A Meeting of Minds

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

I scheduled the meeting for a Friday morning outside the Plaza Diner in

Secaucus. A few days earlier, the FBI and the Secaucus Police had

arrested a man for faking his own kidnapping. The police caught him

calling his own wife for a ransom from a telephone booth at a nearby gas

station. He had apparently done the same a year earlier, his wife paying

the ransom that time instead of calling the police.

 

It was poor note on which to start the meeting, because I already

suspected Weissman of committing some kind of hoax. Many of his facts

just didn't add up. Like how he first got involved, and the stuff about

the cross.

 

While he told Melissa he own the cross Sue wore in a photo session for

the book "Redlight," and repeated the story to my editor. His story

changed later to say that it wasn’t the same pendant Sue had worn in the

picture, but one he had bought himself from the same St. Marks shop

where she had purchased hers.

 

O'Keefe, in the belief that Weissman worked for some other group, traced

the ownership of the whore house where Judy worked and Sue hid out,

hoping to find some connection to Weissman, and came up with one of

those eerie twists that plagues Sue's story from beginning to end, for

according to the deed, the whore house was owned by "James Joyce," an

ironic literary joke that Sue would have appreciated, though the

literary symbolism took on a more insidious dimension when we realized

as a legal document, the names were reversed, and the house actually

belonged to a Joyce James -- a possible relation by marriage to the man

who would later be mayor. She and Donald B. James had purchased the

house for $1 in 1963, at a time when the house had a much higher value.

While sales of this kind are common between family members, it was

unlikely that the James family was related to Theresa and Frank Bonassi

and James Julliano, who had owned the house previously and had inherited

it. They had acquired the house as an inheritance from Grace Julliano in

1951. At some point between 1963 and 1996 when Judy did business as a

prostitute here, Donald James named was dropped from the deed. In fact,

after reports of Sue's visit there, a fence was put up around the house

and a for sale sign.

 

"Whore houses like this can go on for decades, doing business in the

same place. But the minute a scandal starts, they close them up fast, if

it is a mob place," O'Keefe said, but said the situation had a

"political feel" to it, something that needed to be checked into much

more closely.

 

Mafia or not, O'Keefe could not find a clue in this as to Weissman's

connection.

 

But even when he gave information, this seemed out of sync with what

Melissa and others already knew, leading me to suspect that he might

indeed be working for Sue, not her opponents, he, keeping track of our

activities, so she could keep one step ahead of us until she got what

she wanted, stalling searches long enough to get her fifteen minutes of

fame on Unsolved Mysteries.

 

In fact, as Newark Lt. Bono closed in on the whore house on 5th Street,

trying to capture Judy and Sue together, Weissman began spinning a whole

new scenario, claiming he had seen two dancers in New York City, either

one of which could have been Sue. One dancer resembled photographs

published in the local newspapers, but the other dancer, someone he

claimed to talk to frequently, seemed incredibly interested in the

investigation, asking for copies of all the news articles and reports of

what Weissman found out. He claimed both women were named Holly and that

someone should come check out the strip club scene in New York. He

seemed to think the Newark scene was a dead end.

 

Seeing Weissman for the first time on the steps of the Plaza Diner, I

was struck by how straight he looked, a tall man with greying hair and a

determined sense of purpose that made me uncomfortable. I had seen that

look before on the faces of men dedicated to uncovering the secrets of

UFOs and Alien Abductions. O'Keefe later described the look as that of a

man strung out on cocaine or some psychotherapeutic drug. I tended to

think the latter, and caught a subtle sense of mental instability about

him, which became more and more evident when he shushed me and pointed

me in the directiogreying hair and a det

 

"We can't talk out here," he said. "Too many people are watching."

 

O'Keefe, a shorter, darker man, who at that time sported a heavy beard

which made him look like a short Abe Lincoln, seemed nervous, too, and

said he feared observation as well.

 

"There are people back in Nutley who wouldn't want us to share

information," he said, giving me my first lesson in justifiable

paranoia.

