Dead or Alive?

 

 

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I ran away several times as a kid, and learned early the limitations of

our system of justice, how easily a person can ease through the cracks

in a society that doesn't much care for me as an individual. My friends

through the cracks in a society that doesn't much care for me as an

individual. My friends might care about me, my family might love me, but

society largely has little use for me until I serve some functio

 

Sheer numbers made people insignificant and automatically granted them a

temporary cloak under which to hide, one face looked pretty much like

another when described for a police blotter. And only crimes of

significant social impact geared up the system to make it seek out a

person in such cases as OJ Simpson double murder, the bombing of the

World Trade Center and the bombing in Oklahoma. Only outlaws and movie

stars seemed to rise above social indifference.

 

I draw the distinction between society and fate for a reason. Society is

shaped out of the artificial institutions of others, a kind of ant-like

collectively Weber best described as "benignly indifferent," designed to

function the way Ford's assembly line did, producing the greatest good

for the greatest number. Fate, on the other hand, is the accumulation of

the past inside a single human, the psychological trail, a person builds

up from day to day living, the impact of children we bring into the

world, petty crimes we have committed, the guilts and pleasures we have

felt. People mistakenly believe by escaping the first, they also

automatically escape the second, and thus give lie to the great American

Myth.

 

Escaping society is easy, despite claims otherwise. I did it, and with

nearly as much notoriety as Sue. While I was not the subject of

international press and had my picture plastered over prime time TV the

way Sue was and did, one of my companions during my disappearance had

made the FBI's ten most wanted list (if only for a few days) and had his

picture posted on the nationally syndicated television program "The

FBI," all for naught. Despite the fact that a teletype photograph of my

friend hung off the dashboards of police cars in 30 states, we passed

through police checks, flashing our fake ID without hassle. What brought

him (and later myself) down, wasn't the pursuit of authorities, but of

the overall weariness of life on the run, the shifting from place to

place, the staring over our shouof international press and had my

picture plastered over prime time TV the way Sue was and di

 

After two years hiding, something inside of me brought me back, an ache

for normal life with its dull routines and its quiet sense of purpose,

me in rhythm with the rest of the world, not running from it, not

finding means to avoid seeming out of place when I always was.

 

Contrary to the propaganda issued on the sides of milk cartons, people

disappear all the time. Sue's romantic tales fall right in line with a

very typical reaction to the growing complexity of modern society. The

more involved survival in the everyday world is, the more likely the

immature people like Sue will seek escape. Unable to cope with the

rules, unable to advance using the conventional tools society provides,

people like Sue drop out, repeating the oft used sour-grape terminology

of Aesop's Fox who, failing to snag grapes from an over head vine

proclaimed: "I didn't want them anyway. They're all probably sour." Sue

associated with many people of this kind, the Goths and the East Village

dropouts. Yes, she envied the successful, and gravitated towards men who

could work the system -- like Ridgeway, like Goldstien, like her

ex-boyfriend Rob Hardin -- she seemed to find more sympathy with the

prostitutes and pimps, the Goths and the nomads. Among them, she could

play her superior game without fear of contradiction, without some of

true success showing her up. And yet, even down there on a level so low

as to be meaningless, she failed, her efforts to use Ridgeway and

Goldstein and Hardin, coming up empty. In this light, how could she face

anyone, especially her friends.

 

Vanishings, despite Sue or UFO fantasies, are hardly romantic. Many of

the children's faces you see on milk cartons or issued on post cards by

anti-deadbeat dad organizations have not been abducted for use in the

white or black slavery. Most are not victims of child pornography or

being exploited by evil perverts. Most of the younger children are the

victims instead of parental disputes, unreasonable parents using the

children to get even with each other. Fathers, stripped of custody,

sometimes grab their children and flee. Mothers, who hatred of the

torment of mon post cards by anti-deadbeat dad organizations have not

been abducted for use in the white or black slavery. Most are not

victims of child pornography or being exploited by evil perverts. Most

of the younger children are the victims instead of parental disputes,

unreasonable parents using the children to get even with each other.

Fathers, stripped of custody, sometimes grab their children and flee.

