July 16, 1996: Disappearance of Investigative Journalist Susan Walsh


WHAT HAPPENED? (1)


Born February 18, 1960, Susan Walsh was a freelance journalist from Nutley, New Jersey who went missing on July 16, 1996 from outside of her home. Her disappearance captured a lot of media attention, especially once various media outlets reported that her disappearance may have been linked to the Russian mafia, or New York City's underground vampire community, as she was investigating both while working as a journalist.


Her disappearance has been covered in a 1997 Unsolved Mysteries episode and a 2012 Disappeared episode, as well as a book about the NYC vampire community. However, despite all sorts of media coverage through various mediums, she has never been found.

ABOUT SUSAN WALSH


Susan aspired to be a writer, specifically a poet, from a young age. She studied English and writing at William Paterson University and worked as a journalist for the university's newspaper. (1)


During her time in college, and intermittently afterward, she also worked as an erotic dancer and stripper to make some extra money. She also struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse, but despite this, she graduated in 1988 with her bachelor's degree and began working as a writer for various publications. (1)


Before graduation, in 1984, she married Mark Walsh, brother of famous rock musician Joe Walsh. They had a son together in 1985. (1)


Despite struggling with alcoholism, she celebrated being 11 years sober in 1996, the year she went missing. However, according to her friends and family, she began drinking again shortly before her disappearance, and would use prescription drugs such as Xanax. She was hospitalized a few times for ulcers that she chalked up to emphysema. Friends and family also believed that she had bipolar disorder and may have been depressed at the time of her disappearance. They also claim that she may have attempted suicide before she went missing. (2)


At the time of her disappearance, she was a freelance journalist working for Screw Magazine and The Village Voice, where she was investigating both the Russian mafia and the underground vampire community in New York City. Also at the time of her disappearance she had been separated from her husband for a few years. (1)

DISAPPEARANCE, AND EVENTS LEADING UP TO IT (2)


In the morning of July 16, 1996, Susan left her 12-year-old in the care of Mark, her estranged husband. Though they did not live together, they were living in the same apartment complex at the time. She told Mark she would be back in about a half an hour and left, leaving her pager, wallet, and other personal effects in her home. She did not tell Mark where she was going. She was never seen again.


At the time she went missing, on top of her journalism work, she was also enrolled in a master's degree program at NYU. Things had begun to spiral a little bit in the early 1990s when her marriage began to fall apart, and she returned to exotic dancing for a period of time. Her career also began to fall apart, and her job at The Village Voice was actually an internship to try to get back into the business.


One of her stories was focusing on the sex industry, which lead her to a story about Russian organized crime figures forcing young women into dancing and sex clubs in New York City. But despite the success of the article and the praise she received, she became paranoid, believing she was being stalked by the very organized crime members she had written about.


Still trying to catch an interesting story, she began to cover the vampire club's growing popularity in New York City, becoming entranced with the culture during her research and actually dating a man who claimed that he was, in fact, a vampire. However, her story was rejected by editors as they believed she had become too involved with the underground scene to prepare an objective piece.


Susan was featured in a documentary by her friend, Jill Morley, called Stripped where she talked about exotic dancing. She claimed that she loved the money and the lifestyle, but slowly became disenchanted with the job, first hating the patrons and then hating the profession as a whole. Morley claimed that in 1996, Susan stopped taking her medications for bipolar disorder and would self-medicate with Xanax.


But she continued working, landing the primary researcher for a book about the sex industry in June 1996. But James Ridgeway, one of the authors of the book, said he became concerned about Susan's health, noticing her wrists bandaged up and her affinity for drugs and alcohol.


Her career was heading in the right direction, but in the summer of 1996, she returned to stripping. Friends claim they could tell she was going through a lot of personal problems at the time, but assumed that she would get through it eventually.


When she went missing, many immediately suspected Russian organized crime was involved. Morley even questioned some Russian dancers in New York clubs about her disappearance, but nothing came of it. Peers in the exotic dancing industry believed that she was likely the target of an organized crime hit, but no actual evidence exists to support the theory.


Like in most adult disappearances surrounded by mystery, there is a question of if she vanished on her own accord. However, all of those close to Susan insist that she would never voluntarily leave her son behind.

THE INVESTIGATION (1)


To do their due diligence, as it is often the husband in these cases, the police question Mark but quickly ruled him out as a suspect.


While searching her home, investigators found that the entire month of July had been ripped out of her calendar in her apartment, but beyond that, there were no clues. They investigated leads re: the Russian mafia, understanding that her story about young Russian girls being forced into the sex industry could have ruffled some feathers. They also investigated the vampire community, but were not able to establish a connection between either story and her disappearance.


Susan's interview had been recorded on July 14 for Morley's film, and in it, she claimed she had a stalker. She had also recently hired herself out to a German documentary team who were making a film about Russian immigrants becoming go-go dancers.


Susan had told a former boyfriend that one of her ex-boyfriends had been stalking her. Additionally, her husband refused to allow police to perform any forensic testing of her home. Despite these slightly suspicious actions, nobody has ever been arrested in relation to her disappearance.

