A stripper-turned-investigative reporter is missing and some think the disappearance is tied to the Russian Mafia.
Weight: 110 lbs.
Hair: Bleached blonde
Defining Characteristics: Scar on her right wrist
Remarks: Last seen 7/16/96
On July 16, 1996, Susan Walsh of Nutley, New Jersey, was in a hurry. She dropped off her son, David, with her estranged husband. She said she needed to make some phone calls and run a few errands. But Susan never returned. Police believe Susan Walsh simply chose to disappear. Others fear she may have met an untimely end.
She was proud of her work in the book
Susan grew up in a broken home. By most accounts, it was a bitter childhood. Still, Susan dreamed of being a poet. By the time she turned 20, she was far from her dream. She was, instead, a substance abuser supporting herself as a stripper. Still, she kept her hopes alive, using her dancing tips to pay her way through college. By the time she graduated in 1988, she’d traded stripping for a writing career.
According to Susan’s friend, Melissa Hines, Susan had been sober for over four years when she got married and became a devoted mother.
“Susan loved her son very much and she was always there for her son. The two things that meant a lot to her were her son and her career as a journalist.”
Eventually, she and her husband separated. Her writing jobs didn’t pay enough to support her son. According to journalist James Ridgeway, she went back to stripping, unable to resist the easy money:
“Susan would say she was like an addict and the whole sex business was kind of like an addiction and she was trying to break this addiction. She’ll talk endlessly on an intellectual level against dancing. And sometimes with great articulation you know, you feel like this is very profound stuff. And then you know, she’s out there doing it.”
Did Susan leave on her own
Eventually, Susan landed an internship at New York’s alternative newspaper, The Village Voice. Because of her background as a stripper, she was assigned to research the sex industry. She soon turned up a hot story: Russian mobsters in New Jersey were allegedly forcing young immigrant women to work like slaves in strip clubs. James Ridgeway described Susan as dogged in her work:
“Susan was a fantastic researcher. She really poured herself into this. She spent hour after hour, day after day. Then she got in this situation where some of the people were alleged to be in organized crime. The managers of these clubs began to side with the Russian women against the Russian manager, so it was like the two mobs meet. And Susan, then of course, loved this thing and she got right in the middle of it.”
Her lifestyle may have played a part
Susan earned praise for her Russian mob article, but she also received serious threats when it was published. But that didn’t stop her from taking another dark assignment, this time investigating vampire nightclubs. These clubs attracted kids who called themselves “Goths.” They were known for their outrageous black outfits. But some took it further, even drinking real blood.
Susan was attracted to the vampire world. She even started dating a man who claimed to be one of the undead. According to James Ridgeway, Susan wrote a detailed article, but she seemed to lose her journalistic objectivity:
“She believed a lot of the things that these guys were telling her, about how there were secret murders and so on and so forth in the vampire world. She would come and say to me, ‘I met these two guys and they got this van and it’s very scary and I don’t know whether I should go in their van.’ So I said, ‘Hey look, don’t go in the van, because they might not be vampires, you know’.”
Mobsters may have been involved
To Susan’s disappointment, The Village Voice never ran her vampire story. She went back to dancing full time. In a documentary made by a friend, Susan talked about the toll stripping had taken on her life:
“It’s draining me. I’ve been in it four and a half years, four years too long, I’d say, and I’m stuck in this conundrum because I feel so drained. And I’m damaged right now, I will admit that, very damaged from this business. I’m hurting very bad.”
Filmmaker Jill Morley was with Susan two days before she disappeared:
“She said she had bronchitis, emphysema, and an ulcer. She said she’d been in the hospital twice that week. She talked about her mood swings and being depressed and about just holding on to live.”
Forty-eight hours after Jill last saw her, Susan disappeared. Did she collapse because of her depression and poor health? Or was she out there somewhere, waiting for help? Susan’s friends had to consider darker theories. James Ridgeway said he believed Susan had become addicted to drugs:
“I think she went out and probably called somebody to come and get her and then she went and she may very well have O.D.ed. And she may very well have O.D.ed in the presence of someone who knew her and was frightened to do anything about it.”
Det. John Rhein of the Nutley, New Jersey Police Department, said that the police have a completely different theory:
“I believe Susan Walsh is alive. For some unknown reason to me at this time, she opted to leave her family and home, which she has a perfect right to do.”
A number of people, including an old friend, Melissa Hines, told the police that they saw Susan after she disappeared, getting into a limousine:
“I definitely think it was her. I’m positive that I saw Susan a month after she disappeared.”
Det. Rhein followed up on Melissa’s information:
“A license plate number that Melissa Hines provided to us, we did track down, we spoke to the owner and operator of that vehicle. He had been with a woman fitting the description of Susan. He did view photographs and felt he was pretty sure that it had been her. But again, we had no positive identification of Susan Walsh at that time.”
Melissa believes that if Susan is alive, she may be deliberately hiding out:
“Susan definitely felt that she was in danger. She was scared for her life and I think she was also feared her son’s life could be in danger too. Susan actually told me that she wasn’t going to make it in the next year. She felt that she was going to be killed.”
Floyd Merchant is Susan’s father:
“I believe there is a chance that the mob was after her. People in organized crime were concerned that Susan had information that would send them to jail. According to Susan, that was the case.”
Melissa Hines believes someone was following Susan:
“I thought at first that it was just her imagination, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I would see cars follow her, both of us, people follow my car, she was in my car. So definitely, somebody was stalking her.”
Who was it that could have been following Susan? No one knows. But now, years after she vanished, police believe she was murdered and the case remains open.
Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season nine with Robert Stack and in season four with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.
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