Out of Thin Air

When I hear of unsolved cases, they kind of always stick with me. I pray that investigators will find a new lead, or someone will come forward with information that may lead to an arrest (and hopeful conviction). However, I’m very aware that more often than not, cases stay cold, so I’m always left feeling let down when at the end of an episode or podcast, there’s no update. There is no statute of limitations on murder. (And I believe that rape also needs to not have any statute of limitations- but that’s a different story) When I first read about this case, I think I instantly knew who did it. But the further along I got, I became so unsure. This is the story of Suzanne Lyall.

I was first interested in this story because it’s not too far from where I live. The area that is central to the plot is only a 3 ½ hour car drive from where I live now. 

Suzanne Lyall was born in Saratoga Springs, NY in 1978. She was the youngest of three children to Doug and Mary Lyall. Even though Suzanne was born in Saratoga Springs, the family lived in nearby Ballston Spa. Her two older siblings once described her as “the darling of the family.”

Suzanne was a quiet girl who would write poetry in her notebook when thoughts, feelings and inspiration struck her- even if she was just coming out of the shower, hair dripping wet and only wrapped in a towel. Suzanne was a fan of the Canadian rock band, Rush. (Um, the girl is me. I too love to write, and I was raised on and grew up to love Rush!) Unlike me however, Suzanne showed an early interest in computers, even building some from scratch. 

Suzanne Lyall graduated from her local high school with honors in 1996. At first, she attended SUNY Oneonta for a year, but found their computer science courses were lacking. She then transferred to SUNY Albany. The University at Albany brought her closer to home- and to her boyfriend Richard Condon.

Richard Condon was a year or two younger than Suzanne. They began dating when they were both in high school and he shared her interest in computers- they chatted frequently back and forth and he even set up her computer so that he can access it from his. (Um… that seems a little controlling.) 

She worked two jobs off campus. One at a computer company in Troy, and the other at Babbage’s store in the Crossgates Mall, just two miles west of campus. 

Suzanne called or emailed her parents and/or Condon almost daily. Mary Lyall recalls that the last time she spoke to Suzanne was on March 1st 1998. Suzanne had complained about being low on cash and was waiting for a paycheck. She declined Mary’s offer to lend her some money.

In late February 1998, Suzanne’s manager at Babbage’s recalled that she had been stressed about an upcoming midterm exam that she needed to excel on. (From what I’ve read, I’m led to believe that she might have been a little bit of a perfectionist when it came to her school work and might have been a little hard on herself when it came to her GPA. Again, I’m purely speculating.)

Suzanne took the exam on the morning of March 2nd, then attended her other college classes until four in the afternoon. After her last class of the day, she walked to the school’s north campus where she lived in the Colonial Quad dorm (most likely to change and drop her school belongings off) then the bus to Babbage’s. 

According to her manager, Suzanne thought she “done okay” on her exam and seemed like she was somewhat subdued. I can’t say for certain, but she might have felt like some pressure was lifted off of her and probably felt more at ease. Suzanne worked until the store closed at 9pm, then got on a Capital District Transportation Authority bus to head back to campus. This was around 9:20pm. The driver who regularly worked that route confirmed later that he had seen her board the bus around that time. However, he’s not certain that he had seen her get off at the Collins Circle stop on campus- a short walk to her dorm. He could say with certainty however that she wasn’t on the bus when he reached downtown, which was the end of his route. A friend of Suzanne’s says that she saw her get off the bus at the downtown end spot. This would have been around 9:45pm. Suzanne Lyall has never been seen again. 

On March 3rd, just the next day after Suzanne’s disappearance, Condon called Suzanne’s parents to tell them that their daughter hadn’t returned to her dorm room the night before and was nowhere to be found. She would usually phone or email him when she reached her room, but on March 2nd she never answered her phone. Her parents then contacted the campus police to report her missing, but were told that brief absences weren’t uncommon for college students and that they shouldn’t worry because she should likely reappear very soon. 

But, like any normal parents, the Lyall’s did worry about their daughter. This behavior was extremely unlike her. Her father said, “Suzie was not a risk-taker… She didn’t party or use alcohol or drugs.” The police did send an officer to her next scheduled class to see if Suzanne would show up, but didn’t see her. Her roommates said Suzanne never returned the night of March 2nd because they would have heard her keys jingling as they always have- and they didn’t. Two days later, a delay that Mr Lyall would later criticize, the campus police agreed that something was terribly wrong after Suzanne missed yet another midterm exam and more of her scheduled classes. The campus police (finally!) reached out and contacted the state police for assistance. The Lyall family along with SUNY Albany established an $15,000 reward for any information that would lead them to Suzanne. Fliers with Suzanne’s picture were distributed all over campus and in the surrounding areas. Within the first two weeks of the investigation, police looked into 270 leads and searched 300 acres near Collins Circle, including a wooded area and Rensselaer Lake- just across interstate 90 from that part of campus. 

