Long-Concealed Letter May Be Key to N.Y. Judge Mystery

ByABC News
August 18, 2005, 9:44 PM

Aug. 18, 2005 — -- ABC News has learned New York City detectives have obtained the first new evidence in 73 years in the disappearance of a New York State Supreme Court judge once dubbed "the most missingest man in America" by the city's tabloid newspapers.

On Aug. 6, 1930, Judge Joseph F. Crater stepped off a midtown Manhattan curb and into a cab after seeing a Broadway play with his showgirl girlfriend. He was never heard from again.

It was long suspected -- but never proven -- that he was killed by notorious mobster Frank Costello as a payoff to the Tammany Hall politicians who protected his rackets.

The disappearance of the dapper, well-known judge remained a fixture of city newspapers for years. A grand jury called 95 witnesses and amassed nearly 1,000 pages of testimony, but never determined Crater's fate.

Rumors surfaced that the 41-year-old jurist had been spotted in various remote and exotic locales. Others theorized he might have suffered a heart attack while visiting a call girl.

The possible break in the case came after the death a little more than two months ago of an elderly woman, whose name is being withheld by detectives at this time.

The woman's death prompted her family to open a safe-deposit box where they discovered a letter labeled "Do Not Open Until My Death." In the letter, the woman recounted her own father's deathbed statements to her, statements which, if true, could bring to a close one of the oldest enduring mysteries in America. And so far, detectives say, everything the woman wrote has been corroborated.

The letter contained the names of cab driver Frank Burn, and his brother, a police officer named Charles. The letter claimed that Frank Burn had killed Crater and buried the body under the boardwalk at New York's Coney Island. Charles Burn was named as the killer in another notorious homicide.

ABC News has learned detectives have examined erosion records, and believe they have identified a location where bones could be recovered. Police officials said digging there had not yet begun.