JUDGE CRATER Biography - Crimes, Laws and people


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Name: Judge Joseph Force Crater                                                             
Born: 5 January 1889                                                                         
Joseph Force Crater (January 5, 1889 - date of death unknown) was a judge in New             
York City who suddenly disappeared on the night of August 6, 1930. He was last               
seen leaving a restaurant and entering a taxi. 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".                                                                 
Crater was born on 5 January 1889 in Easton, Pennsylvania, the eldest of four               
children born to Frank Ellsworth Crater and the former Leila Virginia Montague.             
He was an Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court. He had been                       
appointed to the state bench by then-Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt just four               
months before disappearing on August 6, 1930. He had been educated at Lafayette             
College (Class of 1910) and Columbia University.                                             
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".                                                               
The next 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. 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. He then had his                   
assistant, Joseph Mara, cash two checks for him that amounted to U.S. $5,150 (equivalent     
to about $60,000 in 2006). 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 bought one seat             
for a comedy called Dancing Partner that was playing that night at the Belasco               
Theater. He then went to Billy Haas’s Chophouse on West 45th Street for dinner.           
Here, he ate dinner with his friend, a lawyer, and his mistress, a 22-year-old               
showgirl called Sally Lou Ritz. 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 pm, a short time after the                 
curtain rose on the show for which Crater bought a ticket, and the small group               
went outside.                                                                               
Crater then waved goodbye to his friends and hailed and entered a cruising taxi             
on West 45th Street. 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 that were             
about to be revealed.                                                                       
Strangely, 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 might have 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.                                                                         
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.                           
In October, a grand jury began examining the case, calling 95 witnesses and                 
amassing 975 pages of testimony. 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, and Crater was officially declared dead "in absentia" on June 6,               
1939, and his case " Missing Persons File No. 13595 " was officially                         
closed in 1979.                                                                             
Sally Lou Ritz disappeared in August or September 1930, and was never seen again.           
On August 19, 2005 authorities revealed they received a letter written half a               
century before by Stella Ferrucci-Good. In it, the woman identified a location               
near West Eighth Street in Coney Island, Brooklyn, at the current site of the               
New York Aquarium, where she claimed the judge was buried under the boardwalk.               
Moreover, the letter identified Crater's killers as her husband, Robert Good,               
NYPD officer Charles Burns, also bodyguard of Abe Reles of Murder, Inc., and                 
Burns' brother Frank, a cab driver.                                                         
Police confirmed that skeletal remains had been discovered at that site in the               
1950s. Modern DNA techniques, unavailable in the 1950s, would make it easy to               
determine whether a set of remains were Judge Crater's. However, the bones                   
discovered were almost immediately reburied in a Potter's Field on Hart Island,             
New York, among hundreds (if not thousands) of other unmarked and unidentified               
remains, and it would now be a daunting task to find those bones among so many.