Even though Carter Gallo was only 10 years old at the time, he could sense the changes taking place in the neighborhood following the discovery of Suzie Rushing’s body at a nearby park. The autopsy was inconclusive – she had died from a combination of abdominal injuries (potentially from falling or being thrown down the steep ravine where she was found) and hypothermia – police deemed the death suspicious. Although her body was found still clothed, police felt that there were signs of struggle that pointed to an attempted rape in addition to murder. The investigation into the details of her death was ongoing – and there were few leads of evidence to follow and no arrest had been made.
Parents in the neighborhood were left with reeling with confusion and worries about the safety of their children. In the months leading to Suzie’s abduction the streets were continually filled with children playing under little-to-no supervision. Now, in general, the parks and streets surrounding the neighborhood remained empty. Parents escorted children to their playmates homes rather than risk their abduction along the block. The neighborhood children received new rules to follow about the trustworthiness of neighbors. And for the first time in Carter Gallo’s memory, the police began to incorporate the neighborhood in their patrols.
1991 was a very interesting time for cultural anxieties of the country – which permeated discussion especially among the neighborhood children about the mysterious death of Suzie Rushing. One salient anxiety of the time was the perceived infiltration and ascendancy of satanic rituals taking place in suburban parks and wooded hollows across the country – which included associated kidnappings, sexual assaults, and murder. Suzie’s death fit the cultural trope of a satanic ritual killing and the neighborhood children took that an ran with it. As the story began to take shape in discussion among the playmates of Carter Gallo, Suzie was mysteriously kidnapped from her neighborhood by a group of Satan Worshipers, assaulted and underwent an attempted rape, was ritualistically sacrificed, and her body tossed in a remote area of a nearby local park . This group of unknown and mysterious – even creature like – people were said to have practiced their rituals in the woods adjacent to Carter Gallo’s home.
Carter, Jared, and Raymond regularly traversed into this wooded valley, which stretched a span of 7×2 acres and served as the rainwater drainage and gravity fed sewage interceptor between theirs and another neighborhood. These were the same woods that Carter’s mother played in as a child. She used to talk about how she broke her arm in three places after falling from a Tarzan swing still located on the other side of the valley. Carter, Jared, and Raymond spent their summers building cabins, bluffs, forts, dams, and hideaways in this hidden and quite liberating part of the neighborhood.
The boys first became aware of the threat of “Devil Worshipers” in the woods from Karen, who warned them that if they were not cautious, the fate of Suzie could also befall them. With the boys attention piqued, Karen led them through a tour of the wooded area to identify where the Devil Worshipers practiced. As she walked with them she pointed out various important signs of Satanic activity including landmarks in the wooded area like “Devil’s Hill” and “The Devil’s Shed.” She explained that the Devil Worshipers typically held a procession in the woods around dusk and would use that time to identify and prey upon any child that saw their preparation. She instructed to the boys to take cover and hide if we saw anyone walking in the woods because they could potentially be Devil Worshipers, lest they become their next victim. Hiding in the woods from others would become a strange and exhilarating practice for the boys for a good time following Suzie’s disappearance and death. To a great extent, Karen wasn’t creating a ruse for her own amusement, she believed what she was saying.
The adults in the neighborhood had been reckoning with a more serious revelation regarding Suzie’s suspected murder. The lead suspect for police was Clifford Jeffery, a 36-year-old man who lived with his mother in the house next door to Suzie and Jenny Rushing. The Rushing’s parents had reported to police that they noticed that Clifford had taken an interest in Suzie prior to her disappearance. It was typical for Suzie to make rounds with almost all of the neighbors, but she received the most attention from the elderly ones who enjoyed her company and had the time and patience for a visit with a child with an intellectual disability. It was, post-hoc to Suzie’s parents, that Clifford would invite Suzie to sit with him on his front porch to visit. Clifford fit a description from two separate bystanders who are thought to have last seen Suzie with an accompanying male at both a payphone and at the park. Yet despite multiple times questioned, the police could not find a grounds for arrest. Clifford still remained a person of interest.
Adults in the neighborhood by consensus felt that they knew Clifford had murdered Suzie. When Carter’s mother talked to her neighbor’s older daughter who was the same age as Clifford, and attended high-school with him, she warned her to “keep your son away from him, he is a very strange person.”
Later in the summer of 1992 the neighborhood would have additional information to suspect Clifford. He would attack a 59-year-old neighbor who had mobility problems that summer. The woman recalled of the attack that “He came into my dining room, grabbed me from behind by the neck, got me in a headlock, and I fell to the floor. He picked up a glass and threatened to kill me with it.” He would then strike her with a fish scaler covered in electrical tape. By the time the attack had ended the woman was left unconscious and with a broken arm. In December of 1992, Clifford would attack another elderly woman who, at 62 and in a wheelchair with a broken leg, also had mobility issues. She would recall to prosecutors that Clifford’s attack would begin when “He pushed me into the tub, reached for my throat and tried to block off my air.” He would be prosecuted for both of these attacks, but no charges would be filed from Suzie’s disappearance and death. He would spend approximately 3 years in jail and would be on house arrest for another 5 years.
In 2008, Clifford would be charged again with the attack and rape of a 53 year old woman with multiple sclerosis. He had befriended her and was regularly visiting her to help with housework and other chores. The attack came when she spurned his sexual advance, whereby he repeatedly struck her with a meat tenderizer before forcing himself on her. The attack resulted in multiple bruises and the dislodging of the victim’s two front teeth. The victim stated at the trial that Clifford told her during the attack that in 1991 he killed his former girlfriend, Suzie Rushing in 1991.
As a result of the revelations at the trial, a new investigation was conducted but no charges were filed. Clifford was cleared of rape of the woman because he claimed that the sex was consensual and produced three witnesses that testified they had heard the victim admit to having consensual sex with Clifford prior to the attack. The victim claimed to jurors that she said this but it was a favor she did for him to help his self-esteem. He was convicted on seven other offenses aggravated indecent assault and sexual assault as well as a charge of making terroristic threats can will serve up to 37 years in prison.
Within a few year’s of Suzie’s death, an air of normalcy fully returned to the neighborhood. A group of new parents moved into the homes and the ones who lived through that time began to leave their guard down. The streets once again filled with children playing under little-to-no supervision.
Suzie Rushing’s case remains open.