When I first started get serious about researching this case, I honestly did not think it was going to be that deep of a dive. I thought I would lay out the basic facts, discuss a few, broad theories, and that would be the end of it. After all, could I really add much to a case in which a young woman vanished while walking as little as 200 feet (61 meters) between a bus stop and her college dormitory? I thought there was only room for the vaguer sort of speculation. While speculation still abounds–I had to trim it back–the case contains the starting points for several, highly divergent theories. I ended up going down quite a few rabbit holes, which I will try to clarify in the paragraphs below.
Suzanne Gloria Lyall was an interesting girl. She was born to parents Doug and Mary Lyall on April 6th, 1978, in Saratoga Springs, NY, and grew up to be a thoughtful, curious young woman. When she reached adolescence, she developed a passion for computers. At one point, she took apart and reassembled an old computer that had been left in the home, utterly fascinated by how it worked. As the years passed, her interest only grew. Although she was the baby of the family, having a brother and sister several years older than herself, she remained close to her siblings. Suzanne also had a strong creative streak, and wrote poetry throughout her teenage years. There is an oft-repeated anecdote about her running out the shower wrapped in a towel, her hair still soapy, worried she would forget the poem in her head if she didn’t write it down immediately.
When she was 16, Suzanne began dating a young man named Richard Condon, who was a year older and went to a different high school. She had met him, as well as several other friends, using message boards on the early internet. Until her disappearance on March 2nd, 1998, Suzanne and Richard were almost inseparable. The relationship was not without its rough patches. There was at least one brief breakup, initiated by Suzanne in response to what she called Richard’s “possessive” behavior, but the two got back together again shortly afterwards. Suzanne’s parents had different reactions to Richard. Her father had a mostly favorable impression of him, while her mother remains suspicious of him to this day. She reiterated Suzanne’s claims that he could be possessive and controlling, and didn’t like how much time Suzanne spent with him and his family. I’m recording all this now, as it will become important when discussing the Lyall family’s reaction to Suzanne’s disappearance.
After graduation, Suzanne went to a state college at Oneonta to study computer science. After a year, she transferred to SUNY at Albany, which was closer to home and had a stronger computer science program. Her family also suspected that she also did this in order to be closer to Richard, who was studying at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) nearby.
At SUNY, Suzanne threw herself into her studies, and also gained some applied experience in her field. She worked two part-time jobs, one at a computer company in Troy transferring data to CDs, and the other at a software store at a mall close to the school. While I doubt it’s important, I did want to add that there really isn’t a lot of information about how much time she spent at her job in Troy or if she knew many people with the computer company. Family members have referred to her job at the store as her “main job”, which I took to mean that she spent a lot more time there.
During her time away from work and school, Suzanne and Richard continued to spend a lot of time together. While traveling with her family to visit her grandmother in February of 1998, Suzanne asked her parents to stop by Richard’s house so she could give him large envelope. The two spoke briefly, and then Suzanne went back to her family in the car. The contents of the envelope have never been discussed.
The week of March 2nd was mid-term week at SUNY, and Suzanne was worried. Her grades had been slipping that semester, and the SUNY courses were even more challenging than she had expected. She was particularly worried about an exam she was taking in the morning of the 2nd, as she confided to her friend and supervisor at the software store, Garland Nelson. For years, there has been an unconfirmed report that she told another coworker that she thought an unknown man had been following her. However, if she did say this, she apparently wasn’t too concerned about it at the time.
Suzanne took her dreaded exam on the 2nd, and at some time that day she dropped off a birthday card for her mother in the mail. She withdrew money from the ATM on campus and later at the mall where she worked. At 4:00 pm, she took the bus for the 15-minute drive to the mall to work her shift at the store. She told Garland that the exam had gone “ok”, and she seemed in a much better mood having gotten it out of the way. The evening passed normally, and after the store closed at 9:00 pm, Suzanne was seen getting on the bus back to campus by the bus driver that usually drove the route. I should add here that we need to consider the possibility that the driver was mistaken and that Suzanne never actually got on the bus that night. However, in light of other information, I will proceed on the assumption that she did in fact get on the bus and return to SUNY that night. The bus dropped her off on the campus at approximately 9:45 pm, and she was seen getting off the bus by another student that lived in her dorm.
