History's Greatest Mysteries (2020) s04e07 Episode Script

Missingest Man in America

Tonight, a missing person's case
that nearly derailed
a presidential campaign.
Imagine the repercussions.
It might bring down
the Democrats
and FDR with them.
It dominates mainstream media
for over five decades.
The keys to the lab are pulling
a Judge Crater on us.
Probably the equivalent
of a Jimmy Hoffa
or even Amelia Earhart.
Now we examine the top theories
behind the so-called
Missingest Man in America.
Crater knows
where all the bodies are buried,
and sometimes
you just know too much.
He's never tried
to shake down a heartless thug
like Legs Diamond.
He's in over his head.
And Tammany Hall bigwigs
silence him
so he cannot testify.
Will a deathbed confession
finally solve the mystery?
When I opened the box,
it was in a sealed envelope,
it said "In Reference to
Judge Crater's disappearance."
What really happened
to New York City's notorious
Judge Joseph Crater?
At 9:15 p.m.,
State Supreme Court Justice
Joseph Force Crater
steps out of a chophouse
on West 45th Street.
He's been dining
with a couple of friends
and says that he's running late
to a Broadway show.
So, he leaves the restaurant,
hops into a cab, heads west.
From that moment,
he's never seen
or heard from again.
Now, people go missing
all the time,
but when it's Judge Crater,
it's a big deal.
Because, at this point,
Joe Crater has just hit
the political primetime,
as it were.
He's a big up-and-comer
who was recently
appointed to the New York
State Supreme Court
by then-Governor
of New York State,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
That appointment is
only for the rest
of a vacated term,
and by the time
of his disappearance,
Crater is actually
gearing up
for an election of his own.
If he wins re-election
in November,
the sky's the limit.
It's an election
that's crucial for Judge Crater
and for FDR.
And this is great,
because the opportunity
to ride the coattails of FDR
meant that you would have
unlimited potential.
A lot of people believe that,
once FDR is president,
Crater will be a nominee
to the United States
Supreme Court.
And he's kind of
a man-about-town in New York.
He knows all the cops,
he knows all the politicians.
He knows the Broadway producers,
the dancers.
He is a widely-known
celebrity in the city,
and at the time,
if you're a New York celebrity,
you're a nationwide celebrity.
The disappearance
of Crater is huge.
It's probably the equivalent
of a Jimmy Hoffa
or even Amelia Earhart.
Now, Crater's wife Stella is
going through his rolodex
and calling up
every political bigwig
that she can get her hands on
to find out if any of them know
what happened to him.
It's even possible
that FDR might've gotten a call.
But Stella's pleas aren't
taken seriously at first.
Crater is kind of a ladies' man,
and it's not uncommon for him
to sometimes be gone
for several days at a time
with other women.
He's nicknamed
"Good Time Joe."
He's gone off on benders
and disappeared for a while
in the past, where they've had
to cover for him before.
It was an open secret that
he had a few women on the side,
so one of the first things
that people think
seems to be
the most obvious one.
he just took off
with one of his mistresses.
Leading up to the disappearance,
on August 2nd,
Crater and his wife Stella
go to their vacation home
in Maine
to stay there till the 25th
until court comes back
in session.
But a day later, on August 3rd,
Crater receives a phone call
and then tells his wife Stella
that he has to head back to,
quote, straighten
some fellows out.
Now, she assumes
it's just some business
or a legal issue,
but he promises
to be back by her birthday
on August 9th.
Stella's birthday comes
and goes on the 9th,
and Crater is a no-show,
he's nowhere to be found,
and she's a little worried
because she's not used
to her husband breaking
personal promises to her.
And Stella's calling around
to all these powerful men
to try to figure out
what happened to her husband,
and powerful men will do
what powerful men normally do.
They're gonna cover up
for their friend.
Now, his friends tell her,
don't worry about him,
I'm sure he's fine,
he's probably just super-busy
with work
or some other commitments.
They honestly don't
really know where he is,
but they're just assuming
that he's off
with one of his girlfriends,
and they would gladly
cover for him,
because they would assume that
he would do the same for them
when they're cheating
on their wives.
The upcoming election
is also a factor.
Now, Crater's friends are
all involved in politics,
in one way or another,
so they're either working
on their own campaigns,
or they're hoping
that Crater wins his election
in three months' time
so that they can
just ride his coattails.
Crater's a key part
of the ticket
that the Democrats hope
will get FDR re-elected
as governor, as long
as there are no scandals.
And it's apparent
if he wins there,
he will be a shoo-in
for the nomination
for the presidency
of the United States.
In 1932, any Democrat's going
to beat Herbert Hoover.
But this Crater business could
sink the whole thing.
So, better to keep it quiet.
