035 - The Disappearance of Suzanne Lyall
Suzanne Gloria Lyall was born on April; 6th, 1978 in Saratoga Springs, New York. Saratoga Springs sits in Saratoga County, and is a popular attraction for tourists and travelers seeking out the mineral springs located in the area. Just south of Saratoga Springs is Ballston Spa, the county seat of Saratoga County, a small village with a population of less than 6,000. The village itself sits on the border between two towns, Ballston and Milton, making it sits partly in both towns. It was in Ballston Spa where Suzanne would be raised by her parents, Doug and Mary. Doug and Mary met seventh grade, while attending school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. They would go on to high school together, graduating in 1960, dating and eventually getting married. They later moved to Ballston Spa, where each had familial connections and memories. Doug had lived there for a period of time when he was nine years old, before moving to Massachusetts.
Suzanne was the baby of the family, being the third born to Doug and Mary after the middle child, her sister Sandy and her older brother Steve. Suzanne had been a surprise to her parents, who had only planned on having two children. When she came along, she was much more the junior to her older siblings with her brother being twelve and sister nine at the time of her birth. Her siblings described her as the darling of the family, as the last child often is considered the baby throughout their life and that’s a moniker and state of mind that never really goes away. According to family and friends, everyone referred to her as Suzy from a young age and it stuck throughout her life. She was described as an incredibly sharp child, even at a young age, her intelligence was clear. Suzy’s mother, Mary, would later state “Suzy was someone who was very intelligent right from day one. I know mothers always say that about their children. I never thought about it but my husband said ‘theres something about her that is so different than the other kids.’”
Being so much younger than her siblings, her older brother Steven took on a secondary father role to her. They were extremely close and Suzy adored her older brother, while he took it as his responsibility to look out for her. When she was very young, Steven added a baby seat to his bike so that he could take her around the neighborhood when he ran his paper route. When Suzy got a little older, it was Steven who took her to concerts and often picked her up from school. He took it as his duty to take care of her and to make sure she was safe, and in a way, she was his closest friend. Steven was very shy, and had a small circle of friends, and Suzy may have taken on some of her older brothers disposition, growing up to be somewhat shy and socially awkward herself.
At a young age she took up a passion for computers, which would remain present throughout the rest of her life. Her family, and even teachers, would turn to Suzy for help when their computers weren’t working properly or they needed help figuring out a particular program. It came as second nature to her, and she heavily indulged in her love for technology. She was building and upgrading computers as a child, learning complex programs and even working on some of her own. If there was anything else in her life for which she had a mutual passion it was poetry, for which she seemed to have a gift. Suzy was prolific in her writing, and wrote complex and profound poetry which spoke of a young woman who was very in touch with her emotions and her perspective on the world.
Growing up in the 1980’s, not many girls Suzy’s age were as drawn to computers as she was. A self professed geek, she could hang with the boys when it came to technology and, in most cases, was far superior to them in her knowledge and acumen. However, the life of a young, beautiful computer geek wasn’t always easy. Though she found herself very open to that world, she was shy and withdrawn in person. She didn’t have a large social circle, and was described by many as being more shy and cerebral. She paid attention to those around her, and had a keen sense of the way people behaved in social interactions, but she herself was a little too shy to put herself out there. Her poetry, in a sense, became her closest friend.
While other girls her age were talking on the phone and sharing their secrets, Suzy kept hers written down on endless notebook pages. Her father, Doug, would later describe Suzy’s love of poetry by saying “I think it was a therapeutic way of dealing with some of the problems she was facing with her day to day social relationships.” Suzy’s mother often tells a story about Suzy, in the middle of a shower, with her hair soaking wet and shampoo still sitting in it, running out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around herself. When she was asked what she was doing, she explained that the inspiration for a poem had struck her and she needed to get it down on paper before she lost the idea.
Despite her difficulty with the socialization processes of middle school, and later high school, Suzy found other outlets to meet people and express herself. In the infancy of the internet, before the dawn of chatrooms and the social explosion of platforms like America Online, Suzy frequented online bulletin board sites, and specifically those which revolved around the local scene of Bollston Spa. Here she could be herself, expressing her thoughts and ideas without feeling the pressure of face to face interactions. One day, while talking on the board, she was invited to a local coffee shop where several teenagers had weekly computer club meetings. Suzy’s mother felt awkward about her teenage daughter going out to meet a group of strangers from the internet, and in order to make her feel better, Doug took his daughter.
The group was led by a young man named Rirchard Condon. A tech savy young man who may have been the only one who could meet, or even exceed, Suzy in her knowledge and skill with a computer, there was an immediate attraction on his side. At this time, Suzy was sixteen years old and Richard was seventeen. Well spoken, polite and mature beyond his age, Richard quickly developed a friendship with Richard. She impressed him with her knowledge and computer skills, and from that day forward, he pursued a relationship. While Suzy was initially hesitant and disinterested, time eventually wore her down and she found herself developing feelings. Several months after meeting, the two began dating and for the most part, it was your typical teenage romance. There were good times, happy memories and fights and emotional turmoil. It was young love, as most have experienced it.
Suzy would go on to be a straight A student, graduating from Bolston Spa High School with honors in 1996. Initially, her plan was to attend school at the State University of New York, or SUNY, Oneonta. SUNY Oneonta was located nearly one hundred miles away, approximately a two hour drive south of Ballston Spa. Her mother, having seen her two older children attend college, was in favor of Suzy being away from home and getting some good experience out in the world. After two semesters, Suzy expressed her interest in transferring. She told her parents that Oneonta simply wasn’t academically challenging her in her field, computer science, and that she knew more than her teachers and could have taught the classes herself. Her new target was SUNY Albany, located approximately thirty miles south of Ballston Spa and a little over a thirty minute drive away.
Interestingly, Mary has stated in multiple interviews that she wasn’t in favor of the transfer. She wanted Suzy to remain further away and to not have the ability to fallback on her parents, she knew it was important for her daughter to have to socialize more and get out there on her own. There may, however, have been another reason. Suzy had confided to her mother that she and Richard weren’t getting along well, and Mary has stated that Suzy tried to end the relationship multiple times. According to Mary, Suzy would write Richard a letter, explaining that things needed to end, and within minutes of him reading it, the phone would be ringing and he’d talk Suzy into staying. Suzy was a tender hearted young woman and didn’t want to hurt Richard, and Mary felt that Richard used that to his advantage and played upon her emotions to stay with him. The two had been together for three years at this point, and Mary feared that Suzy’s transfer, while partially academically inspired, may have also been the result of Richard trying to get Suzy closer to him.
