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John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

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A poem: Yesterday

Yesterday
W. S. Merwin, 1927 – 2019

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father’s hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don’t want you to feel that you
have to
just because I’m here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don’t want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go

and nothing I had to do


On Writing: quotes from writers on writing

“A page of Addison or of Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration than will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook.” H. P. Lovecraft: Advice to Aspiring Writers (1920)

“To have a specific style is to be poor in speech.” Herbert Spencer: The Philosophy of Style, the Economy of Attention, and the Ideal Writer (1852)

“Writing is like going to bed with a beautiful woman and afterwards she gets up, goes to her purse and gives me a handful of money.” Charles Bukowski on Writing and His Insane Daily Routine

 “Composition is for the most part an effort of slow diligence and steady perseverance, to which the mind is dragged by necessity or resolution, and from which the attention is every moment starting to more delightful amusements.” Samuel Johnson on Writing and Creative Doggedness

“In the marginalia … we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly — boldly — originally — with abandonment — without conceit.” Edgar Allan Poe: The Joy of Marginalia and What Handwriting Reveals about Character

“I want my stories to move people … to feel some kind of reward from the writing.”Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize Interview: Writing, Women, and the Rewards of Storytelling

 “Talented writing makes things happen in the reader’s mind — vividly, forcefully — that good writing, which stops with clarity and logic, doesn’t.” Samuel Delany: Good Writing vs. Talented Writing


 “The only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost.” William Faulkner: Writing, the Purpose of Art, Working in a Brothel, and the Meaning of Life


Mystery: The disappearance of Joe Crater

The Disappearance of Joe Crater 



by
John William Tuohy

Judge Joseph Force Crater vanished from the face of the earth in 1930. Crater was an associate Supreme Court Justice for New York County. Despite the awesome sounding “Supreme” in the title, Crater was simply a trial court judge. He was "appointed" to the position at the age of 41, young for a judge at the time.  It was widely assumed that he had paid off Tammany Hall, the political organization that ran the city, for the postion since the Tammany guarded judgeship dearly. Corrupt judges was one of the reasons the machine exsisted. (Bank records later revealed that he withdrew $20,000 shortly before taking up the position in April 1930)


Judge Crater, left, in Maine 

In late July of 1930, a dreadfully warm summer, Crater was on vacation in Belgrade Lake, (Below) Maine with his wife Stella Mance Wheeler. The two had met in 1917 when Crater served as her divorce lawyer. They married seven days after her divorce was finalized. At best, it was an odd marriage. Crater never discussed his professional life with his wife so much so, that she learned her husband had been made a judge from the newspapers and from congratulatory phone calls from Al Smith and Jimmy Walker. Crater also carried on a dozen or more affairs, somewhat openly, since the day they were married. 

That summer, up in Maine, after taking a phone call, Crater told his wife he had to go back to New York City ” to straighten those fellows out”, never explaing who "those fellows" were.


Stella Crater


Back in New York

It was a ruse of course. The call more than probably came from his girlfriend, a teenage showgirl named Sally Lou Ritz, (born Sarah Louise Ritzi) because the judge didn’t go to New York that day, he went to Atlantic City and met Ritz at a local hotel. He returned to Maine on August 1 of 1930, and then left for New York on August 3, promising his wife that he would return to Maine by August 9, for her birthday.
 Ritz (right)

Supposedly, on his first night in New York, Crater dropped by a speakeasy for dinner. The place was called the Louis Schwartz's Abbey Club, an eloquent bar in the basement of the Hotel Harding on 205 West 46th Street. 
The club emcee was a drag queen named Gene Malin (Born Victor Eugene James Malinovsky his stage name was Imogene Wilson) Malin, the highest-paid nightclub entertainer of 1930, had been there since the spring of 1930, assisted by Helen Morgan Jr. (Francis Dunn) and Lestra LaMonte (the paper-gown-wearing Lester LaMonte), popular drag artists of the day. Malin didn’t wear drag on stage as emcee. (The six foot, two hundred pound Malin did impersonate Gloria Swanson and Theda Bara occasionally) 
Gene Malin

