Vampire Fantasy renewed
Links to a.d.sullivan & info on Susan Walsh
While some friends and neighbors objected to the coverage, the town
fathers of Nutley remained strangely silent on the matter, giving its
tacit approval to the direction which the newspapers were headed. Paul
O'Keefee, of the Nutley Journal, the second of two weeklies in Nutley,
was particularly struck by this odd approach, saying that officials
seemed less interested in finding Sue than allowing myths of drug use,
sexual misbehavior and disreputable associations to foster. O'Keeffe
blamed town officials for not being more aggressive in seeking Sue out
to discover the truth.
Unlike Florida, the lead reporter for the Ledger, Bill Kleinknecht had
some journalistic experience. I brushed shoulders with him in 1985 on
the Paterson News. But like Florida, Kleinknecht was the wrong kind of
reporter to follow up on a story as serious as this. Others in the
industry said he was naive, and tended to believe what people told him
rather than rooting out information from alternative sources.
"He's a wide-eyed innocent," said one former co-worker. "He's a sweet
guy who would believe exactly what he's told. He was raised in
Ridgewood. He's led a sheltered life, though he thinks he knows his way
around the streets."
His two or three stories seemed to reflect no sense of how Sue connected
with the community in which she lived, or why she had been divorced from
it and the Nutley Sun, when she finally did connect.
While the Nutley Sun, the unofficial cheerleading section for the town
of Nutley, did little or nothing to push for action, it's competition,
unconnected with the current town administration, attacked the town's
lack of motivation and criticized the other newspapers for emphasizing
the dark side of her character.
In August, Paul O'Keefee wrote in the Nutley Journal: Was Sue's behavior
to blame for her disappearance? Or was everybody blaming the victim?
Even if Sue is a victim of alcohol, pills or powder, she should be
"I do not care whether a woman is a go-go dancer as much as I resent the
fact these women are particularly vulnerable to violent acts by men," he
He wished newspapers would concentrate on printing information that
would help find her, instead of emphasizing the negative, saying that
these stories, are agony to the family.
And I, an old friend of Sue's, began to wonder if this tendency in the
press could be an intentional effort to discredit her, maybe to protect
some high official in the town who was involved with her, especially
when Community relation officer Sgt. Steve Rodgers of the Nutley police
launched a counter attack on the Nutley journal during a July board of
commissioners meeting. While Rodgers said he spoke for himself, and
suggested the Journal be expelled from the Nutley Chamber of Commerce
and that people cancel their subscriptions.
But by then on Aug. 2 the Ledger found juicier material to exploit,
leading with headlines that eventually made every New York television
newscast and was repeated again and again on all three Metropolitan area
all news radio shows.
"Hunt for vanished dancer leads to blood-drinkers."
This was Kleinknecht's follow up to his first news, and in this story,
he said "investigators are combing the various strands of her (Sue's)
racy lifestyle, but have yet to unearth a hard clue as to her fate."
Of the multiple worlds Sue inhabited while developing her career as an
investigative reporter, police announced that they would be
investigating her apparent contact with Manhattan's "vampire" scene-- an
obscure, sado-masochistic subculture (according one detective) in which
people engage in drinking of blood.
"There are so many things to check out because of the life style she
had," the detective said. "It's not possible at this point to say what
happened to her."
Melissa, however, refuted this, claiming Sue's interest was merely
intellectual, as part of an article she was attempting to write. But she
and other friends said Sue would never have abandoned her son unless a
victim of foul play.
While not ruling out suicide or that she is alive, investigators said
they were treating the case as a homicide."
Reuters News Service picked up on the story on Aug. 5, treating it a
little less outrageously in their headline: "Vampire Researcher
"Police are looking for a woman who vanished outside her Nutley, New
Jersey home. Susan Walsh worked as a stripper, but was also researching
an article on Manhattan's `vampire' scene for the Village Voice. Some
club goers are said to pierce each other's skin and then drink the blood
in a bizarre ritual known as "feeding." Walsh has not been seen for two
UPI took a slightly different slant, though also mentioned the
"Vampire-Goth" scene in its New Jersey News Briefs later that week:
"A North Jersey go-go dancer who's been missing for three weeks may have
fallen victim to a hit man, according to her boyfriend (Christian). The
36-year-old Susan Walsh of Nutley has been missing since July 16 and her
boyfriend says one of Walsh's ex-boyfriends threatened to take out a
Mafia contract on her. Police have been investigating Walsh's
connections to the so-called "vampire-Goth" scene where participants act
out vampire roles."
