By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
Joseph Force Crater, a New York State Supreme Court Justice disappeared August, 1930. Almost a hundred years later, there are no definite answers as to what happened to him.
Judge Crater was remembered for several reasons. He was a philanderer of the first order; he had a scrawny neck (14 inches), a head that was too small for his 6 foot body, and taking a taxi ride that never ended. His disappearance stumped police, psychics and armchair investigators long before Jimmy Hoffa evaporated from this earth in 1975.
There was nothing in Crater’s history to indicate he would become so notorious. He was born on January 5, 1889, in Pennsylvania to Leila Virginia née Montague and Frank Ellsworth Crater. He was the oldest of four children. His father owned an orchard, and he was a produce market operator. Joe worked at his father's business when he was teenager, and went on to graduate from Columbia in 1916 with a law degree. He belonged to Sigma Chi, and was a Mason, like all the men in his family.
Crater then when on to work as a law clerk in New York City, and taught legal classes at City College of NY, Fordham University and New York University. It was during those years he met Stella Mance Wheeler, a married woman and started long-term affair with her. She’d married Edward Randolph Hampton, a printer on May 27, 1908. Crater was instrumental in securing a divorce for her. They married within days after her divorce was finalized in March, 1917.
A few years later, Joe Crater decided he would get into politics. He was appointed in 1920 as a secretary to NY Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Wagner Sr.
In 1922, he suffered a personal loss when his younger brother Douglass Montague Crater, died in an automobile accident in New Jersey. He was 29 years old.
But Crater didn't lose sight of his goal, and in 1927 he set up his law practice. Now the Craters could afford to entertain in a lavish style in their 5th Avenue apartment. They hired a maid, a cook and a chauffeur, which was the norm for the crowd they ran with, at least on a social level.
Since Crater worked in the legal system he was unaffected by the Wall Street crash in 1929.
In April 1930, he was appointed by Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt to fill in for a supreme court judge who had resigned. By then he was part of the New York Democratic organization known as Tammany Hall, and the Cayuga County Democratic Club.
During the summer the courts were recessed, and the couple went to their cabin in Belgrade Lakes, Maine, which they had owned for 15 years.
The summer of 1930, Crater returned to the city in late July. He gave their maid Almeda (Amelia) Christian almost a month off, instructing her to return on August 25 which is when they would return to the apartment.
After this he traveled to Atlantic City for a couple of days with his showgirl girlfriend, Sally Lou Ritz.
He returned to Maine on August 1. Two days later he returned to New York City, promising his wife he would be back by her birthday which was August 9.
According to Stella Crater, he had a conversation that upset him. She did not witness the call, since they didn't have a phone in the cabin and he walked into town to use one. His wife said he didn't say who called, but he left the next day telling her, he had to "straighten those fellows out”.
However before he straightened anyone out, Judge Crater went out on the town. On August 4, accompanied by William Klein an attorney who represented theater folk, they went to the Morosco Theater to see Ladies All.
The next stop was Club Abbey on W. 54th St. which was known to be a "rendezvous of corrupt politicians and underworld potentates, then very intimately associated in New York." Gangster Owney Madden ran the club and mobsters like "Legs" Diamond, Dutch Schultz, and "Mad Dog" Coll were frequently seen there. The draw for Joe Crater was no doubt, Elaine Dawn, another of his mistresses who was performing in the chorus.
It wasn't the notoriety of being one of the last places Joe Crater had visited that closed the place down by early 1931, but the shooting of Chink Sherman and Dutch Schultz.
On August 5, Crater attended a bridge party at Dr. August Raggi's house. He also had the doctor look at a finger he smashed with a car door. The doctor was a friend, and not his regular physician.