While it’s generally accepted as most likely that Suzanne boarded the bus at the mall and got off at the university (there were, as it turns out, no stops between those two points), it’s also accepted that she most likely never reached the Colonial Quad dormitory where she lived. Her key card to enter the Quad was never swiped, and while it would have been easy enough for her to follow someone else inside, evidence also suggests she never got back to her room that night. None of her personal items were found in her room (wallet, keys, etc.), and the other students in her quad never heard the distinctive jingle of her overloaded keychain that evening. What they did hear was her telephone ringing several times throughout the night. These calls were most likely from Richard, who tried and failed to reach her that evening and into the following morning. On the morning of March 3rd, he called Suzanne’s parents. Her father immediately drove to SUNY to alert the campus police. A few days later, at the repeated urging of the Lyalls, they contacted the state police.
It seemed as though Suzanne had vanished on the short walk between the bus stop and her dorm. However, two key pieces of evidence would surface in the following months. One was that on 4:00 pm on March 3rd, the day after she vanished, Suzanne’s credit card was used at an ATM at Stewart’s convenience store about 3 miles from campus. Whoever used it had the correct PIN number and only withdrew $20. According to Richard, only he and Suzanne knew the PIN number to her card. Still, her family was skeptical that Suzanne herself had used the card that afternoon. She did not have a car or even a driver’s license, and, according to her mother, “wasn’t much of a walker.” Besides, there was an ATM right next to her dormitory and she would have had no reason to wander far from campus simply to withdraw cash.
Enter the security footage
Stewart’s didn’t have any security cameras on the ATM machine, only at the front of the store by the cash registers. Therefore, it is entirely possible that someone entered the store, went to the ATM, and then left without purchasing anything, all without being caught on camera. Investigators did examine the footage for everyone that was caught on camera between half an hour before the card was used and half an hour afterwards. They were able to track down and rule out everyone but one unnamed person referred to as “Nike Man” based on the hat he was wearing. Nike Man became a person of considerable interest for some time, and accounts differ as to if law enforcement was able to track him down or if he came forward of his own volition. Either way, we now know some crucial things about Nike Man (just not his name). I’ve summarized them below.
- Nike Man worked in a cafeteria at SUNY
- He had a past rape conviction from the 1980s
- After being interviewed a reported 6 times, he was ruled out as having used the card or being involved in Suzanne’s disappearance. According to a statement made by law enforcement, he “had an alibi and the crime did not fit his M.O.”
I will talk more about the possible significance of the Nike Man and the Stewart’s security footage, but I first I want to move on to the next big development in Suzanne’s case.
The Name Tag in the Parking Lot
The campus was scoured thoroughly for any sign of Suzanne, but there was no trace of her. The searches included both ground searches and at least one water search of a pond on campus. One setback was a large snowstorm that swept through the area a few days after she vanished, covering any clues that might have remained. Then, in May, two students were walking through the visitors parking lot just adjacent to the Collins Circle bus stop where Suzanne was last seen. They found a laminated nametag with a crack running across it, as though it had been run over by a car at some point. It was Suzanne Lyall’s name tag from Babbage’s, the software store where she had worked.
One issue with the name tag is that it was a type that Babbage’s had stopped using the previous December. She should not have been wearing it on the night of March 2nd. However, it is still entirely possible that she could not find her new one that night and so substituted her old one, or the old one might still have been in her coat pocket. The visitors parking lot would not have been part of Suzanne’s direct route back to her dorm, but she would have walked past it. During the two months between her disappearance and the discovery of the name tag, the parking lot had been plowed at least once and the tag could have been moved by wind and rainwater on multiple occasions. For that matter, Suzanne would have walked that same route each time she returned from work at Babbage’s, so there is no reason that she couldn’t have dropped it on some previous occasion. Nevertheless, the name tag is something we have to address, so and I will come back to it.
