Along Comes Unsolved Mysteries

 

 

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

 

Sue seemed to have vanished entirely in the time spent chasing

Weissman's ghosts. I heard rumors of all kinds, that she went to Ohio to

join the midwest dance circuit, something on which a woman could spend

months without being identified. This circuit took dancers into the cold

upper reaches of Canada, and indeed, some reports surfaced after

Unsolved Mysteries did its two broadcasts. I also heard rumor that Sue

had taken on another assumed name and began performing for Mistress Rena

Mason and her Erotic Travesty Show, someone for whom Sue allegedly

danced in the past, and someone Sue had interviewed for "Redlight."

 

By this time, Floyd was really pissed at me. He claimed the FBI wouldn't

step into the case because of my reporting.

 

"It's because of your statements," he told me over the phone. "You said

she's faking it, and they won't investigate."

 

Although I thought at the time I was the only one who believed Sue

faking it, I learned later others also agreed, like Dorothy Ryan and Ron

Goldberg, both who knew her at school, both of whom were very familiar

with this routine. Yet something odd struck me about Floyd's behavior.

 

The FBI I learned later would not step into the case because they could

find no criteria for doing so. The FBI does not have resources to help

find missing or kidnapped people, such as the Critical Incident Response

Group (CIRG), which was formed to handle hostage situations or those

instances of terroristic activity which requires a response in an

emergency situation. But the FBI is sharply restricted as to what kinds

of cases it can take on. While most people believe the FBI can handle

any violation of federal law. They cannot. They can only investigate

something if authorized by Congress or the President or the Attorney

General. Even then, they would not be answerable to local authorities,

everything would be turned over to the Justice Department which would

then deal with the information.

 

O'Keefe believes the FBI would love to step into the case and is

monitoring it closely to see if Sue's case fits any of the various

categories in its jurisdiction. The FBI, for instance, does counter

intelligence, this includes dealing with foreign agents and espionage.

The FBI is also commissioned to investigate organized Crime and illicit

drug importing. Yet for all Sue's screaming about the Mafia for all

those years, no one has yet produced one scrap of evidence -- outside of

her own outlandish statements --to say she had actually made contact

with mobsters. Without such evidence, the FBI could not and would not

step into the case. The FBI can also pursue fugitives wanted as a result

of FBI investigations, escaped federal prisoners, and some probation and

parole violators. They investigate people fleeing to avoid prosecution,

including parents stealing their own kids, crimes on Indian reservation,

theft of government property, interstate transportation of stolen

vehicles, or stolen property or theft of interstate shipments. They

investigate the assault, kidnapping or killing of the president, vice

president or members of congress. They deal with bank robbers, burglars,

and larcenists to some degree. They are responsible dealing with the

sexual exploitation of children, tampering with consumer products, crime

aboard aircraft and extortion, and yes, they deal with kidnapping. But

they do not deal with missing people.

 

If Sue was kidnapped, then someone would have to produce a ransom note

or phone call or some other clear evidence that she had been taken

against her will, then prove she was taken across state lines. Several

principle sources in the Susan Walsh Story report being hassled by phone

calls, all or most of them from out of the state.

 

"That could be reason enough for the FBI to step in," O'Keefe said.

"Provided someone complained."

 

While the FBI did not seem interested, NBC's Unsolved Mysteries was.

They in fact stepped into the case very early, looking to open their

1996 Fall season with Sue's story, and ran smack into a legal roadblock

with the Nutley police refused to cooperate.

 

In fact, two people from Unsolved Mysteries called me as early as

August, setting up an interview for me to appear on the show. I decided

against this for several reasons. I show. I decided against this for

several reasons. I didn't like the angle and I suspected the

 

When they called me the first time, I asked how they had come across me

and the case.

 

"Oh, we read about it on the wire," the woman said, referring to the

Associated Press report that had come out early in August.

 

In his unpublished manuscript on the missing Sue, Joel claimed that I

was furious at Sue.

 

"Sue Walsh is alive," I supposedly told Joe unequivocally. "She vanished

as part of a publicity stunt to get attention for Ridgeway's book and

will return when she is good and ready."

 

As with some of the earlier reporter who misquoted me, Joel missed my

point entirely. I told him and other reporters that early on I thought

it possible this was a publicity stunt, something Sue and Ridgeway may

have contrived to enhance sales. But I also told Joel that this

perception changed as the story developed, something Joel conveniently

ignored when attempting to sell this story to New Jersey Monthly. After

careful examination of the facts (as I knew them) I came to believe that

Sue fled to draw attention to herself not the book, because she felt

robbed by Ridgeway of credit she believed was her due. But I do believe

Ridgeway used Sue's vanishing to his own advantage, to make sure his

sales benefited from Sue's tragedy.

 

I learned later, that Ridgeway -- in a supposed attempt to help Sue --

reached out to his contacts at NBC and brought in Unsolved Mysteries

himself, a self-serving move that only strengthened my conviction about

his lack of character. I also learned that Unsolved Mysteries intended

to sell the same tripe being pushed by newspapers, and I wanted no part

of it. Unsolved Mysteries eventually loosened the legal hold on

information with a threat to go to court, but by then, it was too late

to go with the story for Fall.

 

But the anticipation of their arrival drove everyone crazy. Each of the

main witnesses in the Susan Walsh Story polished up their act for a

possible performance on Television. Although their representatives

invaded Nutley (one even came to Hoboken to see me but I had a story to

cover and missed him) throughout September, they actually didn't start

serious film interviews until October, just about the time Sue stopped

appearing on Newark streets. The Nutley Sun ran a small piece in Frank

Orechio's column.

