was declared legally deceased in 1939. Stella would go on to remarry, divorce, and then write a book about her life and her husband's disappearance the book, titled The Empty Robe, was published in 1961.

Rumors persisted that Joseph was murdered or disappeared of his accord and was living outside of the United States. There were many sightings of him all over the world and in every conceivable condition after his disappearance, but none of them were substantiated.

Authorities received a possible break in Joseph's case in 2005. A 91-year-old woman named Stella Ferrucci-Good died in April and among her effects, her relatives found an envelope marked "Do not open until my death."

Inside was a letter wherein Ferrucci-Good implicated three men in Joseph's alleged murder: her husband, a Parks Department supervisor and lifeguard who died in 1975 a New York Police officer and the officer's brother, a cab driver.

The letter stated they had killed murdered Joseph and buried his body in Coney Island, Brooklyn, under the boardwalk near west Eighth Street. The site Ferrucci-Good named is now occupied by the New York Aquarium.

Unconfirmed reports state that the skeletal remains of five people were found there when the aquarium was built however, all of them were buried in a potter's field with hundreds or thousands of other people's remains, and determining which of the corpses in the field came from the aquarium may be impossible.

Possible identification of the bones, if they are located, would be difficult. Joseph wore dentures, which rules out the possibility of using dental records, and he has no direct descendants living to test for DNA. His closest living relatives are his brother's grandchildren.

The phrase "pull a Crater" became popular in American culture after the justice's 1930 disappearance. It referred to people who were avoiding responsibilities or who vanished. Joseph's case is no longer under official investigation due to the passage of time.

What happened to Judge Crater?

Numerous theories have been put forth to explain the Judge’s vanishing act:

  • Political Victim: The Judge’s wife believed that he was murdered “because of something sinister connected to politics.” Also, there were many rumors at the time of a pending legal scandal. It should be noted that Judge Crater was deeply involved in the machinations of the Tammany Hall political machine.
  • Lover’s Quarrel: This theory, advanced by Mrs. Crater’s attorney, indicated that the Judge was being blackmailed by a showgirl. The Judge refused to pay her off and was killed for his troubles.
  • The Wife: Over the years, many have viewed Mrs. Crater with suspicion. The Judge was obviously cheating on her. Also, the fact that she didn’t involve the police until four weeks had gone by is somewhat strange.
  • Extended Vacation: Some think that the Judge skipped town and resettled elsewhere under a different name in order to live with another lover or to avoid a scandal.
  • Murder by Madam: In his book, Vanishing Point, Richard Tofel makes the argument that the Judge ended August 6 in a well-known brothel run by a woman named Polly Adler. Polly later wrote a popular book about her life as a madam. According to Tofel’s research, early drafts of the book stated that Judge Crater died of natural causes while in her brothel and that she had his body removed to an unknown location. While this is an interesting possibility, it should be noted that these early drafts have yet to be found.

On August 19, 2005, a handwritten note was discovered in a metal box after the death of a seemingly random woman named Stella Ferrucci-Good. The letter claimed that Judge Crater was murdered by three men: Robert Good and two brothers named Charles and Frank Burns. Robert Good was a Parks Department supervisor and Stella’s late husband. Charles was a New York police officer and Frank was a cab driver. While she didn’t mention a motive, she did state that the three men supposedly buried Judge Crater’s body under the boardwalk in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

In the mid-1950’s, the boardwalk had been torn up and the New York Aquarium built in its place. Unsubstantiated reports indicate that the remains of five bodies were found at the time. These skeletons were later interred in a mass potter’s grave on Hart Island.

Interest surged in the cold case. But the excitement quickly died off. The police were skeptical of Stella’s claim. And unfortunately, there was no way to substantiate it. Even if bones had been recovered from under the boardwalk, it would take a miracle to find them. It would take an even greater miracle to identify them, given that Crater has no living direct relatives from which to extract DNA.

