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Possible Big Break in 75-Year-Old Missing Persons Case; 'Paging Dr. Gupta'

Aired August 22, 2005 - 08:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody.
Just about half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING. Coming up for history buffs, this is an amazing story.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, there was a time when you'd say pull a crater, and that would mean disappear, because it was so commonly referred to. It was kind of like the Jimmy Hoffa story.

S. O'BRIEN: Judge Crater, that's his picture right there. He disappeared 75 years ago.

M. O'BRIEN: Got in a cab and just never appeared.

Anyway, so what happened, you may ask? Seventy-five years later, a little clue has come up, a letter found amid the personal effects of a 91-year-old woman who recently passed away, and it had tantalizing clues. The question is, does it settle the mystery? We don't know about that.

S. O'BRIEN: It is a great story. I love this story.

M. O'BRIEN: I love this story.

S. O'BRIEN: That's coming up this morning. First, though, let's get a look at the headlines with Carol Costello.

Good morning again.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to all of you.

Now in the news, Iraqi lawmakers could ask for another extension in forming a new Constitution. Leaders are hoping to hammer out an agreement by today's deadline, but some disagreements do remain, such as whether control of Iraq should be split up and how to divide oil revenues.

President Bush is set to promote his Iraq war policy during an address in Salt Lake City today. In the meantime, the anti-war movement appears to be gaining strength outside of his Texas ranch. Listen.

(SINGING) Of course that's folk singer Joan Baez. She performed on Sunday, decades after she held protests against the Vietnam War. Baez was showing support for Cindy Sheehan, who is away from Texas, to spend time with her ailing mother. Sheehan supporters say they expect her to return this week.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the pullout from Gaza is in its final stage. Israeli security forces are expected to finish evacuating Netzarim today. That's the last of the 21 Israeli settlements. Israeli police say some 950 protesters have been arrested since last week. Many have now been released.

Another sentencing day for serial bomber Eric Rudolph. Rudolph was convicted in three bombings in Atlanta, including the 1996 Olympic Park attack. One woman was killed in that incident. More than 100 others were hurt.

And the Rolling Stones, they keep on rocking. The group launched its latest North American tour last night. Mick Jagger strutting across a giant stage set up at Fenway Park. The Stones played a two- hour, 22-song show. The show was not without drama. One concertgoer was hospitalized after she fell about 40 feet from the rafters during the show. Apparently according to "The Boston Globe" she is 20 years old and she broke both of her ankles and her wrist, but supposedly she's going to be OK. Others that attended the show, they were unhurt, and they said it was a great concert -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. It's good to see them -- you know, he looks great. Mick Jagger looks great. He really does.

All right, thank you very much, Carol.

There could be a big break in the 75-year-old missing persons case that caught the attention of this country a generation or so ago. It involves a New York judge, Judge Joseph Crater, who vanished without a trace in 1930. Now the bizarre and legendary case, back in the headlines.


M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): A letter found in this house in Queens, New York may provide new clues to the mysterious disappearance of Judge Joseph Force Crater, 75 years ago. The letter turned up in the effects of a 91-year-old woman who died in April.

According to published reports, the letter said a New York City police officer and his cab driver/brother murdered Judge Crater in 1930, and buried his body under the boardwalk in Coney Island where the New York Aquarium sits now.

Crater Vanished the night of August 6, 1930. As the story goes, the newly appointed state supreme court judge was last seen getting into a cab at New York's Times Square. In the decades that followed he became known as the missingest man in America. "Pulling a crater" became slang for vanishing without a trace.

He was legally declared dead in 1939, and the NYPD officially closed the crater file, missing persons case number 13995 in 1979.

But now, with a possible new lead, this coldest of cold cases may be heating up again.


M. O'BRIEN: Richard Tofel is well versed in the Judge Crater mystery. He's author of "Vanishing Point: The Disappearance of Judge Crater and the New York He Left Behind." He joins us now.

Richard, good to have you with us.

RICHARD TOFEL, AUTHOR, "VANISHING POINT": Miles, good to be here. Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: First of all, let's talk about this letter and the theory that it purports out there. Do you put much credence into it?

