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Cold Case: Suzanne Lyall, Missing 20 Years

Lyall Family

Twenty years ago today, 19-year-old University at Albany sophomore Suzanne Lyall vanished shortly after getting off a CDTA bus at the campus' Collins Circle stop. Her family has never stopped looking.

No one has any idea what happened to Suzanne Lyall. She was returning to her dorm after working a shift in a computer store at Crossgates mall. People saw her on and getting off the bus. She never made it to the dorm.

Around 4 p.m., the day after she disappeared, her debit card was used at an ATM in a Stewart's Shop along Central Avenue. Her mother, Mary Lyall, says her daughter was frugal and would only make withdrawals at one of her bank's ATM's, to avoid a fee.  "The pin number was a direct hit on her card."

Credit CUE Center for Missing Persons

For months authorities searched for the person believed to have used the card: they called him the Nike man because he wore a hat adorned with the Nike swoosh logo. The lead was a dead end.

John Camp has been on the case for years. He is a senior investigator with the New York State Police Troop G major crime squad. "We continue to follow up with leads on the investigation. We review investigative acts that we did back in 1998, trying to see if there's something that we may have missed or something that would help us develop new leads that possibly could help us find out why Suzanne disappeared and where she may be."

Mary Lyall is certain that had Suzanne not disappeared, she would have made a name for herself in the computer field. "When she was 12 years old she had a Commodore computer. And my husband would pick up some old pieces of computers and things. She built a computer. When she went into middle school, she's telling the teachers how to run computers. If their one computer in the school broke down, nobody knew anything about computers. She would tell them how to fix it. They would get her to fix it. If she was around now she would have been working for Microsoft or somewhere. Or running her own company."

In 2001, Mary Lyall and Doug Lyall established the Center for Hope with the idea of providing assistance to others affected by a similar loss. The Lyall disappearance was oft compared to the Karen Wilson case. In 1985, also in March, the 22-year-old UAlbany senior left a Central Avenue tanning hut and was last seen walking along Fuller Road on her way back to her dorm. "We always said 'Oh, isn't that awful. That's probably the worst thing that could happen to a parent.' And then, of course, when we got involved in our organization, we did reach out to them and we did have contact with them." 

Lyall has always held out hope that Suzanne is still alive. "I'm hoping that she is!"

Again, police investigator Camp: "Although I believe Suzanne's disappearance is actually a homicide, there is  a possibility that she could have just, you know, walked away, even though I find that very unlikely. My hope is that someday Suzanne just comes home."

Lyall’s father Doug died in August 2015 at the age of 73.

After she went missing, Suzanne’s parents fought for federal legislation that would enhance the resources available to families and law enforcement of “children,” mainly college aged. They won. The new resource was access to assistance from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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