On August 6, he went to his office at the courthouse, and went through his personal files. He destroyed some documents and put others in his briefcase. Next he ordered his court attendant Joseph Mara to cash two checks that totaled $5,150, and then he took $20,000 from campaign funds (equivalent to a year's salary), and left with two locked briefcases. Mara also helped him lug boxes of paper, and his safe deposit box up to his apartment. Joseph was the son of John Mara, Tammany leader of the 23rd Assembly District.
That evening Crater was dressed to the nines in a brown, pinstripe suit, gray spats and a straw Panama hat. Earlier in the day he purchased one ticket only, to see a new show, Dancing Partner that was playing at the Belasco Theater. He commented to the ticket clerk he planned to return to Maine the following day.
From there Crater walked down the street to Billy Haas' Chophouse at 332 W. 45th St. He met Sally Lou Ritz and William Klein who were eating dinner. In some versions Sally's parents were present as well. He left at 9:15 p.m. having missed the curtain for the show which started at 8:40 p.m.
He stepped into a tan-colored taxicab at New York Times Square and disappeared into oblivion. The driver of the cab was never located despite the efforts of the detectives assigned to the case. The vehicle belonged to a well-known firm, but no record of the trip ever turned up in its files.
The theater ticket he bought to the Belasco Theater was never used, however someone did pick it up.
Later on the story about where the Judge went after leaving the restaurant varied. In one version he got in the taxi, in another he walked away while his companions were that ones that took the cab.
August 9, came and went and the judge failed to return to Maine. A week later, Stella Crater sent their chauffeur Fred Kahler to New York to locate her husband. He sent back a vague telegram. Possibly he was assured by Crater's colleagues, who were trying to cover for him in case he was spending time with a showgirl and lost track of time, that there was nothing to worry about.
On August 25, the courts were back in session and Judge Crater was a no show. On August 29, when Stella got a call from one of his friends asking where he was, she came back to New York, and contacted every one of his political colleagues, including Mayor Jimmy Walker. They reassured her everything was fine, but just to go back to Maine and they would find out what happened. However discreet their inquiries, they came up with nothing, and the girlfriend theory was tossed out, as it was feared he had been kidnapped or killed.
When it came out, the story headlined in all the papers across the country, and police officially opened the investigation on September 3, 1930, almost a month after he was last seen. Whatever clues, if any, about what happened to Joe Crater had grown ice cold.
Crater was described as a "meticulous dresser, he owned dozens of suits, being given to double-breasted dark blue or gray most of the time. He also favored the old-fashioned type of high-folded stiff collar, in which the necktie fitted in a very slim knot. He wore his silver-gray hair parted in the middle; the teeth in both his upper and lower jaws were artificial. (The state of his teeth were used in the future, more than once to compare skeletal remains thought to be his, and disprove the find if the skull had its original teeth).
Police searched his safe deposit box, and found it empty. The chauffeur and maid were questioned by police, but they offered nothing of importance.
There was talk of dragging Great Pond, at the head of Belgrade Lakes close to the Crater’s cabin. The inference was unmistakable. There was a suspicion that Crater had returned to Maine, and he died there, either by his own hand or someone else's.
Hiram C. Todd was the special prosecutor in charge of the case. At the onset of the investigation the police complained they had run into a wall surrounding details of the judge's life. They even couldn't find out the name of his physician. Their interest of course was to verify if the judge had any problems with his health.
The police said that Crater was described by his court attendant Mara as "very blue and moody" on August 6, however he was the only person who saw the judge that day who said that. Others had described Joe Crater as being normal and pleasant.
Initially Stella refused to appear before a grand jury which was investigating her husband's disappearance. She claimed she was suffering from a nervous breakdown. However the police had received reports she was riding around the countryside in a vehicle as late as September 3, while her husband was being searched for. Later she said, in reference to her husband's fate, it was "because of a sinister something that was connected with politics." She also said she had been advised by his colleagues to lay low and just go back to Maine.