This was followed by a string of reports in the various occult magazines
such as the Modern Bite of the Occult. But the real irony came when the
New York Times and the Daily News both ran articles on the Vampire
scene, articles Sue should have had in the Village Voice months earlier,
but could not thanks to Ridgeway.
The Daily News article by Linda Yglesias did not mention Sue at all, but
detailed many of the oddities of the vampire world, and brought the
story into the beat of my own newspaper with tales of vampire shows in
On Tuesday, August 6 at 11 p.m. -- apparently before Ridgeway called his
friends on Unsolved Mysteries to help promote his book -- NBC TV did a
show on vampires and featured Sue's disappearance. The show hosted by
Charles Grodin also featured the author of "Vampires: The Occult Truth."
The New York Times, at least, mentioned Sue, noting that "the existence
of this moonlit neither world, who denizens number perhaps a few
thousand nationwide, came into flickering, ambiguous view this week when
it was mentioned in news accounts about the disappearance of Susan
Walsh... Walsh, a go-go dancer and freelance journalist, had befriended
modern-day disciples of Dracula last year as she did research for Sylvia
Plachy and James Ridgeway, the authors of `Redlight,' a book on the
national carnal underbelly, and wrote an articles of her own. It was
never published. The police have declined to discuss details of the
investigation into Walsh's disappearance but relatives and friends
dismissed the notion that so-called vampires were to blame, saying that
the breed that Walsh had encouraged was hardly a sinister one."
In the original Ledger story, Sue's father Floyd said not knowing what
happened to Sue was torture, but he wasn't giving up hope.
"I don't know what else to do," he said. "I'm in deep grief over what
Floyd said his daughter had done technical writing for companies after
graduating from William Paterson college, and was hoping recently to get
her life back on track. He partly blamed her regression on a doctor who
gave her a prescription for Xanax, a tranquilizer that Floyd said was
highly addictive, and may have led her back into drinking.
"That really started her downward slide," he said. "The worst thing you
can give an alcoholic is a tranquilizers."
Several people said Sue had gotten the prescription from a Belleville
foot doctor named Noonan, a man who is known as "Dr.Feel Good" on the
street. Other friends said Sue had begun drinking again after a decade
of sobriety, something that Melissa and Sue's neighbors denied.
"If she drank she only did it in the bar," Sue's upstairs neighbor said.
"We never saw any bottles around, and if she was drinking, we would have
Detectives repeatedly visited go-go clubs in Central jersey where Sue
danced during the previous months. Carol Stella, a manager at the Shake
Her Lounge in Dunellen, claimed that detectives visited there twice
within the last few days, asking bartenders, dancers and others what
might have happened to her. None could say, but someone had taped up a
missing person's flyer behind the bar.
"She just started dancing here, Stella told Kleinknecht. "She was a very
nice girl. There really isn't too much more to say."
I ran my own story in several editions of the Hudson Reporter over a
two-week period. These stories were the same in all but one respect.
When I wrote the first -- based on information I first saw in the Herald
and the Ledger, but talked to the sources -- I actually believed the
James Ridgeway/Joel Lewis version of the Susan Walsh Story, that she was
most likely dead from drugs and alcohol, or lost and wandering as I had
painted her in my 1990 novel, Dancer on the Sand. But the more I dug
into the story between the publication of my first story and its
reprinted edition, the more suspicious I became. More than one source
from college began to restore memories of Sue's past antics, and one
source in particular, reminded me that Sue had pulled this vanishing act
before. So while the story I published on August 4 was a sympathetic
portrayal of her plight, the revised version printed a week later,
stated for the record that Sue had vanished before and that many of the
stories she told about mobsters and stalkers just before her vanishing,
she had told before when we were in college.