No Expectations

 

 

By this time -- and partly inspired by the attention Unsolved Mysteries

had brought to The Susan Walsh Story -- Joel Lewis was deeply immersed

in the project, traveling throughout the area to meet with Sue's former

classmates and professors. He talked frequently to me on the telephone

about his discoveries, gloating over the details like a miser over gold.

 

 

"I hope my editors will let me publish some of these juicer pieces,"

Joel said, little imagining that his work was in vain and that the

editors at New Jersey Monthly were already having second thoughts.

 

When Joel turned in his first draft, they came back to him with so many

revisions, he nearly dropped the project. They also requested that he

expand the scope of his inquiry to include interview Sue's father,

Floyd, which he had failed to do, as well as interview James Ridgeway.

 

Those of us who believed Sue would make a triumphant return after she

got her 15-minutes of fame on Unsolved Mysteries were sorely

disappointed. Not only didn't she appear, but she seemed to vanish even

more thoroughly than before. We heard of no more Sue sightings in

Newark, and Ron Weissman, the man we believed to have worked hand in

hand with Sue in covering her tracks, also dropped out of sight.

 

The national spotlight had moved on, leaving Sue and her story once more

in the dark. For most part, both Nutley weeklies fell silent on the

matter. O'Keefe, of the Nutley Journal, vowed to keep silent in order to

quell the media hype Sue's vanishing had brought. But he could not

explain why his competition as the Nutley Sun had suddenly grown quiet,

too.

 

On April 14, 1997, the Star Ledger, however, did a short follow-up piece

on Sue's vanishing.

 

"Each morning when the alarm clock goes off, Floyd Merchant is reminded

that his daughter is still missing," wrote Catherine Coscarelli. "And

every morning he gets up, gets dressed and heads to school. Because he

says, he knows it is the best thing to do."

 

Floyd, as Joel indicated earlier to me, was at that moment finishing up

graduate work in psychology, another pop-psychologist like Joel let

loose on the unsuspecting world, trying to shape reality into a list of

rules, that proverbial square peg in a round hole. This was a common

phenomena. Many people, dealing with deep psychological turmoil, often

sought out study as a means of coping with the emotional roller coaster.

Some of the most screwed up people I knew became psychologists, and

thus, like faith healers, believed they had a better handle on the

world, capable of explaining away the problems they struggled to deal

with before their sudden psychological rebirth.

 

"He is a father trying to cope with [the] loss of his daughter, who left

home on a hot July afternoon and disappeared without a trace,"

Coscarelli wrote.

 

"I'm just trying to patch my life up a little bit," Floyd told

Coscarelli. "I let things go really bad."

 

Floyd, one of the few honestly good people in the Susan Walsh Story, was

shattered by his daughter's disappearance.

 

"He said that now he is devoting his energy to putting himself back

together, so that he can continue to search for answers as to his

daughter's whereabouts," Conscarelli wrote. "Despite two national

television shows that highlighted the missing go-go

dancer-turned-journalist, and the countless hours searching by family,

co-workers and friends, there are still no answers."

 

Actually, Sue had starred already in three or four national forums. NBC

had aired her story in August, 1996, making her out as a possible victim

of vampires. In March, Sue joined a host of other missing persons on a

Geraldo Rivera show. Sandy Tolan, in an effort to help Sue, had run a

pretty extensive piece on Nation Public Radio.

 

Yet despite all this, and friends spending many hours searching for her,

no one seems to know what happened to her, Coscarelli wrote.

 

Leads to her whereabouts have been at best, sporadic, said John Reddon,

Essex County assistant prosecutor. The Nutley police, despite

accusations to the contrary, have kept the case open. But according to

the police, they had uncovered no solid leads as to where she had gone.

 

Reddon said the Jan. 31 airing of Unsolved Mysteries that told the

missing woman's tale turned up few leads. Even the Geraldo's March 10

show which included a profile of Sue failed to produce the desired

results.

 

But the airings may have had a profound affect on book sales. Daniel

Power, of Powerhouse Books, said by April, the books had sole more than

75,000 copies internationally, receiving a favorable review from Susan

Faludi -- author of the equally controversial "Backlashad

 

But such sales did no more to generate reports on Sue than the TV

programs did.

 

"I have not gotten any calls from anybody on this case," James Ridgeway

told Coscarelli.

 

The article did continue to push the idea that Sue was depressed before

she left, though did not highlight the fact she may have also been angry

at Ridgeway -- for his allegedly refusal to give her credit as author.

 

Floyd told Coscarelli he believed she might be dead.

 

"I had hopes, and as time went on, my hopes didn't last because I knew

how sick she was before she disappeared," he said.

 

Melissa also agreed at this point that Sue was likely dead.