Four months after Crater's disappearance, Stella returned to New York. Police were stunned when she told them she found three envelopes inside a drawer in their apartment. Inside was $6,690 in cash and four life insurance policies totaling $30,000. Part of the trove was his last will leaving everything to Stella, several checks and stock dividends payable to Joseph Crater, bank passbooks and a list of people who owed him money. The investigators thought it was strange since the apartment had been thoroughly searched already. Stella said the drawer was small and easily overlooked, especially with a "bureau scarf" that covered it.
There was no proof, but this event seem to indicate that someone had gone back into the apartment after October when it was last searched and placed the items there. Question was who did it; Crater, a friend or his killer who had nothing against his widow?
Without her husband's support eventually she was evicted from their apartment on 40 Fifth Avenue. She went to work as a secretary. It wasn't until 1939 that she received $20,561 (equivalent to almost 1/2 million dollars present day) from his life insurance, once he was declared legally dead.
Theories for the disappearance were attributed to amnesia, suicide, a new life with a showgirl; assassination because he knew too much about the corruption at Tammany Hall, that he died in the arms of a prostitute and a blackmailer killed him after not being paid off.
An Albany professor believed the judge was killed by gangster Jack "Legs" Diamond, in the basement of an upstate brewery. Diamond who was known for kidnapping people and hi-jacking other bootleggers’ shipments, was killed in December, 1931.
Besides the outlandish theories about his disappearance, there were more probable ones.
Hot on the heels of Crater's appointment, the NY Supreme Court was delving into claims of corruption of the Democratic Party in Tammany Hall. Bribery, improper transactions, misuse of taxpayer monies and selling of high-placed municipal jobs were some of the crimes being investigated.
The Judge himself was under investigation because in 1929, he was appointed as receivership of the foreclosed Liberty Hotel in the Lower East Side. He sold the hotel to the American Mortgage Loan Company for $75,000. Six months later, the company sold it back to the city for $2.85 million. It led to suspicions that he had paid off Tammany Hall for his appointment to the New York Supreme Court. He denied all the allegations, and Samuel Seabury the chief counsel of the investigating committee never found evidence to prosecute him on.
The Seabury investigation eventually led to the resignation of Mayor Jimmy Walker.
The initial alarm and disbelief that a supreme court judge could disappear so mysteriously gave way in some instances to humor. Comedians of the day use the event for their skits, commenting, "Judge Crater, call your office." Since Lassie could find Timmy in the well, Mad magazine portrayed her finding the judge.
After Judge Crater's disappearance many of his girlfriends left New York City, most of them in order to avoid subpoenas to testify before the D.A.
Constance "Connie" Braemer Marcus, the clothing model who was Crater's mistress for seven years was questioned by the grand jury. She lived at the Mayflower Hotel, where Crater came to see her once a week. He would send her $90 per month to pay her bills. She knew he was married.
Their relationship started very similar to how Crater met his wife. Connie came to him in order to secure a divorce from her husband Louis Marcus. He was a salesman who was doing a three year stretch in Atlanta in connection to a bankruptcy case. Being the other woman suited her fine, since between the money Crater gave her, and her job, she lived a life of comfort that allowed her travel to Havana, Cuba, at least once per year, which she did in 1928 and 1929.
She had expected him the day he disappeared, but he never made it to her apartment.
In late September 1930, Sally Lou Ritz who was one of the last two people to have seen Judge Crater was missing. She was appearing in the show Artists and Models in Chicago. Supposedly her mother said that she was in Pittsburgh.
Elaine Dawn, the chorus girl at Club Abbey disappeared. She surfaced at the Polyclinic Hospital, and denied that she could help police search for Crater. She told authorities: "In my position as a hostess and entertainer I meet many men. I do not recall Mr. Crater." She said she was being treated for rheumatism. She was hospitalized for more than a year.
June Brice, another good time girl was committed to an insane asylum.
By the end of 1930, authorities were sending out subpoenas for any witness that could produce a lead to the case. The books for the Hotel Plymouth at 143 W. 49th St. Manhattan were being looked at since there were a registration of Judge Crater and Sally Ritz in August at the hotel.
