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It was as if a bomb had dropped, but the dust had not yet settled,

bringing about that kind of silence that comes in the vacuum after the

first concussion, when the world knows that many, many repercussions

will soon come, but relishes in the luxury of that time between the

event and the reaction. Although Sue vanished on a Tuesday and her

family and friends apparently went crazy trying to piece together what

happened and where she might be, for the rest of the world, it was as if

nothing had happened. Even the Nutley police did little more than take

note of the report, sending no one to investigate further until the

issue reached the newspapers, and even then, friends say, they were slow

to respond.


I heard about Michael's vanishing first.


I had gone to the poetry reading the Thursday before. Michael was the

featured poet at the Garden State Plaza's Borders Book store -- only a

few hundred yards from some of the clubs in which Sue danced. This was a

queer occasion. He manic, and rushed about from friend to friend,

spilling out nervous words that seemed not to make sense. He seemed

distant, preoccupied, as if he had rehearsed all this in his head for

months, and yet couldn't make it turn out the way he'd envisioned it.


He seemed most uncomfortable with my coming, even though he had made a

point of calling me as well a sending me a written invitation to the

event. Over the last few years, we had not been in as close contact as

we had in the past. In fact, weeks earlier, Michael went to my best

friend for advice, instead of me -- a musician in West Jersey, who later

said he couldn't figure out what Michael meant with all his ranting and



"He came and told me about how unhappy he was and wanted to know what I

thought," my friend said. "Frankly, it was none of my business. But I

got the feeling he knew already what he was going to do. In fact, he

gave me the impression that he simply wanted me to tell him to go ahead.

So I did. I told him he had to do what he had to do. What else could I



Michael had also made a point of touring all his old haunts, giving

clues to his leaving, the way Sue had. While he made arrangements for

other people to take over his poetry reading series at the Maywood

Library, Sue had visited some of her friends in town, like the wicca

shop owner in Belleville, who said he knew she was going to leave.


I had just finished several stories about sex on the Internet. Indeed, I

had even interviewed Rubberbaby, the woman who seduced Howard Stern on

the Prodigy chat. In a more in depth piece I made arrangements to meet

with a dominant woman for a private session, then couldn't go through

with the meeting, even for the sake of a story -- especially when the

meeting site took me back into my old neighborhood of Clifton --

dangerously close to where Zachmann did business and where Sue lived.

Later, the Clifton police did a series of raids in the area, closing

down massage pallors.


But at the night of the reading, I joked about sex on the Internet, and

reported some of the facts I had uncovered, including the location I had

been instructed to go. Michael went incredibly pale. At the time, I

didn't know why.


His wife and I, however, joked a bit more about it, and then, we made

arrangements for me, my wife, Michael and her to get together the next

week for dinner.


So when Michael's wife called me on Monday, I thought she was calling to

set up that dinner. And when she said Michael had fallen in love with

some bimbo on the Internet and had left her and fled to Texas, I thought

it all a joke, a continuation of the conversation from the reading.


I laughed, and then, when she said she was serious, I nearly dropped the



Two days later, on Wednesday, July 17, Joel Lewis called to tell me Sue

had vanished as well.


Again, I thought it humorous at first, because of all those other times

at college when she left as a matter of convenience.


But Joel, knowing less about Sue's past than I did, immediately fell

into lock step with the very convenient theory Ridgeway was spouting,

about drugs and alcohol. Whether Ridgeway really believed all that

remains an unanswered question. Joel believed him, based on what was

gleaned from a later interview. But the timing was suspect. Ridgeway had

a lot to gain from the hoopla surrounding Sue's disappearance, free

publicity for what was largely a poorly written and researched book.

Without some boost of some sort, book sales would fall was spouting,

about drugs and alcohol. Whether Ridgeway really beli


Was this some kind of publicity stunt worked out between Sue and



Probably not. But Ridgeway quickly took advantage of Sue's vanishing.

