Confusion after 1947 Woodward tornado led to missing status of four-year-old
On April 9, 1947, the small town of Woodward 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.
A cousin of Joan has given a DNA sample, which has been placed into CODIS hoping for a match.
If you have any information about the disappearance of missing Joan Croft please contact the Woodward Police Department.