Tornado mystery

The grave marker for an unidentified infant girl killed during the Woodward tornado on April 9, 1947. The girl's grave in Elmwood Cemetery remained unmarked until I.O.O.F. Lodge No. 148 donated the marker. There were two other girls ranging in age from 3 to 12 years who were never identified and their bodies never claimed. Those graves are near that of the infant girl and remained unmarked until the late 1980s when a local resident donated markers for their graves. (Photo: Robin Hohweiler)

Saturday, April 9 marks the 69th year since the devastating Woodward tornado of 1947 that left more than 100 dead and more than 1,000 injured over a storm-ripped path that exceeded 100 miles.

In Woodward alone, more than 100 city blocks were destroyed, mostly on the north and west sides of the city.

In horrific storms there are always tragic stories of lives lost or properties destroyed. The most heart-wrenching are these accounts involve those of young children.

Such was the case following the '47 Woodward tornado. When word began to spread that the bodies of four young girls, ages 6 months to 12 years, found in the rubble of the storm's aftermath had yet to be identified, the news traveled fast spawning decades of conjecture as to the girls' identities.

Soon, one of the little girls was identified as 18-month-old Treana Dale Holster and claimed by relatives.

Still, three girls remained unclaimed:

• A blond haired girl approximately 12 years old.

• A reddish-blond haired girl approximately 3 years old.

• An infant girl, approximately 6 months old.

Eventually, all three were buried in unmarked graves by the Red Cross at Elmwood Cemetery. At some point, in the 1950s, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) Lodge 148 in Woodward put a marker on the resting place of the 6-month-old girl.

The other two girls remained in unmarked graves about 100 feet due east of the infant until local resident Wayne Lawson donated two markers in 1987. For years, people have speculated as to the identity of the three girls and how it is that no one was ever able to identify them or even offer so much as a clue as to which family they belonged.

There was an effort to at least identify the 12 year old. School teachers from across the region were brought to the morgue to view the remains, according to news reports of the day.

None recognized the girl, said to be pretty with long blond hair. Finally, a list of the names of every girl enrolled in Woodward schools near the same age was compiled. Volunteers fanned out across the city to locate and "eyeball" each girl. All of the girls were accounted for.

Local lore as to the identities of the girls included that they were members of a very poor family recently moved to Woodward or perhaps passing through when the storm hit. Unable to pay for burials, locals assumed the remaining family either moved on or simply stayed anonymous.

Many agree that it is plausible that the three girls were from one family since it seems more likely that girls from two or even three different families would have had someone come forward to claim the bodies.

After the I.O.O.F. placed a marker on the infant girl's grave, someone began putting flowers on it every Memorial Day. This led some to speculate that the flowers were being left by someone who knew the girl.

The person who was placing the flowers spoke to the Woodward News, but prefers to remain anonymous.

"I was in high school when I started putting flowers on that grave. My infant sister's grave is very near there and I just thought it was the right thing to do. Over time, after the other two markers were added, other people began decorating the graves as well."

The fourth mystery from that terrible night in 1947 has also been tied to the mystery of the three unidentified girls.

Joan Gay Croft was a 4-year-old girl whose home was destroyed by the tornado. Her mother died in the storm. Her father was severely injured and moved to an Oklahoma City hospital. She and her sister were taken to the basement of the Woodward Hospital and placed on a cot.

Joan Gay had a minor injury, according to news reports and local's who remember the incident. A long sliver of wood that had embedded in the calf of her leg.

Sometime during the night two men wearing khaki clothing came into the basement, according to witnesses. They picked up Joan Gay and carried her off.

Joan Gay disappeared that night, without a trace. Her father, after he was released from the hospital, began a never-ending search for his missing daughter. Eventually, he and his remaining daughter left Woodward.

There was local speculation that the men in khaki were somehow associated with the deceased girls who remained unidentified and took Joan Gay to replace one of the three girls.

Over the years, several women across the country came forward to say that they believed they were Joan Gay Croft. Nearly all have been disproved, some through DNA.

With nearly 70 years gone past, it seems very unlikely that any of the four mysteries from that fateful, tragic night will ever be solved.

Recommended for you