Instead, he was known for his razor-sharp Risque wit and pitter-patter as he walked among the speakeasy’s guests. It was Malin who gave rise to the eras "Pansy acts" " in New York's speakeasies. Despite being openly gay, Malin married a showgirl named Lucille Helman in January 1931. Malin was killed in a car crash in 1933 in Venice, Los Angeles after he apparently confused the gears and the car lurched in reverse and went off a pier into the water. Pinned under the steering wheel, Malin was instantly killed.

The last day

The next morning,  August 6, the judge gave his housemaid the next few days off and spent the morning in his courthouse office, going through his personal files.  He had his assistant, Joseph Mara, cash two checks totaling $5,150, equivalent to about $72,000 today. He took another $20,000 from campaign funds (About $280,000 today) and left for home with two locked briefcases. The briefcases later disappeared.
Foley Square Courthouse

That afternoon, Crater bought a single ticket to a Broadway play “The Dancing Partner”, a play that was panned by every critic in town. Crater had already seen the play, why he was seeing it again is unknown. He went to dinner to Billy Haas' Chophouse at 332 W. 45th Street in Times Square (Haas had been a prizefighter) with his mistress (some reports state she was 17, she was 18 years old) Sally Lou Ritz and William Klein, a theatrical attorney friend who acted as a beard for the couple. The threesome dined on lobster and cold chicken and a few drinks. The judge stayed in the restaurant, until about 9:15 and then he left with Klein and Ritz. The play he had planned to see had started 15 minutes before. Both Klein and Ritz later testified that the judge got into a cab, but both of them later changed their story to say he had walked away, down 45th Street. No one is really sure what happened to him after that.




(The Belasco Theater was at 111 West 45th Street about three blocks from the chop house, so it is possible her walked to the theater)




Vanished

Days passed and while his wife phoned friends to ask if they had seen the judge, she never called the police. In fact, almost an entire month passed, and she never phoned the police. In fact, police didn’t learn about his disappearance until September 3, a full 23 days after Crater had vanished, and then only by reading about it in the newspapers.


Crater’s wife maintained, without any foundation to the claim, that the judge was murdered by organized crime and went about suing several insurance companies where Crater held big dollar life insurance policies. However, the insurance companies refused to pay because there was simply no proof that Crater was dead based on the grand juries conclusion that "the evidence is insufficient to warrant any expression of opinion as to whether Crater is alive or dead, or as to whether he has absented himself voluntarily, or is the sufferer from disease in the nature of amnesia or is the victim of crime".


The courts agreed and Mrs. Crater wasn’t paid. (The judge was declared legally dead on June 6, 1939) An investigation into the judges whereabouts by the New York police department, then a very corrupt organization that was basically an extension of Tammany. Aside from the probable desire of a lot of powerful people not to find Crater, the lateness of the investigation after the fact…about 5 weeks had passed….the public jumped into the fray leading to 16,000 reported sightings of Crater in every state and several foreign lands. One report had him riding a burro and prospecting for gold in California. Another report swore he was a sheepherder in the Pacific Northwest. Another said he was confined to a Missouri mental hospital.


Enter June Brice

The police established whatever one else in the city seemed to know. That Crater loved the nightlife, and, aside from Ritz, he was involved with at least three other women. One of those women was Showgirl June Brice (Jennie Rosalie Holstein.) who had been seen talking to Crater the day before he disappeared. A long-held theory was that Brice was blackmailing the judge over something big and that he boyfriend, supposedly a gangster, murdered the judge after paid off.

Brice, in the company of an unknown man, vanished on the night on September 14, 1930, on the day before she was to testify on the judge's disappearance. She was spotted around New York in 1931. She changed her name several times and had her mail sent to a PO Box. In October of 1936, passersby saw smoke and flames coming from her apartment window and notified the building superintendent. The super raced up the stairs, broke down the locked door and found Brice kneeling on the floor babbling incoherently while she destroyed bundles of letters and stuffed them into the fireplace.

