On August 6, 1930, Judge Joseph Force Crater, a newly-appointed New York State Supreme Court justice, went to his office, dug out some files, and had an assistant cash a couple checks for him, amounting to a little over $5000. He then went out to dinner with a showgirl and another friend. No one ever saw him again.
Crater was born in Easton, Pennsylvania on January 5, 1889. He attended Lafayette College and the Colombia University Law School. He began practicing law in New York in 1913, becoming a fairly successful lawyer, as well as the president of the Democratic Party club in Manhattan. In addition to being a successful jurist and respectable family man, Judge Crater also had a fondness for liquor and shapely showgirls that gave him the nickname of "Good Time Joe". He also had connections with the "Tammanny Hall" political machine that ran New York City Democratic Party. He was appointed to the State Supreme Court in 1930 by then-governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
That summer, Crater was vacationing with his wife in a cabin in Maine, when he recieved a phone call. He told his wife he would need to return to New York for a few days to "straighten those fellow out." He promised to return by the 9th of August, his wife's birthday.
He left his office on the afternoon of August 6th. He bought a ticket to a comedy that was playing at the Belasco Theater entitled "Dancing Partners. Then he went out to dinner with one of his mistresses, a showgirl named Sally Lou Ritz, and other friend, Bill Klein.
And that was the last anyone ever saw of Judge Crater. Someone, possibly Crater, picked up the ticket he had reserved at the Belasco Theater; but he never appeared anywhere else.
After about ten days of waiting, his wife began calling friends in New York to see if they knew where he was. A couple weeks later, he failed to show up for the first session of the State Supreme Court and his fellow justices began discreet inquiries. It wasn't until September 3rd that the police were notified and the story of the disappearence hit the headlines.
The case became a national sensation, and many Elvis-like reports of sightings came in from all over the country. Judge Crater became known as "the most missingest man in New York."
But what happened to him?
At the time, there was much speculation that he had deliberately disappeared. The phrase "pull a Crater", meaning vanish without a trace, for a time was in popular usage. His wife believed he was murdered due to "something sinister invovled with politics1" and tried unsuccessfully to get her husband's insurance company to pay her double indemnity claim.
According to a letter written by a woman named Stella Ferrucci-Good which surfaced after her death in 2005, her husband, Robert Good, along with two brothers named Frank and Charles Bruns, (the one a "button man" for "Murder, Inc."; the other an off-duty cop) were sent by New York Gangster Jack ''Legs" Diamond to put pressure on Crater. Things went wrong; Crater fought back and got shot. They buried Crater's body under the boardwalk at Coney Island. As it happens, several bodies were found in that spot in 1956 when the foundation for the New York City Aquarium was being dug; but technology at the time was unable to identify the remains. Other researchers have cast doubt on Ferrucci-Good's story.
Game and Story Use
- In a Pulp Era campaign, the players might be called in to investigate Judge Crater's disappearance.
- A showgirl who knows one of the PCs comes to him for help. She was with this prominent judge last night and something really bad happened. Now she's afraid for her own life
- Even before he disappeared, the high-living well-connected judge would be an interesting NPC to meet.
- Perhaps the PC's come into possession of new evidence regarding an old missing persons case, like Ferrucci-Good's letter.