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Scary Bradshaw: No Place Left To Go

The disappearances of Connie Converse and Jim Sullivan

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  • Photo Credit: Scary Bradshaw

It’s the mid-1970’s and life has caught up with you. You’re looking back, wondering, “How did I get here?” You’ve spent all of your life perfecting your music, crafting a catalog of songs that you believe in. You’ve taken all the right steps; moved to the big city, recorded an album with so and so, sent demos to the gatekeepers, and performed for willing audiences. Yet there you are, still daydreaming of making it. Longing for a fresh start, you pack up and go.

These are the circumstances preceding the disappearances of musicians Connie Converse and Jim Sullivan. Rumors and suspicions have turned these two songwriters into urban legends. Did Connie Converse make a new life for herself, hoping to never be found? Did Jim Sullivan willingly wander into the open desert, or was he abducted by aliens? It’s impossible not to wonder: Whatever happened to Connie and Jim?

connie converse
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  • Photo Credit: Cool Dead Women

Elizabeth “Connie” Converse was born August 3, 1924 in Concord, Massachusetts. She was the middle child raised in a God-fearing religious family. Those who knew her well describe her as being unlike anyone else: “As though she came from outer space,” or, “As if she had one foot in another world.”

Connie did well in school, graduating valedictorian and receiving a full scholarship to college. To her parents’ disappointment, she dropped out after only two years and moved suddenly to New York City to pursue writing. It was there that she began teaching herself guitar and writing music.

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Connie’s voice is inviting. Her lyrics are honest and relatable with an undeniable sense of loneliness. With nothing but her voice and acoustic guitar, the recordings are raw and at times haunting. She purchased a reel-to-reel tape recorder and began recording alone in her Greenwich Village apartment. She shared songs by mail with her brother, Phil, and his wife, Jean, though her parent’s weren’t so supportive. Strongly disapproving of her new beatnik lifestyle, Connie’s father never even heard her sing.

In 1954, doors began opening for Connie. She was invited to perform on live television for CBS This Morning. Connie believed this might be her big break. After the performance, she waited to hear from record labels and agents, yet nothing came of it. Connie spent the following few years sending demos around New York hoping to get signed, but to no avail. She was dreaming of a commercial success that never came.

Unable to find an audience for her music, Connie was left disheartened. In 1961, she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan to live near her brother. It is around this time that she stopped playing music entirely and began smoking and drinking heavily. She would experience bouts of depression, which she referred to as her “blue funk.” She never shook the feeling of personal disappointment, haunted by her luckless attempts to be heard.

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In August 1974, just one week after her fiftieth birthday, Connie sent cryptic goodbye letters to her loved ones. She wrote that she needed to leave and dreamed of starting a new life. The letter to her brother read, “If I ever was a member of this species, perhaps it was a social accident that has now been canceled.” In the letter, she asked Phil to continue paying her health insurance up to a certain point. Was this her personal deadline for establishing a new life? 

connie converse
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  • Photo Credit: Cool Dead Women

When the Converse family met with a private detective, they were told, “You can be missing if you want to be. Everybody has the right to pick up and go.” And with that in mind, the family stopped all efforts to find her. Some believe that she did take off to start a whole new life. Others believe she left to end her life, perhaps driving into a body of water. Her VW Bug was never found. In her own words, “Human society fascinates me and awes me and fills me with grief and joy; I just can’t find my place to plug into it.” 

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We may never know what transpired in the years following her departure, but we do know that Connie Converse disappeared intentionally. Jim Sullivan’s story is much more mysterious. Leaving few clues in his disappearance, Sullivan seems to have vanished off the face of the earth entirely.

jim sullivan
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  • Photo Credit: The New Yorker

Born August 13, 1940, Jim “Sully” Sullivan grew up in San Diego, California. Jim was charming and had a magnetic personality. He was the football quarterback in high school and married his high school sweetheart, Barbara. Just out of high school, Jim picked up the guitar and began writing songs with his band The Survivors. They did well in the local scene, but Jim was dreaming of making it big. In 1968, Barbara landed a secretarial job at Capitol Records and they moved to Los Angeles with their young son, Chris.

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Jim Sullivan’s music has been compared to Fred Neil and Gene Clark, a blend of folk, rock and country. His lyrics often delve into the mystical, fitting for 1960’s California. Regularly performing at a dive called The Raft, Jim felt on the edge of success. The bar was frequented by Hollywood actors and musicians, many of whom became his friends. Believing in his music, they pooled money together to pay for recording sessions, going so far as to hire the legendary Wrecking Crew as his backing band. Jim recorded his debut album U.F.O., but when it came time to promote the release, funds had run dry. The album was barely heard.

None other than Hugh Hefner approached Jim about releasing a follow up record, and Jim was signed to Playboy Records. Again, promoting the new album was a challenge, and it never gained traction. Jim’s failures began to wear on the family, and both he and Barbara turned to drinking. Jim decided it was time for him to leave LA and give it a shot in Nashville. They agreed that he would forge ahead, and if he was able to find even a glimmer of success, the rest of the family would join him there.

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On March 4, 1975, Jim began his trip toward Nashville. He drove fifteen hours straight before being pulled over by police in Santa Rosa, New Mexico for swerving. After passing a sobriety test, Jim was advised to rest at a motel before continuing his journey. He checked into La Mesa Motel, but rather than entering the room, he locked the keys inside, went to a nearby liquor store, and purchased a bottle of vodka. He was seen driving around Santa Rosa, making his way to a remote ranch on the outskirts of town. Unwelcome, he was told to leave. Jim walked aimlessly into the desert, in the opposite direction of his Volkswagen Bug—or so the story goes.

After not hearing from Jim for a few days, the Sullivan family began searching. The VW Bug was found on the side of the road near the ranch. Finding his guitar in the front seat, Barbara knew Jim would not be coming back. She considered the possibility that he had been abducted by aliens, saying in an interview, “I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”

jim sullivan
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  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of Barbara and Chris Sullivan via Flood Magazine

The search for Jim pressed on with few leads and no answers. Months later, a body was found nearly two hundred miles away. The body fit Jim’s description; same build, long hair, even a faded tattoo on the same arm. With no DNA tests at the time, it was concluded that this was not Jim. It is unclear if the family ever had the opportunity to weigh in on the matter. 

Exactly what went on with local law enforcement in New Mexico remains a mystery. The local sheriff retired soon after the disappearance, and an official missing person’s report was never filed. The family at the ranch were never questioned by authorities and moved away after the incident. Regardless of these suspicious circumstances, Barbara held on to the belief that Jim had been taken by extraterrestrials and was somewhere in the stars.

The similarities between these disappearances are hard to ignore. Connie disappeared in August 1974 and Jim in March of 1975, just months apart. They both drove Volkswagen Bugs. They are both Leos, perhaps a zodiac sign that craves an escape. They both teetered on the edge of success before vanishing without a trace, never to be heard from again.