Justice Joseph Crater: The Missingest Man in New York

By | October 26, 2019

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Justice Joseph Crater. Source: (historicmysteries.com)

Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the mysterious disappearances of Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earhart; however, before either of them disappeared, there was the case of Justice Joseph Crater, the New York Supreme Court judge who was last seen on August 6, 1930. Despite numerous leads, the judge was never found, and his disappearance is considered the longest unsolved missing persons case in New York history, earning Crater the title of the “Missingest Man in New York.”

Crater was born on January 5, 1889, in Easton, Pennsylvania, the son of Irish immigrants. His father, Frank Crater, owned an orchard and operated a produce market. Crater was raised in Easton and remained there after graduating high school to attend Lafayette College. He later went on to obtain a law degree from Columbia University, graduating in 1916. While at Columbia, he met Stella Wheeler and, after helping her get a divorce, the two of them married in 1917.

After working several years as a law clerk, while simultaneously teaching legal classes to supplement his income, Crater decided to go into politics. His first political position was secretary to New York Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Wagner. In 1927, Crater opened his own law firm which proved quite successful. Then in April 1930, Crater was appointed to the New York Supreme Court by then-Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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Tammany Hall & 14th St. West, New York City, 1914. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Crater’s reputation up to this point was less than stellar. Not only was he known to have a weakness for showgirls, but there were also rumors that he had dealings with organized crime, specifically with regards to the Democratic Party of New York, Tammany Hall. In 1929, Crater had been under investigation for his handling of the sale of Liberty Hotel to the American Mortgage Loan Company, which was later sold back to the city for a profit exceeding $2 million. While there was no evidence proving Crater had done anything illegal, the incident cast suspicion upon his character and many speculated that he had obtained his appointment to the New York Supreme Court through bribery.