Joseph Force Crater was a New York Supreme Court associate justice and the president of the Tammany Hall Cayuga Democratic Club. He grew up in Pennsylvania and went on to attend Lafayette College and Columbia University Law School. He started practicing law in New York City in 1913 and was a prominent figure in the city for the next nearly 20 years. He disappeared on August 6, 1930; he was 41 years old. He was known for some time after the incident as the “Missingest Man in New York.”
Judge Joseph Crater and his wife Stella were spending the summer of 1930 at their cabin in Belgrad Lakes, Maine, when Crater got a mysterious phone call. After the call, he informed his wife that he needed to go back to New York City to “straighten these fellows out.” He went to New York City the next day and then headed to Atlantic City with a showgirl. He returned to New York on August 3, 1930. On August 6 he went to his office and sorted through his files. He sent his assistant to cash two checks that equaled $5,150, then he left the office at noon with his assistant and two briefcases.
Judge Crater went to his apartment and then dismissed his assistant. Later on he went and bought a ticket to a show that was playing that night. He then headed to West 45th Street to eat dinner at the Billy Haas’ chophouse. He saw another lawyer there, who was an acquaintance, and so he sat down to eat with the man and his date. The man said later that there seemed to be nothing amiss with Judge Crater. He said that he behaved like his normal self. After dinner the couple parted ways with the Judge outside of the restaurant and Joseph Crater got into a cab. That was the last confirmed sighting of him. It is unlikely that he ever made it to the show which he had purchased a ticket for.
After Crater had been gone for 10 days, his wife got nervous. He had said that he would be returning to Maine, so she called a few friends of his and asked if anyone knew of his whereabouts. She learned nothing. No other searches were conducted until he failed to appear in court on August 25, at which time his co-workers began to search for him. The police were not alerted until September 3, nearly a month after the man had vanished. A grand jury called up 95 witnesses and a total of 975 pages of testimony was acquired, but no one knew where the judge had gone or what happened to him.
Judge Crater’s safe deposit box was empty and no one is quite sure what was in the two briefcases he had brought home the day he disappeared. He also had dealings with corrupt politicians. All of this points to the possibility that the judge slipped away on purpose. However, no one could turn up a reason for an abrupt decision to leave. There is also the fact that he seemed to have a good relationship with his wife, despite his liking for showgirls, which makes one wonder why he would leave without telling her. Crater also left some cash, checks, stocks, bonds and insurance policies in a bureau in his apartment. Why would he leave without these things?
There is also the possibility that Judge Joseph Crater was murdered after he got into that cab. It is possible, if not likely, that he made enemies during his career and that one of these enemies thought it was a good idea to get rid of him. He may have known something that he wasn’t supposed to know or have done something he shouldn’t have. However, there is no proof of any of this. At this point, and possibly forever, we can only speculate about the fate of Judge Crater. There is simply not enough evidence to tell us what happened to him. He was declared dead on June 6, 1979.