Links to a.d.sullivan & info on Susan Walsh
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
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.