According to the hotel manager, Sally Ritz and her mother had frequently been guests there.
Samuel Buchler, a lawyer told the D.A. that on the day before Crater’s disappearance a tall, blond woman who gave her name as Lorraine Fay appeared in his office to consult him about filing a break of promise suit for $100,000 against the judge. The authorities could never find this so called "mystery woman", and they later believed it was Connie Marcus in disguise who came to see Samuel Buchler.
Emil K. Ellis, Mrs. Crater's attorney, had his own theory regarding the disappearance. He believed that on the night of August 6, the judge went to the apartment of a showgirl who was blackmailing him. He tried to pay her with the $5,100 he had withdrawn, but she wanted more. She had male friends present, and there was a fight where Crater was hit on the head and killed accidentally. A false death certificate was obtained and the judge was cremated in New Jersey. The showgirl later died in a mental institution. However no evidence ever surfaced to confirm this theory.
Later it was believed the blackmailer might have been a notorious madam named Vivian Gordon, who mysteriously met a grisly end six months after Judge Crater disappeared.
Sightings of Judge Crater were reported everywhere doing the oddest things. Ranging from gold prospecting with a burro in California to acting as a shepherd out in the Pacific Northwest. A patient in a Missouri asylum was thought to be him. He was seen working on a steamer in the Adriatic, shooting craps in Atlanta, and having abandoned a career as a judge, he now ran a bingo game in North Africa.
Six years after Crater's disappearance, "Lucky" Blackiet told one weird tale to officers at the LAPD. It happened while he was prospecting near Julian, California. His only company was his burro, until one day he crossed paths with who later turned to be Good Time Joe, pulling along a loaded pack mule. They "swapped yarns" and the man gave his name and said: "In one more year, I will be legally dead. I hope I can stick it out that long."
Captain Allen with the Missing Persons Bureau did not dismiss the prospector's story and said, "Five years ago, we had a tip about Crater being at National City ... and that information tends to correspond with what Blackiet has told us."
Two officers with LAPD, two NYPD detectives, a San Diego County sheriff's deputy and of course reporters high-tailed it out to the area between Warner Hot Springs and Julian. Even a plane flew overhead in the search. No sign of Crater, but they did find people who described seeing a man fitting his description.
One, Mike Morani, even prospected with him for several months near Julian. He commented, "He was well educated, but a poor miner."
Owners of a grocery store recognized his picture and said he made a $5 purchase.
When the temperature soared to 110 degrees, the enthusiasm of the searchers dwindled. A year later, they returned after another sighting. This time the source was the wife of the San Diego County sheriff's deputy who was part of the earlier search. She owned a small café, and said Crater had been there six weeks before.
Lucky Blackiet (real name Maurice S. Condory) died in 1942, at the age of 61. He never came across Judge Crater again as he prospected throughout California.
In 1938, Stella Crater secretly married an electrical engineer named Carl Kunz. He was a German citizen. She made the papers again when a month after their marriage her husband was involved in an automobile accident on the Henry Hudson Parkway. Dr. A.J. Raggi, head surgeon at St. Vincent's Hospital and Samuel Edmands, a dean at Pratt Institute were killed. They were passengers in his car.
This was the same Dr. Raggi who hosted a bridge party that Crater attended the day before his disappearance. One must wonder what would be the odds on that.
In July, 1938, Kunz was arraigned on homicide charges since he had been drinking when he crashed into a light pole that killed his friends. He suffered serious injuries as well. It was at this point that the marriage to Stella Crater became known. Eight days before they wed, Kunz's first wife Anna hanged herself. Kunz had a daughter named Helen.
The couple traveled to Germany at the end of 1938, and nothing came of the charges against Carl Kunz. The couple lived in Maine once they returned to the United States.
The marriage lasted 12 years, and like her previous two marriages there were no children.