Ultimately, Suzy makes her transfer and begins her Sophomore year in Albany. She seems much more pleased with the state of her classes, and the campus itself. Though her proximity to home is much closer, she doesn’t return for visits frequently, staying focused on her studies. While living on campus, she gets two part time jobs. One at a computer company in Troy, New York. The other, not too far from campus, at a software store called Babbages. The store is located in the Crossgates Mall, approximately two miles west of campus in Guilderland. She takes the bus from campus, to the mall for her shifts and then takes the number twelve bus back to campus where she is dropped off not too far from her dorm. She seems to enjoy her job there, and becomes friendly with her boss, Garlind Nelson. Garlind described Suzy as a very smart girl who was hard working, dependable and mostly kept to herself. The nineteen year old is making her way in the world, balancing work, school, a boyfriend and her frequent computer activities with relative ease.
In February of 1998, Mary is driving with Suzy to her grandmothers for a visit. Suzy’s grandmother didn’t live very far from Richard’s home, and so along the way, Suzy asks her mother to stop so she can drop something off with Richard. Being that Valentines day was just a few days away, Mary assumes that Suzy wants to deliver a card. It wouldn’t be until later, reflecting on that days happenings, that Mary began to question things. Though she has no evidence to base it on, Mary can’t help but feel there is the possibility that Suzy has met someone new, and she speculates whether or not it was in fact a Valentines card, or perhaps a dear John letter. She describes the moments of stopping at Richard’s house as tense, though Suzy doesn’t explain and Mary never asked. Less than a month later, Suzy would vanish without a trace.
Suzy has been described as a creature of habbit. According to her family, she was frequently in contact and rarely went anywhere without them or Richard knowing. Every night, when she returned to her dorm room, she would either place a phone call or send out emails explaining that she was home and getting ready to study or head to bed. Often times she and Richard would communicate through emails after she arrived, and her parents were often recipients of emails as well. Sometime, on Monday, March 2nd, Suzy stops by a mailbox and drops in a card. It’s her mother’s birthday, and she sends out a card wishing her a good birthday and tells her that she loves her. What neither of them know is that Suzy will not return to her dorm that night, and by the next day, she will be reported missing.
The events of Monday, March 2nd, are fairly well outlined. It is known that Suzy had a mid-term that morning, one for which she had been greatly concerned. In order to maintain her impressive grade point average, she had to nail it, and while she was an extremely intelligent woman, she took her studies incredibly serious and wasn’t beyond worrying over a text. Her boss at Babbages, in a later interview, recalled that in the days leading up to the mid-term, Suzy was more nervous than usual and seemed stressed out. She explained to him that she needed to get more studying done, and was hoping that she wasn’t missing out on a good score by sacrificing time to come into work. Garlind later says that he told Suzy she would do fine, and that she shouldn’t stress herself out about it so much.
That afternoon, Suzy heads across campus with her bag. According to Mary, Suzy often wore her street clothes to work, would arrive early, and would change into her uniform there, not wanting to walk around campus dressed for work all the time. She boards a bus and heads towards the Crossgates Mall. Her shift begins at 4pm, and according to Garlind, she arrived a little early, as was her normal procedure, and changed before getting down to her daily tasks. Garlind has said that he asked Suzy how the mid-term went, and she seemed a little unsure, but ultimately thought she did all right on it. Garlind congratulated her, and explained a few additional duties he wanted her to perform that evening. His shift ended before hers, and so he left later in the evening, telling her that he would see her the next day. For the most part, it was an average day, with nothing out of the ordinary. Suzy had another mid-term the next day, though she seemed less concerned about it. Suzy left work shortly after 9pm, and would typically catch the number twelve bus, arriving back at campus at approximately 9:45pm. Her dorm was a short walk, approximately three to five minutes, from the bus stop, but on this night, Suzy never makes it back to her dorm.
The next morning, on Tuesday, March 3rd, Mary and Doug are getting ready to go out to lunch with their son, Steven. The previous day was Mary’s birthday, and Steven made arrangements to take her out to lunch to celebrate. While they are getting prepared, the phone rings and Mary answers. It’s Richard Condon, and he seems very concerned. In an interview, Mary stated “I was getting myself ready and I got the phone call and it was Rich and he said ‘Did you know Suzy didn’t come back to campus last night?’” Immediately concerned, Mary puts Doug on the phone. Richard explains that he hadn’t heard from Suzy the night before and multiple emails he has sent have gone unanswered. He also says that he called the phone in her dorm several times, but received no answer. Both Doug and Mary are aware that it is incredibly unlike Suzy to not be in contact and so Doug hangs up and calls Campus Police, asking if they can check for Suzy.
Campus police contacted a Resident Advisor in the Colonial Quad Dorm where Suzy lived and asked him to check her room. After gaining access, the RA found nothing out of the ordinary. Mary would later say in an interview “When the dorm was looked at later it looked as if she was coming back. Her hair dryer was on the bed, all her personal items were still there… she had money on top of her desk, change.” Since she could not be located in her dorm room, Campus security pulled up her schedule and sent an officer to her next class that day, but Suzy never arrived for it. Growing with concern, Doug leaves Mary home to wait by the phone while he makes the thirty minute drive to campus. He spends most of his afternoon in the campus security office, giving information about Suzy. He is told not to panic, it isn’t completely unheard of for a college student to get caught up in something and to be out of contact for a little while but Doug doesn’t accept this, explaining that Suzy is extremely punctual and maintains steady contact. Doug would also say “I knew something awful had happened. Suzy was not a risk taker. She didn’t party or use drugs or alcohol.”
Campus police began their investigation by going to Suzy’s suitemates at her dorm, as well as friends and coworkers. For the most part, no one seemed to have any information. When asked if Suzy had returned to the dorm the night before, no one could recall seeing her. Despite this, they believed she did not return. They explained to the security officer that Suzy had a lot of keys on her keychain and when she came home, even if they didn’t see her, they always heard her keys loudly jingling in the hallway but none of them reported hearing that sound the night before. When Garlind Nelson arrived at Babbages on Tuesday for his shift, he was informed that Suzy was missing. He didn’t initially think much of it, assuming that Suzy was a typical college student and may have wanted some time to herself after dealing with her mid-terms. He did, however, contact the mall’s security office and ask if they noticed anything out of the ordinary, which they had not.