They hope Joe will
turn up soon enough.
But Stella's not convinced
and starts investigating
on her own.
Mrs. Crater sends
her chauffeur,
Fred Kahler, back to New York
to look for the judge.
What he finds is unopened mail,
and he can't get
into the apartment.
Furthermore, he tries
to talk to a bunch
of Crater's colleagues,
but they discourage him
from looking too hard,
and this information
drives Stella crazy.
Why does no one want to find
where her husband is?
What is going on?
When Judge Crater
doesn't show up for work
on August 25th,
an astonishing 19 days
after he was last seen
in public,
it's clear something is wrong.
At this point,
even Joe's buddies
have to accept
that he's missing.
It's been 19 days.
Crater was obsessed
with the law.
He loved it,
so if he didn't show up
on August the 25th,
there's got to be
a very good reason.
So now a real
investigation begins.
But, because
we're dealing with a lot
of high profile politicians,
the NYPD wants
to keep this investigation
a bit more
on the hush-hush side.
So they quietly
start interviewing witnesses.
The police speak
to William Klein,
who dined with Crater
the night he went missing.
William Klein is an attorney
for the Shubert family,
the most powerful theater empire
in the entire country
at the time,
and Klein connects
important people, like Crater,
to Shubert's slate of showgirls
in exchange
for professional favors.
They actually ask Klein
if he thinks that
Crater may have disappeared with
one of his girlfriends.
And Klein says,
"Actually, yeah."
According to Klein,
Crater is taken
with one dancer in particular
He'd been out with Elaine
as many times as he could
in those few weeks
before his disappearance.
She's described
as an attractive blonde
with a Southern accent,
and he bought her
lots of gifts and jewelry.
William Klein has watched
Joe Crater go out
with several showgirls,
but Elaine is
clearly special to him.
She's got a power over him,
and it may be that
she may have seduced him
into leaving his entire life
behind for her.
Detectives try
to track down Elaine Dawn.
But when they arrive
at her apartment,
she's nowhere to be found.
So, now Crater's gone,
and his main squeeze is gone.
Something is really wrong here.
In the meantime,
the Crater family hires
a private investigator,
and he speaks
to Crater's assistant,
Joseph Mara.
Mara was at work with Crater
the day before he disappeared.
And Mara stated that it was
a very strange and unusual day.
Crater is in his chamber
all morning,
rifling through files,
putting documents in boxes,
and even destroying
some documents.
He has Mara cash
two personal checks for him
totaling over $5,000,
which is about $90,000
in today's money,
which Crater just casually
puts in his coat pocket.
Then he and Mara haul
about eight boxes
and briefcases
and put them into a taxi cab
to take them to Crater's
New York City apartment.
According to Mara,
it's really clear that
his boss is preparing
something big.
So Mara's looking
at Crater like,
what's going on with this guy?
Something is clearly wrong here.
Within a few days,
an anonymous source leaks
Crater's story to the press,
and the philandering
judge becomes
front page news nationwide.
You know how a scandalous story,
like the O.J. Simpson trial
or Jeffrey Epstein
gets so big that it touches
almost every aspect
of pop culture?
This is the same thing
that happens with Judge Crater.
Even in 1930,
the top comedians at the time
are dropping jokes about Crater
in their acts.
Radio hosts are
making fun of him.
Groucho Marx famously quipped,
"Judge Crater,
call your office."
- Oh, hi, Mel.
- Sally.
Well, Judge Crater returns.
The phrase "pulling a Crater"
became synonymous
with anyone who runs off
and disappears.
This is a nightmare for anyone
that's in Crater's orbit,
but the media is loving this.
Okay, you've got
a sex-obsessed judge,
you've got
the city's top showgirls,
you've got some
of the top politicians
all entangled in this.
Imagine the repercussions
if this thing scandalizes FDR.
So it's up to the police
to kind of quell
this media firestorm.
On September 4th,
Police Commissioner
Edward Mulrooney
holds a press conference.
Commissioner Mulrooney
comes out and says, look,
clearly the guy
planned this, okay?
Look, he's taken files, right?
He's cashed checks.
He decided to voluntarily
leave on his own, okay?
This is not a police matter,
because there's no crime here
other than dereliction of duty.
It's clear that he just ran off
with a showgirl.
There's nothing to be
terribly seriously investigated.
Everyone can move along.
Nothing to see here.
But before long,
Mulrooney's theory falls apart.
It turns out
Judge Crater doesn't run off
with Elaine Dawn at all,
she's actually found
at a local hospital.
She has an illness
described as
rheumatism brought on
by an acute case of gonorrhea.
Now, she does confirm
that she and Crater
had seen each other,
but she insists
that it was only casual.
The last time she had seen him
was on August 4th,
two days before
his disappearance,
at a place called Club Abbey.
