If Joan Gay Croft is alive today, she is 65 years old. She probably has a family of her own, maybe children and grandchildren too. But, if she is alive, why has she never tried to contact her father and her sister? She probably has been known by a name other than Joan Gay since the night two men dressed in khaki clothing carried her screaming from her cot in the basement of the hospital at Woodward.

Joan Gay is one of the remaining mysteries that defied solution in the aftermath of the giant tornado that ripped through the town of Woodward 61 years ago this coming April 9.

The big twister, spawned in the early evening in the Texas Panhandle, dropped from the skies the other side of Arnett and quickly grew to a giant storm with a funnel two miles wide, and generated winds of 200 miles per hour.

It traveled on the ground for 221 miles at a speed of 46 miles per hour, smashing, without warning, everything in its path. It has been described as one of the 10 most destructive tornadoes of all time, killing 185 people and injuring 720.

Joan Gay’s mother was killed by the giant storm, and her father, H.O. Croft, was critically injured. He was transferred to an Oklahoma City hospital. Four-year-old Joan Gay and her sister, Jerry, were taken to the hospital, where they were treated for their injuries and bedded down for the night on cots in the basement of the hospital.

An aunt said she checked on the girls during the night, but when she returned to check on them the next morning Joan Gay was gone. Jerry, who was on a nearby cot, said two men dressed in khakis came to the hospital during the night and carried Joan Gay away, despite her protests, and screaming she did not want to leave her sister.

Apparently due to the turmoil of the night, no one paid any attention to the little girl’s protests

The incident received nationwide attention, but Joan Gay never was found. Her father and sister, Jerry, eventually moved away.

No parents or relatives were ever found for three girls age, 8 months, 4 years and 12 years who were killed by the twister. A Woodward funeral director speculated the girls were the children of destitute, transient parents caught up in the storm, who could not afford the cost of three funerals, and who simply left the bodies for the county to pay for the burials.

An exhaustive search of families and schools in the county did not turn up any relatives. No children were reported missing that had not been found. Photos of the blonde 12-year-old were shown to teachers in every school in the county but no one recognized her, and all of their students were accounted for.

It is not known if the girls were sisters or related in some other way. In this day, DNA tests on all of the storm victims might have revealed their relatives died in the tornado as well.

The three girls were buried in Woodward’s Elmgrove Cemetery. Their identities are still a mystery.

If a similar situation existed today as the result of a storm of the magnitude of the April 9, 1947, Woodward tornado, it would have been the lead story on all of the television morning shows nationwide, and the attention surrounding Joan Gay Croft’s abduction from the hospital would probably have resulted in finding her, as well as the arrest of her abductors.

As for the three dead little girls, I can’t help but wonder if a storm the size of this tornado could have carried human bodies for some distance before dropping them. I wonder if authorities ever traced back along the track of the twister to find their parents or relatives.

News didn’t travel as fast in 1947 as it does today. Television didn’t come to this part of the country until the 1950s, and of course the internet was unheard of. Newspapers and radio were the only sources, and the equipment of the day didn’t allow much, if any, on the scene, almost instantaneous news coverage.

It would be interesting to know what happened to Joan Gay Croft, and where she is now, and what happened to the parents of the three unidentified girls.

Brown is a former managing editor of the Enid Morning News.

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