The superintendent later found out from a tenant that Brice had been undergoing treatment for a mental disorder by a Park Avenue specialist. The doctor placed her under the care of a trained nurse, Gertrude Moore. Moore later reported her first meeting at Brice’s apartment
“I arrived at the apartment and found a woman in a nightgown covered with blood. She had an icepick and had tried to stab herself in the region of the heart. She hadn't seriously injured herself, but I wanted to change the gown. She followed and finally, got her back into her apartment- June wouldn't allow me to, and she ran out of the apartment and started for the roof. I followed and finally, with the help of neighbor got her back into her apartment. She had an idea she wanted to return to Columbus and I persuaded her to dress. But in the meantime, I called an ambulance."


Brice 

After that, she was confined in Bellevue hospital and the Neurological Institute. Finally, she was committed to the Manhattan State Hospital on Ward's Island where she remained until she was transferred to Brentwood, L. I.

In November of 1939, Ellis located Brice at the Pilgrim State hospital at Brent wood, Long Island, where she had been confined since November of 1936. She had suffered a severe nervous breakdown two months before to her confinement at Pilgrim State. Prior to her commitment at Pilgrim, she had been confined at the Manhattan State Hospital on Ward's Island for a year under the name Mrs. Winthrop Covell. (She had been married to H. Winthrop Covell, U. S. Army chaplain, stationed at Fort Sherman, Neb., in 1919 but the marriage ended in divorce 1921. Covell was 22 years older than Brice) In March of 1931, she was placed in Columbus State hospital in Ohio after three failed attempts at killing herself.  

In 1940, Ellis said "Miss Brice told (A witness, the only thing that is known about her is that she too was a showgirl ) she was afraid she would be murdered because of a 'dreadful secret' she possessed. So great was her fear, after newspapermen had tried to question her about Crater at her apartment at 39 E. 38th St, that she fled and moved from place to place under assumed names. "

Ellis said that Crater was killed right after leaving Brice’s apartment and that he had tried to end his relationship with Brice and that he had offered her $5,000 and that the judge was buried a false name.

Brice died on December 2, 1940, at age 40 of dementia praecox and of the effects of tuberculosis. She is buried in Columbus Ohio where she was born and raised. Her mother said "June told me Judge Crater was a friend of hers; that he was s friend of all stage people and could help persons get parts in plays. He may have helped her to get some parts. She always refused to discuss his disappearance."


Enter Vivian Gordon
Gordon in about 1925


“I'm a lady of the evening.
 And while youth and beauty last,
I never worry who will pay my rent.
For a while I'll be in clover,
And when easy days are over,
I know I'll go the way that all,
My predecessors went.”  
Vivian Gordon

The other women Crater was said to be involved with was Vivian Gordon, a mobbed up, high-end prostitution and linked to renown madam Polly Adler. Gordon was close to gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond, who was also a drinking buddy with Crater.

A year after Crater disappeared, on February 20, 1931, after Vivian Gordon had been busted on a fake vice charge that resulted in her child being taken from her, she met the head members of a city government corruption board. Gordon told them she had information on police graft and on the lucrative business of selling judge ships. She was murdered five days later. Detectives searching her apartment found a coat that had belonged to Crater.

Gordon was born as Benita Franklin in 1891 in Joliet, Illinois. Her father, a prison warden, sent her to the Ladies, an accountant,  and became his common-law wife. A year later, Gordon (It is not clear.


Gordon about 1920-24

 The family moved to the Philadelphia suburb of Audubon, New Jersey, and
Joe Bischoff went to work for the United States Marshal service, as an office manager. He later took another job at the old D.C. Woman’s Reformatory, in Lorton, Virginia. At around that time, Vivian began an affair with Al Marks, a lingerie salesman, from Long Branch, New Jersey.