The Condon Family
Predictably, investigators were quick to speak to Suzanne’s boyfriend, Richard Condon. As I discussed earlier, Richard had tried to call Suzanne multiple times the previous night and then contacted her parents in the morning. He told investigators that he had also spent much of the evening playing a game remotely with his friend Justin, presumably from the RPI campus. Justin backed up this story, saying that he knew the other player was Richard due to the “moves” he was making. This narrative was further supported by the activity recorded on his computer that evening. Now, one thing I am unsure of is just how long he was playing this game. The common time given for Suzanne’s disappearance is approximately 9:45 pm, so I assume his alibi straddled this time period. From experience, I can also tell you that it’s not unusual for someone to play a computer game for three hours straight or more, with a few bathroom breaks, but the actual time period covered is vague.
Some people, however, including Suzanne’s mother, have remained suspicious of Richard’s behavior, citing the prior claims of controlling behavior and the fact that her mother suspected Suzanne may have been trying to break things off for good with Richard. She has openly speculated that Suzanne had given Richard a break-up letter when she dropped off the envelope to his home, and that Richard may have been able to use his computer skills to program the game he claimed to be playing that night.
Investigators accepted Richard’s alibi as solid, but at least some of them remained troubled by the statements made by Richard’s father (who I will here refer to as Condon Senior). When the family was interviewed, he was not terribly open to talking about Suzanne, but what really drew attention were two, after-the-fact claims he made to have seen her after her disappearance. The claims were easily dismissed, and led to the obvious question as to why he would not have alerted police immediately if he saw his son’s missing girlfriend. At one point, he even made a bizarre claim that he saw a car similar to Richard’s while out driving, and speculated that Suzanne might have gotten into this car thinking it was his. Still, there was no obvious reason that Condon Sr. would have harmed Suzanne or concealed information about what happened to her, so this line of inquiry trailed off.
In addition to the people closest to Suzanne, investigators also had to consider the possibility that she had been abducted by someone she didn’t know. In most cases where a stranger abduction is a possibility, the stranger is a hypothetical, almost a featureless silhouette lurking in the background. In this instance, though, there are several names that crop up with consistency. In fact, there are three specific “strangers” (not including Nike Man and all of the people at Stewart’s between 3:30 and 4:30 pm on March 3rd).
As I’ve mentioned in previous write-ups, I don’t tend to focus a lot on serial killers. My approach to unsolved cases has what I think of as a “bottom-up” structure, starting with the known facts about one specific mystery and working from that point outward. I might expand my coverage some in the future, but broadly speaking, serial killers are not a major factor in my research. However, there is one well-known figure with some compelling connections to Suzanne’s case that I will delve into here.
Israel Keyes was a serial killer who committed an unknown number of murders across several states. Officially, his crimes spanned from 2001 until his capture in 2012, but he did make at least one statement that indicated they may have gone back to 1998. He was unusual in how methodically he planned his crimes, but also in just how varied his MO was. He targeted adults, both men and women, although he seemed to have a preference for younger females. He traveled extensively across North America, and often planted materials to use in crimes in places he planned to return to. Sometimes he broke into homes; sometimes he would find a place to wait for a possible target to pass by. One thing everyone agrees on is that he was really good at hiding the remains of his victims. Where people disagree is how many victims there actually were. After his capture, Keyes wanted to talk about his crimes, but he was evasive as to the specifics, and investigators were left to wonder how truthful some of his statements were. Keyes committed suicide while in prison before revealing too many details, so most of the what we know about his crimes comes from his last known murder, that of 18-year old barista Samantha Koenig.
In 2012, Keyes was living in Alaska with his family, earning a living from his construction business and from an unspecified number of bank robberies he had previously committed. He abducted Koenig from her coffee stand at closing time, forced her into his car, and kept her in a shed on his property where he sexually assaulted and ultimately murdered her. He disposed of her remains under the ice in a frozen lake, where he later showed them to investigators. Meanwhile, he kept Samantha’s credit card and attempted to extort her family in a bonkers ransom scheme that was never destined to end well for him. Failing that, he took off across Canada and into the southern United States, still using the victim’s credit, until he was captured.