The Lyall’s called Suzanne’s bank, and were later informed that Suzanne’s debit card had been used to withdraw $20 from an ATM at Stewart’s convenience store at approximately 4pm. The ATM withdrawal drew attention because her parents were adamant that Suzanne would not travel to that part of town where Stewart’s was located, however her parents said that she would only withdraw $20 at one given time. Stewart’s had a security camera but the camera was focused on the area around the cashier and not around the ATM. Whoever had the card knew the PIN, and Condon claimed that only Suzanne and himself knew it. The clerk on duty at the time said not to have noticed her when shown a picture. Police eventually located a man with a Nike cap that was said to have possibly been in possession of the debit card, but then eventually believed to not have any knowledge of Suzanne’s whereabouts, although the police couldn’t ever exclude him. The bank told the Lyall’s and the police that Suzanne’s card was used to make two other withdrawals from two different ATM’s the day that she went missing. One had been used in the morning somewhere near the Collins bus stop, and the other was used in a mall at about the time that she would have arrived at work. The police believe that she may have been the one to make both of those transactions since they were both $20, but Mary Lyall doesn’t understand or could imagine why her daughter would have made two withdrawals in one day, especially since she had complained a few days prior about being low on cash.

Police pondered if Suzanne’s disappearance had any connection to the similar disappearance of another SUNY Albany student, Karen Wilson who like Suzanne, was last seen getting off a public bus one mile away from campus. Karen Wilson had gone missing 13 years prior to Suzanne; In March of 1985. Also like Suzanne, Karen’s disappearance and intensive search yielded no evidence and remains unsolved as well. 

A convicted rapist who violated parole and left the area the same time that Suzanne disappeared was briefly considered a suspect. After the police found him in Illinois and was brought back to NY and interviewed, the police excluded him. Based on the bus driver’s uncertainty about whether or not Suzanne even got off at the Collins Circle stop, the police began to consider the possibility that she might never have even got on the bus at all. Months later, her Babbage’s name tag was found 30 yards from the Collins Circle bus stop, but it isn’t known if she lost it the night she vanished. Police could find no forensic evidence on the name tag and it became another dead end. 

One of Suzanne’s co workers mentioned to police that about a month before her disappearance, Suzanne believed that she may have been stalked by some unknown person. The coworker continued to say that Suzanne didn’t ever really seem afraid of this person and it ended up leading to nothing. 

Police have never been able to completely rule out Richard Condon as a suspect. Mary Lyall ended up telling CBS news that Suzanne had tried to break up with Condon on multiple occasions, but anytime she tried to end the relationship, Condon would become emotional and she would end up staying with him. After Suzanne had gone missing, Richard Condon had begun referring to Suzanne as his fiancee- a development that Suzanne’s parents say hadn’t yet happened. In fact, two weeks before Suzanne had gone missing, while on a trip with her mother to visit her grandmother, Suzanne wanted to stop and drop off a Valentine’s Day card to Condon, and while her mother claims that nothing actually happened during the visit, Mary wonders if Suzanne had actually given Condon a dear john letter and maybe tried to end the relationship once and for all. She even goes further and wonders if maybe Suzanne might have begun to see someone else, but police haven’t found any evidence of that. 

Condon claims to have had an alibi for the time of Suzanne’s disappearance. He said that he was playing video games with a friend. Police later confirmed this to be the case, but after initial conversations, Condon refused a lie detector test and said that he would continue to meet with investigators but only if he had a lawyer present. He eventually started to refuse any questions from the media, and according to his mother in 2010, he got married and moved on with his life. 

In 2005, John Regan (a man facing trial for a 1993 Connecticut kidnapping) was arrested after trying to abduct a female student from Saratoga Springs High School by trying to pull her into his van. Since Saratoga Springs isn’t far from Ballston Spa, the police and the family focused their attention on John Regan. Regan was eventually convicted of the attempted kidnapping in Saratoga, and has refused to speak to investigators or help with the investigation. 

In 2012, the ID channel aired a show, ‘Disappeared’ that devoted an episode about Suzanne Lyall. Executive producer Elizabeth Fischer said, “Her story struck us as compelling…., …this is the story of a wholesome life of a college student who vanished.” 