TOFEL: I'm pretty skeptical about it, Miles, for a couple of reasons. One, that it's long been said that the Judge Crater got into a taxi cab on the night he disappeared. But in fact, my research indicates that he may well not have, and probably didn't. He had dinner with two people, and those people both testified before the grand jury that they got into a taxi cab, drove away and saw the judge walking down the street. So this theory, this story which picks up on the got into the taxi cab business, seems to me more likely based on the press accounts than on the actual facts.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, well, I want to hear your theory in a moment. We'll let that hang for just a moment.

There are a few other things that we didn't talk about in that short little taped piece there. For example, he withdrew a tremendous amount of money just prior to his disappearance. Also had a very strange phone call with some people, came off of vacation to New York.

TOFEL: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: There was something else going on in his life. Have you figured it out?

TOFEL: Well, he was clearly under a lot of pressure. He was also clearly involved in very substantial corruption of, frankly, all sorts, including money. The money that he withdrew from the bank on the day he disappeared ultimately turned up in an envelope he left for his wife with a long note. But I think the reason that people thought that he might have taken it out to voluntarily disappear was the news of the finding of the money came only four months after the disappearance, whereas the fact that he had done withdrawals came out almost immediately. And so the story really, in a sense, never caught up with itself.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk about the letter now, a 91- year-old woman who died in Queens, safe-deposit box, open it up, there's a letter, open only on the occasion of my death. And in it, it says, basically her husband and brother were involved in this, a police officer and a taxi cab driver, and that he was murdered, and his body was put under the boardwalk in Coney Island.

TOFEL: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: Now what is there but the New York Aquarium? And so the chances of figuring this out on slim, aren't they?

TOFEL: I think fairly slim. One of the New York tabloids reported that there actually were bodies found at the site of the New York Aquarium when it was constructed about now 50 years ago.

But I'm told by people who have talked to the police -- and I haven't talked to the police in the last few days -- but I'm told by people who have talked to the police that there were no such bodies found, and, in fact, I think that's more likely than not, because had a body been found, in 1951, for instance, I think any New York police officer's first thought would have been, that might be Judge Crater and we ought to check.

M. O'BRIEN: Especially then, in 1951.

So which brings us to your theory. Didn't necessarily get into a cab. Was it a suicide? Was it something else?

TOFEL: What I believe is that the judge left the restaurant, went to the theater, and one of the things people have always wondered about, is who picked up his ticket for the theater? But I think he went to the theater, probably then to a nightclub, and, in any event, ended up in a brothel, actually the best-known brothel then in New York, run by a woman named Polly Adler, who later wrote a bestselling book about her experiences as a madam. And it is said that in the early drafts of that book, she indicated that the judge expired in her place, and that she had his body removed by probably mobster friends of her's.

M. O'BRIEN: Expired by natural causes? In other words, it wasn't a homicide, something happened?

TOFEL: Yes, correct.

M. O'BRIEN: Boy, it would be nice to get those early drafts of that book, if they exist anywhere.

TOFEL: Yes, well, I tried.

M. O'BRIEN: I bet you did.

TOFEL: The woman who ghost wrote the book has her papers at the University of Nebraska, but unfortunately there are no early drafts.

M. O'BRIEN: So the mystery continues?

TOFEL: Yes, it does.

M. O'BRIEN: Richard Tofel, thanks for being with us. The book is "Vanishing Point." We appreciate your time, appreciate your coming in -- Soledad. TOFEL: Thank you very much.

S. O'BRIEN: In other news this morning, a top Australian model could be facing up to 10 years in prison on drug charges. Michelle Leslie is accused of having ecstasy tablets in her purse. She was arrested this weekend as part of a police raid in Bali.

Meanwhile, according to some reports, a rumor that Schapelle Corby's jail sentence for drug smuggling for this woman will be reduced. You'll remember Corby, also from Australia, was arrested and tried, and convicted in Indonesia. She's now serving 20-year prison sentence.


S. O'BRIEN: Well, the country of Georgia struggling with an American invasion. The culprits are caterpillars, or American butterflies. Hundreds of acres of farmland have been destroyed by them. Residents, in fact, in one town say the caterpillars are everywhere, even in the drinking water. The government is using fumigator trucks to try to eradicate the pests. The American species was imported accidentally from...


M. O'BRIEN: Look at that fumigator truck. That's going to take out more than the caterpillars.


S. O'BRIEN: No question.

Came in just two years ago and already it is a massive, massive problem. Yes, you can imagine.

M. O'BRIEN: I think that woman was not enjoying the fumigation either.

S. O'BRIEN: Look at those pictures?

M. O'BRIEN: Apparently they're in the drinking water, is that what you just said?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: That would be quite delicious, wouldn't it?

