OKLAHOMA – The deadliest tornado to ever hit our state was 69 years ago, in April of 1947.
That’s when a monster from the sky roared through Woodward, Oklahoma – 185 dead, more than 1,000 injured, hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed and one bizarre mystery to this day that has even the most seasoned investigators baffled.
It’s the vanishing of 5-year-old Joan Gay Croft of Woodward.
Her cousin, Marvella Parks, was 14 that night and remembers how terrifying the killer twister was when it descended on the unsuspecting town.
“I was really, really scared,” Marvella said. “I was crying. I was screaming.”
Joan Gay had a pencil sized piece of wood driven through her leg.
Her mother was killed.
“The side of the house fell on her, killed her instantly,” Marvella said.
Joan Gay’s father was critically injured and rushed to a hospital in a nearby town.
Joan Gay was treated for her leg wound, then she and her sister were housed in a Woodward hospital basement, sleeping on cots.
And, that’s where this mystery begins.
The night after the tornado, according to reports, two people suddenly walked down the stairs into that basement.
“Two men came by, dressed in khaki shirts and khaki pants,” Marvella said. “They picked Joan Gay up and carried her out of the basement.”
Eyewitnesses claim Joan Gay cried out that she didn’t want to leave her sister, but one of the men told her not to worry – they were coming back for her sister.
Hospital staff even stopped them, but the men said they were taking Joan Gay to a different hospital where other family members were waiting.
They were allowed to leave with the little girl.
The family has not since Joan Gay since that day 69 years ago.
Over the decades, Marvella and other family members have come up with their own theories about what happened to little Joan Gay that night.
“We always thought maybe somebody took her, that had lost their daughter somewhere over the years at some time,” Marvella said. “And, they took her to take the place of the one they had lost.”
But, the family has never stopped looking.
Joan Gay’s disappearance was featured on the popular series Unsolved Mysteries.
After the show aired, many women called thinking they could be Joan Gay.
“They’re looking for their families,” Marvella said. “They know they are not who they were brought up to be.”
Unfortunately, none turned out to be Joan Gay.
Now, the state is working with Marvella, putting a sample of her DNA into the massive state database, and the computer connections to other states systems – hoping they will get a hit and finally link Joan Gay, if she’s alive and what she may be calling herself now.
Investigators hope they can bring her back to the family she vanished from seven decades ago.