The police reaction changed over time. Early on, detectives from the
local police said they do not have enough evidence to suggest foul play,
they still called in the Essex County prosecutor's office, which
routinely investigates homicides.
Friends and family claimed the police initially didn't take the
disappearance seriously, delaying a serious search for six days. Police
officials said they began the investigation within an hour of the
"When the police heard she was a dancer, they thought she was some kind
of flake," Melissa said. "They tried to tell us she might have gone into
Sue, as indicated in one report claimed she had made plans to enter
rehab to become "a better Godmother" to Melissa's child. "The whole
thing felt wrong right from the start," said O'Keefe early in the
investigation. "I've been trying to nudge them into taking this
investigation seriously, but something else seems to be nudging them the
other way, and I can't tell you what that is." When interviewed in July,
the nearly hysterical Martha said the police interviewed "Lots and lots"
of people, but could find no definitive answers.
"It's been abject terror, almost too much pain bear," she said. "The
only thing that's worse is not knowing where she is, would be knowing
But as quoted from an August account, police chief Robert Delitta said
he had followed very possible lead and left no stone unturned. Delitta
said Nutley detectives have spent long hour interviewing friends and
relatives of Walsh, but came up empty.
"There are all kinds of scenarios that could have occurred," Delitta
said. "We're just looking for a break."
But friends and neighbors claimed for months that the police were doing
enough to help. Sue's neighbors said the police never even bothered
"They shouted up at me the first time they showed up," said Rizzo, Sue's
upstairs neighbor. "They wanted to know which apartment Sue lived in. I
told them. After that, none of us heard from them again."
Two weeks after Sue's July 16 disappearance, the police came back with
plastic gloves and proceeded to search the apartment, and according to
one source removed her computer and other possible written documents.
"But why was the computer the only thing they removed from that
apartment?" asked Weissman when confronting me and O'Keefe towards the
end of our association in November.
In summing up the information about the investigation at that point, we
saw no progress by the police -- though later we learned they had
searched extensively areas of Newark, even New York, as well as sections
of Newark. They had talked to Sue's live-in boyfriend, Christian and
questioned Sue's husband, Mother, father, friends and ex-boyfriends.
While media attention may have kept the police's nose to the grind
stone, it did not make information more easily to obtain. After the
filming of Unsolved Mysteries, we got little from official sources. Ray
Weiss, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office was not forthcoming with
a great deal of information, either, and even apparently withheld
information from Joel three months later after Unsolved Mysteries aired.
Joel in his research for the article destined to never appear in the
pages of New Jersey Monthly had requested information from the Newark
office of the prosecutor as to possible leads and sightings. The office
told him the program had produced no fruitful leads, a statement
contradicted by later reports. Joel never pressed the matter. But then,
he was trying to prove Sue dead, an ignored much more compelling
evidence to the contrary.
Even when the police later said flatly that they -- like the Dorothy
Allison, the psychic -- did not believe Sue dead, Joel refused to
believe, maintaining his agenda to prove Sue dead at all costs.
By the end of November, Floyd was apparently so frustrated he confused
who his friends were and who were his enemies, once more hinting aonce
more hinting at the kind of confusion Sue routinely inspired among those
closest to her -- making me wonder if Floyd was not secretly in
communication with Sue or did Sue's diaries that that much an affect on
him that she could shape his thinking in s
"Recent press accounts regarding the disappearance of Susan Walsh, a
36-year-old Nutley mother who vanished last July, are enraging the
family of the missing woman," wrote James Zoccoli in the November 26
edition of the Nutley Sun.
"Some creeps want to exploit this incident," Floyd told Zoccoli. "I'm
angry about the news coverage."
In a confusing passage, Zoccoli also wrote: "Merchant pointed to reports
published in area newspapers implying that authorities have not
adequately investigated the disappearance, and also that Walsh has a
long history of disappearing."
"She never disappeared before," Floyd told Zoccoli, though Floyd was
hardly in a position to know what Sue had done before he rescued her
from Show World, since Floyd was not around to witness anything since
his divorce from Sue's mother when Sue was two.
Floyd went on to say that my website had influenced the FBI, convincing
them to stay out of the case.
"The FBI has picked up on this," he said, adding that he had spoken to a
federal agent investigating the rumors.
"Merchant said he believes the charges are absurd, but added that if
true, the FBI should take over the investigation," Zoccoli wrote.
FBI spokesperson Ann Todd told Zoccoli that she had no information
regarding the matter.
"Right now it's a missing person's case," Todd said.
Floyd, aiming his accusations directly at me, said he had retained an
attorney to determine the legal liability of any publication that prints
false and misleading information regarding his daughter.
"I'm wondering if they're guilty of obstruction of justice," he said. "I
might try to interest the police in criminal charges against the
As I read this all this, I wondered if Floyd intended to file charges
against me with the same police he himself accused of not investigating
the matter thoroughly. But then, he appears more interested in forcing
the FBI into a case where it has no jurisdiction.
But the confused Floyd managed to show that he was not being mean in
this attack, a fact I have believed from the beginning. He told Zoccoli
that he was not interested in seeking damages against me.
The Nutley police, who have been picked on since the beginning over this
investigation, also took offense to some of the things said about their
handling of the matter. Nutley police chief Robert DeLitta said his
department consaid about their handling of the matter. Nutley polic
"We follow each and ever lead," he said, noting that the detectives had
logged long hours of overtime to locate Sue.
