Thursday, April 29, 2010

Are you ready to meet your Crater?

One of the standard gags in sitcoms, skits and humorous essays was the disappearance of Judge Joseph Force Crater, a justice of the State Supreme Court in New York who left his courtroom one hot August afternoon in 1930, went to dinner at a chop house and walked off from there into the pages of history. There was a memorable episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show in which Rob and Laura had a flashback scene with a justice of the peace named "Judge Cratah," to whom Rob said, "A lot of people have been looking for you!" And, there is a Judge Crater's Restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama, where the only thing that disappears is probably the waiter or the guy with the water refill pitcher.

But after that red-hot August night, the judge never came home again. Chorus girls and courtesans all over the city were forced to cut back on their spending once they lost his steady patronage.

And, speaking of spending money, His Honor had only earlier that spring withdrawn 20 thousand semolians out of his bank acct. to pay for his judgeship; the deal in those days in New York was, you paid the organization a sum equal to your first year's salary for a good job. You might say this was poor economics on his part, to shell out 20 big ones for a job that paid...20 big ones. But it was also a job in which he was able to be appointed to a position of receivership in the sale of an old hotel in Gotham. He and his associates paid 75 big ones for the hotel, and then when it was condemned for a road-widening project, they were willing to sell it to the city for the low, low price of 3 and a half million dollars.

And so you're saying to yourself, "I shoulda gone to judge school!"

But, while his wife finished a vacation in Maine, hizzoner came back to New York City, got some legal papers (what other kind would he have?) out of his office, and went to a joint called Billy Haas's Chop House for what was likely the last dinner he ever ate.

Ten days later (!) his wife reported him missing, and the investigation was on. This was August of 1930. The New York Police Department applied all their skills and training to the case, and it was finally closed just a short time later, in 1995, when they finally gave up looking.

Two interesting other aspects to the Judge Crater case:

A: One of the people rumored to have had knowledge of what happened to the extinguished jurist was one Abraham Reles. You hear that name, and you think he was, what, a law school professor? A colleague on the Supreme Bench? A doctor who had recently treated Crater for dystopia? No. Criminologists remember Dishonest Abe by his nickname Kid Twist. KT was the number one hit man for an old, very prominent firm known as Murder, Incorporated, and his nickname derived from his ability to make someone very dead by twisting their head until a cerebral hemorrhage was induced. This is reported to be even more painful that having someone talk your ear off.

2: A quote from his eminence, the ol' Judge:

"The best way to get ahead is to go into politics."

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