So, now investigators are
almost back at square one
in their hunt to determine
where Judge Crater is
and who he might've
run off with,
but I say "almost" because
they're not quite done
with Elaine Dawn just yet.
In August, 1930,
famed politician Joseph Crater
enters a New York City taxi cab
and vanishes into thin air.
Police initially suspect
he's run away
with his new mistress,
Broadway dancer Elaine Dawn.
"Good Time Joe" has run off
with women before,
but that's
not the case this time.
Now, Elaine is still
in New York,
hospitalized with an illness.
But police suspect that
she still might know more
than she's actually letting on.
At the time Crater disappears,
some of the showgirls
in New York
and Elaine may be one
are at the whim
of the men in their lives.
They're passed around
among the city's political
and business elite.
Apart from Judge Crater,
Elaine Dawn has
what she describes
as a boyfriend
some would say pimp.
While Elaine's in the hospital,
this guy's threatening
producers of the show,
claiming lack of income
while she's sick.
The police entertain the idea
that he and Elaine
are extortionists.
Detectives dig deeper
into Elaine and her boyfriend.
They ask around
to the nightclubs they frequent.
They ask around
to the Broadway circle
that Elaine is a part of.
And everybody says
that Elaine and her boyfriend
are completely harmless.
She may have dated Crater
a few times,
but it's highly unlikely
that she's involved
in any sort
of rackets or schemes.
But the work by police
isn't entirely wasted.
While they're digging around
in these nightclubs,
they actually hear about
another person of interest.
The barflies tell police
that there's another dancer
in Crater's life.
And around that same time,
they receive an anonymous letter
directing them
to the home of June Brice.
The letter states that Brice is
an intimate friend
of Judge Crater's.
She may also have been
one of the last people
to see him alive.
Several folks claim
that June has plans with Crater
after his dinner
at the chophouse.
According to them,
despite making up a story
about heading
to a Broadway show,
Crater is actually heading
to June's midtown apartment
the night he disappears.
Based on information
from Crater's assistant,
detectives think this visit may
be more than personal.
Remember, Joseph Mara says
that Crater was cashing checks
that's equivalent
to about $90,000
on the day of his disappearance.
Mara also tells detectives that,
when he and Crater
finish packing up the boxes,
he has Mara take the boxes
down to a taxi,
while Crater is waiting
at the top of a stairwell,
hiding behind some columns.
When Mara signals
that the taxi is ready,
Crater runs down the stairs,
glances around fearfully to see
if anybody is watching him,
and then immediately jumps
into the cab.
Crater is known
as kind of a happy guy.
He's charming,
he's witty, he's upbeat.
But on this day,
he's very sullen,
he's very quiet,
he's very pensive.
This is not really
the behavior of a man
who's ready to escape
into his dream life.
Detectives know that Crater is
preparing for something
on the day that he disappears.
But, if the money
isn't for him and for his lover
to enjoy on vacation,
what is it for?
Maybe Crater isn't running away
with a woman
but from one.
He definitely has a lot to lose.
And he definitely has
his fair share of scandals
that somebody could
blackmail him about.
Police suspect that
June Brice may be involved
in an extortion plot
against Judge Crater.
But they're unable
to locate her.
Brice is nowhere to be found,
which is suspicious
in and of itself.
But an investigator
does find a woman
who was June's roommate
in August of 1930
and corroborates the story
that Crater did indeed
go to June's apartment
that night.
The roommate says that
June's been carrying
a dreadful secret
about Crater, and her life's
actually been
threatened over it.
According to the roommate,
like many of these
showgirls, Brice has
a boyfriend who is
kind of a scary guy,
and he also visits the apartment
the night that Crater is there.
She states that June's boyfriend
threatened Crater
with exposure
of their relationship
unless he paid them $5,000.
On August 6th,
Crater arrived with the money,
but the boyfriend ups it
to $50,000.
Crater balks;
and the boyfriend
works him over,
before ultimately killing him.
Now here's the thing,
the roommate didn't
actually see this happen.
She heard some of it
before leaving
the apartment that night
and was later told by June
the rest of the story.
So, it's hearsay for now.
Brice's mother also provides
some secondhand details.
In a newspaper article,
June's mother stated that
Crater and June were acquainted,
and that Crater assisted June
in getting parts
in Broadway plays.
June also told her mother
that a man she was,
quote, "supposed to marry"
was killed in an accident.
Could this have been Crater?
And, if so, where is the body?
Thanks to this fresh evidence,
June Brice is called by
the Manhattan District Attorney
to testify
at a grand jury hearing
in late 1930.
From the fall of 1930,
the D.A. keeps
an open grand jury
on the Crater disappearance.