Mall employees often left through back exits, into a dimly lit section behind the mall where the bus stop was nearby. According to security, Suzy had left at approximately 9:20pm and headed for that bus stop. There were no reports of screams, a struggle or anything to suggest that Suzy could have gotten into any trouble while on the property. Authorities would later speak to Garlind and mall security, but they would find no information there to suggest that anything unusual had happened while she was at work, or during the process of leaving. In a bizarre set of circumstances which brings additional pain to Suzy’s mother, the birthday card she mailed the day she vanished arrives in the mailbox. There isn’t much to the note written inside, simply Suzy wishing her mother a happy birthday. It’s at this moment, while Doug is on SUNY Albany’s campus, that Mary gets an idea.
At approximately 3:50pm on Tuesday, Mary places a call to the bank. Since Suzy’s home address is the family home, she has access to all of her bank statements. When she gets someone on the line, she asks for Suzy’s bank records over the past twenty-four hours, hoping to establish some kind of a timeline of Suzy’s comings and goings the previous day. As the bank representative is looking into the records, she makes an interesting discovery. Suzy’s ATM card had been used, within the last ten minutes. Unfortunately, the full record of the transaction isn’t readily available as it can take up to twenty-four hours for that information to post. The bank representative tells Mary that the card was used, and she will call her the next day with all of the information available. While Mary hoped for information much sooner, she gets off the phone and goes back to waiting. As day begins transforming into evening, Doug decides its time to leave Albany’s campus and heads home to be with Mary.
Early the next morning, the phone rings and it’s the bank. The woman explains to Mary that Suzy’s card had been used three times in the previous twenty-four hours. On Monday afternoon, Suzy used her debit card to withdraw $20 from an ATM located near the bus stop. Shortly after arriving at the Crossgates mall, she once again used her ATM card to withdraw another $20. The activity confuses Mary who describes Suzy as a frugal person who didn’t typically make multiple withdrawals, not wanting to pay the fee for using ATMs. She can’t help but wonder why Suzy would take out $20 and then less than an hour later make the same withdrawal. Those two transactions are believed to have been performed by Suzy herself, but then there is the activity which took place near 4pm on Tuesday, while Suzy was being searched for.
According to the banks records, Suzy’s ATM card was used at a convenience store, called Stewards, located approximately two miles from campus. Again, it was a withdrawal of $20 and the bank representative explains that the pin number was successfully entered on the first try, stating “The pin number was a direct hit on her card.” This would imply that either Suzy had used the card, or the person using her card knew her pin number. For a moment, this brings in hope that perhaps Suzy is out there and simply doesn’t know she has been reported missing.
While Mary is on the phone with the bank, Albany Campus Security is baffled by their inability to locate Suzy. Finally, they place a call to the New York State Police and report her as missing. Suzy’s parents are frustrated that they waited so long to make this call, feeling that it needed to be done the previous day. In a later interview, Doug would say of campus security “They do a good job, but if someone is missing they need to defer to the experts.” Officer John Camp, the senior investigator with the New York State Police Trooper G Major Crime Squad, is assigned to the case and immediately begins gathering information in hopes of finding Suzy. It is still early in the investigation, with Suzy known to be missing for approximately thirty-six hours. Officers are sent to the campus to question her suitemates and fellow students, others are dispatched to the mall while more still reach out to the local bus company hoping to track down Suzy’s travels that evening. One of Suzy’s co-workers is alleged to have told police that in the weeks leading up to March, Suzy confided in her that she was being stalked by an unknown male. The co-worker went on to specify that Suzy did not seemed scared of this individual, though this statement is hotly debated. It has been reported in several newspapers of the time but the co-worker has never been identified and her statement never corroborated.
The driver of the number twelve bus is shown a photo of Suzy and confirms that he picked her up at the bus stop near the Crossgates Mall the previous night at approximately 9:20pm. While he can confirm she boarded the bus, he can’t remember if she exited at the Collins Circle stop on campus, where Suzy would normally get off. He does, however, know that when he made his final stop downtown that evening, Suzy was no longer on board and did not exit at that stop. While canvassing campus, police locate a woman who knows Suzy. She reports that, the night Suzy vanished, she saw her exiting the bus at the Collins Circle stop at approximately 9:45pm. According to this woman, she knew Suzy in passing but they didn’t speak that evening. She is certain that it was in fact Suzy she saw exiting the bus that night and that she was not with anyone else. It should be noted that, on this particular night, the temperature was reported as having a low of 26 degrees which makes it unlikely that too many people would be hanging around outside in the cold.
This is the last official sighting of Suzy and places her within a three to five minute walk from her dorm, though it is debated. It should be noted that, while the woman stated that she was sure it was Suzy, others have argued that she could have been mistaken. There is no real way to verify her statements, and eyewitness accounts are often flawed. While investigators have chosen to consider this a solid lead, there is room for the possibility that Suzy was not the woman who stepped off the bus that night. At the time, key cards were used to gain entry to many buildings on SUNY Albany’s campus. Authorities pulled the records from that night and there was no record of Suzy swiping her card to gain access to any building after leaving that afternoon. Somewhere between the bus stop and the Colonial Quad Dorm, Suzy Lyall vanished without an explanation.
Officer Camp speaks with Suzy’s parents that morning, and Mary relays the information about her ATM card being used. Officers were sent to the convenience store to question the employees, though none of them remember seeing Suzy or anything suspicious at the time. There is a security camera inside the store, located above the cash registers, but unfortunately, the ATM is located out of the range of the camera. After pouring over the video, authorities take note of everyone in the store around the time the $20 was withdrawn. They see no one who resembles Suzy, and everyone on the video is accounted for as stopping at the cash register before leaving.
Everyone, except for one man. An African American male is seen entering the store. He is dressed in a jacket and has a black hat on, baring a white Nike swoosh symbol. Though the camera doesn’t capture him using the ATM due to an obstructed view, he is the only customer at that time who walks out of the frame of the camera and never approaches the counter. An artists sketch is drawn up and his image is circulated around the area as well as erected on billboards which also bare photos of Suzy. Police report that they are highly interested in speaking to him, and while he is not currently a suspect, they believe he could have information vital to their investigation. They dusted the ATM for fingerprints, though the machine was too frequently used to find any prints that were helpful to the case.