How does this all tie back to Suzanne? Well, Keyes was in New York state at the time she vanished, and may have been spending time in Albany. He owned property in Constable, New York near the Canadian border. Now, a quick look at Google Maps shows the shortest estimated travel time between New York and Albany as being 3 hours and 20 minutes–not exactly a situation in which he was likely to stumble across Suzanne while driving to the store for a pack of cigarettes. However, this gets into another major thing about Israel Keyes–this man could rack up insane gas mileage. In fact, he told investigators that he liked to cross state lines when committing is murders, so they would be less likely to be tied to him. As it happens, Albany is only about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the borders of Vermont and Massachusetts, and much of this area is rural.
Keyes may also have been in Albany throughout the early part of 1998 to visit the armed forces recruiting center there, where he would enlist in July of that year. He was known to skulk around parking lots, and may even have been spotted loitering around the plaza that contained the recruiting center during this time period. This shopping center was located less than 2 miles (approximately 3 kilometers) from the SUNY campus.
None of this means that Keyes was actually in the area on the evening of March 2nd, 1998, much less that he killed Suzanne Lyall. It should also be noted that if this did happen, Suzanne would quite possibly be his first murder victim, and that he might not have used the same techniques he was known for in later years. However, there is nothing that solidly eliminates him, either. We have a parking lot at night and young woman walking alone. At the time, the lighting around Collins Circle and the Colonial Quad was notoriously poor, and Suzanne would have had to walk through a dark wooded area to reach her dorm. Given all the factors previously discussed, I have to admit we have the almost the ideal set up for someone like Keyes.
Other Persons of Interest
The Albany region was home to some other shady characters at the time, even if these guys had to actually pay for gas like normal people. Two names in particular have come up in relation to Suzanne. One is a man named John Regan, who was arrested for attempting to abduct a teenage girl from a high school parking lot in Saratoga Springs in 2005. After his arrest, it was revealed that he had previously sexually assaulted both a coworker and a neighbor, and he is suspected of involvement in other crimes. While his first known crimes don’t resemble Suzanne’s case–they were both attacks on women he knew and at least one involved breaking into a home–the attempted abduction has certain undeniable similarities.
The second individual is a man named Anthony Collins, who attempted to abduct two women from a SUNY campus bus stop in 2013. Collins was 54 years old at the time, and there does not seem to be a lot of additional information about him. However, he is considered a person of interest in both Suzanne’s disappearance and that of Karen Wilson, a SUNY student who disappeared from campus in 1985.
Theories and Analysis
As I mentioned previously, this case has sent me down an unexpected warren of rabbit holes, and I have done my best to prune them into a coherent narrative. Below, I will be outlining some of my thoughts on the case with regards to specific, frequently discussed aspects of it.
First, I do want to mention that I think it is possible we have all been a bit restrictive in assuming Suzanne’s disappearance had to have taken place almost immediately after she got off the bus between Collins Circle and Colonial Quad. It may be true that Suzanne was a creature of habit, who didn’t like long walks and who’s family described as having a very poor sense of direction, but none of this entirely rules out that she may have headed in some direction other than her dorm room after being dropped off. I have three broad theories for what happened to Suzanne Lyall in the later hours of March 2nd. One is that she was meeting someone who ended up harming her, the second is that she was being stalked and her stalker attacked her that night, and the third is that she was abducted by a stranger (with all of the above-mentioned strangers as plausible candidates).
There is no unequivocal support for the first theory, but I think it is a possibility we have to consider. Suzanne’s friends and family have described her as a very private person, and she strikes me as someone with strong streak of quiet independence. She had also been very much on the front wave of the now commonplace trend of socializing online. That was how she had met Richard and several other friends during high school, and it’s not a stretch to think she may have met other people this way, or simply met them through her college classes. Whether any of her connections evolved into romantic interest or not, her self-contained nature may have meant that she never discussed new friendships with Richard or her family. It seems unlikely that she would have trusted a third, unknown person with her credit card information, but it wouldn’t be that difficult for someone to watch her enter her pin number and memorize it if they happened to be with her when she used the campus ATM machine. This type of individual would have had the additional advantage of being able to get Suzanne to accompany them in a vehicle without the risk of her raising any kind of alarm.