In 1923, Vivian and Marks were strolling through the Langwell Hotel on West 44th street near Times Square in New York when Vice Patrolman Andrew J. McLaughlin arrested Vivian for prostitution. Al Marks, no doubt eager to save himself,  confessed he had paid Vivian for the sex. She was eventually sentenced to two years in the Bedford Reformatory.


 The sentence was hideously harsh, especially in view of the fact that it was Gordon’s first offense. The entire matter snuck of corruption.

Gordon ’s ex-husband, John Bischoff got custody of their daughter, Benita.

Investigators later found that McLaughlin, the vice cop, had deposited $35,800 in his bank account over a period of two years when his salary was $3,000 a year. McLaughlin, arrogant and obnoxious, refused to say where or how he got the money. He bragged that he had made as many as 1,200 vice arrests in ten years, up and down Broadway. Investigators discovered that McLaughlin’s method was limited to arrested someone and then beating them with a club until they confessed to any crime of McLaughlin’s choosing. The city fired McLaughlin, and he was never charged with framing Vivian Gordon or forced to explain his fortunes.

When released from jail, Vivian made her livelihood as a scam artist, blackmailer, and loan shark. After she was murdered, police searched her apartment and found diaries mentioning over 300 names—nearly every major gangland figure in New York and prominent businessmen, including the philanthropist Henry Joralemon and John Hoagland, the baking-powder emperor. Notebooks in the apartment showed that at least six gangsters owed her money and that she owned buildings in Queens, where the hoods ran gambling dens.

The Bronx racketeer Harry Stein owed Gordon money as well. Apparently, Gordon had given him a considerable grubstake to commit either bank fraud or start a bootlegging racket in Oslo, Sweden. Stein was tied in with the Legs Diamond-Arnold Rothstein dope operations as well.

In late 1931, Gordon wrote her ex-husband in Philadelphia, threatening to reveal his “dirty frame-up” to her daughter. She wrote a similar letter to McLaughlin, the vice cop. On February 7, she wrote to the Seabury Commission which was looking into civic corruption, to say that she wanted to testify that McLaughlin and Bischoff had conspired to frame her eight years earlier in order to seize custody of her daughter.

On February 20, she appeared at 80 Centre Street to tell Seabury lawyer Irving Ben Cooper her story. She left promising to seek corroborating evidence.

On February 25, 1931, the petite Vivian Gordon, then age 40, was strangled to death with a length of stout cord. According to the elevator operator in her building, she left her expensive three-room apartment at 156 East 37th Street in Manhattan around 11 p.m. and got into a Cadillac that was waiting out on the street.

A short while after getting in the car, she was beaten with an object, mostly around the head and neck and then strangled with a piece of rope and possibly dragged from the car for an indeterminate amount of time. Her body was dumped in Van Cortland Park, near the cemetery and the golf course, where an oil company worker discovered it on his way to the office at 8:20 a.m.





It was later proven that the gangster Harry Stein had taken her costly mink coat, a $2,000 diamond ring and a jeweled wristwatch, was thrown into a ditch in Van Cortlandt Park, where the items were found the next day.  On March 3 Benita Bischoff, Gordon’s 16-year-old daughter, committed suicide. “I can’t face the world,” she wrote before she turned on the gas stove that killed her. 

On March 4 John Bischoff was eliminated from the case by the District Attorney. A few days later, Pierre M. Franklin, Vivian Gordon's brother, suffered a mental collapse. The police reviewed Gordon’s diary and found a notation that named John Radeloff —her lawyer and once her boyfriend—as the “only man I fear.”

Radeloff and his gangster associate Sam Cohen, aka Chowderhead Cohen, were called in before a grand jury which concluded that the pair were suspicious enough to hold on $100,000 bail.

Radeloff’s arrest led the police to Joseph Radelow, another of Gordon’s ex-boyfriends as well as her partner in a stock swindle. Radelow was John Radeloff’s cousin. Gordon dropped Radelow in 1930 because Radelow had welshed on a deal and owed her money. Gordon testified against him, revealing their “immoral” relationship in front of a grand jury but the records of the case disappeared.