Any and all witnesses are
subpoenaed to testify
as they attempt to build a case
for what happened.
Various people
associated with Crater
have already appeared,
but at the time
authorities still have
no idea what happened.
So June Brice is
their first chance
to potentially crack the case.
They feel strongly about
this robbery-homicide angle
and are eager to prove it.
But June's gone.
She has fled her apartment
with an unknown man.
June bounces from hotel
to hotel for weeks,
constantly changing her name.
By the end of September,
she's admitted
to a neurological hospital
with a nervous breakdown.
But to be clear,
nobody knows this at the time.
So, to the authorities,
she's just missing.
It takes the Crater family's
private investigator
several years to finally
find her in the mental hospital.
By this time, Brice is
in no condition to testify.
The P.I. states
that she's barely coherent
and really can't
provide any details.
When asked about Crater,
she responds,
"We must not remember
the things that make us mad."
The problem is
that June herself lacks
the mental capacity to verify
any of this information
or fill in the blanks.
Investigators have hearsay,
they have speculation,
but that's it.
Based on her mental illness,
police decline to investigate
June Brice any further.
June Brice's testimony
probably never
would have held up in court.
But the extortion theory is
the one that seems to be
the most accepted today.
It certainly fits
with his demeanor
and his actions on August 6th.
He knows he's in trouble,
he's preparing for it,
but he's unable to escape it.
The problem with this theory is
that the famous Judge Crater
has a ton of people
in his orbit.
If he's gonna get killed,
is it really gonna be
the June Brice or Elaine Dawn
types that mastermind it?
When you start to uncover
the other folks
he's hanging out with,
you soon realize several of them
are much more likely
to commit a murder.
And one already has.
In early 1930,
Judge Joseph Crater is
well-respected nationwide
as a New Deal progressive
with strong ties
to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
But after his disappearance
on August 6th,
a seedy dark side
of his life is revealed.
Crater cheats on his wife
with multiple showgirls,
and he has an active social life
in New York's
speakeasy nightclubs.
Keep in mind, this is during
the height of Prohibition.
But the city's elite
have no problem
finding alcohol to imbibe
in many of the city's
illegal bars.
And Crater's favorite is
a place called Club Abbey.
Club Abbey is
a Jazz Age burlesque club
that's new
on the New York scene.
Abbey features
a drag-queen emcee
named Jean Malin,
comedians like Jimmy Durante,
and in between,
there's plenty of dancing
by Broadway showgirls.
It's a brand-new place
on 54th Street,
and it's where
everybody wants to be.
Club Abbey gets its alcohol
from one of New York's
most notorious
Prohibition-era gangsters,
Jack "Legs" Diamond.
Legs Diamond starts
his life as a gangster
when he becomes a bodyguard
for Arnold Rothstein.
Now in case you don't know,
Rothstein is most famous
for fixing
the 1919 World Series.
And when he is killed in 1928,
Legs Diamond takes over
most of his bootlegging
operations in Manhattan.
His nickname "Legs" has
two meanings.
One is that he's a good dancer.
It's also a play on words
on the amount of times
he's been able to outrun
the police or his enemies.
He's already survived
two attempts on his life.
And in 1929, he shoots and kills
two men in his club,
but isn't charged.
Legs operates
out of a few speakeasies,
but by the summer of 1930,
he's spending almost
every night at Club Abbey.
And he's running a pretty nasty
scheme on the side there.
A scheme that may have ensnared
Judge Crater
and gotten him killed.
At Club Abbey, Legs Diamond has
a cohort named Vivian Gordon.
And she used to be a showgirl,
and now she's turned
into a professional prostitute.
Vivian Gordon is a swindler,
who gets even more aggressive
after two years in prison.
She's known to be
hellbent on revenge
against cops and judges,
the men who she feels
took everything from her.
And at Club Abbey,
with the help of Legs Diamond,
she can get that revenge.
Vivian and Legs set up
a routine where she meets
clients at the Abbey
and then brings them back
to her house,
where Legs is waiting.
Together, they shake
their victims down for
everything they can get.
They run this scheme
all the time,
and Judge Joe Crater
is right in their wheelhouse.
Crater's fellow
Supreme Court Justice,
Louis Valente,
looks further into this.
Judge Valente hires
to track Crater's movements
on August the 6th.
His investigators find
evidence that
Crater was
at Club Abbey that night.
Valente believes that
this is critical evidence,
and he takes it to the press
to run with it.
According to this theory,
Judge Crater
first meets Vivian Gordon
at the Abbey
on the night of August 4th.
They head back to her place
for a night of pleasure,
and afterwards,
Legs Diamond shows up
to squeeze Crater
for some extra cash.
But it's not just cash
that he's after.