Judge John Crater: On August 6 1930 Supreme Court judge became The Missingest Man in New York

FLASHBACK to August 6 1930: Judge Joseph Force Crater vanishes.

The 41-year-old came to be known as The Missingest Man in New York.

Married to Stella Mance Wheeler, the Judge had a mistress named Sally Lou Ritz. On the night of his vanishing, Crater dined with Ritz and a lawyer named William Klein, having earlier cashed two checks for US$5,150 and booked one seat for that evening’s performance of a comedy called Dancing Partner.

As the story goes, the newly appointed state supreme court judge was last seen getting into a cab at New York’s Times Square. In the decades that followed he became known as the missingest man in America. “Pulling a crater” became slang for vanishing without a trace.

He was legally declared dead in 1939, and the NYPD officially closed the crater file, missing persons case number 13995 in 1979.

Some says he was last seen getting into a taxi on W. 45th St. and waved farewell to his dining companions. Others say he walked away and it was they who took the cab.

Inexplicably, the judge’s disappearance went unnoticed for weeks. Court was in recess until Aug. 25, so his absence wasn’t noted. Stella Crater told investigators she thought her husband was busy in New York. On Sept. 3, 1930, police finally entered the investigation – and Crater’s vanishing act became headline news. Detectives discovered his safe-deposit box empty. After a barrage of publicity, the case died, except for one strange development. On Jan. 21, 1931, his wife found three envelopes with $6,690 in cash, along with a $30,000 insurance policy and the judge’s will in a drawer in the couple’s apartment at 40 Fifth Ave. Detectives, having thoroughly searched the apartment, were dubious.

Crater was soon spotted in Africa, Alaska, California, the South Sea Islands… You name the place and Crater was spotted there.

The woman, Stella Ferrucci-Good, who died in early April, wrote that her husband had told her that he learned over drinks with one or both of the brothers that they, along with several other men, had killed the judge and buried him under the Coney Island Boardwalk in Brooklyn…

The notes, which a granddaughter passed on to the police after Mrs. Ferrucci-Good died several months ago, made no mention of motive, leaving the field wide open on this most wide open of cases, police officials said. But one official, and several investigators with some knowledge of the inquiry, said yesterday that the Cold Case Squad detectives reinvestigating the disappearance have been unable to corroborate the central elements of her account.

In her notes, some of which were scribbled in the margins of more recent copies of The Daily News, Mrs. Ferrucci-Good wrote that her husband told her that Frank Burns, the taxi driver, told him that he had picked up the 41-year-old judge the night he disappeared after dining at Billy Haas’s chophouse on West 45th Street in Midtown, the official said.

According to her husband’s account, Mr. Burns drove a few blocks, then two accomplices jumped in the cab, and they drove to Coney Island, where they were joined by two more men. There, the judge was killed and buried beneath the Boardwalk near West Eighth Street, the official said Mrs. Ferrucci-Good wrote.

But nothing has been found.

Jean Ashton, acting librarian at the New-York Historical Society, said what happened to Judge Crater is one of the ”perpetual questions” about New York, ”along with why is New York called the Big Apple and why New York State is called the Empire State and when was the first ticker-tape parade.”

UPDATE: The “Missingest” Man in New York Found!

In 1930, on the night of of August 6, Judge Craer shook hands with a dinner companion and said good-bye. Then he stepped into a cab on westbound 45th street in New York City and road straight into oblivion.

In his legal career he aimed as high as he could see. He made no secret of his ambition someday to gain a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. There were many who thought he would make it. Compiling a superior record at Columbia Law, he had gone on to teach at Fordham and later was appointed assistant professor at New York University. Wherever he lectured, he was recognized as one of the most entertaining and most instructive men that ever graced a podium. He reached the level of Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court and had been appointed to the state bench by then-Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt just four months before disappearing. He was a man on his way to the top. Then, on the evening of August 2, while vacationing with his wife at their summer cottage in Maine, he got a mysterious phone call. Who called the judge or what was discussed has never been learned, but it was enough to send him packing. “I’ve got to straighten those fellows out,” he told Stella his wife. The next morning he boarded the Bar Harbor Express for New York. She never saw him again.

