A Town with a History

 

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In many ways, Nutley was the perfect town for Sue, something she

probably sensed from her previous visits, part of her pattern of

revisiting old situations when her life fell apart. Despite the town's

attempt to maintain respectability, Nutley had many bones in its

collective closet, many years of deals and manipulations that had made

some people here very wealthy, from tax exemptions granted to the local

pharmaceutical company to municipal officials who granted themselves

liberal tax breaks at taxpayer expense.

Sue had spent a significant amount of time in the Belleville Nutley area

during her college romance with the lawyer Dan, and though Dan had faded

from the picture, Sue had made connections with other people here,

people in the local dance clubs, people running local businesses.

 

For all the facade of respectable middle class values, Nutley had a

sordid history that goes back to before the American revolution when

Dutch and English settlers tilled this and other areas along the Passaic

River into profitable farm land, bilking merchants, farmers and

travelers with high tariffs for use of the bridge across the river.

Before the American Civil War, Nutley became the host of slave jails,

where blacks caught fleeing the south, were imprisoned and set back.

After the war, Nutley served as the birth place and home of western

legend, Annie Oakley. Later, Nutley flourished as Irish and Italian

immigrants settled here during the late 19th and early 20th Century,

bringing with them all the feuds and feudal habits of the old world,

including the notorious Sicilian criminal element then known as "the

black hand" and later emerged as the Mafia. During prohibition, Nutley

would house many speakeasies, from which strong family ties remain.

 

Like Paterson, Nutley benefited from his proximity to the Passaic River,

which became a source of power for its mills and an easy means for

transporting its quarry stone to New York and other locations. While the

long park has replaced the uglier aspects of this past, some of the

problems may still exist, soil contaminated from trash and coal ash, the

expensive environmental clean up just one more dark cloud hanging over

the heads of its unsuspecting taxpayers.

 

While the current mayor of Nutley was elected on a reform ticket, Sue

arrived at a particular opportune time, before the rumor of scandal

began to emerge, real estate speculations, tax evasion, but perhaps even

more subtler secrets only she knew, from her participation in the dance

circuit, such as the houses of prostitution and dealers of drugs that

seemed to surround Nutley on every side, connected to people within the

substructure in a way no investigation could prove. At college, Sue

often boasted of her contact with the mob. Most of us took this as part

of her ongoing mythology. But in Nutley, Sue and the myth seemed to

arrive at the same place.

 

On the surface, little changed in this 3.4 square mile town since the

1940s. Yet the way of living for people here has kept up with the more

superficial times, shifting from manufacturing and more substantial

enterprises to service providing. Nail salons, hair cutters, banks,

video stores, sporting goods shops, shoe repair places and its three

supermarkets form the basis of its economy. The educational system

handles nearly 4,000 kids, and as land values rise, fewer and fewer of

the town's traditional population base can afford to live there --

except, of course, in the less-than-affluent southeastern corner where

Sue Walsh lived.

 

One resident of Nutley made no effort to hide his mob-connections,

though Joe Ricciardi told the Newark Star Ledger he'd gone straight. He

had to. His brother Tommy, a convicted killer and head of the New Jersey

branch of the Lucchese family had recently turned informant for federal

and state authorities, ruining whatever chance Joe had at advancing up

the ranks.

 

In a rare interview, Joe made his anger known, but refused to admit that

there was any truth to the rumors surrounding gambling, racketeering,

loan-sharking or extortion the press spread about his friends, nor would

he admit the Lucchese's connection to the Genovese, Bruno or Columbo

organizations, which also operate in the area.

 

Joe spent five years in federal prison for credit card fraud and assault

-- he tried to break a FBI agent into tiny pieces. He claims he's now

completely legitimate and calls his brother, Tommy, "a snitch."

 

Joe grew up in the Vailsburg section of Newark. His father, who died in

1986 at the age of 70, was a low-level crime figure there. Joe broke off

with that life, not so much out of choice, but because of Tommy. Who

could trust Joe after what his brother did?

 

 

 

For the most part, Sue's arrival in Nutley portended little. To the

local power brokers who made their money off pill peddling, dope pushing

and flesh sales (without ever having to dirty their hands) she was just

another bimbo dancer emerging into the scene, someone they thought they

could date and discard, the way they had so many "girls" like her

before. Few knew about the baggage Sue carried with her from her past,

about her tours of Plato's Retreat as a girl, or her writing for Screw

or about her 42nd Street sex shows. Few knew about the scars she bore

inside her, throbbing still-unhealed wounds that made her wary and

dangerous.

 

Perhaps even Sue didn't expect to find Nutley as fraught with dangers or

opportunities when she first came, seeking only to find a relatively

safe neighborhood where she could raise her boy -- who was now of school

age and she feared to leave him to the hands of Paterson or Newark.

While she thought she was escaping harm, she seemed to walk into the

very den of thieves from which trouble elsewhere emerged, setting up her

apartment in the poor southeastern corner of Nutley, which the city

fathers would have ceded that section to Belleville if not for the tax

ratables that small, semi-industrial section provided.

 

And Sue had the ill-fortune to move into a building owned by one of the

truly connected family members, Louis Riccardi. The kindness this man

and his wife showed Sue was remarkable, only outdone by the kindness the

town had shown him. In the early 1990s, Riccardi was disabled by

illness, and confined to a wheel chair. Although he owned the

three-story brick building in which Sue rented, he could not longer live

there. The hallways were too narrow and he could not install a means for

getting up and down the narrow stairs. The town came out, held a

fund-raiser for him (or that's how the story goes), bought the house

behind his property, made it handicap accessible (as well as installed a

swimming pool which Sue later used frequently) and let the Riccardi's

move in.

 

Oddly enough, Sue's first phone was listed under Riccardi's name, one of

many kindness extended from this generous man towards Sue. He and his

wife apparently felt so sorry for the pathetic creature who had moved

into their building that they took her under their wing, allowing her to

remain in the apartment even though she could not always come up with

rent on time. Over the years, Ricccardi worked out an arrangement with

Sue so that she could pay her rent in increments, giving him a little

each time she got paid from one of her various dancing or writing jobs.

 

Like many men in Sue's life, Riccardi went out of his way to provide for

her. Her allowed her to use his swimming pool, and she often spent time

with him and his family. Sue helped his kids with their school work,

read and graded their papers, made suggestions on how they might improve

their writing. Sue could often be found sitting out in Louis' yard, even

when the family was not there.

 

But Sue gravitated towards power the way a moth does towards light and

warmth, even at the risk of burning her wings. Riccardi, while

connected, was not a broker, and Sue soon traced the lines of power to

the people who mattered in town, often meeting many of these during her

gigs at two local go-go bars. She became familiar with many of the

Nutley cops, who frequented the strip clubs. Later, when Sue vanished,

many of these same officers would find their connection embarrassing, or

had enough personal experience with Sue not too take her too seriously,

bending finally to media pressure in launcRiccardi, while connect

 

Yet Sue would hear rumor of the people who really mattered, and as she

would later do with Al Goldstein of Screw and James Ridgeway of the

Village Voice, Sue sought higher and higher levels of power, tracing

threads of men's desires until she came up with one or two vulnerable

people near the top of the Nutley power pyramid, and from these, she

would eke out additional means of survival, and oddly enough, she would

even rekindle her writing career, as a columnist for the local

newspaper.

 

A Tale of Three Brothers

 

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