On a hunch, the cops arrested Harry Schlitten, who had driven the murder car and granted him immunity if he testified against Stein. Schlitten signed a confession that he drove the murder car and named Stein and Samuel Greenberg as the slayers. Hoodlum Izzy Lewis was implicated as Schlitten accessory in hiring the Cadillac used to pick up Vivian Gordon. 

As a result, Stein was indicted in Gordon’s death. He pleaded not guilty of course, even though the cops had evidence that he had disposed of Gordon’s belongings the day after she died. Indicted with him was Samuel Greenhauer, a tailor by trade who acted as Stein’s chauffeur.

During the trial, the most damning pieces of evidence came when Schlitten told the jury that Stein had pointed out a newspaper photo of Radeloff and identified him as the person who hired him to kill Gordon. However at the time of the murder, Greenhauer was sitting Shiva (mourning) for his mother, and Stein was with his sister at the movies and then a Chinese restaurant. They were both acquitted.

The cops also had a tip that while Crater was an official receiver in a bankruptcy, he sold a property at a fraction of the $3 million value, the amount the city paid to get it back in its portfolio. The profit from the shady deal was enormous, despite that the fact no evidence of corruption was ever officially established. (Meaning that Tammany investigated itself and found itself innocent) Detectives found out that the judges safe deposit box was emptied by someone, they weren’t able to establish by whom.

The publicity surrounding the judge's dirty background, his girlfriends, the missing money, the murder of Vivian Gordon, led to a revolt from the citizens, the collapse of Tammany and the resignation of the City’s colorful but inept Mayor, Jimmy Walker.

Attorney Emil Ellis, who had landed Stella Crater her insurance payout, investigated the Crater disappearance for decades and reached the conclusion that June Brice had been blackmailing the judge. After he agreed to pay her $5,000, she changed the amount and demanded more.
 The judge refused and two of Brice’s partners, both underworld hoods, beat him up as a warning. However, the beatings went too far and the inadvertently beat him to death and hid his body.

The letter

In 2005, a Queens woman named Stella Ferrucci-Good died at age 91 and left behind a letter that stated that he husband Robert Good, a Parks Department supervisor and lifeguard, who died in 1975, had murdered Crater. The latter said that Good was assisted in the abduction-murder by a New York City cop named Charles Burns and his twin brother, Frank Burns, a taxi driver. The letter said that it was Frank Burns who picked up Crater in the cab.

Ferrucci-Good said that they buried Crater was buried under the boardwalk at Coney Island. The site she named is now the home of the New York Aquarium. However, when the aquarium was built in the mid-1950s five bodies were found there in their dirt.


Enter and Exit Kid Twist

She also mentioned that the plainclothes cop, Charles Burns, was also in the on the 1941 murder of informant Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, a killer for the mob’s Murder Incorporated. Reles, surrounded by a squad of five policemen as well as a police captain flew out of the 6th-floor window of a Coney Island hotel only a few hours before he was set to testify against Mob boss Albert Anastasia.





Charles Burns served with the NYPD from 1926 to 1946, and that he spent part of his career assigned to the 60th Precinct in Coney Island. 

Mrs. Reles at her husband's burial.  Burns is probably one of the men in the photo 

He was assigned to watch Reles at the Half Moon Hotel along with Officers Edward Cutby, Martin Rafferty and Detective Von Weisenstein. Burns also rotated as bodyguard to Mrs. Reles and her two children, who as family members of material witnesses, were under police protection at their home. Burns swore, in defiance of the facts, that he was on a vacation when Reles was killed. He said he voluntarily ended the vacation that night to accompany Mrs. Reles to her husband’s funeral. 

