Real Name: Joan Gay Croft
Case: Lost Daughter/Sister
Location: Woodward, Oklahoma
Date: April 9, 1947
Details: On April 9, 1947, the small town of Woodward, Oklahoma was cut off from the outside world as a result of a telephone operator strike. On that same day, a tornado formed nearby. The strike prevented many of the residents from being warned of it. As darkness fell, it slammed into the town, reducing it to rubble. More than 1,000 people were injured and more than 100 were killed in a matter of minutes. One survivor, four-year-old Joan Gay Croft, remains missing to this day.
Joan Gay grew up in one of Woodward's most prominent families. Her father, Olin, was a successful sheep rancher and provided a comfortable life for his family. He and his wife, Cleta, raised Joan Gay and twelve-year-old Geri, Olin's daughter from a previous marriage. On the day of the tornado, their Aunt Ruth recalled that the sky turned ominously dark. The tornado caused extensive damage throughout Woodward.
That night, Ruth and her daughter, Marvella, went to the town's only hospital to look for their relatives. Hundreds lay dead and wounded around the grounds. Ruth talked to a nurse and learned that Cleta had been killed. She also learned that Olin was seriously injured and that Joan Gay and Geri were in the basement. Fortunately, they were not seriously injured: Joan Gay's knee had been pierced clean through with a thin piece of wood the size of a pencil, and Geri had cuts and bruises on her body. Back outside, Ruth found her mother and brother. They went to another hospital, where Ruth began helping those wounded.
In the morning, Ruth returned to the basement. Geri told her that some men had come in the night and taken Joan Gay away. A nurse confirmed this; they claimed that they were taking her to a hospital in Oklahoma City, over 120 miles away. However, calls to hospitals in that area turned up no trace of her. She was never seen again.
Three other girls, ages approximately 12, 4, and 8 months, were killed in the tornado and never identified. The local mortician asked Ruth to come and examine their bodies to see if any of them were Joan Gay. One of them, who was around four, looked similar to her; however, after viewing her body, Ruth was certain that she was not Joan Gay.
The unknown victims are buried in the Woodward cemetery. It is possible that they were from another town hundreds of miles away that was hit by the tornado, picked up, carried in the funnel, and dropped in Woodward.
Joan Gay's family reported her missing and an extensive search began. The FBI was later brought in, but no trace of her was ever found. Decades later, the identities of the two men who came to the hospital and took her away are still unknown. Interestingly, a nurse confirmed that they had asked specifically for the Croft children.
Over the years, several women have contacted authorities believing themselves or someone to be Joan Gay. None of them turned out to be her. At the time of her disappearance, she was four years old and had blue eyes and blond hair. She had a mild lisp. She may still have scars on her left calf as a result of injuries from the tornado.
Suspects: Joan Gay's abductors were described as two Caucasian males dressed in khaki work clothes. They have never been identified. It has been speculated that they kidnapped her and planned to demand ransom from Olin because he was relatively wealthy. However, no ransom demands were ever sent. It has also been speculated that she was kidnapped by someone who had lost their child and wanted one to raise. There is also speculation that she was kidnapped by a "child-stealing ring" such as the ones run by Georgia Tann and Ethel Nation. None of these theories have been confirmed.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the September 22, 1993 episode.
When Mary Jane Medlin was found beaten and abandoned in California in 1947, it was speculated that she was Joan Gay. However, that was ruled out when she was identified as Mary Jane.
Some sources state that Geri was Cleta's, not Olin's, daughter from a previous marriage.
Results: Unsolved. Due to the passage of time, it is speculated that Joan Gay may now be deceased. It is also possible that she may have died from her injuries shortly after she disappeared.
After the broadcast, several women came forward, believing that they may be Joan Gay. However, DNA testing with her biological relatives have shown otherwise. Recently, Marvella resubmitted her DNA in hopes of finding a match in the CODIS system.
Olin passed away in 1986. Ruth passed away in 2005.
- Woodward Tornado on Wikipedia
- Joan Gay Croft on The Doe Network
- DNA Test May Solve 47-Year-Old Woodward Mystery
- (1994 Tulsa World Article) Woodward Mystery Believed Solved
- Woman Seeks Cousin Lost After Tornado
- After 61 years, Joan Croft still a mystery
- Where is mystery woman connected to 1947 Woodward tornado?
- Search still on for Woodward 5-year-old who vanished after tornado 69 years ago
- The Disappearance of Joan Gay Croft
- Joan Gay Croft: Gone with the Wind
- Cleta Croft on Find a Grave