While authorities issue information regarding the individual who will become known as “Nike Man,” they also conduct interviews with Suzy’s family and friends. They attempt to gain a finer idea of who Suzy was, what her habits were and any places she may have gone if she wanted time alone. Her family is unable to assist much, believing that Suzy would be in contact with them if it were possible and they tell investigators that it is completely unlike her to simply not be within reach. Suzy’s brother Steven arrives at the family home to help with making phone calls and trying to locate Suzy. As the day progresses, he and Doug head down to Albany and spend hours driving around town and checking everywhere on campus hoping to find anything which may lead them in Suzy’s direction. Sadly, they find no information nor leads on her whereabouts. The one name which comes up in the investigation that Suzy’s parents feel could possibly have a link to her disappearance is Richard Condon, her boyfriend at the time.
Authorities arrived at Condon’s home where he lived with his parents. He was questioned about the nature of his relationship with Suzy, how things had been going and if he was aware of any problems she was facing or people she may have had reason to fear. Richard explains that there was nothing out of the ordinary going on and that Suzy didn’t mention anyone she was having problems with. Authorities asked Richard about Suzy’s ATM card, and he stated that only two people knew her pin number: Suzy and himself. When questioned about his whereabouts the night she vanished, Richard provides an alibi that he was at home, with his parents that night. He was playing a computer game online, with a friend. The police later spoke to his friend, a man named Justin, who confirms that he and Richard were playing that night. When asked how he could be sure he was playing with Richard, and not someone else, Justin said that he had been playing with Richard for a long time and was very familiar with his moves and that the night Suzy vanished, the person he was playing with played in Richard’s style.
It was at this time that Mary gave additional details to authorities in regard to Richard and Suzy’s relationship. She explained that things had been rocky and that Suzy had attempted to break it off. Mary described Richard as someone who was controlling, possessive and jealous. She also revealed that Richard had remote access to Suzy’s computer, meaning that he could access her files and even control it from his own computer at home. Authorities found this suspicious and returned to Richard’s home, looking to question him further. Richard was less than cooperative this time, refusing to answer any additional questions.
When asked if he would take a polygraph test, Richard declined and then hired a lawyer, through whom all communication with authorities would be conducted. Lacking any kind of evidence to link Richard to the disappearance, authorities have never gotten the chance to question him again. Richard’s family also refused to speak to investigators. When asked about this later, Doug stated “It’s disturbing to us that the family and Suzy’s boyfriend Rich chose not to answer questions at this point to maybe illuminate or to revisit some of the unanswered questions.” Mary would go on to say “There were numerous times that Suzy tried to break up with him and he would get emotional and so she would stay.” According to Mary, Richard told investigators that he and Suzy were engaged, but if that was the case, no one else knew about it.
For the next few months, investigators continued working on Suzy’s case but were coming up with zero information and nothing to move forward on. The family, in conjunction with Suny Albandy put up a reward of $15,000 for information leading to leading to Suzy or a suspect. Authorities kept the investigation active, and erected more billboards, releasing more fliers, but failed to receive tips from anyone. Then, suddenly, two months after she vanished, in May of 1998, the first physical piece of evidence was discovered. In the visitors parking lot, which sat near both the Collins Circle Bus stop and Suzy’s dorm, two students discovered a Babbages nametag that had “Suzy L” written on it.
The discovery baffled both investigators and Suzy’s parents as that parking lot had been thoroughly searched, as had the rest of the campus so how did it suddenly appear? Whether or not it was missed on initial searches is unknown, but when the State Police got their hands on it, they immediately processed it for DNA and fingerprints but the results came back as inconclusive. While they now had a piece of evidence, it failed to lead to any breaks in the case though it did lead investigators to wonder if Suzy could have been lured to visitors parking area that night. According to them, the parking lot was near both the bus stop and her dorm but was not in the line of the pathway, meaning Suzy would have no reason to walk into that area if she were simply heading to her dorm. What is most curious about the discovery of the nametag is that, when it was shown to her boss at Babbages, he pointed out that it was in fact an older model. The nametag which had been found was shaped liked a drivers license and had a pin on the back of it. At the time of Suzy’s disappearance, they had upgraded their badges to be worn around the neck on a lanyard and the nametags ran vertically, rather than horizontally. While some have argued this means the nametag was not the one she had on her the night she vanished, others feel its entirely possible she could have lost her new nametag and worn an old one until a new one could be made.
The family was struggling to deal with Suzy’s disappearance, especially her older brother, Steven. According to the family, and reports of the time, her older brother had taken things especially hard. As someone who had always looked out for his little sister, he couldn’t help but feel that he had in some way failed her. For months after he was heavily involved in search efforts, but as time passed on, he found it difficult to cope. For an extended period of time he failed to go to work, and while his job understood, his finances didn’t. Coworkers and friends took up a collection, hoping to aid him in taking the time that he needed. While Steven eventually returned to work, his life was never quite the same and there was always a gaping hole in his heart, wondering what happened to his best friend and little sister.
Within the first few months of the investigation, authorities looked into over 270 leads and searched more than three hundred acres near Collins Circle, including the wooded area near Rensselaer Lake in the eastern end of the Albany Pine Bush near Interstate 90, but they never found anything to point them in Suzy’s direction. While early on investigators considered this a possible case of Suzy running off, or being abducted, the passage of time lead them down a road to believing this was likely a homicide. When asked about this later, Senior Investigator John Camp stated “We believe it’s a homicide. Is there a chance she moved away? It’s a possibility, but the reality is she’s probably been a victim of a homicide. We need someone to come forward who knows the case or has knowledge of the case that has information.”
Six months after Suzy disappeared, in September of 1998, investigators working a cold case began to see similarities between their case and Suzy’s. Thirteen years earlier, on March 27th, 1985, twenty-two year old Karen Wilson vanished while walking back to the SUNY Albany campus from The Tanning Hut, located on Central avenue. She was last seen at 7:20pm, walking towards the college along Fuller Road. Despite exhaustive searches which included foot, dog and helicopters near Rensselaer Lake, known as the Six Mile Waterworks, no evidence was ever discovered. In an odd coincidence, Wilson lived in the same dorm that Suzy had been in. Wilson worked as an un-paid, full time intern for state Assemblyman Samuel Coleman and was a senior at the time. Authorities believe Wilson was likely abducted and murdered, though her case has never been solved. Despite the similarities between Wilson’s and Suzy’s disappearances, there was never any evidence to link the two together. Authorities did consider the possibility that they could have been victims of the same person or persons, but again, they had nothing to point them in any particular person’s direction.