During the times when she was not married, Stella worked as a bookkeeper.
In 1961, Stella Crater published her memoir titled The Empty Robe, but it revealed nothing new. She died in 1969 at the age of 75.
Stella visited a bar in Greenwich Village every year on August 6 in remembrance of her husband. She did this for the rest of her life.
Crater was declared legally dead in 1939, and missing persons report case 13995 was closed in 1979. Every time an unidentified body of a man was found it was speculated that finally Judge Crater had been found.
Then another angle surfaced in 1954. Peter Golemboski a retired New York City detective got a call from Henry Krauss, a dying Harlem butcher, which he had known "on the beat" for about 25 years. Krauss wanted to speak to him, to get something off his chest.
Golemboski recalled, "He wouldn't let me take notes and said that if his wife came in while they were talking he would change the subject. He also said that if I ever told anyone about the conversation while Krauss was still alive, he would deny everything. I then told Krauss to talk slowly so that what he said would sink in."
Krauss said that in 1930, he owned a house in Westchester County at 915 Palmer Road in Bronxville which he often lent to political friends as a place where they could take their girlfriends. One of these was Judge Crater.
He said that on August 10, he went to the house and found it "full of blood and booze" and figured "something terrible had happened there." Krauss went on to describe how he washed down the blood with towels, and left.
He said that, "Crater is buried up there."
Mrs. Krauss arrived and the conversation ended with a promise to speak further the following week. But this never happened since Krauss who was suffering from terminal cancer was stricken, and died in the hospital a few days later.
Golemboski went back to the 25th precinct and wrote up his conversation with Krauss. He submitted the report to the head of the missing person’s bureau, and an okay was given to investigate the story.
Later Golemboski found out that Krauss had at one time dug a wine cellar beneath the house, and although the basement contained a poured concrete floor, the wine cellar had a dirt floor. Before the Krauss family sold the house concrete had been poured on the wine cellar floor.
In 1976, Stanley Hooper who then owned the house at 915 Palmer Road, confirmed the wine cellar was cemented.
In 1955, Murray Bloom a writer went to Holland, and showed the judge's photograph to Gerard Croiset (1909-1980), a Dutch medium. The psychic had helped police in Amsterdam and other cities to solve tough cases. He said that Crater had been kidnapped by hired killers due to a double cross, in which he was supposed to throw a case. He said Crater was killed at a Dutch-style farmhouse just four or five miles outside the city limits. He said the kidnapping took place in Manhattan, and the crime was committed in Westchester County.
John Cronin a NYPD investigator, said the description fit information received from "a shady German butcher who’d made a dying confession that his friends had buried Crater just outside of city limits." The butcher was Harry Krauss who died the year before.
A Yonkers backyard was dug up with nothing to show for it. This was after paying the owner of the property $1,000 for the privilege. Only an abandoned road surfaced.
Krauss' deathbed confession was not the only one which involved Judge Crater. In 2005, Stella Ferrucci-Good died on April 2, age 91, and she left what might be an answer to what happened to "Good Time Joe" Crater.
The clue was a handwritten letter in an envelope marked "Do not open until my death." Her granddaughter Barbara O'Brien found it in a metal box in Stella's home.
The contents of the letter described where Stella learned from her husband the late Robert Good, that over drinks with Charles Burns an NYPD officer, and his brother, a cabbie named Frank Burns and other men, that they did away with Judge Crater and put him under the Coney Island Boardwalk in Brooklyn.
Supposedly Frank Burns had driven off with the judge, then stopped a few blocks over where they were joined by two accomplices. Once they arrived at Coney Island, two more men arrived.
The contents of the box, which included yellowed clippings about Crater's disappearance, also included reference that Officer Burns was assigned to guard Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, a Murder Inc. murderer who "fell" to his death from a window in Room 623 at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. Reles was known for killing his victims with an ice pick, which he would ram through their ear right into the brain.