I have to state that I do not especially suspect Richard Condon in Suzanne’s disappearance. This may seem strange, considering the potential red flags in their relationship and the fact that Condon’s alibi, while perfectly plausible, covers an unspecified amount of time. The thing is, I am not entirely convinced these flags are as red as have been presented, and even if they were, there are plenty of other problems with the theory that he actually harmed Suzanne on that specific night. Suzanne’s family, in particular her mother, had some objections to their relationship, but it’s not at all unusual for parents to disapprove of their teenage child’s significant other. There has never been any suggestion that there was physical abuse from Richard, and we really have no way of knowing how serious the rough patches in the relationship were. I find it unlikely that Richard would have developed an elaborate plan to murder his girlfriend, as such a situation would be far more likely to occur as a crime of passion. From what we know, Richard would have had to put considerable staging into pulling off the scenario, some of which border on the technically impossible (there has been some speculation that he programmed his computer to play his game for him, but would this have been feasible at the time, even for an accomplished computer science student?). Lastly, Richard made statements that would have been idiotic if he had been involved in what happened to Suzanne, by telling police that he was the only other person to know her PIN number and alerting her parents when he couldn’t reach her. In fact, the only thing that makes me give a slight side-eye to the Condon family is not Richard’s behavior, but his father’s. Now, let me state that making baseless claims about having seen a missing person is not behavior I recommend, but I can’t really think of any other explanation for it other than a highly misguided effort to direct police scrutiny away from his son. Until I hear any evidence of Condon Sr. being hostile or inappropriate towards Suzanne, that’s the explanation I’m going to have to settle on.
If Suzanne was not meeting someone she knew, then we have to assume that someone intercepted her. The question is, was this person waiting for someone or were they waiting for Suzanne? If they were waiting specifically for her, she may or may not have known that person. If Suzanne had a regular work schedule, a stalker could have learned her routine and realized that this would have been the idle time and place to strike. If this person was unknown to Suzanne and they were simply waiting for a vulnerable target, they would have seen the potential the dimly lit section of campus between the Collins Circle bus stop and the residential halls. Either of these two hypothetical people could have lured to Suzanne to a car under some kind of pretense or forced her into one, perhaps with the use of a weapon. Either way, the person almost certainly had access to a car in order to remove Suzanne from the area quickly and without any signs of struggle. They may have been parked in the visitor’s parking area near the bus stop (where the name tag was later found) or, if Suzanne walked to the western end of Colonial Quad before entering the building, it’s possible they were parked in one of the larger parking lots depicted west of the residence hall or even on one of the side streets visible on the map. After that point, it’s most likely that they threatened her into providing her PIN number.
There is one other detail about Israel Keyes that I feel appropriate to include here. Suzanne Lyall’s name was found in the search history of his computer, along with the names of several other missing people. He had searched for her name at least twice. Now, this could well mean nothing at all. As it happened, many of the names that Keyes had researched were cases that he almost certainly had nothing to do with. Still, this is something that needs to be mentioned, especially since so much else about her disappearance is consistent with his behavior.
In my research, I have periodically seen the argument crop up that the name tag could have been planted in the parking lot. I don’t have any particular problem with this theory per se–it’s perfectly plausible that the someone did place it there after the fact–but I do have to point out the planting doesn’t seem to have accomplished any particular effect. If the person who placed it there intended someone to find it and believe that Suzanne had been abducted from the stretch of campus between the bus stop and the Colonial Quad, passing the visitor’s parking lot on the way…well, that’s exactly what all the over evidence pointed to and what most people already believed, so what exactly was it supposed misdirect from?
When I think about Suzanne Lyall’s case, I keep circling back to one pivotal point–the use of her credit card at the ATM at the Stewart’s store. No matter who was more or less likely to have taken her, it’s an inescapable fact that someone was in possession of her card in the same area as her disappearance, less then twenty-four hours after it happened. I can’t help but think about Nike Man. I know that he was cleared, even to the point of having an alibi, but I sometimes wonder if he was cleared too soon. For that matter, what about all the other people seen in the surveillance footage, who were supposedly cleared as well? It seems reasonable to assume that any of them would have denied involvement in an abduction or using a stolen credit card if asked, so how effective were these checks in actuality? Were the people working at the store that day ever looked into, and were there any security cameras in the area that would have been able to see the entrance to the store itself? I can’t claim to know what happened to Suzanne, but I do think that someone in the store that day either knows exactly what happened to her or else had recently met someone who did.