Weeks turned into months, and months passed by with little new information coming to light. Near the one year anniversary of her disappearance, Police reinvigorated the case with a new media blitz and additional billboards. At this time they received multiple calls identifying the individual known as “Nike Man.” Though his name has never been publicly released, Senior Investigator John Camp has stated that they spoke to the individual, questioned him thoroughly but found nothing to link him to Suzy’s disappearance. He has officially been ruled out as a suspect, though many still wonder how he gained access to Suzy’s debit card and pin number. This has never been fully explained by authorities, and even the discovery and questioning of the man wasn’t issued in any kind of press release, but rather commented on in subsequent interviews.
Around the one year anniversary, Doug Lyall wrote an open letter which was published in several newspapers in the area. The letter was addressed to “The Person who Took Suzanne” and reads as follows “I’m not sure what I would say, although after so much time, surprisingly, I don’t hate you. I know nothing about you. I wonder if you were ever like Suzy. Did you love homemade chocolate chip cookies? Did you go to Rush concerts? Did you play jokes on April Fool’s Day? Did you spend time on the computer, oblivious to anything else going on around you? Suzy is more than a girl on a poster. Her mom and dad, Steve and Sandy miss her daily. She has dreams, and hopes and potential. I still have positive dreams. For my own survival, I have had to let go of anger or I would be consumed by it. But the questions persist.”
The letter had been written in hopes of assuaging some of their pain, also as a way to reach out to others who has lost a family member, and perhaps even, in hopes that it might find the eyes of the person responsible for Suzy’s disappearance and shake something loose. While grief struck the family hard, within five years of her disappearance, Doug and Mary began finding ways to transform their pain into progress in hopes of helping others. In 2001, they established the Center for Hope, a nonprofit organization with the mission of providing resources to educate, assist and support families and friends coping with the pain and uncertainty surrounding the disappearance of a loved one.
In 1998 they introduced and saw a law passed which required colleges and universities in the state to have detailed plans for the investigation of violent felonies and missing persons cases that occurred on campus. The Bill was officially known as the Campus Safety Act, and in 1999 it was signed into law by Governor George Pataki requiring all universities in the state to be in accordance with that law by the beginning of the year 2000. In 2003, Mary spoke publicly for the first time, something she would continue to do, when then President George W Bush signed “Suzanne’s Law” into action which requires police to notify the National Crime Information Center when someone between the ages of 18 and 21 is reported missing. Previously, police had only been required to do so if the missing person was under the age of 18. This law, officially known as the Protect Act of 2003, also required cases to be reported to the National Center for missing and Exploited Children.
In 2008, the family continued lobbying legislators and had another federal law passed, named for Suzy. The Suzanne Lyall Campus Safety Act took the original law they had passed in New York State and brought it country wide requiring that colleges and universities have in place policies that clearly designate the role of campus, local and state police agencies when investigation a violent crime or disappearance on campus. This new law was designed to cut down on confusion, delays and arguments about jurisdiction in hopes of bringing investigative efforts together faster and more efficiently. Another bill they have been supporting was introduced by State Senator James Tedisco and would see an increase in penalties for violent felonies that are committed on the premises of, or within 1,000 feet of any education facility in the state of New York. The Bill has yet to be passed.
In 2005, a young woman was victim to an attempted abduction on the campus of Saratoga Springs High School, located just a few miles from Suzy’s hometown of Ballston Spa. According to police reports, the young woman had just finished track practice and as she unlocked her car, the side door of a van flew open next to her and a man attempted to pull her inside. The woman managed to fight off her would be abductor and ran off. Police tracked down the man, later identified as John Regan, who was already facing trial for a 1993 kidnapping which took place in Connecticut. This attempted abduction so close to Suzy’s home town, sparked investigators interest and they began to consider John Regan a suspect.
In their investigation they attempted to map out a timeline of his whereabouts during March of 1998 though they were unable to find anything which conclusively placed him near Suny Albany. Regan refused to speak to investigators about Suzy’s case. He was later convicted of attempted kidnapping and sentenced to prison, but even while incarcerated, Regan would not discuss Suzy’s case. Though there is no evidence to link Regan to Suzy, investigators have stated that they can neither rule him in or out as a suspect and do consider him a possible person of interest.
Sadly, in 2015, some seventeen years after Suzy’s disappearance, Doug Lyall passed away at the age of seventy-three, never having discovered what happened to his beautiful daughter. Several articles about Doug have said that he passed away of a debilitating illness that afflicted him since the previous winter, but he never gave up on Suzy and continued advocating for her up until the day he died. Many locals and family members came together to remember Doug, and to share their condolences. His eldest son, Steven, stated “We always did things together all the time. We’d go to car shows and play golf and go for walks. He was always there to talk to me about my problems, always there to help me with projects around my house. He would take time to come down to New Jersey and try to help me with things if I needed help, try to show me how to fix things, go to baseball games at Yankee Stadium sometimes. Just everything… I told him just before he left the other day that he’ll always be with me in spirit.”
The investigation into Suzy’s disappearance has grown extremely cold in the ensuing years. In Doug’s absence, Mary carries the weight of their activism and hopes that someday the answers will be discovered. In the years since, the Lyall family has been contacted by a large number of so-called psychics who allege that Suzy is beneath the water nearby. Mary has said she always has an eerie sense when she drives across the Crescent Bridge, located along US Route 9, spanning the Mohawk River between Albany and Ballston Spa. In June of 2016, a local firm which conducts high-tech mapping applied its technology to the Mohawk river’s bottom in that area in hopes of finding something. Nothing has ever been reported as being discovered during that process.
Suzanne Lyall disappeared from the campus of SUNY Albany twenty years and three days ago. Over that time, many people have applied their own perspective to the case and made suggestions about the myriad of possibilities. Suzy’s family, the police and online investigators have several theories which have been introduced as the most likely scenarios.