The judge's resting place was supposed to be under a boardwalk near West Eighth Street in Coney Island, which is present day the site of the New York Aquarium (once the Coney Island Aquarium which opened in 1957).
The most pressing question was not answered, which was a motive for the killing.
Barbara O’Brien’s father, William St. George said the police told the family that five bodies were found when the Coney Island Aquarium was under construction. Official sources never confirmed that bones were found at the aquarium site in the mid-1950s.
However, there was an Officer Charles Burns with the force from 1926 to 1946 who was assigned to the 60th Precinct in Coney Island.
Stella's family could not recall her ever mentioning the case while she was alive.
At that time there was still a $5,000 reward offered for an answer as to what happened to Judge Crater. So far, it's never been paid to anyone.
As to the "other women" in Crater’s life….
In 1941, Sally Lou Ritz (real name Sarah Ritzi) then 28 years old, which would have made her 17 when involved with Judge Crater, made the papers because it appeared she was married to two men at the same time.
After Crater's disappearance she married John J. Dewey then a Long Island hotelier. The marriage didn't work and she became Diane of the dance team Dario and Diane. She asked for a divorce at Hidalgo, Mexico for this marriage in 1937.
Then she met Clarence Gould a New York broker who had once been an actor. They married in July, 1939, but within a year the marriage had soured, and she was asking for $200 per month in alimony. He fought the separation and asked for an annulment saying he hadn't been aware of his wife's Mexican divorce, and that Sally was still Mrs. Dewey which invalidated their marriage.
Dewey for his part belonged to a bombing squadron in Honolulu, and said that the Mexican divorce was a mail order decree, and both he and Sally were in New York State at the time it was granted.
Sally Lou faded from the headlines. She remained living in California, married and had children.
Constance Marcus, despite her long-standing relationship with Crater, also faded from the headlines.
Of all the women who surrounded Joe Crater, only one joined him in the hereafter shortly after his disappearance. Her name was Vivian Gordon. She ran with the same rough crowd, that many believed might have done away with the judge.
In February,1931, Vivian Gordon, 39, real name Benita Bischoff nee Franklin was dead. The redhead had been strangled to death. She had an 8-foot, knotted clothesline around her neck, and she was found at the bottom of an embankment in Van Cortlandt Park. It was believed she had been tossed from an automobile. Her body, once clothed in a black velvet designer dress from Paris, expensive silk underwear, sheer black stockings, and no shoes lay unclaimed in the Fordham morgue.
The autopsy report issued about Vivian Gordon estimated she was killed about 3 a.m. on February 26. She had eaten around 1 a.m. Her meal consisted of celery, onions, cabbage, sauerkraut, eggs and raisins. She was known to have left her apartment at 157 E 36th St. Manhattan about 11:20 pm.
She had some alcohol in her brain, but not sufficient to overcome her. She was probably hit on the head first, then hit behind the right ear with a slugshot, which left her unconscious. Then she was strangled.
She was found murdered shortly before her scheduled appearance before the Seabury Appellate Court Division's inquiry into cases of police framing of women. Her death occurred after she had written a letter to Isidor Kresel, former chief counsel for the vice probe offering to "tell everything she knew."
Vivian was the daughter of John W. Franklin, a Canadian and a former warden of the Joliet Penitentiary in Illinois, and Margaret Moorehead who hailed from Ohio. Born in 1891, life was not easy for Benita. By 1900, she was an orphan, along with her sisters Lillian, 14, and Arnolda Marguerite, 11. They were inmates at St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum in Chicago.
Neither of her sisters ever married. Arnolda lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Lillian was adopted by the Thurston family. She took their surname and lived in Detroit, Michigan.
Vivian sought another type of life, and by the time she died she'd been rubbing elbows with underworld figures for about 20 years.
A week after Vivian's death her daughter Benita committed suicide, supposedly over the shame of the life and death of her mother. She was found unconscious in a gas-filled kitchen by her stepmother.