Mothers, who hatred of the torment of marriage, skip away with the

children as a means for revenge. My ex-wife didn't let me see my

daughter for years. When I finally won visitation rights in court, she

fled. Many children themselves flee in ord

 

Nutley police reacted to Sue's vanishing pretty much the way Passaic

police did to my uncle's, with a laid-back wait-and-see attitude that

immediately infuriated those closest to Sue, like Floyd and Martha and

Melissa, each of whom had swallowed Sue's tales of woe, reading

emotionally explicit excerpts from her diary as if the Bible. The

outrage grew when police refused to respond for six whole days after the

report was filed, and even then, responded largely because the

Newspapers had finally picked up on the story. The Village Voice --

thanks to Ridgeway --reported the disappearance first, then, one of the

local weeklies. By the time the Newark Star-Ledger picked up on the

story, a smear-campaign seemed underway. Sue wasn't just a missing

person. She wasn't even portrayed as a victim of violence, or the

subject of mystery. The Ledger painted her as a motorcycle mama with a

taste for gang bangs and drugs, neither of which was technically true.

 

The Nutley police talked with some of Sue's friends within the first

days after her vanishing, but did not show up at the apartment until

after the Ledger story broke, and then they came in force, wielding a

search warrant while yanking on rubber gloves. They fingerprinted

everything, interviewed Sue's estranged husband, Mark, her paranoid

Gothic boyfriend, Christian, her girlfriend Melissa, her landlord, but

held only a brief conversation with Sue's upstairs neighbor --and that

only by shouting up to her in the window as they hurried through the

operation. Oddly enough, when the police left, they took Sue's computer

-- and its diskettes, something no one has yet explained.

 

All along the police had maintained silence with the press, though gave

the family several options as to what they thought might have happened

to Sue. They issued statements to the press, but resisted serious

inquiries, even refusing to go on camera for Unsolved Mysteries until

NBC thave happened to Sue. They issued statements to the press, but

resisted serious inquiries, even refusing to go on camera for Unsolved

Mysteries until NBC threaten to take them to court. Even then, the

police would not elaborate on the case. Unofficially, the police were

convinced Sue had gone off on her own, but did no

 

"It's in their interest to say that," he told me later, when trying to

sell the rapidly unbelievable tale of Sue's bipolar condition. "They

need to wrap this up."

 

"Then why didn't they just said she's dead?" I asked. "Wouldn't that

also wrap up the case for them?"

 

Joel had no answer. No more than people promoting the other theory could

accept the idea that Sue was doing this intentionally, making a mockery

of friendships and her family, unburdening herself of a kid she claimed

to care for immensely.

 

"The cops think she snuck off and admitted herself into a drug rehab,"

Sue's best friend, Melissa said. "But she wouldn't do anything like

this. She wouldn't leave her son and not tell anybody what she was

doing."

 

The police unsuccessfully sought to secure information from several

rehabilitation centers as to whether or not Sue had checked herself into

any of them. The center, appalled by the request, refused to divulge

anything, cloaking themselves in confidentiality. This was more than the

Passaic police ever did for my uncle, and said something about their

concern. The media attention made them and Nutley look bad, yet some of

Sue's friends believe there may have been a darker motive, part of a

conspiracy to undermchecked herself into any of them. The center,

appalled by the request, refused to divulge anything, cloaking

themselves in confidentiality. This was more than the Passaic police

ever did for my uncle, and said something about their concern. The media

attention made them and Nutley look bad, yet some of Sue's friends

believe there may have been a darker motive, part of a conspiracy to

undermine Sue's credibility. While the press sough

 

"It's almost as if they wanted her to stay lost," said one of the

stranger conspirators in the Susan Walsh Story, a man named Ron

Weissman, who popped up in the middle of the search with remarkably

strange theories of his own. As in my uncle's case, reports of Sue's

vanishing did not seem to extend far beyond Nutley's municipal borders.

When Weissman checked with the police in Washington DC and Los Angeles,

no report of Sue's case seemed to exist -- a fact that was later

discounted.

 

The problem is the system just isn't geared to find someone so

determined to stay away, and I knew later, it wouldn't be the police

that found Sue, nor the spread of her pictures on Unsolved Mysteries,

but Sue herself -- and knowing Sue as I came to know Sue, I wondered if

that would be enough.

 

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A bottom feeder?

 

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