This story comes together from three separate sources; first from 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 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 original Jack “Legs” Diamond was a thug, a sociopath and a killer and 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 avoiding these murder attempts.
Jack needed to reestablish control, and that included his control of the courts. And the usual method of controlling judges was to use women, in this case a showgirl named Connie Markus.
Connie Markus was one of a "chorus" of girls who worked for Jack Diamond. And she was also 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 Diamond.
According to the account by Stephen Ellis, it was papers related to those cases that Judge Crater went through in his office on August 6, 1930. Those papers had gone into the two locked brief cases he had left the office with that afternoon. And the $5,100 in cash he left with was meant as a payoff to Diamond. With the feds and reformers sniffing around, Judge Crater felt he could not decide the cases the way Diamond wanted them decided, not without drawing attention and raising suspicions.That evening, when Connie told Diamond of Judge Crater’s attempt at a payoff, Jack could not afford to let the cases drop, not with the Schultz mob sniffing at his heels. At some point in the conversation Connie must have told Diamond about Crater’s plans to have dinner at the Chop House that night. And Jack 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 the street 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 judge, maybe even 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 he 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, Judge Joe Crater was killed. It is after Joe Crater died 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 remains were unidentifiable.
Slipped into pine coffins the remains were buried by inmates from Riker’s Island, just a few more of the 2,000 dead buried each year in unmarked mass graves of Potters Field on Hart Island. They were stacked three high and then two across, in rows of 25. To find Judge 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 would leg out an escape. Jack was shot three times just behind his left ear. The gun barrel was pressed so close the blasts scorched his scalp. Connie Markus, the connection between Diamond and Judge Crater, 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”. His real name was 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 the ship burned at the New York docks as it was being refitted for war duty. And Stella’s marriage did not last much longer than the ship. In 1961 the still single Stella Crater finally wrote a book about Joe’s disappearance, and about the man she now realized she had never really known. She called it “The Empty Robe”.
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