Floyd told Zoccoli that he believed Sue "was not herself" and that she
had fallen back into old alcoholic habits. While hopeful that his
daughter will still be found, he also feared she might be "gone
Unfortunately for Floyd, who I believe is a good wholesome person at
heart, he was striking out at everyone and anyone, without thinking
about who was really on his side. On one hand he accused the police of
not doing enough to find his daughter, on the other hand, he threatened
to use those police to attack reporters who were actively trying to
protect the public interest by finding out the truth behind Sue's
While accusing us of exploiting his daughter's situation, Floyd
cooperated wholeheartedly with Unsolved Mysteries -- called in by Red
Light's author, James Ridgeway -- and their plans to display Sue's
sexual interests on national television.
In desperation to blame somebody for Sue's disappearance, Floyd and
others have not only attacked the reporters seeking to find out the
truth but also the police.
While some evidence suggests the police may have been slow to
investigate the situation, and that politics interfered with the
investigation once it started, the police did investigate. While this
may have been the result of media pressure, outside agencies did get
involved, not to much to find Sue, but to determine whether or not a
crime had been committed.
When the police thought Sue might have met with foul play, they came and
questioned Mark and Christian, sought out Billy Walker, and checked on
the apartment where Sue lived. They checked public phone records to find
out who might have called her. When they found out one of the patrons
from a central New Jersey bar stalked her, they sent police detectives
there to check it out. When Sue sightings began, Nutley police sent
personnel to Newark, and then later to New York City.
The fact is that many of the participants in searching for Sue stopped
once Unsolved Mysteries came and filmed them for the January show. Part
of this giving up, may have been exhaustion. But this also fits the
pattern of behavior typical in missing persons cases.
"At first, everybody gets excited and runs around, looking here and
there," said an official from one of the missing person's networks on
the internet. "Then, they get used to the idea, and they get wrapped up
in their own lives."
The police, too, might have grown tired of chasing rumors, of Sue's
supposed appearance here and there, like some mad game of tag or hide &
seek, with Sue's blonde head popping up at this place or that, just to
keep people's interest.
But suggestions that the police made no effort to find Sue were simply
wrong. Early on, they invaded clubs in Central Jersey where they
confronted club owners like Carol Stella of "Shake Her Lounge" in
Dunellen. They talked to bartenders, they talked to patrons, they even
talked to the other dancers, without success. Nutley even called in the
Essex County prosecutor's office widening the scope of the
Floyd and others claim the police have not done enough to find Sue. But
finding Sue has never been the purpose of the police investigation. The
purpose was to find out if a crime had been committed, and since no
evidence has surfaced to prove Sue left Nutley against her will, the
police had gone out of their way to pursue the case, offering far more
than they should in helping find Sue.
This conclusion contradicts editorials by O'Keefe in the Nutley Journal,
and probably didn't sit well with Floyd or Sue's friends. But it is not
the job of the police to find missing people, only to determine if
someone caused that person harm.
I learned this the hard way when after I searched and searched for my
uncle in 1985. When I found him on the Paterson police station steps
without shoes or blanket, I went and complained to then Mayor Frank X.
Graves was one of the most powerful men in the state and I knew him
briefly from my time as a reporter on the Paterson News, and knew him
better later when I worked for the Today chain of weeklies as the
Paterson reporter. He sat me down in his office and asked me honestly
what I expected the police to do?
"Find my uncle," I said. "That's why I filed a missing person's report."
"And you think because you file that report that every cop in every
police district will put down everything and start looking for your
uncle?" Graves asked me.
"Well, sort of," I said, only then thinking of just how silly my own
wishes sounded when repeated back at me by Graves.
"Well the police won't," Graves said. "That is not what we pay them to
do. We don't live in a police state. Police are paid to fight crime, not
keep track of our citizens. I mean, I feel bad for you and your family,
and the police can assist you when we can. But we can't do the work of
searching every nook and cranny until we find him."
The words shocked me, and I might even have said "But..."
Graves held up his hand.
"I'm not through," he said. "I don't mean to be unkind. But the police
get blasted again and again by citizens who criticize them unfairly.
Sure, you can go to the newspapers and embarrass my department by saying
your uncle got robbed on the police station steps. You can have them
publish his stocking feet on the front page. But that won't change
reality, it'll only cause morale problems among men and women already
overworked. If your uncle is sick, then it is up to the family to find
him help, up the family to put him in a hospital or find him a doctor
that will make him better. But to expect a town, state or even federal
government to protect someone from everything, especially something they
might do to themselves is insane. The police department isn't welfare,
here to rescue people from themselves, or even find them when they don't
want to be found. It is not our function to put out every police car to
search every street looking for missing people, especially when those
people are like your uncle and want to be missing. Without evidence that
a crime has been committed or the threat that a crime might be
committed, the police are helpless."
Graves said we in America lived in a free society and that under the
constitution, people had the right to go where they wanted and when they
wanted without interference by legal authorities.
"And that's true even if family members want them found," Graves said.
"You have no more right to restrict your uncle's freedoms than I do, and
you have no right to demand that the police department do so"
And this said in 1985 about my uncle could well be said again at the end
of 1996 about Sue. And though Floyd threatened to press charges against
me, and Joel began to stir up sources to prove Sue dead, her history
showed she had muddied the water herself, making it impossible to know
for certain whether she was alive or dead. But by pointing this out, by
telling the truth about her past, me, O'Keefe and others were providing
Floyd with one last chance at hope, the chance that Sue may indeed have
faked her own demise and was out there somewhere, waiting, watching,
perhaps even laughing, but alive. And by years end, she may indeed, have
been rubbing her hands in anticipation of how her life would be painted
on national TV.
Obstruction of Justice