The first theory is that Suzy chose to run off. Many people point to out that she was alleged to have been problems with Richard, and failed to end the relationship multiple times. Some believe its possible that she could have chosen to leave town, in hopes of getting away from everything for a while. The ATM withdrawal on the day she was reported missing, with her usual amount being taken out, has led many to think it’s possible that Suzy was the person who withdrew that money and that he plan was to take some time away. Of course, others theorize that Suzy initially chose to go, but later met with foul play. Other theorize that Suzy could have taken a walk and become lost or injured in the wilderness, leading to her disappearance.
The second theory is that Suzy was the victim of a crime perpetrated by her own boyfriend, Richard Condon. For many, his alibi doesn’t appear strong enough and the fact that he quit cooperating with police and refused a polygraph are signs that he has something to hide. Most theorize that Suzy either broke up with Richard, or was seeing someone else, and that he struck out at her in anger. Whether or not his plan was to commit murder is unknown, but many believe he has more information than he is saying. Suzy’s mother, Mary does in fact believe that Richard was involved in some way.
The third and final theory is that Suzy was the victim of a random act of violence. Some have suggested that she may have run into a stranger who was either planning to rob or rape her and his violence got the better of him and he ultimately murdered her. Others have suggested the possibility that the act itself may have been random, but the culprit could have been someone that Suzy knew and trusted. She could have been lured into a vehicle or straight up abducted by someone once they got her into a location where she couldn’t escape.
Next month, in April of 2018, Suzanne Lyall would have turned forty years old. She was last reported to have been seen exiting the number twelve bus at Collins Circle on the campus of Suny Albany. When last seen Suzy was described as being a Caucasian female with light brown hair and blue eyes. Suzy has a light brown colored birthmark on her left calf and a surgical scar on her left foot. She has a mole on her left cheek beneath her earlobe and a mole on each arm. Suzy is nearsighted and wears glasses or contact lenses and her ears are pierced. She was last seen wearing an ankle-length black trench coat, a black shirt, blue jeans and possibly a polished 14 karat gold fluted bow ring, a frog shaped silver ring set with tiny diamonds and a black cord necklace with a round silver disc medallion inscribed with a runic character. She was carrying a black tote bag or backpack.
In the twenty years since Suzy Lyall vanished, evidence has been in short supply. There have never been any confirmed sightings, there have been no witnesses found and no one has ever come forward with information that could lead to a resolution for this baffling and disturbing case. A family was shattered when a daughter, a sister, was taken without reason and the person responsible has evaded justice for longer than Suzy herself was alive. Mary Lyall now remains as the sole parent, left to try and find the answers, and in their absence, attempt to stop this horrible loss from happening to any other families. She grieves for the loss of her husband, and the disappearance of her daughter who never got the chance to live the life she deserved. Mary is a grandmother today, and cannot help but wonder how Suzy would have reacted to being an aunt. In a recent interview, Mary stated “I still need to know where she is and until I know where she is I just can’t rest. A whole generation has gone by and I still don’t have answers. For twenty years I had her, whole lifetimes go by. I’ve been on this case since 1998.”
[Thoughts and Theories]
The disappearance of Suzy Lyall is a frustrating case. The utter lack of evidence leaves open so many possibilities. It’s hard to imagine someone can simply step off of a bus and vanish into nothingness leaving almost nothing behind to indicate what could have happened. For Suzy’s family it has been a difficult struggle. The loss of a child is something that no one can understand unless they have experienced it. I can’t begin to imagine the pain they have experienced in these past twenty years, and yet they’ve managed to take all of that and turn it into something positive for the world. I am always impressed and moved when a family turns a tragedy into a helping hand for others. It’s very easy to sink into the darkness of your own grief and frustration, but the Lyall’s banded together and while they have never given up hope that some day they’ll have a resolution, they have committed their time, their energy and their daughter’s story, to helping others facing the same pain.
Suzy’s story touches certain personal aspects of my life. I didn’t know her, but like Suzy I am a poet and have always been drawn to and fascinated by computers. While she has posting on internet bulletin boards in the Ballston Spa area, I was doing the same, growing up on Long Island. I graduated from high school a few years after Suzy vanished and had friends who attended Suny Albany. I’ve walked that campus, been through the dorms and I’ve been to the Crossgates Mall. Sadly, at the time I was there, I had no knowledge of her case. I can’t recall if I saw billboards while there, I don’t remember hearing her story until years later. Either way, there is something eerie and disturbing about having walked the same ground as someone who vanished. It just makes things hit a little closer to home.
Parents often worry about their children when they go off to college. Will they get good grades, make good friends, manage to balance fun and academics? Can they avoid the partying lifestyle, keep their head clear and focus on what needs to be accomplished all while making that transition into adults? One thing most parents don’t worry about is whether or not their child will come home. Somewhere in the subconscious all parents harbor that fear about their children, but college is supposed to be a safe place where they can learn and mature. Sadly, over the years, so many families have had to deal with the grief of a loved one going off to college, never to return. Suzy Lyall was not the first, and unfortunately she was not the last. Twenty years later, her story still resonates and affects so many.
Over these twenty years there have been a lot of theories developed. The age of the case and the absence of much evidence makes it an open ended story where a lot of different thoughts can be applied to the circumstances. I’ve selected the four most popular theories about this case. There are others but they tend to venture into a great deal of speculation and contradict a lot of the known timeline and what little evidence does exist. When Suzy disappeared she was nineteen years old, and as is always the case when someone over eighteen vanishes without a trace, the first theory is that Suzy Lyall disappeared of her own volition.
Suzy was a shy young woman who had difficulty making friends. She was socially awkward and chose to express herself through the world of computers and in her poetry. She had her outlets, and certainly doesn’t appear to have felt that her life was anything less than what she wanted it to be. She was young, a sophomore in college who knew what she wanted to do with her life and was taking the steps to accomplish that goal. So what could lead someone with a bright future, a loving family and a high intelligence to run off? That’s a debated question, but for most, they point to her relationship with Richard.
According to Suzy’s mother, Richard and Suzy weren’t getting along so well in the final months of their relationship. Mary has said that Suzy tried to break things off with Richard on several occasions and that, rather than talking to him face to face and ending things, she typically chose to write him a letter. The letter would explain why they needed to split up and how she’d always care about him, but simply wasn’t happy with their situation. Allegedly, after these letters would be delivered, Richard would call and talk Suzy out of the breakup. Much of this information comes from Mary, and while I don’t think she would lie about it, you do have to take it with a grain of salt. Mary is a firm believer that Richard knows more than he has told authorities, and that is going to color her opinion. I’ll get more into that in the next theory.