The following day, he arrived at his Fifth Avenue apartment but instead of dealing with business, he made a trip to Atlantic City in the company of a showgirl instead. On August 3, he was back in New York and on the morning of August 6, he spent two hours going through his files in his courthouse chambers. He then had his assistant, Joseph Mara, cash two checks for him that amounted to $5,150. At noon, he and Mara carried two locked briefcases to his apartment and he let Mara take the rest of the day off.

Later that evening, Crater went to a Broadway ticket agency and purchased one seat for a comedy that was playing that night called Dancing Partners at the Belasco Theater. He then went to Billy Haas’ chophouse on West 45th Street for dinner. Here, he ran into two friends, a fellow attorney and his showgirl date, and he joined them for dinner. The lawyer 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 9:00 (a short time after the curtain had opened for the show that Crater had a ticket for) and the small group went outside. At that point shook hands with his friend hailed a taxi and waved good-bye. It was the last anyone ever saw of him. The story captivated the nation and a massive investigation was launched. Had Crater been killed, or had he simply disappeared on his own? That was the question that everyone wanted the answer to.

The case triggered one of the most sensational manhunts of the 20th century ” one that had city detectives fielding more than 16,000 tips from around the country and the world, all of them unsubstantiated.

Although he was declared legally dead in 1939, and his case ” Missing Persons File No. 13595 ” was officially closed in 1979, Crater’s vanishing act has continued to intrigue professional and armchair detectives, clairvoyants and mystery buffs around the globe.

The New York City Police Department’s longest-running unsolved missing-persons case ” the bizarre and legendary disappearance of Judge Joseph Force Crater ” may finally be solved.

Sources told a NY newspaper that the NYPD Cold Case Squad is investigating information provided by a woman named Stella Ferrucci-Good of Queens, NY who died on April 2, leaving behind what may be a major clue the mystery.

It’s a handwritten letter in an envelope marked “Do not open until my death” that her granddaughter Barbara O’Brien found in a metal box in her grandmother’s home. In the letter, Ferrucci-Good claimed that her late husband, Robert Good along with another man a NYPD police officer named Charles Burns and the officer’s cab driver brother, Frank Burns, were responsible for Crater’s death. She added that the judge was buried in Coney Island, Brooklyn, under the boardwalk near West Eighth Street, at the current site of the New York Aquarium.

It has been established that workers did indeed unearth human remains back when the aquarium was first being built. It is unclear where these remains are today and whether they would be suitable for DNA testing.

NY Police sources confirmed that a police officer named Charles Burns served with the NYPD from 1926 to 1946, and that he spent part of his career assigned to the 60th Precinct in Coney Island. There were dozens of theories about the disappearance of Judge Crater. He had amnesia he committed suicide he ran off with a showgirl he was rubbed out so he couldn’t testify about Tammany Hall corruption he died in the arms of a prostitute and it was being covered up he was killed when he didn’t pay a blackmailer.

Maybe this time the truth really is out there under the boardwalk in Coney Island.

Joseph Force Crater goes missing.

This 48 page newspaper has one column headlines on the front page that include: "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" and more. Tells of the disappearance of New York City Judge Joseph Force Crater. This was when his disappearance was made public for the first time.

Other news of the day throughout including reporting on the 1st Atlantic Ocean flight from the West. (see headlines)

Light browning with minor spine wear, otherwise good.

wikipedia notes: Joseph Force Crater (January 5, 1889 &ndash 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".

In the summer of 1930, Judge Crater and his wife, Stella Mance Wheeler, were vacationing at their summer cabin at Belgrade Lakes, 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".

Watch the video: PODCAST ENGLISH Joseph Force Crater becomes the missingest man in New York (July 2022).


  1. Monohan

    It is remarkable, very useful idea

  2. Teague

    This - is impossible.

  3. Voran

    Please tell in more detail.

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