A Sue Look-a-like
Although Sue sold everyone on the idea that she wanted to quit dancing,
in reality dancing was quitting her. Part of it was her age. At 36, she
couldn't continue to perform as she had in the past, not without sinking
into open prostitution or becoming the laughing stock of those she
sought to seduce. It must have been a great embarrassment to climb up on
the stage each night, knowing that younger and prettier and more
energetic women waited to take her place. No wonder she told Don Budd,
her booking agent, that she would work for tips. What club would pay an
old woman like her when it could get young flesh?
Go-go bars were also losing some of their appeal, as town fathers of
small municipalities like West Paterson, and larger towns like
Irvington, sought for better ways to limit such activity. Even old Sin
City itself was changing. A new law would go into effect before the end
of the year that would cut by a quarter the number of sexually oriented
establishments. Secaucus, where I worked as a beat reporter, passed
ordinances so strict that only the existing go-go bars could do business
there. North Bergen pushed hard enough to close those within its
borders. For Sue this meant an increase in the competition. Fewer dance
clubs meant she would have fight that much harder to gain a place on the
dance circuit -- a proposition she had no taste for.
Even prostitution wasn't a safe alternative with county governments now
pushing for municipalities to sweep the streets more thoroughly and
close down those places frequented by such activities. Clubs in Hudson
County suddenly saw an increase in health inspections, and found their
doors locked because of numerous, painful and expensive to remedy
violations. Many thought to move rather than put up with the constant
harassment. For Sue -- who saw New Jersey as a safe haven after all her
activities in New York -- suddenly found herself with shrinking options.
She had to get out, had to find some other way of making a living that
didn't depend upon the age of her body or the sag of her breasts.
That's why she depended upon the Ridgeway connection and fell into such
a fit when he betrayed her. She had nothing else, except for the
freelance work her father gave her. And she absolutely refused to go
back to that way of life, not after she had tasted the high life, not
after she had spent four years riding around in Al Goldstein's limo,
acting like a real, authentic bitch.
Hiding out in Newark must have been a real let down for her, especially
if she saw nightly what I saw as I drove down Bloomfield Avenue -- a
section of town that seemed immune to the street sweeps and the crack
downs, where weary street walkers hobbled home after a long night, as if
they had a right to be here, as if the town had zoned this part of the
city just for them.
Many of these looked up as I passed, their weary faces hopeful of one
last trick before calling it a night. Their exotic clothing clung to
them, crumpled from their constant removal, high boots scuffed,
thigh-high stocking torn, short coats missing buttons. Then, when
realizing I'd not come to shop, they lowered their heads again, looking
as troubled as peasants after a long day harvesting in the fields,
looking neither right nor left, especially when they neared the church.
Apparently-- by some unspoken mutual agreement -- the church goers made
no acknowledgment of these women, neither looking at or talking about
them as they passed.
By the time I reached the Sixth Street, the deterioration was
unmistakable. Newark -- especially along Broadway a few blocks east --
had not recovered from the 1967 riots. Everything lived in the shadow of
those few days, and the decline of this great city was hurried by its
momentum. Whites, trickled out of town before that, fled in droves,
selling their homes cheap when they could not get their full market
value. The fresh scars of the war zone aided their retreat, and even
when those scars grew old, they remained, development refusing to fill
in their empty spaces. But even more appalling were the decades of
disinterest, as if the white-dominated investment community wanted to
teach Newark a lesson by denying it an infusion of fresh capital, hoping
to choke off the movement of black leadership and force the populous to
accept whites as the rightful heirs to city hall. This helped destroy
those few remaining businesses. Drugs and prostitution became the only
viable meblocks east -- had not recovered from the 1967 riots.
Everything lived in the shadow of those few days, and the decline of
this great city was hurried by its momentum. Whites, trickled out of
town before that, fled in droves, selling their homes cheap when they
Melissa said it was a house with blue siding. Although she had come to
look at the house herself, she feared making a move to confront Judy.
"I've told the police," she said. "But they don't seem interested."
But one Newark cop was, a lieutenant who was continuing the search on
his off-duty hours, despite the threats made to the two bounty hunters.
"He's been down there," Melissa said.
In looking for the Blue-sided house, I turned the wrong way, following
the one-way part of Sixth towards the south, trucking terminal to my
right with threatening signs advertising vicious guard dogs, as if the
glittering, newly installed razor wire along the top of the rusting
fence wasn't enough to protect the dilapidated collection of tractor
trailer trucks stored there, just visible behind a wall of weeds.
Two and three storied houses lined the street across from this fence,
not the wealthy houses of Wayne or the more blue collar houses of Totowa
where Sue grew up, but a more desperate kind of house where the
occupants fought hard to maintain some level of civilization, like
frontier wives, putting up curtains on the windows, making repairs to
the porches and roofs.
Few of the cars in the drive ways or the street were new, and most dated
to the late 1980s or early 1990s, alarms beeping their single-noted
warning as I passed. A few pedestrians strode along the sidewalk, some
clearly dressed for church.
I saw a few blue houses, but only one seemed large enough to be a house
of prostitution. I drove around the block, past the fast cars, the
dilapidated cars, past the Broncos and the vans, past macho Italian men
staring out at the street from their porches, and the equally macho
Latino men staring from their windows, sad and angry working men, locked
into a system of despair, saddled with the American Dream -- which
neither could honestly achieve.