 

"There is no way she would have left her son behind," Melissa told

Coscarelli. "I don't fell she is alive."

 

Yet both Floyd and Melissa vowed to keep searching.

 

"I'm still going to look for her," Melissa said. "If I see someone who

looks like her, I go around the corner and hope that she's out there.

Not knowing is more painful than if she were dead."

 

Finally, in one of its two May editions, the Village Voice actually

printed a story on Sue's disappearance. They had been so silent for so

long on the issue, I wondered why. In a story, not authored by Ridgeway,

but by David Holmberg, Sue was labeled "a burned-out go-go dancers and

aspiring writer."

 

"As Summer approachers the police in Nutley ... seem to be no closer to

solving the case," Holmberg wrote. "Recently, they pursued another false

lead that 36-year old Walsh had been seen in Middlesex County, but are

now just about alone in clinging to the notion that she is alive, that

she is out there somewhere, perhaps in the New York area, or in another

part of the country."

 

This article stated numerous assumptions as fact in an apparent attempt

to be the last and official word on Sue's demise. Holmburg said "Walsh

was an alcoholic and prescription drug user who was addicted at the time

of her disappearance," when in fact, Sue was a self-declared alcoholic

who claimed she suffered a bi-polar disease and addiction to Xanax.

 

Holmberg interviewed Jill Morley, "another dancer with literary

aspirations" who claimed to be "a good friend."

 

"More and more, I've come to believe she's dead," Morley told Holmberg.

 

Time, with Morley, seemed to be the critical factor. If Sue was alive,

how could she stay out in the cold for so long, especially if she was

ill.

 

"Morley theorized that she may have overdosed on a combination of pills

and alcoholic in a motel room, and if someone was with her that person

may have dumped the body in a panic," Holmburg wrote. "Or Walsh maybe

have been murdered."

 

Morley worked with Sandy Tolan for the Public Radio broadcast of the

Susan Walsh story which appeared on This American Life. Morley has al

Life. Morley has also written about her own experiences as a dancer in a

series of short stories (and may have contributed much to Sue's work in

Red Light -- though wi

 

Morley pursued Sue's case and even interviewed someone who said to have

seen her two days before the disappearance, deciding that he was not a

suspect -- ignoring the fact that many people saw Sue before she

disappeared.

 

"That's a typical conclusion: those under any kind of suspicion have

quickly faded as possibilities," wrote Holmburg. "Perhaps one of the

reasons why the Nutley police have persisted in pushing the now

implausible theory Walsh took off on her own."

 

This bit of editorial by Holmberg poses the question of just how

objective the Village Voice could be in this matter, when Sue's

disappearance highlights the unethical use of interns by their favorite

son, Ridgeway. Why did the Village Voice wait so long to write anything

about Sue's vanishing? Why were they stirring over the coals of the

scene nearly a year later? Why were they insisting on accepting as facts

information which has still not been proven?

 

Implausible? Says who?

 

"I think the general feeling is that this girl's elected to slip out of

sight," said Nutley police chief Robert Delitta in February. In May,

after one more false lead, the chief said "the case is pretty dried up

at this point."

 

The article, however, did reveal some new aspects.

 

In March, Floyd hired a former Manhattan police detective, Pat Barry, to

look into the matter. After two weeks looking into the details, Barry

refused to discuss the case, but said he was working on a strong lead.

 

"If I don't solve it by the end of next week," he said on March 5, "I'll

have to expand the investigation."

 

The perfect scenario for paranoid Sue who had practically learned to

read by studying Abbie Hoffman books, who had lived her life in the

belief that someone was out to get her, who had adopted a standard of

behavior designed to throw off pursuit. Now, finally, after years of

waiting, after years of patient practice, someone actually was pursuing

her -- and the poor detective didn't stand a chance.

 

By the end of April, Floyd told the Voice that Barry "was no longer on

the case," and that he would probably replace him.

 

"Asked if he has any hope that his daughter is still alive," Holmberg

wrote. "Merchant replied: I don't have much."

 

Morley, who -- if in as close contact with Sue in the past as she

claimed -- was filled with the same paranoid schemes Sue sold to every

one of her close friends, told Holmberg, she had gone as far as she

could in searching for the truth about Sue.

 

"She (Morley) fears that if she digs much deeper, she could be in danger

herself," Holmberg wrote. "And she has a strong desire to accomplish

what Walsh could not: to stay away from dancer for good. She and Walsh

had similar experience, but Morley said, she's tried to look at dancers

and the sex industry from a human perspective, with a minimum of

judgmental hostility.

 

"Her (Sue's) stories (about dancing) were angrier than mine," Morley

said. "She's more man-hating than me."

 

An underground Sue

 


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