Long-Missing State Justice Inspires Historical Crime Novel
Nearly 80 years after a state judge disappeared from Midtown without a trace, a writer who remains obsessed with solving the mystery has tried to solve the case through a crime novel. Borough reporter Rebecca Spitz filed the following report.
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To say that author Peter Quinn is fanatic about state Supreme Court Judge Joseph Crater might be an understatement. The writer has just written a novel historical crime novel, "The Man Who Never Returned," based on the case of the prominent judge who got into a cab near Times Square on August 6, 1930 and simply vanished.
Quinn's novel, which is based on Crater's case.
"[Crater had] been appointed by [then-Governor Franklin Delano] Roosevelt to the State Supreme Court several months before. And he comes here [to Times Square] to get a ticket to a show called "Dancing Partners" on 44th Street at the Belasco Theatre. They say there are no tickets available but there'll be one at the box office if he shows up at 8 o'clock," says Quinn.
Someone picked up the ticket in Shubert Alley, but it was never clear who.
"The ticket agent couldn't remember who came to the ticket booth to pick it up, so it could've been him or maybe it was somebody else," says Quinn.
All these years later, the Crater mystery is perhaps outdone only by the disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa.
Crater's story captivated the nation at the time and his name even became a catchphrase. "Pulling a Crater" meant pulling a vanishing act.
As recently as five years ago, "new" evidence surfaced that Crater had been killed by a policeman and buried beneath the Coney Island boardwalk.
Author Peter Quinn stands in Times Square, near where Crater was last seen in 1930.
The New York Police Department's Cold Case squad found nothing, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says solving this case is near-impossible.
"You don't have a body, you don't have a situation where we can say with finality what happened," says Kelly. "But in terms of doing an investigation, since everyone knowledgable about the case is dead, it makes no sense for us to do it."
That's where Quinn comes in. In his novel, Quinn puts a fictional detective on the case, but he won't reveal yet what the gumshoe found about the judge last seen leaving dinner on West 45th Street.
"He walked out here, stood by the curb. He tipped his hat, tan cab came by, he got in the cab. And that's where the story either ends or begins, whichever way you want to look at it," says Quinn.
The mystery is solved -- or not -- when Quinn 's novel comes out on August 6, the 80th anniversary of Judge Crater's disappearance.