(Adding to the confusion in the Reles case was that there was another officer named Charles F. Burns assigned to guard the lobby door at the Half Moon Hotel on the day Reles was killed. In 1951, Charles F. Burns testified that he was guarding a downstairs hotel entrance on the night of November 12, 1941, when the hotel assistant manager informed him that a body was lying on the extension roof of the hotel. He and a patrolman named Doyle were the first to reach Reles. Doyle remained on the roof, while Mr. Burns proceeded to call the station house.)

Remarkably, a 1951 grand jury investigation into Reles death found no crimes were committed. 



The jury concluded that Reles's death was accidental and that he was killed either trying to escape or attempting to enter the room beneath his by wrapping bed sheets together to a wire, tied around a valve in the room that snapped under his weight. 


Mafia informant Joe Valachi told a Senate subcommittee in 1963 that the rumor in gangland was that the police had thrown Reles out the window of room 623 in the early morning of November 12, 1941. The rumor was that Godfather Frank Costello paid the cops on the 6th floor $100,000 in cash to toss Reles out the window.

The claim that Reles was trying to escape police custody was laughable. The Mafia wanted Reles dead to keep him from testifying and he made it his business to never be more than a few feet from his police bodyguards which included Detective Victor Robbins, James Boyle, John E. Moran, Frank Tempone and Harvey McLaughlin. All five were under the command of Captain Frank Bals. In a news conference, Bals said that it was his opinion that the detectives guarding Reles fell asleep. Reles decided to play a joke on them by slipping out the window, onto the roof and then walking back up to the room where the police were sleeping and knocking on the door to surprise them.

Bals was actually promoted after the Reles murder and retired from the force as a Deputy Police Commissioner. The promotion came in spite of accusations by gangster Harry Gross that he paid Bals for years to protect his gambling operations. But Bals was protected by District Attorney William O’Dwyer, (Bals had been his chief investigator) It was O’Dwyer who promoted Bals after he became mayor.

Appearing before Kefauver Committee to explain Reles odd death, Bals could not explain how Reles body flew fifty feet from the window's ledge before it hit the ground. He later changed the story that Reles went out the window so he could rob the room below his. Bals explained that the reason he was on the scene when Reles was killed was that a detective had called in sick and he volunteered to take his place. Bals had 250 men under his command at the time. Bals retired from the force and died in Florida in 1954 at age 62. Mafia boss Albert Anastasia was never tried as a result of Reles murder.


Anatasia 

But is there anything to the story left by Stella Ferrucci-Good? Probably not. It's more than likely the Crater family attorney Emil Ellis had it right. June Brice was extorting Crater, when he refused to pay more, her boyfriend at the time and another man beat Crater to death and disposed of his body.


********


Sally Ritz, the young who was with the judge just before he vanished, married several times (To John James Dewey, 1934, Clarence Francis Gould, 1939, Albert Wilbur Wiest, and Samuel John Pavia in 1968) and died in Costa Mesa California in February 2000

In October, a grand jury began examining the case, called 95 witnesses and amassing 975 pages of testimony. Crater’s wife refused to appear. Without her husband’s incomes, Stella Crater went broke. She was evicted from their fashionable Fifth Avenue apartment and reported that she was getting by on $12 per week (approximately $200)


She remarried in 1938 to an electrical contractor named Kunz (Kunz's first wife had hanged herself only eight days before his wedding to Stella) A judge declared Crater legally dead in 1939. Her lawyer, Emil K. Ellis, managed to get the insurance companies to $20,561 to her (approximately $370,344). 
Mrs. Crater, 1940
A Manhattan legend says that Crater's wife remembered his disappearance every year for the rest of her life by visiting a bar in Greenwich Village on Aug. 6. Where she sat alone with two drinks she would raise a glass and say, "Good luck Joe, wherever you are." She separated from Kunz in 1950 and died in 1969 at age 70.


Harry Stein, who was more than probably guilty of murdering Vivian Gordon, died in the electric chair in Sing Sing prison on July 9, 1955, for robbing and murdering a Readers Digest Messenger in 1950 of $1,200.