Crater's famous,
and everybody knows
who he is,
including Legs Diamond.
There's a case coming up
on the docket
that Legs needs
to have dismissed
in order to protect
his business interests.
So he threatens Crater's career
if he doesn't cooperate.
Crater promises
to look into the case.
So the next day, on August 5th,
Crater has lunch
with another judge
from the Supreme Court.
He's trying to feel out the odds
of getting rid of the case
without attracting attention,
but the odds are not good.
Crater realizes
that he can't deliver
what Diamond is asking for.
Now he has to figure out
how he's gonna break the news
to him, and it's not
a very easy task.
At this point,
Legs Diamond has killed
at least two people
that we know of.
According to Crater's assistant,
the judge collected
more than money on August 6th.
He also took several case files
home from his office.
These files may pertain
to Diamond's case.
And he knows he can't
get the case tossed
because of all the poking around
being done by investigators.
So, he brings these papers home
as a sort of insurance policy.
He knows he might need it.
That night,
Crater returns to Club Abbey,
and he tells
Legs and Vivian that
there's no way he can get
this case dismissed.
There's just too much
of a spotlight on it.
But as a consolation prize,
here's $5,000
to smooth things over.
Legs won't take no
for an answer, okay?
He demands Crater to try again,
but Crater himself is
a bigshot with a big ego,
and he fights back.
Crater tells Diamond
he has all these files
that ties Diamond
to criminal behavior.
He has these documents
at a secure location,
and if he doesn't
take this payoff,
he's going to make
these documents public.
Judge Crater's worked
in politics
for many years at this point.
But he's only ever really
worked with other politicians
or small-time crooks.
He's never tried to shake down
a heartless thug
like Legs Diamond.
He's in over his head.
The New York press runs
with this theory,
suggesting that both Legs
and Vivian murder the judge
and make sure that
the body is never found.
Despite the tabloids'
enthusiasm, it's a good story,
but there's not
a lot of proof to it.
That is, until February of 1931,
when Vivian Gordon is found dead
in a Bronx park.
Vivian's murdered the day
after she offers to testify
against the corrupt officials
that have ruined her life.
She's willing to risk her life
to bring them down.
When she's found dead,
an anti-corruption sentiment
rises to a boiling point
in New York City.
Her murder is the biggest story
since Crater disappeared.
Governor Roosevelt requests
the records himself
and demands a thorough
police investigation.
When police search
Gordon's apartment,
they find a treasure trove
of diaries and documents
connecting her to the city's
most powerful figures.
Vivian kept lists of her
blackmail schemes with Diamond.
And there on paper,
clear as day,
Judge Crater is written down
as one of her clients.
The diaries don't say
anything about his death,
but the press doesn't care.
The press is
eager to make connections
between the two most famous
news stories of the time.
When Crater's name is found
in Vivian's diary,
the press explodes
with all kinds of speculation.
The press also loves
a good mafia story.
I mean, who doesn't, right?
And there are so many legends
surrounding Legs Diamond,
it's very hard
to tell fact from fiction.
But it turns out,
there was no evidence
that he is involved in any cases
to be heard
by the Supreme Court.
In fact, when he disappears,
Crater only has one trivial case
pending on his docket.
Crater's name is
in Vivian's diary.
She may very well have
blackmailed him.
She was extorting
a lot of people.
But just because
she's extorting somebody
doesn't mean she murdered them.
When Judge Joseph Crater
disappears in August, 1930,
New York Governor
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is
in the thick of campaigning
for re-election.
As November approaches,
a rival politician
makes a shocking accusation.
If true, it sheds
a whole new light
on what happened
to the missing judge.
During Judge Crater's time
in New York politics,
the Democrats work closely
with an organization
that's known as Tammany Hall.
Tammany Hall dominates
both New York City
and state politics
for more than a century.
Its name becomes synonymous
with corruption
under infamous leaders
like Boss Tweed.
They do plenty of good things
for the people of New York,
but, ultimately, they are
a corrupt organization.
But if you're a Democrat,
working with Tammany
is how you win elections.
By the late 1920s,
Tammany has woven its way
into every level
of New York politics.
And in 1929,
Judge Crater becomes president
of a key Tammany branch,
the Cuyuga Club.
A lot of New York voters are
tired of the blatant corruption,
so the 1930 elections are
a pivotal point.
For once, the Republicans have
a good shot of winning
a number of top seats
from the Democrats,
especially the one for governor.
FDR's main rival is
Republican prosecutor
Charles Tuttle.
Tuttle is on a crusade
to expose judicial corruption.
Prior to Crater's disappearance,
his whole office of attorneys
and investigators are
looking into evidence
of judicial corruption
rumored to be running rampant
among Tammany Hall's
main players.