Within two weeks he had called his contacts on NBC's "Unsolved

Mysteries," and may have also spread the word to a contact on Associated

Press in Los Angeles. By the beginning of August, every major news

outlet in the country was ranting on about Sue, Vampires and the sex

industry, and only the reluctance of the Nutley police kept the story

from opening the fall season on Unsolved Mysteries, something that

nearly sent "Redlight" into remainders, and must have frustrated

Ridgeway to no end.


But I, hearing about Sue's disappearance so soon after Michael's, could

not get over the oddity of such a coincidence, nor could I take too

seriously another one of Sue's dramas, especially during those first few

days before the silence was broken. Joel sounded so convinced by

Ridgeway's tale -- filtered through Glen Kenny -- that I agreed I would

go to Nutley and look into the matter, and I did, coming away after my

initial contact with friends and family members, much more sobered, and

for about three weeks -- long enough for me to write a story about her

in my own paper -- I thought maybe she might be dead after all, one of

her old stories catching up with her.


Then, things started getting weird.


One aspect of Sue I'd forgotten in my grief was her propensity to

surround herself with collections of people, most of whom she could

manipulate at will. As she moved further and further away from school,

and grew older, Sue's collection of people tended to become stranger,

and less sophisticated.


Many of the men she professed to love, outgrew her, especially those who

loved her in college. But a special classification of men, maintained

her secrets even years after they stopped seeing her. When researching

his article for New Jersey Monthly, Joel Lewis uncovered numerous of

these faulty souls, the men whose hearts were still somehow captivated

by Sue's earlier magic. When interviewed, Sue's old boyfriend from

college, Bill Madaras, only reluctantly spilled secrets to Joel, and

only off the record, telling Joel Sue had sworn him to secrecy. Such

loyalty plagues the Susan Walsh Story and makes tracing her whereabouts

difficult, because Sue has manufactured such a mystique around herself

that few can be certain that her stories aren't true, and that by saying

anything she told them, a person might be putting her life in danger.


In trying to piece together Sue's story in the weeks that followed, I

began to understand just why people at school had so much trouble

understanding Sue. She weaved a web of deception so well that to sort

through the various strands often left a person knowing less in the end

about what was true or not true than when he or she started probing. Sue

never told the different people the same story, unless that story was

specifically altered in facts to fit with a specmuch trouble


Thus, Melissa told me that a mobster had come to see Sue in her Nutley

apartment in the months before the vanishing. This story changed when I

e-mailed Rob Hardin, whose own pitiful messages of woe had reached Joel

Lewis already through the Internet poetry group, and thus reached Glen

Kenny through Joel. Glenn was less than thrilled about Hardin's

groanings, which made me wonder how much he knew about Sue's vanishing

and whether she had related some secret of her own before leaving,

giving him a clue to story changed when I e-mailed Rob Hardi


The newspaper story on Sue's vanishing was in the July 18 edition of the

Village Voice, featuring one of the Plachy's alternative photographs

from the "Redlight" photo shoot. While both pictures showed Sue seated

on the loading dock two blocks from the Vault in the meatpacking

district of Manhattan, the photo from the book used extensively in

newspaper after newspaper had Sue looking the other way. It also

ironically had a pigeon in the background, thus becoming a symbol for

how Sue felt about herself. Both photos, as remarkable as they are,

tended to confuse the police, because Sue generally looked like neither

in her every day life. In fact, the police have struggled to locate her

for exactly that reason. Different photos of Sue tended to provide

absolutely different people, one as distinct from the other as one

stranger might be from another.


Several people told me they had first become aware of Sue's vanishing

from the small Voice notice, though no details were associated the small

posting. In fact, the Voice would not follow this up with details for

nearly a year, and then, only to support its staff writer, James

Ridgeway, against possible accusations that he may have been partly to

blame. In interviews with other newspapers, the Voice editors made it

clear that Sue was "not a reporter" but a research assistant, and not

officially associated with the paper.


This article called Sue "a contributor" to the Voice, and for anyone

remotely familiar with newspaper lingo, this is the lowest rung on the

ladder, and in fact, may not be on the ladder at all. Following the

Ridgeway party line, the Voice called Sue "a researcher" for "Redlight",

and credited her as an assistant producer for two European television

documentaries about sex workers.



Sensationalizing Sue

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