S. O'BRIEN: Tremendous problem.

You know, it kind of makes sense when they really try to stop people coming into the country and leaving the country with any sorts of animals and pests, because that's what can happen.

M. O'BRIEN: That's the reason we have fire ants in this country.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it's true. M. O'BRIEN: All right.

Still to come on the program, a closer look at the impact that the huge Vioxx verdict could have on the rest of the drug industry. This is a big one. We're minding your business.

S. O'BRIEN: And we are paging Dr. Gupta -- he's got important advice for cancer patients who are facing some pretty tough decisions about their treatment.

That story is up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: A potential breakthrough in stem cell research to tell you about. Harvard scientists say they have found a way to fuse adult skin cells with embryonic stem cells. The discovery could lead to the creation of stem cells without using human embryos. Researchers say the finding could sidestep much of the controversy surrounding stem cell research. The Harvard team is scheduled to further discuss that research today.

M. O'BRIEN: After someone learns they have cancer, they can soon become overwhelmed by the life and death decisions of how to treat it. We're paging Dr. Gupta now -- making those critical choices.

Good to see you, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's really interesting -- good to see you as well -- when you look at patients and how they arrive at decision making, it's changed a lot over the years.

For example, there was this big push for autonomy -- we want to figure out things on our own, want to make decisions on our own. But it can be very confusing.

Cancer is a good example -- 1.4 million people diagnosed with cancer every year, and all sorts of information out there. A lot of times what happens, though, is you hear about one type of cancer and think that applies to you as well -- for example, lung cancer very different than prostate cancer.

But people are increasingly being forced to make their own decisions.

M. O'BRIEN: So a little bit of knowledge can be actually a dangerous thing sometimes. What's the best strategy?

GUPTA: Well, there's a lot of things that have changed -- the specialty hospitals, for example.

There are a lot of specialists who focus not just on abdominal cancer, for example, but pancreatic cancer specifically. Find one of these specialists. That's going to probably help you. Also, you know, this is one of the hardest times for a patient. All kinds of information coming at you. You may forget it, so bring along a relative or a friend to the doctor's office to try and help you digest some of this information. If you can't do that, bring a tape recorder, something like that, to try and get the information down.

M. O'BRIEN: Take some notes. That's a good idea, right?


M. O'BRIEN: Of course, these days, patients have so much information literally at their fingertips. Going to the Web can provide them an awful lot of information. But in some cases it can be too much, can't it?

GUPTA: It can be.

And I did a Google search myself this morning. Just typed in "cancer," 124 million pages of information. And there is no way anybody can go through that. I decided to hone it down and just put in "breast cancer," 16 million pages.

There is lots of information out there, but there is a difference between information and knowledge. Make it work for you -- for example, and Those are two Web sites we've heard of, they're from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society -- good information there. Again, information that might apply to you as an individual with your particular cancer.

But nothing still as a substitute for actually talking to your doctor.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, and it's always good to have more than one source of information. And a lot of people are interested in hearing from more than one doctor these days. Good idea, right?

GUPTA: It is a good idea.

And you're not going to insult your doctor by saying, "I want to get a second opinion." That's -- for most doctors, you're not going to insult them.

I think there is a problem, though. And this is a bit of a caveat. If you're getting third, fourth and fifth opinions, you just find yourself doctor shopping, that might be a bit of a problem. That might indicate that you're just not getting the information you want to hear even though it might be the information you need to hear.

Stick to a couple of opinions, figure it out and get it taken care of.

M. O'BRIEN: You're always our top opinion. Sanjay Gupta, thank you very much.

GUPTA: Thank you very much. M. O'BRIEN: No second opinions needed. We appreciate it.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, what does the Vioxx verdict mean for Merck shareholders? We're going to take a look at that this morning.

Also ahead, we'll hear from Eric Clapton about his first new album in years. Stay with us.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: What's next for Merck after Friday's verdict? With that story and a look at the markets this morning, Ali Velshi is in for Andy Serwer, and he's "Minding Your Business."

Good morning.


O'BRIEN: Good morning

VELSHI: Huge problem for Merck. You know, I just was listening to Sanjay talking about something when he was talking about cancer, and he said information is not the same as knowledge, and it kind of has the same thing to do with this. This is not from Vioxx, but this is the information sheet that goes out with one of its competitor drugs, another Cox-2 inhibitor.

