IT WAS A WARM, muggy Manhattan night on Aug. 6, 1930, when N.Y. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Force Crater pulled his celebrated Rip Van Winkle. But unlike Van Winkle, the good judge never returned.
The time was 9:30 when he walked out of Billy Haas' restaurant at 332 W. 45th St., entered a taxi, waved to a couple of friends and disppeared forever into the traffic pattern of Times Square, turning that fare into a legend. Today's sardonic graffito instructs: "Judge Crater, call your office."
Yellowed newspaper clips of that earlier period show the intensity of the search for Crater. "Police Trail Crater Or 'Double' In West." "Girl's Trunk May Hold Crater Clue." "Headless Skeleton Revives Mystery Of Justice Crater."
Friends, police and newspapers spent more than $30,000 running down clues all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Crater was 41 years old at the time, married, no children, 6 feet tall, in good health and weighed 185 pounds.
The '30s belonged to the Depression and the judge appointed by the then governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the suggestion of Sen. Robert Wagner, seemed to be politically and physically sound. He was making $25,000 a year.
He lived in a co-op apartment at 40 Fifth Ave., and enjoyed a summer home in Belgrade Lakes, Me.
On Aug. 2 he arrived at Belgrade Lakes, made several phone calls to New York, seemed "irritated" according to his wife, Stella, and left the next day in return to New York promising to be back to celebrate her birthday the following week.
On Aug. 4 he spent the night in his New York apartment and told the maid he would be returning to Maine on the 7th.
On Aug. 5 he visited his office in the Supreme Court building.
The next day, the 6th, he and his confidential secretary Joseph Mara spent the morning cleaning out files.
Mara was sent to the bank with two checks totaling $5,150.
Later in the morning Crater visited with Simon H. Rifkind, Sen. Wagner's law partner.
Returning to his apartment with Mara, Crater dismissed the maid telling her that he was going swimming, "up Westchester way," a remark that confused his wife who later told police. "He never liked and seldom went swimming."
Early on the evening of the 6th, Crater called on a friend, ticket broker Joseph Gansky, and arranged to have a single ticket to a Broadway show called, "Dancing Partner."
Crater left Gansky, walked to Billy Haas' restaurant where he met and dined with William Klein, a lawyer and Sally Ritz, a good-looking chorus girl, and Ritz's parents.
Finishing what might have been his "last supper" the party left the restaurant and Crater got into a cab never to be heard from again.
When he failed to appear at Belgrade Lake on Aug. 7 his wife sent the chauffeur to New York to look for him.
The chauffeur was assured by Mara that the judge would show up in a few days and returned to Maine.
On Sept. 3, N.Y. police detective Leo Lowenthal, a close friend of Crater, reported to his superiors that he could not find Judge Crater, and his disappearance was made public.
Police all over the nation checked out hundreds of bodies found dead in hotel rooms, or alongside railroad tracks, any corpse that fit Crater's description.
It was said he had a lot of friends among the Broadway show girl set and many were brought in and questioned.
On June 6, 1939, Surrogate Jaines A. Foley pronounced Crater legally dead and a year later his wife collected $20,000 life insurance.
His wife insisted to the end that it was foul play, but N.Y. District Attorney William C. Dodge said, "Mrs. Crater's charge that politics 'took him away' was pure bunk." If alive Crater would be 89 years old today, and there lies the mystery.