On April 9, 1947, Oklahoma experienced the deadliest tornado in state history, resulting in a mystery around a 4-year-old girl that remains unsolved.
A two-mile-wide cyclone left 107 dead in Woodward. In its aftermath, two men dressed in Army fatigues entered a hospital and kidnapped 4-year-old Joan Gay Croft. The kidnapping began a lifelong search by her father, Olen, until his death.
Joan and her sister Jerri were taken to the hospital after the tornado killed their mother. According to Jerri, Joan had a pencil-size splinter deep in her left leg. Olen was rushed to Oklahoma City due to his injuries.
The following night, two men walked into the hospital, picked up Joan and started to leave.
“I don’t want to leave my sister,” Joan cried.
The men told hospital staff they were taking Joan to the other hospital where family members were, and would return for Jerri.
Still recovering, Olen hurried back to Woodward. He began posting fliers and placing missing-person ads. No one had seen her.
For 40 years, Olen drove from one dusty town to another on his days off, following up on a tip and a hunch. He died in 1986.
In 1994, NBC’s “Unsolved Mysteries” ran the Joan Croft story. More than 200 calls were taken. One woman had the same blood type, scar on her left leg and a speech impediment as Joan, but her DNA did not match.
Today, Joan would be 64. “Mike Coppock
Photo courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.