THEORIES


In 2006, an article in the New York Post was published that provided some updates on the case, 10 years later. The police had re-interviewed some of the key players involved, and shared that they are pretty sure she was murdered. (3)


They re-interviewed Mark Walsh, who they maintained was not a suspect but still, he refused to allow forensic testing on the apartment. In 2006, they had planned to scour the reservoir behind Mark's dad's house nearby. (3)


Additionally, they spoke to her live-in boyfriend Christian Pepo, whom she had told she was being harassed and stalked by her crazy ex-boyfriend, Billy Walker. At the time, police did not do anything to protect her from him. He was a coke addict, in a biker gang, and had written a confession about chopping up bodies from the mob. And perhaps most importantly, he had called her repeatedly leading up to her disappearance. However, she wasn't entirely trying to get rid of him, as she started doing drugs and having sex with him in the time leading up to her disappearance. (3)


Despite their seemingly being on good terms, she apparently had a restraining order against him, and had told Christian that she was going to get the mobsters she knew from the strip club to kill him. He claimed that he warned her not to, as they might kill her too, but allegedly, she didn't listen. (3)


Unfortunately, these further developments and enthusiasm from the police to find her never panned out. And thus, people are left to theorize: what happened to Susan Walsh?


One plausible explanation is that she committed suicide. Though family and friends believe that she would have never left her son, vanishing and leaving him behind to start a new life and committing suicide are very different actions. Given that she left her things behind, left her son safely with his father, and had begun spiraling with drinking, drugs and stripping leading up to the mystery, it makes sense that she may have decided to end her life. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was not on medications, and thus, her depression may have taken over. However, where is her body? And why are the police so sure that she was murdered? (4)


Another plausible, and popular, theory is that she was targeted by the Russian mob. Perhaps because she approached them to try to off her creepy ex-boyfriend, but more than likely because she had exposed some of them in her article. To expose their involvement in the sex industry, and then to continue working in said industry and reporting on it might have just put her in harm's way, and someone decided they needed to take her out. However, she did at least seem to leave on her own accord originally, so unless they had plans to meet her and she was asked to leave her personal items behind, it seems less likely... what are the chances they'd kill her in some random attack when she had just happened to drop her son off and leave everything behind? (4)


Like one Redditor says, "this one is frustrating because it's one of those cases where she could have chosen to vanish, and could conceivably still be alive wherever she ended up." And it's very true. She could have been killed when she stumbled into the deep underbelly of organized crime. She could have overdosed. She could have committed suicide. She could have vanished on her own accord because of her mental illness, or because she believed she was in danger. She could have been forced into disappearance by organized crime figures and still be alive somewhere. Her ex-boyfriend could have snapped and killed her. Hell, her estranged husband could have killed her. Everything sounds just as plausible. (4)


One interesting theory is that her husband did it. So, I said earlier that the couple lived in the same apartment complex, but it appears they lived kind of in the same apartment. (This post is from someone who claims to live in Nutley and claims to know Mark's brother - not the rockstar one.) (4)


Anyway, Susan and their son, David, lived upstairs and David lived in the basement apartment downstairs. It doesn't appear that they were in the same unit, but more of a top floor unit and bottom floor unit situation. (Meaning, I don't think they were just separated by a staircase.) Mark only really had a bed, dresser, and phone downstairs. As such, Susan would often come downstairs to use his phone, but he would not let her use it to call boyfriends or drug dealers. In exchange for use of the phone, he would be allowed to come upstairs to the kitchen to cook meals. According to this comment, all of this is just true about the set up of their home and their living arrangement, not theory. (4)


The theory is that she had asked to use his phone, but he refused and they got into a huge argument. He told her no, go use the payphone across the street. Now, in the widely accepted version of events shared by her husband, this is where she "dropped her son off" and left everything behind to go somewhere for a half hour. But in this version, she went and made her call and then returned. Upon her return, they continued arguing. And, in a fit of rage, he hit her over the head with a frying pan and killed her. (4)


Now, it may seem a little crazy, but understand that it isn't deferring from a 100% true set of events. Her last moments were told to the police by Mark, so he certainly could have lied to cover up what had happened. Later that night, he disposed of the body, and then reported her missing the next day, explaining, again, the widely accepted turn of events. Further, the poster claims that Mark showed him a new frying pan he had just bought a week before the disappearance, and when he saw him after, he noted the frying pan wasn't there. The poster claims the brother went to the police, but nothing ever came of it. (4)


Again, a little bit out there, but it wouldn't be the first husband to murder his wife in a fit of rage. Added with the fact that he refused forensics in the home, it seems at least not implausible that he had something to do with it. It also makes sense that she did go back home. Being kidnapped off the street may have drawn some attention, given it was the early morning. Wandering off in an overdosed or depressed haze might have drawn some attention. What is more likely, I think, is she returned to the home.


I think the main 3 theories are that she became a victim because of one of the stories she had written, she was a victim of murder at the hands of someone she knew, or she disappeared on her own accord, be it vanishing or committing suicide. And all of these sound equally as likely.


It has now been 24 years since Susan Walsh walked away from her front door and was never seen again, and police are really just as close to finding what happened today as they were on July 16, 1996. This case is a really bizarre one, and I really hope closure is found at some point.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Walsh_(missing_person)

2. http://charleyproject.org/case/susan-walsh

3. https://nypost.com/2006/07/16/96-stripper-vanish-clue/

4.https://www.reddit.com/r/UnresolvedMysteries/comments/azmaei/susan_walsh_missing_case/?sort=top


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