And if Tuttle can make the case,
it might bring down
the Democrats
and FDR with them.
Judge Crater is
potentially a key witness.
When Tuttle looks
into the Cayuga Club,
he learns something interesting.
Tuttle finds evidence that
the Cayuga Club is actually
selling government jobs.
If you're connected
to Tammany Hall,
they can help you get appointed
or elected
to a political position.
In return, you pay them
one year's salary.
Tuttle has proof
of one of these payments:
a $10,000 bribe that was paid
to Tammany Hall boss
Martin Healy
by attorney George Ewald
for his position
as a city magistrate.
Tuttle's evidence certainly
implicates Judge Crater, too.
As President of the Cayuga Club,
Crater has to be aware
of what's going on.
I mean, he even serves as
master of ceremonies
at George Ewald's
celebration dinner
when he becomes magistrate.
The corruption might
go even further.
There is also
circumstantial evidence
that Judge Crater may have
purchased his own position.
When Crater is appointed
to the New York Supreme Court,
it is one of the highest-paid
positions in the state.
He is paid a salary of $22,000.
It's the same as the governor's
and a lot less work.
It's the most coveted seat
in New York politics,
and it speaks to the ability
of Joe Crater to manipulate
and maneuver himself
into that position.
Tuttle wants to know
how he got this job.
One month after his appointment,
in May of 1930,
Crater withdraws $22,000
from various bank accounts.
Which is exactly
one year's salary.
Tuttle has no direct proof
that this money went
to pay Tammany Hall,
but while he's out
publicly campaigning
against the Democrats,
he strongly suggests
that it did.
And this scandal could have
even gotten Judge Crater killed.
Tuttle's belief is
that Crater is at the heart
of the Tammany Hall
kickback scheme.
And when Tuttle's investigation
closes in on Crater,
and they're going
to call Crater as a witness,
Tammany Hall bigwigs
silence him
so he cannot testify.
How high does this go?
Is FDR aware?
Is FDR involved?
Obviously, this could go
very bad for the Democrats
if some massive
"Trial of the Century"
is opened.
Although Crater's disappearance
is a thorny issue
for Tammany Hall,
it's far better
that he goes this way
than testifies against them.
Tuttle can't prove this theory.
But Crater's own wife offers
some support.
There's a big mystery about
who calls Crater on August 3rd,
which causes him to travel
back to New York City.
At the time, his wife Stella
does not reveal anything useful.
But, in 1937,
Stella tells a magazine
his purpose of the visit was
to advise Tammany boss
Martin Healy
about the Tuttle investigation.
Stella is sure
that the Tammany case is
behind her husband's
She's not the only one.
In 1954, an acquaintance
of Crater's,
Henry Krauss,
makes an extraordinary claim.
Krauss calls
an old detective friend of his
and says that he has
something he wants
to get off his chest
before he dies.
He thinks he knows
what happened to Judge Crater.
Back in the '30s,
Krauss has a vacation home,
which he frequently let
Crater use for parties.
Many of those parties were
co-hosted by Martin Healy.
Krauss claimed that,
in early 1930,
the two men buried
$90,000 in the backyard.
But in mid-August,
after Crater's disappearance,
Krauss visits his vacation home
to find the place in shambles.
There are broken glasses
strewn about,
there are
liquor bottles everywhere,
and when he walks into
the kitchen, he says, quote,
"There's nothing there
but blood."
And the box in the backyard has
been dug up and taken.
A week later, Martin Healy
sets up a meeting with Krauss.
Healy warns him that there
might be some trouble coming.
He tells Krauss that he needs
to deny knowing Crater,
and that he should deny that
they were ever at his house.
Krauss goes along
with his demands.
And when the detective starts
peppering him with questions,
Krauss just keeps repeating
that Crater is dead
and he thinks that
he is buried at the house.
The police were able to verify
part of Krauss's story.
Their investigation showed
that Crater had written
at least two checks to Krauss.
And Krauss did indeed have
a Westchester home.
Krauss's 1954 revelations
revive public interest
in the case.
Life Magazine funds
an excavation
of the home's backyard.
Unfortunately, they don't
find Crater's remains.
And that's about as far as
the authorities can take things.
Some evidence may still bear out
that this theory is correct,
but until
that evidence surfaces,
it's impossible to prove.
When Stella Crater loses
her husband Judge Joseph Crater,
on August 6th, 1930,
she frantically calls
his colleagues looking for him.
But what she neglects to do
raises some eyebrows.
Stella Crater doesn't
officially report
her husband missing
to the police
for four weeks.
And you could
maybe chalk that up
to everyone hoping that
he's just out having an affair.
But four weeks is
a pretty long time.
And after she does
finally file the report
and police start investigating,
she doesn't seem
too keen in helping them.
And this, combined with
some other suspicious behavior,
has many theorists wondering,
what if Stella is involved
in her husband's disappearance?
This is basic police work 101.
When someone goes missing,
you look at the spouse.
Stella is doing nothing to help
avoid any kind of suspicion.
For the early part
of the investigation,
Stella remains up in Maine.
But the D.A. vows
to bring her down to testify
in front of the grand jury.
Mrs. Crater refuses,
quite steadfastly, to cooperate
with the investigation at all.
The D.A. sends her
a list of questions instead.
The way she answers
the questions are vague,
and maybe in some ways a lie.
For instance, she stated
that she didn't know her husband
was missing until August 25th.
But there's evidence
showing that,
for weeks prior,
that she was calling
many people, wanting to learn
of his whereabouts.
At first,
Stella's not a suspect.
They just think she might
have more information.
But after she lies to the D.A.,
all bets are off.
That puts her right in
the investigators' crosshairs.
Police already have
one motive in mind,
and that's Crater's
many affairs.
Most people assume
that Stella must have
had some idea
that Crater wasn't faithful.
But neighbors report
a screaming match
between the couple a few days
before he disappears.
Maybe there was
finally some last straw
that Stella couldn't handle.
Suspicious, police continue
to track Stella's whereabouts.
Stella stays in Maine
for months,
specifically to avoid
having to testify
in front of the grand jury.
After hearing
from nearly a hundred witnesses,
the grand jury releases
a 1,000-page report
that essentially says
they have no idea what happened.
A week after
the grand jury is dismissed,
on January 18th, 1931,
Stella finally returns
to the city
and announces that she's made
an incredible discovery.
Stella states
that she opened a drawer
in her bedroom and found
four manila envelopes
left for her by her husband.
There's $6,690 in cash.
There's Crater's will,
leaving everything to Stella,
and four life
insurance policies.
There's a handwritten list
of people who owe Crater money
and how to collect that money.
And one of the debts is
$2.3 million.
The envelopes also contain
a supposed letter
from Crater to his wife.
The handwriting is hasty,
it's messy, you know?
Like he's moving quickly
and he's under a lot of stress.
He writes a few times that
all of this is confidential,
and she's not to tell anyone
about these envelopes.
It's signed, "Love, Joe."
Then, right below that,
is a little note.
Now, the words aren't
completely clear,
they either say "am very weary"
or "am very sorry."
But either way,
it seems Crater is
saying goodbye
and is apologizing
for what he's about to do.
This all paints a very
convenient picture for Stella.
It looks like Crater is trying
to take care of his wife,
before either disappearing
or maybe committing suicide.
Stella's discovery is met
with skepticism.
There have been, at this point,
no fewer than
four different searches
of the apartment
by police officers,
and no one had found
any of these things.
There's no way the police
missed those envelopes.
But Stella wants them
to believe that they did.
She makes excuses why
the police may have missed it.
She stated that
the drawer was sticky,
or maybe the key was
stuck in the lock.
Meanwhile, a detective recites
from memory all the contents
that was in that dresser.
He gets every single item right,
except for those envelopes.
In 1931, police look
into the phone records
from Crater's
New York apartment.
And after his disappearance,
there shouldn't be any.
I mean, Stella's been up
in Maine the whole time, right?
She made a one-day trip
on August 25th
she didn't notify the police.
Could this have been
when she was
planting special evidence?
There are two very classic
motives for murder:
love money.
And it seems
that Stella had both
going on for her
at the same time.
But if she killed her husband,
or more than likely had
someone else do it
for a share of the money,
it seems that
she got away with it.
Police have a lot of suspicion,
but their evidence
is circumstantial.
It's pretty tenuous.
For years,
Stella refuses to speak
to reporters or detectives.
She lays low until 1939,
when she sues
to have her husband
declared legally dead,
in order to collect
his life insurance.
Stella hires
a private investigator
to prove that Crater has
been murdered.
She tries to collect
on a double indemnity policy
that would be payable
if he'd been murdered.
She's half successful
and half not.
She is appointed executor,
he is declared dead
the double indemnity claim
is denied.
She settles with the insurance
company, and she gets
about two-thirds
of the value of the policy.
She also finally consents
to an interview with the press.
She makes it clear
that she believes
Crater was murdered
by Tammany Hall
because of his involvement
in the George Ewald
kickback scheme.
I mean, what did you expect
a confession?
In 1979,
after nearly five decades
of active pursuit,
the NYPD finally closes
the infamous Judge Crater case.
The case still warrants
the occasional
late-night joke on television
or a 60th or 70th anniversary
retrospective in the papers.
But largely, this most famous
of missing persons cases
falls out of the public eye.
That is, until 2005
when it comes roaring back.
In April, 2005,
a Queens, New York woman
named Barbara O'Brien
discovers a letter
among the possessions of her
recently deceased grandmother.
a letter which may
close the case
on a 75-year-old mystery.
My grandmother unfortunately
passed away,
and I was the executor
of her will.
And I went into her papers
to get her will out,
and I came across a metal box.
And I opened the box,
and that's when I found
a letter in a sealed envelope,
And on the front
of the envelope, it said,
"In reference of
Judge Crater's disappearance."
In the letter,
she said that her husband,
which was my grandfather,
Robert Good,
told her about
the missing judge.
According to the letter,
Judge Crater was
murdered by a police officer.
Robert had a lot of connections.
He knew cops, he knew crooks.
A lot of them hung out
in his backyard
and went drinking with him.
He was neighbors
with the Burns Brothers.
These guys all have
kind of a little relationship.
Growing up, I do remember
the Burns living behind us.
Frank was a taxicab driver,
and his brother Charles Burns
was a police officer.
And they used
to come over a lot.
One night, Frank comes over,
he tells my grandfather
what happened
on August 6th, 1930.
He told my grandfather
that he picks up
the judge at the steakhouse,
and he drives him
to Coney Island,
when he met up with his brother.
The judge gets out of the car,
and they wound up killing him
and burying him
underneath the boardwalk pilings
at West 8th Street.
I mean, wow.
Right? It's been a lifetime
of no answers in this case.
And now, here's
a direct confession
to Crater's murder
it even mentions
the location of a body.
when the letter is
revealed to detectives in 2005,
the potential burial sits
directly under
the New York Aquarium.
Apparently, when they build
the aquarium in 1956,
there are reports
of some bodies being found
during construction.
It is New York after all.
But those bodies are
reburied in unmarked graves,
and we don't know
where they are.
Could Crater be one of them?
If we can't find the body,
let's try to corroborate
the story.
Do the Burns brothers
really exist,
and are they connected
to Crater?
It turns out that Charles Burns
is a real New York City cop,
and on August 6th of 1930,
he is assigned
to the Coney Island precinct.
There is also a record
of a 32-year-old Frank Burns
who drives a cab at that time.
At least the characters
check out.
But why would these two guys
want to kill Crater?
Barbara O'Brien believes
she knows the answer.
I think that it was mob-related
and went all the way back
to Legs Diamond.
Because she had mentioned
in her letter,
Legs Diamond put the hit out
on Judge Crater.
She believes that Legs Diamond
tried to bribe Crater
to have a case tossed,
but Diamond was unsuccessful.
After that, Legs knows that,
if Crater lives,
he may be sent to prison,
so he hires Charles Burns
to take care of Crater.
There's a lot
of speculation that
Charles Burns was
on the mob's payroll.
In addition to this case,
he's conspicuously
on the scene of another mob hit.
On November 12, 1941,
a mafia hitman turned-informant
named Abe Reles is
under police protection
at the Half Moon Hotel
in Coney Island.
That day,
he's supposed to testify
at a high-profile trial
against the mob.
He does not testify because,
even though he was
in police protective custody,
he flies
out of a window and dies.
According to reports
that come out in 2005,
one of Reles's police bodyguards
is Charles Burns.
Charles Burns was
actually the one
guarding his room the night that
he supposedly jumped
to his death.
Well, other theories think
that he was pushed to his death.
Back then, there was
a lot of corruption.
Whether it was with the police,
with the mob.
There was just
a lot of corruption
going on back then.
This might also explain the
kind of lackluster investigation
into Crater's
disappearance overall,
because the police
may have known
that their own men
were involved.
There was a ton of collusion
between cops and the mob
in New York in 1930, so
it's not outside
the realm of possibility.
One thing that
one needs to remember
in this entire investigation
is that the police are
more part of the problem
than they are
part of the solution.
So, taking
the police investigation
as having been conducted
in good faith,
I think, misreads
the historical record.
Everyone thinks
they have a theory
on what happened to him,
everybody thinks
they have the real story.
With her grandmother's letter
serving as new evidence,
Barbara hopes to finally
resolve the Crater case.
I'm hoping that
they reopen this case.
My grandmother passed away,
and she left that envelope.
Of course, that was
her way of telling me
she wanted something
done with it, she didn't want
to take it
to her grave with her.
So, I would just like
to try and
follow through with it,
and that's what I've been doing.
And I'm hoping
to continue doing it
until, at least,
we have a little bit
more answers.
Barbara O'Brien plans
to keep digging
into Judge Joseph Crater's
But without a body or any other
physical evidence of a crime,
the case remains unsolved.
I'm Laurence Fishburne.
Thank you for watching
"History's Greatest Mysteries."
Previous EpisodeNext Episode