I’d never heard of Joseph Crater until I read an article about him in The New York Post nine years ago. I didn’t know that his disappearance was the biggest missing person’s case of the twentieth century or that he was a household name for almost fifty years. But in all of that, what intrigued me most was his wife Stella, and her strange yearly ritual. Starting on the first anniversary of her husband’s disappearance, she would go to a bar in Greenwich Village and order two drinks. She’d raise one in salute, “Good luck, Joe, wherever you are!” Then she’d drink it and walk out of the bar, leaving the other untouched on the table. She did this every year for thirty-nine years. After reading that article Stella Crater took up permanent residence in my mind. I’d close my eyes and she’d be there, in that corner booth, a glass of whiskey in her hand, practically daring me to tell her story.
The wonderful thing about writing historical fiction is that there is often an existing record of the people you are recreating. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, there are pictures as well. Little glimpses into the past. After reading that article I began digging into the Crater story. I read Stella Crater’s memoir, THE EMPTY ROBE. And I read as many articles and biographies on Joseph Crater as I could find, namely VANISHING POINT: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF JUDGE CRATER AND THE NEW YORK HE LEFT BEHIND. And slowly the pieces came together. Three women. One missing judge. And secrets none of them were willing to tell.
These are the pictures I kept on hand while writing THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS. Real people. Real events. Real places. Because sometimes the truth makes the best fiction after all.
* Starting top left and going clockwise: Stella Crater holding the missing person’s circular decades after her husband’s disappearance, the only known photo of showgirl Ritzi, Maria and Jude Simon (as I’ve always thought of them–no pictures of them actually exist), Governor Al Smith, Owney Madden, and Joseph Crater the year he disappeared.
There’s still lots of time to enter this month’s book club giveaway. And don’t hesitate to let Ariel know if your book club plans on reading THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS. She’s available for Skype chats and local in-person visits.