Within a year of Suzanne’s disappearance, Doug and Mary Lyall had begun lobbying for changes in NY to address shortcomings of the initial investigation. From a victims’ support group, they heard that a California couple had successfully lobbied legislators to make similar changes after their daughter had gone missing from her college campus in 1996. The Lyalls reached out to state legislators, who sponsored a bill formerly known as the College Safety Campus Act, but now referred as “Suzanne’s Law”; requiring colleges and universities in the state to have detailed plans for an investigation of violent felonies and missing persons cases that occurred on campus, as well as reporting to the state. IT PASSED, (hallelujah!) and on April 6th 1999, (Suzanne’s 21st birthday) Governor George Pataki signed it into law, with institutions required to be in compliance by 2000. 

Having accomplished their goal in NY, the Lyalls focused their efforts on getting federal law changed to increase the age (from 17 to 21) at which local police must report missing persons to the NCIC (National Crime Information Center). In 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the PROTECT Act of 2003- an omnibus bill of measures meant to protect children from various types of harm. It allowed police departments to report those cases to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, from which they could receive additional services like flyers or poster creation as well as age progression technology. Also in 2003, the Lyalls attended a conference with other couples and families of missing persons. They were struck with one woman’s speech, and when they spoke with her afterwards, she said, “I could have laid in bed with a cover over my head for years, but I decided to really get out there and talk about this…” Mary and Doug decided to follow that example- Mary began speaking publicly about Suzanne, and along with Doug founded the Center of Hope along with continuing their lobbying efforts. In 2008, their hard work resulted in another federal law named after their daughter. The Suzanne Lyall Safety Campus Act (enacted nationwide) is similar to the 1999 NY state law. It also requires colleges and universities to have in place policies that clearly detail the role of campus, local and state police agencies that are investigating a violent crime or missing persons on campus, in order to reduce the sort of “confusion and delays” that the Lyalls believed to have hindered their daughter’s investigation in the days during and immediately following. Like the 2003 legislation, it was passed by being in a larger related bill, the Higher Education Opportunity Act. State senator James Tedisco (a member of the assembly since 1999) introduced a bill that would increase penalties for violent felonies that are committed on the premises of, or within 1,000 feet of any educational facility in the state. That includes daycares. The bill never reached the floor of the assembly (even when he was the body’s minority leader) and he continues to work for the bill’s passage. 

Doug Lyall died in 2015, but Mary continues in the search for her daughter, and in their activism. Over the years, psychics contacted the Lyalls with tips- many of them have involved water, suggesting that Suzanne is dead and her body has been submerged somewhere. While Mary Lyall has dismissed them, noting that there are so many bodies of water in the Capital District as to make that information too vague to be useful, she nevertheless told Schenectady’s Daily Gazette in 2016 that she has persistently experienced “an odd feeling” any time she has driven across the Crescent Bridge, along U.S. Route 9 over the Mohawk River, between Albany and Ballston Spa. In June of that year, a reporter from the newspaper went along with her as a local firm that does high-tech mapping applied its technology to the river’s bottom in that area; it has not been reported whether anything significant was found. 

Why couldn’t the police ever fully exclude the man in the Nike cap? Does Suzanne’s case have anything to do with Karen Wilson’s case? It seems too coincidental that the two cases are too similar. Is the bus driver somehow involved? He was the only one to confirm Suzanne getting on the bus, and it’s weird that he claims he doesn’t know when or how Suzanne ever got off the bus. Why was Suzanne’s name tag 30 yards from where she would have gotten off the bus? Did Richard Condon confront Suzanne when she got home? Did he have his “friend” lie and cover for him? Was Suzanne actually unhappy in her relationship, or was she madly in love like Condon seemed to have portrayed. Was Condon the stalker that Suzanne thought she had, and did he map out her exact comings and goings? Did John Regan have anything to do with Suzanne? There’s gotta be a reason why he doesn’t want to talk with investigators. If he’s innocent, you would think that he’d do anything in his power to clear his name. Was it some other random guy? Was this merely an out-of-thin-air kidnapping and she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Like I said earlier, I feel discouraged that Suzanne has been missing for 22 years, 3 months and 23 days. (As of the day I write this blog.) I’m also the slightest bit hopeful that maybe someone comes across this blog post, or any other article that is circulating the internet about Suzanne and decides to come forward. If you have any information in the disappearance of Suzanne Lyall, please contact your local FBI office.

A missing persons flyer for Suzanne
Her room left virtually untouched since her disappearance
Age progression of Suzanne Lyall- what police believe she would look like today
Suzanne’s parents- Doug & Mary Lyall (taken before 2015)
Suzanne Lyall with Richard Condon

Published by caitiejobug

I’m a SAHM of one, a loving wife, daughter, and sister. Reading and writing are my favorite hobbies, along with watching true crime documentaries.

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