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1930s & Earlier / Judge Crater Disappearance 1930
Joseph Force Crater was an associate judge of the New York Supreme Court. On August 6, 1930, the 41-year-old Crater was in New York City, ostensibly on business, while his wife vacationed without him in Maine. While in New York, Crater spent time with his young showgirl mistress, Sally Lou Ritz. Crater dined with Ritz and a lawyer friend, then they attended a play. When the show ended, Crater's companions got into a taxi and watched Crater walk away...never to be seen again. After several days it was obvious to the judge's wife and colleagues that something was terribly amiss--especially when court reconvened on August 25 with Crater still absent. An investigation was launched. When the story hit the newspapers, a nationwide manhunt began. Naturally, foul play was suspected. On the morning of his disappearance, Crater's assistant had helped the judge cash two checks totaling more than $5,100. The money was put into two locked briefcases and taken to the judge's apartment. Speculation ran along the lines of Crater paying blackmail money. A grand jury trial followed, yielding 975 pages of testimony. It implicated Crater in shady real estate and financial deals, but the authorities had no success in finding any trace of the judge. (Sally Lou Ritz escaped much of the publicity--but not the gossip--when she herself vanished, never to be seen again.) Crater's wife did not return to her New York City apartment until January 31, 1931--where she found a manila envelope addressed to her in the judge's handwriting. It contained his will, $6,619 in cash, several checks, stocks, bonds, life insurance policies, and a hurriedly penned three-page personal note. The envelope had apparently been placed there after the police had searched the apartment. (Three checks were dated August 30--more than three weeks after the judge had vanished!) For several decades the term 'pulling a Judge Crater' was slang for vanishing or leaving an awkward situation discreetly. On August 19, 2005, authorities announced they had obtained a letter written by Stella Ferrucci-Good, who had recently died at age 91. The missive indicated that Judge Crater had been murdered by her late husband, a policeman, and a cab driver friend. Supposedly a skeleton found under the boardwalk at Coney Island in the 1950s was Crater's. An aquarium now occupies the site. The unidentified bones were interred in a mass grave on Hart Island, the usual spot where unclaimed corpses were commonly buried in unmarked plots. However, Ferrucci-Good's story has a major hole: no record exists of a body ever being found under the Coney Island boardwalk.