Vivian's former husband, John E.C. Bischoff called her an "alcoholic, a dope addict, blackmailer and prostitute." They had divorced in 1925. He worked as a deputy marshal at the District of Columbia Reformatory in Virginia. He had gained custody of Benita after Vivian was sent to Bedford reformatory on an immorality charge. The whole situation came about when Vivian was caught cheating on her husband.
Vivian contended she was framed.
After her divorce, Vivian went from reformed showgirl to top-shelf prostitute, who soon turned into a madam with her own brothel. It's unknown how many knew that she kept precise notes about the powerful men who came to her establishment, and what they talked about, and what was overheard.
Whether it was Vivian's idea, or orchestrated by the gangsters she hung out with, soon powerful political figures were being blackmailed with information she had garnered when they visited her place. There were acquaintances who warned her this was very dangerous.
The newspapers described Gordon as an "adventuress and high-grade racketeer." Police read her diaries and letters, linking her name with Rothstein, McManus, Vannie Higgins and others.
Within 24 hours of Benita Bischoff's suicide, Lena reported to police that she was attacked at the Mt. Vernon Restaurant by two men who threw a burning disinfectant in her face. She said both claimed to be policemen. One said, "We are New York police. We came to tell you that you won't have to testify before the grand jury in the Bronx today; it has been adjourned until tomorrow." Then one man threw the liquid in her face which seared her chin and right eye. They ran off when she screamed for her husband.
Within two weeks of the murder, Lena Holsey, Vivian's Cuban maid told police of a ride with Vivian and two men on the night she was killed. No doubt, the attack was to remind her to keep her mouth shut.
Pierre Franklin, Vivian's brother was the one to identify his sister at the morgue. It was noted that when Vivian was buried on March 7, only her brother Pierre, and an unidentified woman who kept her face muffled in the collar of her long dark coat followed the hearse to Mount Hope Cemetery. There were no flowers or retinue of mourners.
A few days later Pierre Franklin, was taken to Bellevue Hospital for observation after he was overcome in his hotel room. After several days he was released and returned to Montreal, stating "the things they are saying about my sister cannot be true."
Vivian Gordon's name was being paired with Arnold Rothstein, a gangster who himself was assassinated in a $500,000 love racket.
Amid the sensationalism of Judge Crater's disappearance, another NY Judge, Amedeo A. Bertini, dropped dead in Palm Beach where he was on vacation. The 48-year-old had been a close friend of Judge Crater, and had been cleared by the Seabury investigation.
Other headlines read: Three Women as Key Figures in New York Vice Probe. This of course stemmed from the murder of Vivian Gordon.
One of the women was "a young Broadway girl" said to have been the last person who saw Judge Crater, and then disappeared after the inquiry began. She was not named in the article, however they were referring to Sally Lou Ritz, who did reappear but made herself scarce when it came to New York, and eventually moved to the west coast.
The other was a lady judge named Jean Norris who was known for wielding a despot's hand "over her court and with doctoring records."
The New York investigation was originally authorized by Gov. Roosevelt, but it was not intended to be a vice probe. The hearings turned into vice investigation by accident. "One of the chief complaints again the magistrate's courts hinged around cases involving the arrest of women by vice squad policemen and 'stool pigeons' on charges of immorality."
Women testified they had been arrested by policemen and sentenced in court on "framed" charges when they refused to pay bribes.
Kresel who was counsel for the vice probe, then fell under the microscope when the defunct Bank of the United States of which he was a director had lost millions of their depositor's money. He along with other officials of the bank were indicted by a grand jury.
Because of Gordon's connection to the Seabury inquiry, her murder received special attention from law enforcement. However even the police departments were suspected of double dealings, and the Pinkertons' Detective Agency were brought into the case.
