by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
February 20, 2007
THE COLD CASE OF JUDGE CRATER, WARMED OVER
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Surprisingly, there were many calls, e-mails and letters from readers who enjoyed my article on the kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby and events surrounding the 1932 event. Every once in awhile, there are stories that capture our attention and stay with us until decades later we still want to know more.
Another such story is the disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater. Now, admittedly, I have no first-hand information on this story. What I do have is a sharp recollection of how his vanishing act became colloquial humor almost from the day he stepped into a taxicab on August 6, 1930, never to be heard from again, until ... well, now - at least to people old enough to still remember what "pulling a Judge Crater" would mean. Sightings became popular in the middle of the last century. Just as Elvis has been "seen," so also was Crater.
The Judge was declared legally dead in 1939 but there was not a chance that his wife was waiting with bated breath to be single again, a widow, one who could make claims or get married or inherit anything.
No, she was one faithful woman who acknowledged his disappearance on August 6th by sitting alone at a bar on a side street in Greenwich Village every year until she died. Stella Crater would order two drinks, have only one for herself, and gesturing a toast to no one in particular, say "Good Luck, Joe, wherever you are."
Although theories about his death were rampant, Stella Crater continued to believe he was kidnapped and probably "rubbed out" by "the mob." Her reason? He refused to acknowledge how they helped him secure nomination to the State Supreme Court Bench. The Governor of New York at the time was Franklin D. Roosevelt who appointed Crater just a few months before he mysteriously left town. The search was immediate and extensive yet yielded nothing.
Forty years after he was declared legally dead, the case was closed; however, it probably does not remain unsolved. That is if you wish to believe a note found in a dead woman's "effects," not to be opened and read until such time. She was 93.
If what the investigators read into some yellowing fragments is correct, Judge Crater's bones lie under the Coney Island Boardwalk, 8th Street, or at least that's where they are purported to be if we can believe Stella Ferrucci-Good's notes - along with four other bodies, all discovered in the 1950's when construction started for the Aquarium now on that site. Those bodies are all in Potter's Field, unnamed, unidentified.
Oh, now that would be a formidable task for the Forensic Anthropologists crew on "Bones," one of my weekly television programs of choice. But I'm inclined to agree with author Richard J. Tofel who wrote a book about the case published in 2004, "Vanishing Point: The Disappearance of Judge Crater and the New York He Left Behind," that Stella's dying and leaving notes behind was just not the definitive solution to the crime. Crater was not just shot and dumped in a gesture of getting even by some cab driver and his cop brother.
Tofel's tack on the mystery is not mob related at all; rather, he believes Judge Crater, being true to his style and image as Dapper Joe Crater, got into that cab all right, wearing a brown suit, gray spats, a Panama hat, smiling and waving to his friends, then went - not to death by a bullet, but to the famous Madame Polly Adler's brothel, dying in the arms of a beautiful prostitute.
That's his, not my story; but, I know this for certain: to disappear on an August night at Coney Island is absolutely impossible. August in New York, ocean breezes or not, would leave nothing unnoticed by the late night and overnight sleepers on the beach, and crowds looking for a break from the hot and humid air.
If the Judge were killed first and his body kept around, his killer would have no place to stash it - there was no air- conditioning; and if he were kept alive until he relinquished the $20,000 he had taken out of his lock box, he would have sweet-talked them out of a final solution. Judge Crater was not one to let himself be put on ice.
In an effort to verify facts, I checked weather that August and I am right about my supposition: Reporting weather conditions at a later hot season, I read this in the archives: "However, the record for the month of August was 8 consecutive days set in 1930." He could have been shot and dumped, but not at Coney Island.
As to the long arm of Stella Ferrucci-Good's accusation, I don't know why she would tell that tale - unless it was just a story, like Tofel's. I do not believe either story happened that way - but either story could have.