Divided Opinions

 

 

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By the time I got to Nutley, the question of Sue's fate was already

divided. Some believed Sue had become the victim of violence. Others

believed Sue had suffered some kind of bi-polar breakdown which resulted

in her death. Only I seemed to have a third idea, and even that hadn't

fully formulated in my mind.

 

James Ridgeway, the darling of the Village Voice, told Unsolved

Mysteries later that he did not believe Sue had been undone by violent

stalkers, Russian Mafia dons or vampire cultists -- as was reported

throughout the press in the weeks after Sue's vanishing.

 

Although he had collaborated with Sue in the past for a Village Voice

article on the influence of the Russian Mob over go-go dancer trade and

had used Sue as a researcher on his book, "Redlight," covering the sex

industry, he believed Sue had slipped over the edge of common sense in

the end, ranting and raving about stalkers, vampires and the mob. He

said Sue had taken too seriously the tales she'd collected in

researching an independent article on Vampire Cults, believing that they

actually drank human blood and sacrificed human beings in their

ceremonies.

 

"She kept talking about a van and how she was afraid to go into it,"

Ridgeway said. "So I told her not to."

 

Ridgeway claimed he refused to collaborate on her vampire articles,

because of these exaggerated details -- although several of my own

sources suggested Sue may also have exaggerated the details in other

collaborations with Ridgeway. Her ex-boyfriend Rob Hardin claimed Sue

stole ideas from her for her better articles published in Screw

magazine, and work for her collaboration with Ridgeway about the

influence of the Russian Mafia over the local go-go scene, may have

indeed been lifted from the notes of Anthony DeStefano, a reporter for

Long Island Newsday. While Sue, like DeStefano (who published his

article after Sue's) quoted dancers she had interviewed through several

booking agents. One of these agents told me the influence was far less

than Sue implied.

 

Sections of "Redlight" attributed to Sue were largely rehashed speeches

Sue routinely gave 16 years earlier when preaching from her private

podium in the college pub. While she may have passed them off to

Ridgeway as original ideas, those of us who knew Sue for years had heard

much of it before -- even to the diatribe she gave against go-go dancing

and how burned out she felt, part of the evidence used to bolster

support for the Sue vanished because she was ill or depressed theory.

 

But a study of Sue's earlier writing, especially her diaries (which ever

volume you choose, there were many) shows that she had been rehearsing

these speeches for years, and had developed many of her ideas, not by

reporting, but by rewriting passages she had first developed in college

anhad been rehearsing these speeches for years, and had developed many

of her ideas, not by reporting, but by rewriting passages she had first

developed in college and high s

 

Of these proponents, Ridgeway may have been the wisest, realizing at

some point during the long research and publishing process for

"Redlight" that Sue hadn't just lifted whole passages from her diaries,

but from other places like Screw Magazine, and had already vowed to be

rid of her distorted influence after the book hit the stores. Perhaps,

her proposprocess for "Redlight" that Sue hadn't just lifted whole

passages from her diaries, but from other places like Screw Magazine,

and had already vowed to be rid of her distorted influence after the

book hit the

 

Ron Goldberg, in an interview with Joel Lewis, said Sue was extremely

upset when Ridgeway refused to help her publish the vampire story. And

if the past was any indication, Sue's reaction would hardly have been

kind, she would have found a way to get even with Ridgeway for his

refusal.

 

But Sue may have had a deeper, more furious reason for avenging herself

on Ridgeway. In the months before the publication of Redlight, Sue told

family and friends that she was the third author, and expected to get

the same credit as she had for the Russian Mafia story in the Voice. The

lack credit -- regardless of the many thanks Ridgeway so generously

offered in the introduction -- would have sent Sue into a fit of rage,

and would have caused her to contemplate a truly insidious means of

getting even.

 

But Ridgeway seemed to see Sue's ranting about vampires as evidence of

her illness and possibly deluded by her use of alcohol and Xanax, a

prescription drug for depression that has extremely negative effects

when mixed with drink. While Ridgeway never went on the record saying

Sue suffered a bi-polar disorder, others did. Like Sue's exboyfriend,

Ron Hardin -- who after Sue's vanishing sent a wail over the internet

that had many people thinking him crazy or a molester. Ridgeway said he

believed Sue addicted to the Xanax, and that the combination had driven

her to Despair and possibly suicide. He made note that Sue had had

bandaged wrists during a book party three weeks before her vanishing.