Authorities then started looking for Polly Adler a "notorious character of the white light section and former intimate" of Vivian Gordon. The belief was that she knew the motive for the strangling. Polly was a well-known "tenderloin character" who had been arrested 14 times for maintaining a brothel, but she was never convicted. It was reported she was either in Havana or Miami during the probe.
Then a shocking discovery was made when it was learned that in 1928, Assistant D.A. Bohan, who was investigating a stock fraud case interviewed Vivian Gordon as a voluntary witness. It involved a case in which Joseph Radlow, Samuel Cohen alias "Chowder Head" Harris and another man were indicted on charges of grand larceny.
Immediately a subpoena was issued for the records, however a search proved the records were missing from District Attorney Crain's office.
The newspapers blasted the story that Vivian Gordon's statement, taken three years before could not be located. The error was said to be due to the negligence of a clerk. The stenographer never transcribed it, and no record could be found of the testimony.
Distrust of Tammany Hall grew deeper.
Vivian's motivation for testifying was not altruistic, but born out of self-interest as she was hoping for a deal in order to evade a long prison sentence for prostitution and running a whore house.
On August 7, 1930, Vivian was arrested on a charge of attempting to extort $200 from Joseph P. Radlow a writer for a newspaper using the alias of E.X. Swindler. This date coincided exactly with Judge Crater's disappearance.
The charge was thrown out by the grand jury, when Gordon told of her business relations with the complainant.
Then Vivian instituted a civil suit against Radlow, who was a cousin of John A. Radeloff, a Brooklyn attorney. Radeloff was Vivian’s lawyer, onetime lover, and financial consultant.
Radeloff ended up as a material witness in the murder case, based on an entry in Vivian's diary that read: "I fear only John A. Radeloff. He could get Cohen or some of his friends to dispose of me." This was one of several "black books" found in her apartment at 156 East 37th St. Manhattan. Cohen at one time was Vivian's bouncer. Later on in the investigation both men provided alibis for their whereabouts when she was killed.
The implications were clear. Vivian Gordon had been killed because of what she knew, and that she was willing to talk to the D.A.
The weeks passed, and clues had dried up. Anyone who knew anything kept their mouth shut, or left town for an extended period of time.
The police commissioner distributed circulars to enlist the aid of 20,000 taxicab drivers, asking if Vivian Gordon had hired them on the night of her death.
In April, 1931, Harry Stein, a racketeer and burglar was indicted in the Gordon murder. In 1921, he had gone to jail for attempting to strangle a woman, but it was a testimony from a ladies' tailor with a shop on Broadway that got him indicted.
It seemed Harry Stein brought in a coat for appraisal and alteration. This coat turned out to have been stripped from Vivian Gordon's body after she was thrown from the car. It was worth about $1,800. Also missing was her $600 wristwatch, and a $1,200 diamond and emerald ring – all of which she had been seen wearing the evening before.
The altered coat was to go to Mrs. David Butterman, wife of one of the material witnesses held in connection with the murder. Butterman claimed he refused the offer from Stein.
In June, Harry Stein and Samuel Greenberg went on trial for the murder of Vivian Gordon. On July 1, 1931, they were acquitted.
In the midst of the Gordon murder investigation there was a report that Judge Crater had been seen in Cuba. Supposedly Connie Marcus, Crater's mistress had a sent a telegram to a country club owner in Connecticut about the sighting, and she was known to frequent Cuba. This of course turned out to be nothing.
Harry Stein might have escaped justice in 1931 for Vivian's murder, however it caught up to him in 1955. He was executed for the murder of a Reader's Digest messenger. Before his death he swore he had no knowledge of Crater's disappearance. There had been reports that the judge was slain in Vivian's presence while resisting an extortion attempt.
None of these mysteries were ever solved. Neither Crater's disappearance or Gordon's murder, but it's inescapable they were linked most probably by knowing too much about the same group of people who decided it was expedient to get rid of them.
They just became two more sacrificed on the Great White Way.
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer