I can not prove what happened to Judge Joe Crater on the night of August 6, 1930. I know he had enjoyed a dinner at The Chop House with a chorus girl and a male friend. Afterward he climbed into a taxi and seems to have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. But I have a pretty good theory about what became of him. I think its pretty good, anyway.
This story comes together from three separate sources. The first source is Stephen Ellis, the son of Emil Ellis, one of the lawyers who represented Mrs. Stella Crater in her lawsuits against the insurance companies. The second source is from a letter marked “Not to be opened until after my death”, left behind in the first decade of the 21st century by a 91 year old widow. And the third source is from news stories published in the 1950’s. Each source is independent of the others, and although they would not pass muster in a court of law, in history research they are about as close as we are ever going to get to the truth. And at the center of all three is the infamous prohibition gangster, Legs Diamond.
The real Jack “Legs” Diamond was a thug, a sociopath, and a murderer, who was almost as famous for whom he betrayed as how he died. He got into big time crime working for “the Brain”, Arnold Rothstein, the man who fixed the 1919 World Series. By 1930, the year that Judge Crater disappeared, Jack’s web of speakeasies in lower Manhattan was under siege from the rapacious Dutch Schultz mob, based in Harlem. There had already been three attempts on Diamond’s life by the Schultz mob. In fact he earned his nickname "Legs" by running to avoid these murder attempts.
Jack needed to maintain control of his power, and that included his control of the courts. And the usual method of controlling judges was to use women, in the case of Judge Crater, a showgirl named Connie Markus.
Connie Markus was one of a "chorus" of such women who worked for Jack Diamond. As part of her job she was an occasional mistress of “Good Time" Joe Crater. Under instructions from Jack Diamond, it is alleged, Connie asked Judge Crater to reverse on appeal some lower court decisions which had hurt Jack's business interests.
According to the account by Stephen Ellis, it was papers related to those cases that Judge Crater reviewed in his office on August 6, 1930. Those papers had gone into one of the two locked brief cases he left the office with that afternoon. In the other case had gone the $5,100 in cash he had received by cashing in stocks. The cash was meant as a payoff to Diamond. With the feds and reformers sniffing around, Judge Crater felt he could not overturn the lower court rulings, as Diamond wanted - not without drawing attention and raising suspicions.That evening, according to this version of events, Connie told Diamond of Judge Crater’s decision to reject his instructions and instead, attempt a payoff. But Jack could not afford to lose the cases, not with the Schultz mob sniffing at his heels. Either Connie must have told Diamond about Crater’s plans to have dinner at the Chop House that night, or else he already knew it from Sally Lou Ritz, the woman the Judge was having dinner with. Either way, Diamond decided to increase the pressure on the judge.
According to the letter and other documents left behind after her death by Stella Ferrucci-Good of Queens, New York, when Judge Crater stepped into the cab on West forty-fifth street that night, the driver was a Murder Incorporated "button man" employed by Jack Diamond named Frank Burn.
Just up 45th Street, According to Stella, the cab unexpectedly pulled over and two more men quickly climbed in. One was Charles Burn, a police officer and Frank’s brother. The other was Robert Good, Stella Ferrucci’s husband. Their intent was to scare the the judge, rough him up a little and let him know what would happen to him if he did not play ball with Diamond. But things did not work out that way. Crater thought it was a mugging and immediatly fought to get out of the cab.
The two mobsters fought back, trying to keep Crater in the cab. And at some point in the struggle that insipid smirk was finally wipped off Judge Joe Crater's face - forever. It is after the Judge was killed that the stories separate again. Stephen Ellis, relating the story he heard from his father, claims that the thugs drove Crater’s body to a crematorium in New Jersey, where it was disposed of, and that may be the truth. But I tend to believe the version recounted in Stella Frrucci’s letter, which says that Crater’s body was buried that night at the end of West Eighth Street, under the Coney Island boardwalk.
I believe that version because in 1956, while digging the foundation for the new New York City Aquarium, several human remains where uncovered under the Boardwalk near eighth street. Without DNA technology the bones were unidentifiable.
They were eventually reburied in pine coffins by inmates from Riker’s Island; just a few more of the 2,000 dead buried in the Potters Field on Hart Island each year, in unmarked mass graves; stacked three high and then two across, in rows of 25. To find Judge Joe Crater’s bones and identify them now, if they are there, would be effectively impossible.
Jack “Legs” Diamond would die just a year later, on December 18, 1931. And this time the assassins were taking no chances. Jack was shot three times just behind his left ear. The gun barrel was pressed so close the blasts scorched his scalp. Jack's direct connection to Judge Crater, the chorus girl Connie Markus, would end her days in the mental ward of Bellvue Hospital, catatonic from a drug overdose.
That same year, 1931, the homocidal cop, Charles Burn, found a new job, as the body guard for a thug nicknamed “Kid Twist”: real name, Abe Reles (above).
Ten years later, in 1941, Reles would become famous as “The canary who could sing but could not fly.” After testifying against another member of "Murder Incorporated", Kid Twist took a flyer out of a sixth floor window of the "Half Moon Hotel" on Coney Island, where police were supposedly guarding him.
And one of the cops on duty at the Half Moon that night was Officer Charles Burn.
In 1939 Stella Crater remarried, to Mr.Karl Kunz. They took their honeymoon cruise on the French cruiser “Normandie”. Just two years later that ship burned at the New York docks as it was being refitted for war duty. Stella’s marriage did not last much longer the cruise liner. In 1961 Stella Crater finally wrote a book about Joe’s disappearance, and about the man she now realized she had never really known. She titled book, “The Empty Robe”.