So for many, it’s been considered possible that Suzy chose to run off in hopes of escaping from Richard. While this is a possibility there are details that don’t make sense about it. First and foremost, Suzy didn’t have a driver’s license nor a car so in order for her to get away from campus she’d either need a friend who could take her out, or would had to have used public transportation. Police thoroughly investigated all forms of public transportation looking for her, and never found anyone outside of the bus driver who picked her up from work, that could identify her. She didn’t have a large circle of friends, and so, it wasn’t hard to question everyone around her and none of them reported driving her anywhere or hearing her talking about going somewhere. It was a cold night in Albany and Suzy wasn’t exactly dressed to deal with the weather. She had a long coat on, but no hat or gloves.
Another factor that I feel plays a large role in this is her closeness to her family. Suzy was extremely close with her older brother, got along well with her parents and wasn’t shy about reaching out if she needed a couple of extra dollars or was having any issues. She emailed her family almost every day and was in contact with Richard in some form or fashion whenever she got back to her dorm room at night. Everything that she owned outside of her work uniform and keys was left behind in her dorm room, meaning that if Suzy did choose to run off she did so knowing that she wouldn’t be getting her personal effects and wouldn’t be communicating with her family. Even if she were planning to run off, be it due to her relationship with Richard, or some other reason, it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t clue her loved ones in on it.
Suzy had a big heart and wasn’t a selfish woman. It seems unlikely that she would put her family and friends through this pain if she had any ability to assuage it. Another detail about her relationship, which I find interesting, is that while it’s been argued she may have been trying to get away from Richard, her transfer from Oneonta to Albany actually moved her much closer to him. It has been argued, even by her father, that Suzy may have made this choice not only out of academic needs, but also in an attempt to be closer to Richard. We may never know the full truth about this, but it certainly doesn’t seem that she was overly concerned about being far away from Richard. Even if she were looking to breakup, it seems a bit extreme to vanish in order to accomplish this.
Some have pointed out that an ATM was used, and that the pin number was entered correctly on the first try. For many, this suggests that either Suzy withdrew this money or sent someone in to do it for her in order to not be seen. While this is possible, it should be noted that this convenience store was two miles away from campus, and there were ATMs on campus that she could have used. In addition to this, assuming that Suzy had been present that day, there was a branch of her bank located directly across the street. It would have been much easier to withdraw from that ATM without having to pay a fee for using a different ATM. Also, why would someone who was planning to run off simply withdraw twenty dollars? Even if you factor in her two withdrawals from the previous day, $60 isn’t much money to run away with.
Another factor of this theory is that Suzy may not so much have elected to disappear. Some have argued that she could have gone on a walk and become injured or killed in some way, perhaps in the thick wilderness, or even have fallen into a river or lake, of which there are many in the area. This is certainly a possibility, but for me, it seems unlikely that a young woman not appropriately dressed for the winter weather would decide, near 10pm at night, to take a long walk through the woods. In addition to this, we know Suzy was very serious about her grades and while she had taken her most major mid-term that afternoon, she had another one the next day. To make the choice to go on a random walk in the middle of the night in twenty-six degree weather, when she was standing just a few hundred feet from her dorm, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Suzy was a bright young woman, not likely to make such an unwise decision. In a later interview, Mary even commented that Suzy was not the type to go on long walks and didn’t even walk to nearby stores, but instead always took public transportation.
While I understand the need for this theory to exist, it doesn’t seem very likely. It’s one of those theories that comes up in the absence of others. When there are no answers, when there are no leads, it has to be considered that the victim may have fled on their own. Even if Suzy had run off, it’s highly unlikely that in the past twenty years there wouldn’t have been confirmed sightings or she’d never have had any kind of a run in with authorities that would require her ID to be looked up. The most prominent detail, for me, is that when her father passed away there was nothing from Suzy noted. If indeed she had chosen to run off, I find it difficult to imagine that she’d learn of the passing of her father and still remain silent. It has been twenty years and there’s not been a single phone call or post card. The idea that Suzy ran off is the least likely scenario in this case. Even authorities have stated they fully believe this was a homicide, which leads us to our second theory.
For many, the most obvious theory in this case, is that Suzy’s boyfriend, Richard Condon was either in some way involved in her disappearance or has more information than he is letting on. Throughout various interviews in the past twenty years, Mary has made it clear that Richard is her prime suspect. She’s even included his family as possibly being involved in some way. It is interesting to note that while Mary and Doug were a very united front, they did have differing opinions on what could have happened. While Mary felt Richard knew more, Doug didn’t necessarily agree with his wife. So in order to understand this theory we have to try and understand the dynamic between Suzy and Richard.
Richard was a year older than Suzy. They never attended the same school and at the time that Suzy disappeared, Richard was attending Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, or RPI, located in Troy, New York, approximately thirteen miles from SUNY Albany. While attending RPI Richard is alleged to have lived with his parents, a four or five mile drive from Suny Albany. Suffice it to say that Richard and Suzy were within close proximity to each other, and Suzy even had a second job in Troy, which would place her close to RPI. If the two were having relationship problems, there are few who could comment on it. Mary has said that Suzy wanted to break things off, didn’t seem very happy and may even have been seeing someone else, but none of that can be completely corroborated and authorities never found anything to make them believe Suzy had another boyfriend. Mary felt that Richard was controlling, jealous and manipulative, she had very little positive to say. Doug, on the other hand, defined Richard polite, well spoken and mature for his age.
For many, Richard becomes a suspect based purely on his actions around the time Suzy vanished. He is the one who called her parents and told them she hadn’t come home the night before, allegedly because she failed to email or call him. In one interview, Mary did say that Richard remotely hacked into Suzy’s computer that morning in an attempt to locate her. Regardless, what many find curious is that, Richard was so concerned that he called her parents but chose not to make the short drive from his parents house to campus to look for her in person. If my girlfriend were missing, I’d be there regardless of the distance. I’d be on the phone with her parents and telling them that I’d already contacted campus security. What’s interesting to me, though, is that this call comes in approximately twelve to fourteen hours after Suzy stepped off the bus the night before. If I couldn’t get in touch with someone from 9:45pm to 2pm, I don’t know that I’d assume they were missing. Richard never specifies how he knew Suzy hadn’t come home either, because the absence of a call or an email doesn’t necessarily mean someone has disappeared.