 

Joel Lewis, who would eventually seek to sell Sue's story to the New

Jersey Monthly -- and when rejected there, elsewhere -- subscribed --

subscribed wholeheartedly to the combined drug, alcohol and bi-polar

disease theory, claiming his own background in social work had uncovered

the typical p

 

Perhaps Ridgeway did not understand the full capacity of Sue's rage, and

truly believed Sue had returned to her alleged alcoholic habits of the

past. While Hardin initially believed Sue was most likely bottoming out

in some gutter somewhere, Ridgeway seemed convinced that Sue was already

dead -- a point of view Joel Lewis would adopt in his research for his

unpublished article. In fact, Joel filtered his information, rejecting

anything that disagreed with this premise. And while he claimed to have

gone to college with Sue, in fact, his contact was so brief he had to

rely on the foggy memory of former school mates, many of whom had lived

in a drug haze during that period. For those with most acute memories of

Sue's activities during college, this ranting and raving about bi-polar

disease was nothing new. She sang that same old song for years, about

how down-and-out she was. She even promoted the largely romantic idea of

her alcoholism, something that was not true in college when I knew her

and far less likely later. While Ridgeway and others talked about her

return to drinking, they based their information largely on her own

exaggerated tales of how bad her habit had been, just as the judge had

in his sentencing her to rehab after her 1985 bust in Haledon. If she

was drinking extensively before her vanishing in 1996, this was a new

phenomena, for Sue hardly drank as hard or did as many drugs as she

claimed she had in college.

 

Although Sue spent a great deal of time in college pub, she drank very

little and tended to avoid hard drugs. She would have one drink at a

party, then take a second and carry on as if she had drank much more,

always exaggerating her intake as if to impress the more self-deone

drink at a party, then take a second and carry on as if she had drank

much more, always exaggerating her intake as if to impress the more

self-destructive drug and alcohol crowd with which she hung. She

constantly talked about being out of control, of floating in a haze or

walking around in a fugue. When confronted with assault on a police

officer charges, she apparently fell back on this story, and so well

rehearsed was she from tell

 

Joel Lewis, in his unpublished manuscript, would dismiss many of my own

arguments, by distorting my evolving position on Sue's vanishing,

marking me as some kind inflexible lunatic who saw the whole thing as a

conspiracy between Sue and Ridgeway to stage a publicity stunt --

proving how little attention Joel paid to views which diverged from his

own.

 

The media, when confronted with the numerous contradictions surrounding

Sue's disappearance, chose to emphasize the one single consistent

element that was certain to please their audience, taking her dancing

career and her unusual life-style and manufacturing her into some kind

of petty Mata Hari, a poor man's prostitute who may or may not have

angered the local mob, or been pursued by men seeking to make her keep

her seductive promises. This led to the other dominant point of view

that was prevalent in the days after Sue's vanishing from Nutley: that

Sue was somehow the victim of foul play.

 

For the first three months, Sue's best friend, Melissa Hines (someone

Joel hadn't bothered to interview for his article) was convinced Sue had

been kidnapped, held hostage and subjected to gang bangs by bikers in

Central Jersey. Then, later, when the Sue sightings began and reports of

Sue's wandering floated up to Nutley from the streets of Newark, Melissa

was convinced a local pimp named Malik was drugging Sue and hiring out

her body.

 

Although Joel Lewis claimed police reports self-serving, and suggested

that the police simply wanted to close the case, the police found no

evidence of foul play and -- despite Joel, Ridgeway and others --

believed Sue simply chose to walk away from her family.

 

For those of us who knew Sue reasonably well, also knew sex was a vital

part of her existence, the substance out of which she most readily

shaped her myths. Glenn Kenny, one of her best friends at school,

claimed she "feigned indifference to sex."

 

"She'd tell you how little she liked sex before you went to be with

her," Glen told Joel. "So you'd either be the rule or the exception in

her book."

 

But others claim she Sue seemed to understand the insanity men could

achieve for want of sex, and shaped her distortions to fit in with these

wants, luring men on with the crook of her fingers or the

upward-through-the-eyelashes look she used to give men. One friend from

school said Sue got her kicks from seeing how far she could push a man

before he snapped.

 

William Madaras, who went out with Sue for a time as school and who kept

many of Sue's secrets for nearly twenty years, told Joel that she would

hit on other men while going out with him on dates. I saw several men

fall to pieces around her, though I somehow managed to escape her

treachery, fascinated with her dual personality, and the struggle that

seemed to go on inside of her, between the honest artist and the master

manipulator. Each aspect of her activities seemed to reflect two sides

her.