Only when I crossed Bloomfield Avenue did I realize my mistake,
swallowed up suddenly by images of my own life in Passaic. The men on
this side looked angry, too, but their stares lacked even the illusion
of hope. They didn't maintain the same dream as the men on the other
side, perhaps wiser the way Sue was wise, in understanding that men did
not thrive in America by worThe men on this side looked angry, too, but
their stares lacked even the illusion of hope. They didn't maintai
Many of the cars parked here were new, marking those men who had
succeeding in skimming the cream from the top of this curdling social
milk we called capitalism. But just as many older cars sat at the curb
side, cars with that unmistakable 1970s slant, whose engines grumbled
and rumbled and them stalled amid a cloud of smoke -- the faces of the
losers peering questioning down at their open hcurdling social milk we
called capitalism. But just as many older cars sat at the curb side,
cars with that unmistakable 1970s slant
Drug dealers and pimps cruised these streets, their smug faces sealed
behind tinted glass, warily studying their turf for intruders, eyeing me
and my dented Mazda with great suspicion, wondering why a white man
would choose to take a short cut through their neighborhood at such an
early time of day, trying to file me into one of their limited
categories for men who did belong here -- the macho Italians, the
desperate Greeks, the hundreds of varieties of Latinos, leaving only one
more category in their heads: cop.
I found the building this time without trouble, a corner structure from
another, more important era of commerce that had shifted purpose in the
pathetic years after the riots, no doubt once an apartment building with
a store downstairs, now a crumbling institution with a vigilant air. A
huge Latino, with muscles bulging from under his thin jacket, sat on the
front stoop, her clothing expensive, but hardly the stuff movies costume
designers fitted on their pimps.
I wondered if he had a gun.
He was talking to a woman when I first passed, and looked up sharply
when I stopped three houses away, nearly leaving two car lengths of
rubber in my eagerness to halt.
The woman -- though I could not get a good look at her -- looked just
like Sue, wearing the same black chest-hugging leotard top and the same
open-toed sandals. Every here hair had the same blonde hue, though
crinkled, not straight. She looked at me, too, frowning at me and my
car, clearly recognizing neither.
I feared to leap from the car and call her name. She might bolt, and her
pimp might pull out his pistol and pump me with bullets. Yet the longer
I sat and did nothing, the more nervous the woman and her pimp became,
looking to each other as if asking if I was a cop.
Was it Sue?
I couldn't tell! She just wouldn't turn in a direction that would allow
me a positive identification, she kept shifting and tilting her head.
Finally, I pulled away again, drove three or four blocks until I found a
place I could turn around, and then drove back, passing so as my
driver's side faced the woman I thought might be Sue.
This woman -- though she looked a lot like Sue had a pockmarked face I
recognized as the result of excess cocaine. The man had slipped out of
sight, but I knew he watched from some shadow to make sure I did no harm
to his piece of bait. I pulled the car to the curb diagonally across the
street from the blue-sided building and watched the woman warily make
her way up that side of the street, eyeing me, trying to figure out if I
wanted some of her action. Finally, she came close enough for me to call
"I'm looking for Sue Walsh," I told her. "I'm a reporter and an old
"Sue Walsh?" she said. "I never heard of her."
"Someone told me she was staying in that house across the street," I
said. "Staying with a woman named Judy."
The woman staggered back a step, her pockmarks crinkling up with alarm.
"We've got not Walshes here," she said, clearly struggling to maintain
her composure, running through the list of last names she did have in
the building. She did not say anything about Judy, except to mention
that a Newark cop did have in the building. She did not s
"Two days ago," she said. "They yanked me right out of my car and kept
calling me Judy. I tried to tell them I wasn't no Judy, but they didn't
believe me. They said I had to go with them and have someone else say
who I was or wasn't. What the hell's going on anyway? What's so special
about this Judy and whatever did that Sue Walsh do to make so many
people act so crazy?"
"Sue vanished a couple of months ago and a lot of people are worried
about her," I said. "I am, too. Some people think Judy kidnapped her. I
know Sue. No one would kidnap her unless she wanted to be kidnapped. But
she might not want to come back, especially with the police looking for
her. If she needs help, have her call me. She doesn't have to deal with
So I left my card, and drove off, wondering just how well my message
would be received? Did Sue even remember me now? Or had she simply put
me out of her mind the moment she realized I had nothing to offer her,
no lucrative assignments for the Village Voice, no stretch limos, no
columns in the local sex newspaper.
The next day, I called Melissa, she said her friend had called, saying
Judy and Sue were at the door and wanted her to leave with them.
"She sounded frightened," Melissa said. "And then she hung up."
Melissa went over to the apartment. One of the neighbors apparently told
her that two women had taken the girl and her child away in a car.
Twenty four hours later, the woman returned and wouldn't talk to Melissa
"It's over," Melissa. "They've frightened her into being quiet."
The police later concluded that when Sue first vanished, their
detectives were in contact with people who claimed to have been
maintaining contact with her.
"But soon those people stopped talking to her, a sign police took to
mean she may have moved out of the area," wrote Tom Troncone in July 17,
1997 Herald & News.
Lessons by Abbie Hoffman