The Lafayette alum who became the ‘missingest man in America’ – The Lafayette

Corruption, political intrigue, showgirls, mobsters and New York City brothels are just a few pieces of the puzzle of the 1930 disappearance perplexing Judge Joseph Crater, New York State Supreme Court Justice and graduate of the Lafayette class of 1910.

On August 6, 1930, Kawah disappeared into the summer night and was never seen again. When his death became public nearly a month later, it immediately became a national news sensation. The case still attracts attention to this day, with true crime podcasts and web series like Buzzfeed Unsolved taking a crack at finding a close explanation. So, what could have happened to the judge that fateful night? There are several theories.

The least gory of this theory posits that Hakim Kawah voluntarily disappeared in New York, whether it will go into the sunset with one of his beloved showgirl mistresses or to avoid being called in testimony in the trial of political corruption.

Extensive evidence suggests that Kawah bought his judgeship, a common practice at the time, especially among Tammany Hall politicians in New York in the 1930s.

“There is no real question that Judge Crater bought his judgeship,” Richard Tofel, author of “Vanishing Point: The Disappearance of Judge Crater and the New York He Left Behind,” said. “We know that he resigned and probably didn’t account for a very large amount of money – $22,500 – right when he got the judgeship, which is the annual salary of a judge, which is the amount that people usually get paid when they get paid,” Tofel said.

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“There are many theories that he disappeared to avoid scandal – political, legal or sexual,” Stephen Riegel, author of “Finding Judge Crater: A Life and Phenomenal Disappearance in Jazz Age New York,” added. “There was a political scandal involving the purchase of a judicial office, which implicated a very close friend of his.”

However, Riegel and Tofel agree on the theory that Kawah disappeared not because he fled the country, but because he died.

“I’m pretty sure he died that night and somehow ‘disappeared,’ and really disappeared so when people looked for him a month later they couldn’t find him,” Tofel said.

Tofel theorized that Kawah’s death was related to his penchant for spending time with prostitutes. He based this belief on the memoirs of Polly Adler, a brothel owner in New York City.

“There is some reason to think that, in the early drafts of his memoirs, [Adler] suggested that he knew what happened to her and that she could have been his client that night and died, because they say, ‘in flagrante delicto,'” Tofel said, pointing out that Kawah died while having sex.

“It really fits the bill, and the reason it fits the bill is that it’s going to be his hallmark,” Tofel continued. “[Adler’s] business partner, Dutch Schultz, was a famous mobster who personally is an enormously violent guy, and the kind of person who could have made others disappear, literally without a trace.

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National news publications covered the loss of Joseph Crater extensively. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

Riegel, on the other hand, traces of Kawah’s considered death again his Tammany Hall involvement.

“I think all the evidence really supports the theory that he was involved in the Tammany Hall political scandal. It’s based on a lot of reasons, but I think it’s stronger if you do a timeline,” he said.

According to Riegel, the newspaper from the day until Kawah’s disappearance shed light on the fact that the wall may have closed in on his involvement and his associates in political corruption.

“[Crater] had just returned from a summer cabin in Maine about three days before he was last seen, and if you look at the newspaper headlines – what has happened these days, what has affected him and who are the people in the news that he is close. to – I think everything is starting to fall into place,” he said.

Riegel believed Kawah was planning to leave the city to avoid being called to testify against his corrupt friends, but instead they made sure he was silenced permanently.

“He was interrupted in his attempt to escape and basically knocked out because he knew too much,” said Riegel.

Riegel and Tofel also agree that the legal implications of Kawah’s return make police less motivated to find him.

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“Tammany Hall controlled the city government at that time. The mayor was Jimmy Walker, who was a Tammany loyalist, and the whole city – the prosecution, the city attorneys, the department heads – they were all Tammany people. So there was a lot of evidence that they did not want to find him, especially prosecutors involved in other scandals that broke seem to know that. [Crater] it’s very knowledgeable,” Riegel said.

Although Tofel does not believe Kawah’s death was a direct result of his Tammany Hall connection, he agrees they played a role in hindering the investigation into his disappearance.

“The New York City Police Department in 1930 was rotten from top to bottom,” he said. “There are many people who, once Kawah has disappeared… do not want him to be found, and they want to make as little as possible from this.”

Judge Kawah was declared legally dead in 1939, almost nine years after he disappeared. With no concrete evidence and most of the parties involved now dead, it is unlikely that the truth of his disappearance will emerge.

Even those who have researched the case extensively are open to many possibilities.

“Is it possible that this guy went into the Brazilian rainforest and was never seen again? Sure. It’s possible,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s too likely.”


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