S. O'BRIEN: No one reads that.

VELSHI: Look at that, both sides of that, tiny little print. It's there, and there,and that was Merck's argument, that we put the information out there, and consumers sort of say, well, you know what, when you market these drugs, you talk about all the benefits and we don't hear about the risks, and it seems to me that this jury was -- in fact, they said so. The jurors said we were sending Merck a message. It was clear they didn't pay enough much attention to the science of the case and the merits of the science. That's a big problem for Merck and for the drug companies. If they can't convince the jury of the science behind their defense, as you know, there are some 4,000 cases coming up, and that's going to have to change the way Merck thinks about this. Merck took a big hit on the markets on Friday, could well happen again today.

S. O'BRIEN: But you know, Jeff Toobin was saying, there was no real incentive to settle yet, because they were surely at the lowest point. They've lost...

VELSHI: They've got no leverage at all. The next case coming up starts September 12th in New Jersey, and it's somebody who had a heart attack as a result of taking -- he claims, as a result of taking Merck. His own doctor says that. That may not be the case.

S. O'BRIEN: Sorry, taking Vioxx. His own doctor says that may or may not have been the case, that he may have been suffering from stress, so we'll have to see if Merck can maybe win that one, then maybe they'll think, all right, let's settle and not go through 3,999 more.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, 4,000 at least.

VELSHI: There is more than 4,000, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: No question. Ali Velshi, thanks -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Soledad.

Eric Clapton's latest album, titled "Back Home" will he released next week. This is his first album of new original material in nearly five years.

CNN's Brooke Anderson sat down with the legendary rocker to find out where he found his inspiration.


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With a new family and a new album on the way, at 60 years old, guitarist Eric Clapton is still going strong.

(on camera): Sixty is the new 30, right?

ERIC CLAPTON, MUSICIAN: Maybe the new 40. I think that might be stretching it. I don't actually feel that much different. I'm quite happy. Actually, I feel more content now than I've ever done really. Even in the 40s and 50s seemed to be OK, but for me, it just seems to be getting better.

ANDERSON (voice-over): He's releasing a new album next week, his first featuring all new material in nearly five years, the deeply personal, "Back Home."

CLAPTON: It's a statement of fact really about where I've come to in my life and having a new family and a wife that I adore, and great kids and it's really about that. I mean, this is the first time really that I've been fully involved in raising a family. I mean, it's kind of a late-starter, and I love it.

ANDERSON (on camera): Changing diapers, teething?

CLAPTON: Well, I did that. I've been excused of that recently, so.

ANDERSON: Didn't you say a few years ago no more touring, I'm going to stop doing that, I'm retiring from touring?

CLAPTON: I find an excuse to quit every two years, sometimes every year. You get to the end of the tour, and you say goodbye to everybody, and I've even made teaches to the road crew.

ANDERSON: Wrap it up neatly. CLAPTON: Just everything, and you know, and, like, give presents, and say we're never going to see you again, and then six months later, oh, man.

ANDERSON (voice-over): With everything that life has given him, Clapton is also no stranger to loss. From the sad 1991 death of his 4-year-old son Connor who accidentally fell from a New York high-rise in 1991 to the tragic loss of friends and collaborators.

CLAPTON: Well, to a certain extent, it's made me a little callous in that respect. You know, I've been saying goodbye to musicians all my life, you know, from Jimmy to Freddie King, and sometime I was very angry. You know, in the early days when I didn't understand the nature of life, I would get very angry and bitter and, you know, and make it about me, you know? And, of course, it isn't like that. It's just the nature of our existence is that, you know, it's a constant saying goodbye to people.

ANDERSON (on camera): A lot of musicians say songwriting is therapeutic for them. Do you find that?

CLAPTON: I came from a place where it wasn't okay to have vulnerable feelings, you know? It was like I grew up with a shell around me. And to break that down and to be able to openly declare the way I feel about the woman I'm married to, and my kids, is a great thing, because then I have nothing to hide.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Los Angeles.


M. O'BRIEN: And you can look for Eric Clapton's new album in stores starting on August 30th.

Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, 90-second pop. ABC addresses the controversy over the "Dancing With the Stars" finale. A re-dance, is it?

S. O'BRIEN: Dance-off?

M. O'BRIEN: Dance-off, there you go. Dance-off. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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