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 the tornado coming for them. As darkness fell, the giant twister 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 of the disaster, 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, who was Olin's daughter from a previous marriage. On the day of the disaster, 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 hospital's grounds. Ruth talked to a nurse and learned that Cleta had been killed. She also learned that Olin was seriously injured and that her nieces, Joan Gay and Geri, were in the hospital's basement. Joan Gay's leg had been pierced with a thin piece of wood. Geri had bruises on her body. Fortunately, the two were not seriously injured. Back outside, she found her mother and brother. The three went to another hospital, where Ruth began helping those wounded.
In the morning, she returned to the hospital basement. Geri told her that some men had come in the night and had taken Joan Gay away. A nurse confirmed this; the two men 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 the bodies to see if any of them were Joan Gay. One of the girls, who was around the age of four, had blond hair and looked similar to Joan Gay. However, after viewing the body, Ruth was certain that the child was not her niece.
The unknown victims are buried in the Woodward cemetery. It is possible that they were from another community 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 not trace of the young girl was ever found. Decades later, the identities of the two men who came to the hospital and took her 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 to not be her. At the time of her disappearance, she was four-years-old, 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 Joan Gay. Recently, her cousin Marvella re-submitted her DNA in hopes of finding a match in the CODIS system.
- Joan'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