VANISHING POINT by Richard J. Tofel


The Disappearance of Judge Crater, and the New York He Left Behind
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The life and colorful times of a New York State Supreme Court justice who went missing one warm August evening in 1930.

Ever since, numerous magazine articles and many book chapters have contemplated the celebrated case of Joseph Force Crater, but this appears to be the first book entirely devoted to the classic mystery since his widow’s unsurprisingly partial account in 1961. Given the paucity of available evidence, Wall Street Journal assistant publisher Tofel has chosen to focus on the political history behind Crater’s disappearance, painting a mordant picture of the fading Tammany machine and the judge’s place in it as they “approached the vanishing point together.” In 1930, Jimmy Walker was Mayor of Broadway (and only incidentally of the rest of the city), FDR was governor of the Empire State, and the price of a seat on the bench was approximately a year’s judicial salary. This was the world from which Crater suddenly vanished, not long after making large withdrawals of cash that his wife discovered some weeks later in their New York apartment. The judge was last seen on Wednesday, August 6, after dinner with some acquaintances, headed for a musical show. His wife was at their home upstate. Without a telephone, she wasn’t immediately concerned when she did not hear from her husband. After some time, however, she concluded that he was murdered, or at least so she claimed to the insurance company. Tofel, less certain of foul play, offers a plausible alternative involving madam Polly Adler. The judge was declared dead in 1939, and the case was closed by the NYPD in 1979 after a fruitless half-century. Tofel’s surmise about what happened to Judge Crater would explain why his disappearance wasn’t investigated terribly vigorously.

Casts intriguing new light on a famous unsolved mystery. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2004
ISBN: 1-56663-605-1
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2004


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