 

While I largely knew of her as a poetry and fiction writer from the

school magazine, and saw her work on the school newspaper, she also

wrote pornography for Al Goldstien's "Screw Magazine" and danced go-go,

not to put herself through college so much, as in defiance of the

standard of morality school seemed to teach. She pontificated about sex,

art and her theories of feminism nightly in the school pub, diatribes

that Ridgeway would later give credence in the book "Redlight."

 

Many of those who went to school with Sue might have warned Ridgeway

about Sue's seduction. Though he being a worldly man might have avoided

his own pitfalls had he used more ethical journalistic methods to

achieve his ends, relying less on the aid of "researchers" like Sue than

on his own skills as a reporter. Ridgeway embarrassment might have been

less cutting if he had not praised Sue's instincts as a street reporter

when he could use her sources, only to later bash her as gullible when

he had no intention of following her leads. He, of course, blamed her

drinking, not himself. It was the Xanax and the alcohol that drove her

over the edge, not the fact that her name did not appear as co-authorman

might have avoided his own pitfalls had he used more ethical

journalistic methods to achieve his ends, relying less on the aid of

"researchers" like Sue than on his own skills as a reporter. Ridgeway

embarrassment might have been less cutting if he had not praised Sue's

instinc

 

Perhaps I felt guilty about not warning Sue about the seduction of the

sex trade while we were still in college, putting in some word of advise

while we poured over her poetry. I'd already confronted Goldstein's

perverted world view, watching friends from the East Village Other

slowly ooze down into his disgusting maze, thinking they were making

some kind of political statement when they were simply selling out of a

less prestigious establishment, where houses of prostitution served as

houses of worship, and prostitutes served as temporary wives, and each

friend, slowly becoming a social deviant, locked into a porno scene he

could not escape.

 

While Joel struggled to discount these past events, he betrayed his own

inadequacies as a social worker. On one hand he claimed Sue continually

displayed signs of a bi-polar disease, while on the other had discounted

evidence that suggested she consciously shaped her own myth, making

herself seem helpless in the past when she was not. Despite Joel Lewis

unpublished claim that we who knew Sue's past habits were out of touch

with her present condition, Sue's disappearance haunted me for other

reasons as well. From experience, I knew how little help she could

actually expect from local authorities -- especially the police. While

many of the others involved in the Sue Walsh story scrambled to find

reasons to explain why she disappeared, I felt the return of doubt I

first experienced when my uncle disappeared in the mid 1980s. Had he

been run over by a truck or struck down by a heart attack? Had some

ex-lover decided to get even for the sex games she put him through,

standing behind a building with a knife waiting to slash her throat? Or

had Sue -- like my uncle -- simply wandered off, seeking some private

oblivion no one beyond their own mental condition could hope to

understand? Or was this just one more aspect of Sue's game playing, a

continuatclaimed Sue continually displayed signs of a bi-polar disease,

while on the other had discounted evidence that suggested she

consciously shaped her

 

Almost from the beginning, I had a bad feeling about this instance, as

if Sue had intended to pull a trick and for some reason, her plotting

had failed her. Maybe the people around at 36 years old cared less for

her than her school mates had, less willing to put themselves out,

scrambling instead of find alibis. Despite what the police told family

and friends, they had no time for disappearances of this kind. Police

lacked the specific training to deal with non-criminal situations. They

might suspect foul play, but without evidence or clues, they wher

plotting had failed her. Maybe the people around at 36 years old cared

less for her than her school mates had, less willing to put themselves

out, scrambling instead of find alibis. Despite what the police told

family and friends, they had no time fo

 

Worse, still, was the quality of the stories her friends and colleagues

related, fates to which they suspected she had succumbed, from walking

drug-induced "fugues" (as Sue used to call them in college) to stalking

by old boyfriends, I had heard them all before, either via Sue's lips

directly, or from previous victims of her lies, and these tales had that

same illusive quality that had haunted her stories in school, shadows

and smoke without hard facts for anyone to follow.

 

The most the police could do was to shrug their shoulders, and ignore

the situation until media attention forced them to act, expending

taxpayer dollars they would have to later explain. It wasn't until six

days after Sue vanished that the police even bothered to look inside her

apartment.

 

Yet for all the psycho babble Joel could spew to support his case, all

the wishful thinking Ridgeway used in hoping Sue ceased to be a problem

for him, neither had actually ever disappeared, so knew little about the

psychology behind vanishing, or how easily it could be accomplished --

even in an era of computer imaging and nearly instantaneous

international media, and that gave me an edge over other people, an

insight into Sue's philosophy others did not have -- because from

November, 1969 tto be a problem for him, neither had actually ever

disappeared, so knew little about the psychology behind vanishing, or

how easily it could be accomplished -- even in an era o

 

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An American Myth

 

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