Pearl Street Mystery


LOCATION Financial district

RENT $3,200 [market]

SQUARE FEET 1,600 [loft on top floor of 1840s former sailmaker shop]

OCCUPANTS Patrick O’Rourke [owner, Big Apple Lights]

They’ve been missing since November 1997. What happened? No one knows.

Michael J. Sullivan—54, dancer, part-time museum clerk. Camden Sylvia—36, painter, real estate agent, together six years. They used to live here. Then, on or after Friday, November 7, they vanished. How do you fit in? In ’92, I stayed here for a couple of months to take care of Michael’s cat. I believe at the point that he had joined the circus. I’d been contacted by a friend of Michael’s. I became a sideline character. Police said it’s very unusual for two people to disappear at the same time.

I always wondered if they’d run away. Though when police came in, they found Michael’s wallet, passport, videos rented that day, including Addicted to Love, and a receipt from J&R. The focus of police scrutiny was the landlord. Remember that news photo of him in his lock shop downstairs, the endless wall of keys? No.

Camden and Michael reportedly gave the landlord a letter that Friday, also signed by other tenants, threatening to withhold rent unless he turned up the heat, a constant problem. Yes.

Landlord Robert Rodriguez, 56, repeatedly denied involvement in their disappearance. Then he vanished for two weeks. He lived with his family on seven acres in Wawayanda, Orange County, New Jersey. He was a Cuban émigré, rumored to have had some kind of CIA involvement in the ’60s and to be an expert safecracker. Police never found a clue linking him. I’ve never been interviewed by the police. According to a neighbor, they brought corpse-sniffing dogs in here, found nothing.

There was a good reason for the landlord’s disappearance—the indictment a year later: 29 counts, for laundering more than $1 million through his security and alarm installation business. He pleaded guilty on federal and state charges of tax evasion, credit card fraud. He was paroled last August after four years. He never broke while he was in the slammer. Not about that or the unsolved ’91 disappearance of a former employee in his security business. Maybe these disappearances were just coincidences. The assistant D.A. won’t talk. He just said a criminal investigation is going on. Did you ever meet Camden and Michael? When I moved to New York in ’77, I worked at Dance Theater Workshop. I may have met Michael there but I don’t recall seeing him until the day in ’92 he came back from the circus. I was here vacuuming. He climbed in through the front window. I was a little surprised. We chatted a bit. He thought he was going to go away again the following summer. Two weeks before—I’d already given up where I was living—he said he wasn’t leaving. He had fallen in love. That was ’93, the last interaction until I read that they were missing.

That front-page photo of them in the Hamptons, all in white, smiling—she’s about to eat an hors d’oeuvre. They were probably at someone’s party. What did you think? I met Rodriguez, the landlord, once in the hallway and he seemed very pleasant. I never ever thought I’d be back here. At that point, I had a loft in Brooklyn, which I did not like. In ’98, Michael’s friend, who had power of attorney, called and offered me a sublet here.

The rent’s no longer $304. A new landlord, the father-in-law of the lawyer who shares an office with Rodriguez’s lawyer, paid $250,000 in ’99, according to public records. Rodriguez had bought it in ’93 for $205,000. Wait, remember the sneaker floating in the cove? No.

In 1998, a Fila, Camden’s size, with a white gym sock and a foot inside was found in the Battery Park Marina. She and Michael were runners. But then the foot didn’t match her DNA. I heard a psychic who looked like the one in Poltergeist came here. She went into a trance and said they’re waiting to cross over after retribution. What does that mean? Justice.

[More revelations next week]