The Doe Network:
Case File 626DMNY


Joseph Force Crater
Missing since August 6, 1930 from New York City, New York County, New York.
Classification: Missing

Vital Statistics

Circumstances of Disappearance
Crater was an associate justice on the New York State Supreme Court in 1930.  Crater had an association with several organized crime members and a few suspicious financial dealings. 

Crater was married to Stella Wheeler, whom he wed in 1917. Crater and Wheeler were residing in their summer house in Belgrade Lakes, Maine in June 1930 after the courts recessed. Crater received a phone call in Maine in late July and told his wife he had to travel to New York City.  He returned to Maine by August 1, after apparently stopping in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Crater traveled to New York City again on August 3 and stayed at the 5th Avenue apartment he owned with his wife. Crater reportedly spent two hours in his office during the morning hours of August 6. He removed several files in locked briefcases and brought the papers back to his residence. Crater's assistant told authorities that his employer cashed $5,000 worth of checks later in the day before dismissing him.

Crater purchased one ticket for the Broadway performance of Dancing Partner at the Belasco Theater later that night. He arrived at Billy Has' Chophouse on West 45th Street during the evening hours and met his friend, attorney William Klein. Showgirl Sally Lou Ritz, was also at the restaurant. Witnesses stated that Crater departed from the restaurant at approximately 21.10, which was after the start time of the play he planned to attend. Crater hailed a taxi on West 45th Street and disappeared. He has never been heard from again.

Wheeler became concerned about her husband when she failed to contact him by August 16, 1930, ten days after he was last seen. Authorities initially believed Crater would return to New York in short order and did not begin an investigation. A search was initiated on August 25, when Crater failed to appear at the opening of the courts. A grand jury was convened in October 1930, nearly two months after Crater's disappearance. Substantial evidence was collected during the investigation, but the jury members could not decide if Crater was deceased.

Wheeler sued several insurance companies in 1937, seven years after her husband vanished. She claimed that he had been murdered by members of organized crime. The companies won the lawsuits, but Wheeler continued to maintain that Crater was a victim of foul play due to his political and criminal connections.

Crater was declared legally deceased in 1939. 

If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:

NYPD Missing Person's Squad

Agency Case Number: 13595

Source Information:
Reader's Digest
Hardini's Place
The Seattle Times 8/20/05

Return to the Unexplained Disappearances' Index