Joseph Force Crater Disappeared From NYC in Broad Daylight: What Happened?

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On August 6, 1930, a New York State Supreme Court Justice named Joseph F. Crater disappeared without a trace from New York City. Crater’s disappearance caused a media sensation and received massive publicity, but his whereabouts and ultimate fate remain a mystery. What happened that late summer day in NYC, and where could Crater have gone?

Background

Joseph Crater was born on January 5, 1889, in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was the eldest of four and went on to study law at Columbia University. While enrolled at Columbia, Crater met Stella Wheeler, and the two married in 1917. 

Crater went on to become a New York State Supreme Court Justice, issuing two published opinions during his career. His uneventful turn as a state justice ended abruptly in 1930 with his sudden disappearance. 

Final Days

Crater and his wife visited their summer residence in Maine in late July of 1930. The justice received a phone call while the couple was vacationing and told Stella that he needed to return to New York to “straighten those fellows out.” He offered no further context for the discussion during the phone call. Stella bid her husband farewell and stayed at the cabin while Crater drove back to New York.

The justice returned to the cabin on August 1 after spending a few days with his mistress, a showgirl named Sally Lou Ritzi. On August 3, he left for New York once more, promising Stella he’d return by her birthday on August 9. According to his legal assistant, Joseph Mara, Crater destroyed numerous documents during his second trip into the city. He also tasked Mara with cashing checks worth over $5,000, a substantial sum of money in 1930.

Disappearance

Crater’s last known sighting occurred in the evening of August 6, when he joined Ritzi and his friend William Klein for a steak dinner at Billy Haas’s Chophouse. Klein and Ritzi would later tell detectives that the justice appeared to be in good spirits at the time and didn’t indicate that anyone was harassing him.

The two gave differing accounts of their last sighting of Crater. Initially, they told investigators that the justice got into a taxi cab after his meal. Later, they amended their story, saying Crater planned to walk to a Broadway show he was seeing alone later that evening.

Theories

The authorities never discovered any physical evidence relating to Crater’s disappearance. He was declared legally dead in 1939, and the investigation was formally closed in 1979. His wife, Stella, maintained her belief that Crater was killed by political rivals over his role in the state’s courts. Some investigators speculated that Crater may have faked his death to start a new life with his mistress, but this lead proved untrue as Ritzi continued living in New York after Crater’s disappearance.

In the end, the authorities might never know what happened to Crater. His final fate remains a mystery.