 

"Tuesday: We had a surprise visit from Eric Tayler (Orechio misspelled

Taylor) representing the popular television series `Unsolved Mysteries,'

which is based in Burbank, California, regarding t`Unsolved Mysteries,'

 

Orechio went on to say that internationally known psychic, Dorothy

Allison, had a vision that Sue was alive.

 

"But one of our staff members (Barbara Mackey) envisioned Susan Walsh as

a murder victim whose body was left at the north end of Newark's Branch

Brook Park, near the Belleville boarder."

 

This last may well have been wishful thinking on Orechio's part since he

also provided Sue with a column in 1995, and if the pattern of Sue's

behavior with other of her publishers held true with Orechio, he might

well have had reason to wish her silence permanent.

 

"Our Nutley Sun Editor, Jim Zocolli (also a classmate of Sue's for a

while) investigated the scene and was subsequently approached by Eric

Taylor (he spelled it correctly this time) of the Unsolved Mysteries

program requesting that they visit the site."

 

Paul O'Keefe in the Nutley Journal responded to the Orechio story.

 

"I had spent the night before with my old friend Jack, Daniels, that is,

and I don't think he'd make it with this crowd.The chief and

commissioner were having a bite. Unfortunately, it was out of my head,"

O'Keefe wrote. "I'm a gumshoe in the bucolic burbs, Nutley to be

precise. The chief wanted action on the missing Susan Walsh girl. The

only action I had seen in the last few weeks was on the tube. The chief

was not amused.

 

"My attitude was flat, and so were my feet, as I left the chewing out.

They wanted result either with the Walsh case or my personnel file. I

knew it called for maximum effort.

 

"I went to the office, closed the door, got out my tarot cards and Ouija

board. They both made hits. The cards say she is alive somewhere, the

board said she was dead. I phoned the chief with the news that Walsh was

alive or dead. It was our first big break.

 

"Then the phone rang. It was the local publisher. He said a local

psychic envisioned the Walsh girl alive. There was more. A staff member

of his had a vision that she was dead.

 

"It was the magic key I sought. I phoned the girl's family to report the

breakthrough. She was alive, or she was dead."

 

O'Keefe then went on to ask if the situation had gotten ridiculous.,

noting the circus-like atmosphere the case had taken on. He wondered if

Unsolved Mysteries was actually coming to town to help find Sue or not.

He also noted the competition between psychics at the other newspaper

which allows the paper to have the scoop at predicting Sue's fate either

way.

 

"Something is rotten in this investigation," O'Keefe wrote. "Every

newsman from Northern New Jersey has heard the reports of people who

know the Walsh woman and have reported seeing her. These are not people

unfamiliar with the woman. It is difficult to believe that the police

and prosecutor have not received the same reports."

 

O'Keefe said these matters should be investigated before calling in "a

television program dedicated to promoting the superstitions of the

supermarket tabloid set."

 

"If this woman is a live as the sightings seem to indicate, calling in a

national tabloid show would be one way to make a woman who obviously

wants to be left along perhaps disappear from this area of the country

forever."

 

Something the Nutley police later said happened just about the time this

editorial came out.

 

"What is the goal of the search for Walsh," wrote O'Keefe, "to find her

or to make her run farther away?"

 

O'Keefe questioned the value of hawking contradictory psychic

predictions in solving the case, and pressed the police -- who at that

point -- seemed unwilling to tell the press what they knew. This changed

later. The police, in fact, seemed to become the most consistent and

cooperative factor in the whole Sue case, certainly more consistent than

the people who professed to love Sue like Floyd, Hardin or Ridgeway.

 

The question at that time, however, revolved around just how many people

had actually reported seeing Sue and how reliable were there accounts.

If Sue was alive and the Nutley police knew it, why were so many other

people still harping on her possible murder or kidnapping?

 

Vinnie Gaglione, the owner of Spellbound Bookstore in Nutley, knew Sue

very well and talked to her several times before she vanished. She

handed him the same line about the Russian Mafia and gothic Chic stuff,

and hinted strongly that she was going disappear.

 

"When she was saying this stuff, all I did was ask her when she was

going to take off," Gaglione said. "It was so obvious that was what she

was planning to do."

 

But Unsolved Mysteries didn't want to hear this angle, and seemed to

intentionally ignore any evidence suggesting Sue might be out there

laughing over the folly of her friends and family, just as Joel Lewis

later ignored every opinion that disagreed with his own. During his

early interviewing Joel even joked saying: "Well, I hope she doesn't

reappear before my story comes out in New Jersey Monthly."

 

The story never appeared.

 

Unsolved Mysteries didn't joke. They just didn't interview anyone who

said Sue had intentionally walked off, as if they had been instructed to

tell one story, and one story only -- the same story the tabloids sold.

Perhaps this was for better TV ratings, or book sales for Redlight.

 

Joel, who eventually interviewed Ridgeway, at the insistence of New

Jersey Monthly (he had also failed to interview Floyd and other

principals in the case until the editors of New Jersey Monthly

insisted), claimed the Village Voice writer truly believed Sue was dead.

 

"He was very sad about what happened to Sue," Joel told me.

 

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

Everybody's in Show Biz

 

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


Sue Walsh story: 1998 menu

Spielberg menu

Main Menu


email to Al Sullivan