 

Indeed, as we walked to the library -- less than a block away -- shadowy

figures I'd not seen in Secaucus before seemed to float down the

sidewalk on the other side. Not men dressed in black, but in blue-collar

workshirts. One coming from the North, the other from the south. Both

seemed to look at us. I would see both of them again. The blonde-haired

one would pass me an hour later as I sat in the window of the pizza

parlor, his gaze so hard I nearly fell off the stool. The other, a

darker haired man, I would see outside the O'Keefe's office a few

Sundays later when I went to drop off a document I had taken down off

the web. Then as on the day we met Weissman, the figure seemed to be

watching me and O'Keefe's office, and moved off when I walked towards

him.

 

But inside the Secaucus Library, I felt as safe as I would in my office.

The space was too small for anyone to observe us unawares, though

everyone in the small library could hear everything we discussed, and

since we settled at one of the main tables, they could also see the

thick folder Weissman opened and the numerous documents he had acquired,

copies of newspaper articles, enlargements of photographs from Redlight

-- one detailing very clearly the cross he claimed to have. And pointing

to it, he said had purchased it in the same St. Marks Shop, the vendor

telling him he had sold another to a girl who looked like Sue.

 

Weissman also pressed me for information of a different kind, asking if

I didn't have some soft part in me for Sue, some sympathetic side that

would allow me to feel more forgiving towards her.

 

"I'm not angry at her," I said.

 

"No, but you've written all that stuff on the web, over a 100 pages," he

said, referring to the first notes I had put up in an effort to aid

investigators in finding Sue.

 

"So?"

 

"You've made her seem like a ...."

 

Weissman didn't seem to have a word for it. I supplied him with one.

 

"A bitch?"

 

"Well, don't you think she's got a point of view, too?" he asked, his

face crinkling with concern, as he unfolded another document, a paper

with an hand-written outline of alternative plots, Sue as a bitch, Sue

as a mother, Sue as Floyd's daughter and so on. He seemed to be relaying

questions of me from someone else, and perhaps, if I had been kinder

then, I might have offered him a more sympathetic assessment of Sue --

and found him arranging a one-to-one meeting with her.

 

It was a mistake I've regretted since, thinking that maybe he had made a

mistake early on by admitting ownership of the cross, and feared the

wrath of the Nutley police who could and wound charge him with

complicity, even though Sue could not be charged. More than likely if he

was working with Sue, he simply didn't want to give that fact away so

soon, feeling us out for her to see if we were friends or foes, and if

not friends, his purpose seemed dedicated to muddying the water so we

could never find Sue for ourselves.

 

He was playing a dangerous game already, if his intention was to confuse

us, stringing us out in the wrong direction, and not give himself away.

 

Later, I would come to understand just how much a puppet of Sue he was

and how many of Sue's patterns had become evident in him. As with Sue,

Weissman tended to tell slightly different versions of the same story to

different people. Not everything he told me jived with what he told

O'Keefe or Melissa.

 

Melissa stopped talking to him entirely after Floyd and Ridgeway

cautioned her against him. I do not know Floyd's reasoning, but Weissman

told us he pursuing Ridgeway, questioning people associated with

Ridgeway's book, checking on places Ridgeway allegedly sent Sue to get

work. He seemed convinced that Ridgeway had "used Sue for his own ends"

then deserted her, and Weissman appeared in various New York City

offices -- as he had in mine -- unannounced, asking questions of

everyone about Ridgeway's association with Sue.

 

Weissman claimed that Ridgeway routinely took young writers under his

wing, used their sources, then sent them off after he obtained credit,

noting that almost as soon as Sue vanished, Ridgeway was already

collaborating with another female writer, and Weissman seemed determined

to dig up dirt that would incriminate Ridgeway.

 

The few people I questioned about Ridgeway's literary habits called him

"an opportunist," someone lacking something in ethical standards, but

not so brazen enough to step over the line into illegality.

 

During our meeting with Weissman in the Secaucus library, he went over

the details of his so-called Sue Sightings in New York City, that went

from Morning Side Heights to the Lower East Side, but seem to bring us

no closer to finding Sue than we were before. He claimed to have had

contact with two women, one of whom he believed to be Sue. This story

varied to such a degree between the various sources that it reminded me

of the stories Sue used to tell back in college, full of the same twists

and turns that needed alternative sources to make sense. Later, I would

talk to other people who had heard versions of this story from Weissman

and piece together the tale in a more coherent whole.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tale of Two Sues

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------


Sue Walsh story: 1998 menu

Spielberg menu

Main Menu


email to Al Sullivan