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 coming. As darkness fell, it slammed into the town, reducing it to rubble. More than 1000 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, Joan Gay's 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 family members. 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. Joan Gay's knee had been pierced clean through with a thin piece of wood the size of a pencil. Geri had cuts and bruises on her body. Fortunately, they were not seriously injured. Back outside, she found her mother and brother. They went to another hospital, where Ruth began helping those wounded.
In the morning, she returned to the basement. Geri told her that some men had come in the night and had 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 Joan Gay. 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. However, it is unknown where she was taken that day.
Over the years, several women have contacted authorities believing themselves or someone to be Joan Gay. All of them, however, turned out not to be her. At the time of her disappearance, she was four, 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 during the tornado.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the September 22, 1993 episode.
Results: Unsolved. Although Joan Gay has been missing for years, it is thought that she might be dead due to the tornado incident, or she might have died after she disappeared. Several women have come forward since the broadcast, claiming to be her. However, DNA testing has shown that they are not. Recently, her cousin, Marvella, resubmitted her DNA in hopes of finding a match in the CODIS system.
- Joan Gay's case on The Doe Network
- (1994 Tulsa World Article) Woodward Mystery Believed Solved
- 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