Richard is reported to have joined in search efforts, though he wasn’t working closely with the family. In what way he searched, we can’t really be sure. Another detail which often comes up is the ATM usage. Richard has said that only he and Suzy knew her pin number, and while she was being searched for, her card was used and the pin was input correctly the first time. No cameras show Richard in that convenience store at the time, but it isn’t impossible that he could have given someone the card and gave them the pin. The infamous Nike man was eventually talked to, but police have never shared exactly what he said. There must be some details in there which are very curious that they don’t yet want to reveal.
One interesting detail about Nike man is that, while authorities did want to speak to him, Mary has alleged that it was the Condon family who paid for billboards depicted his image. She believed they were working hard to make him a suspect in order to throw the trail off of Richard but that seems to be mostly speculation as I could find no official statements in regard to this. Mary also alleged that Richard’s father reported multiple sightings of Suzy after her disappearance and claimed that she may have been abducted by a lookalike to Richard, but again, I have nothing official to back that up. In an interview, Mary was asked what Richard’s alibi was for the time the ATM card was used and she said that investigators had told her that Richard claimed he was out searching for Suzy at that time. Not exactly rock solid, though his alibi for the night of her disappearance is a little more convincing.
According to Richard, at the time Suzy disappeared, he was home, at his parents residence, playing an online game with a friend. His parents confirmed this as did his friend, Justin. When asked how he knew it was Richard on the other end, he explained that he knew all of Richard’s moves and it was definitely Richard he was playing against. I don’t know what game they were playing, so it’s hard to analyze this, but many have suggested that Richard, being as efficient as he was at computers and programming, could have run a program which played for him. Certainly a possibility, but without further information it’s hard to bank on. The details which make Richard most suspect to many is the fact that after talking to police the first time, he refused to take a polygraph and hired a lawyer and has never spoken to them again.
For a moment, I do want to say, I would personally never take a polygraph even if I knew I were innocent. There is no benefit. They are inadmissible in court due to their inaccuracy and if you pass, that can’t be used to help you whereas if you fail it just makes you seem more guilty not only in the eyes of investigators, but in the media as well. Hiring a lawyer is a wise choice and something I would do regardless of the crime. Investigators are trained to trick you into saying things, to catch your words, to direct the conversation. It’s intelligent to have a lawyer present for questioning. While I can totally understand the argument that someone should want to do everything they can to locate their girlfriend, you also have to look at it from his perspective. If he felt he was being considered a suspect and knew he was innocent, you do what you have to do to protect yourself.
Richard is certainly, in my mind, a suspect. Authorities have said no one has been ruled out and no one has been ruled in. Everyone is a suspect at this point, and were there more for authorities to go on, I’m sure that they would question Richard again. Without more information they cannot force him to, but yes, his avoidance of their questions, resistance to a polygraph and hiring of a lawyer does make him seem suspicious in the eyes of many, especially the eyes of Mary Lyall. In 2010, the Condon family did comment to reporters in which they said Richard had moved on, was married and they had nothing else to say about it. Richard’s someone who should be looked into more closely, and I am sure he has been, but twenty years later, nothing solid has ever surfaced.
The final theory in this case is that Suzy fell victim to a random act of violence, either by a total stranger or perhaps someone she knew or trusted. The location of her nametag has led many to speculate that she was lured to the visitors parking lot and got into a vehicle with someone who had bad intentions. The nametag, though, is a difficult piece of evidence to rely on it. It wasn’t found for months after she vanished and the wind could have easily moved it from place to place until it ended up at that parking lot.
There isn’t much evidence in this case, but a random act certainly has to be considered. A beautiful young woman walking a college campus late at night has led to crimes in the past, so there is a possibility or likelihood that Suzy could have come across someone who took advantage of the situation. This suspect could fit any myriad of descriptions. A total stranger lurking on campus, a fellow student, a teacher, a member of school security, an impersonator. The list goes on and on. Suffice it to say, someone could have found a way to either lure Suzy into a vehicle, or near enough to grab her, or could have brandished some kind of a weapon and forced her to go with him or her.
Suzy was avidly active on the internet, especially in her local area. It isn’t impossible to assume she could have met someone on a bulletin board who she became friendly with. This person could have gained her trust, arranged a meeting, got to know her a little in person and then, when he felt safe, abducted her. Someone also could have simply known she went to SUNY Albany and waited for her once he’d memorized her travel schedule. Abducting someone from campus is a brazen act, which is part of what makes me lean more towards the possibility that it could have been someone she knew who lured her into a bad situation.
Suzy was a bright, attractive young woman. She had internet friends, she worked in two customer service jobs where she met strangers daily and she went to a school with a large number of students and faculty. The amount of people she passed on a daily basis opens endless possibilities to someone who could have wanted to do something terrible. In addition to this, we do have the uncorroborated statement from a co-worker who claimed that Suzy was being stalked. There is little information about this, other than the supposed statement that while she was being stalked, she wasn’t worried about it.
Does this mean Suzy could have known the person who was stalking her? Perhaps. We also don’t know exactly in what way she was being stalked, be it being followed or watched. We may never know and there is no further information on this. The possibility that Suzy was victimized by someone at random, or a person she knew, is certainly something that has been investigated and may be one of the more likely scenarios. I find, in this case, most people believe that Suzy was either murdered by her boyfriend or by a stranger. Sadly, without more evidence, all we can say is that both are possibilities.
The disappearance of Suzy Lyall is bizarre, disturbing and heartbreaking. A family was needlessly shattered, a young life was meaninglessly ended, a brilliant future was snuffed out and a young woman vanished from the face of the earth with little to suggest what could have happened. It’s now been twenty years, and we no closer today than we were in 1998 to knowing what exactly became of Suzy Lyall. Hopefully, someday, the answers will be found or advances in technology will allow for this case to find a resolution. Suzy’s mother continues to work hard to pass laws and change university rules to prevent this from happening again. Her father Doug passed away never knowing what happened to his beautiful little girl. We can only hope that at some point those answers are found and Suzy’s family can find peace in the truth of what happened. Until that day, the disappearance of Suzanne Lyall remains open, cold and unsolved.