Judge Joseph Force Crater was born on January 5, 1889 in Easton, Pennsylavania. He was a associate Supreme Court Justice for the state of New York.
The judge was vacationing with his wife Stella Mance Wheeler when he received a phone call and told his wife he had to go back to New York City ” to straighten those fellows out”.
The phone call may have been a ruse since he traveled to Atlantic City to meet his mistress Sally Lou Ritz a showgirl. He returned to Maine on August 1 of 1930 but then returned to New York City again on August 3 telling his wife he would return to Maine by August 9 for her birthday.
He had his assistant Joseph Mara cash two checks totaling $5,150 on the morning of August 6 and he purchased a single ticket for a Broadway play. He went to a restaurant on 45th Street before the play to meet his mistress Sally Lou Ritz and William Klein an attorney friend.
Strangely he left the restaurant after the play had already started. Then there are conflicting stories about what happened next. Some accounts say he hailed a cab while others say he walked down the sidewalk. Regardless he was never seen again and his disappearance is a cold case that is now 80 years old.
Another oddity about his disappearance is that his wife didn’t notify police of his disappearance only calling friends in New York City if they knew his whereabouts.
His fellow justices became concerned when he didn’t show up for the start of court on August 25. 19 days had passed since he was last seen and the justices instead of calling the police started a search of their own and the police weren’t notified till September 3 which was 28 days after he was last seen.
The long wait to notify the police may have hampered the investigation by the police since it gave the killers time to cover their tracks and get rid of the body if was a murder.
Crater’s wife maintained that he was murdered by organized crime and sued several insurance companies apparently to get the money from life insurance policies on her husband but the insurance companies won the lawsuit ostensibly because there was no proof that the judge was dead.
The police thought they had a break in the case in 2005 when Stella Ferrucci-Good died leaving a letter behind that was not to be opened till her death.
Her letter named her husband Robert Good, Charles Burns a NYPD policeman and his brother Frank Burns who was a cabby were behind the murder of Judge Crater.
She went on to say in the letter that Judge Crater was buried at Coney Island under the boardwalk. Since then the New York Aquarium was built over the site. Five bodies were found when the aquarium was built but it still is not known if the body of Judge Crater is among those bodies.
It is mysterious why his mistress Sally Lou Ritz also disappeared a couple of weeks after Judge Crater vanished. She was never seen alive again either.
There are many scenarios that may explain the disappearance of Judge Crater and Sally Lou Ritz:
Judge Crater may have been murdered by organized crime or other enemies and the killers murdered Ritz because she knew too much.
Both of them may have moved to another state or country to avoid being detected and settled down but this is unlikely since his face was so recognizable because of the posters with his photo that unless he drastically altered his appearance enough he couldn’t hide anywhere. The fact that she disappeared at about the same time seems very suspicious but it may be because both of them were murdered and had nothing to do with his infidelity.
An even more unlikely scenario is that Judge Crater had amnesia and forgot who he was but he was too well known to have walked the streets of New York City without someone recognizing him.
Judge Crater was declared legally dead in 1979 and the New York City police closed the case in 1979 but reopened it in 2005 when the letter surfaced giving them more information.
This website gives more details of the 2005 letter which gave hope the case would be solved:
This message board at websleuths.com includes a post from a commenter who says Sally Lou Ritz was living in California in 1937.
The Charley Project website has more info on Sally Lou Ritz.