Details of Disappearance
Sylvia and her boyfriend, Michael Sullivan, were last seen jogging during the evening hours of November 7, 1997 in the New York City borough of Manhattan. They were in the vicinity of Pearl Street and Hanover Square at the time of their disappearances. Neither of them have been heard from again.
Sylvia's mother inspected the couple's loft after she failed to locate them shortly afterwards. Everything was in place inside of their residence. Sullivan's wallet, keys, both their passports, and a rental video were on their kitchen table. Two pairs of running shoes and one set of house keys were missing, as was the bag Sylvia carried when she took work home from the office.
At first it was thought the couple had taken an impromptu vacation, but their apartment appeared as if Sylvia and Sullivan intended to return home within a short time, and their credit cards have not been used since their disappearances.
The couple had been having problems with their landlord, Robert "Bob" Rodriguez, who owned their apartment building at 76 Pearl Street in Manhattan and had a locksmith shop on the ground floor. A photo of Rodriguez is posted with this case summary.
Authorities believe that Rodriguez was having financial problems and wanted to increase the rent for all of his tenants in his property in late 1997. Sylvia and Sullivan paid only $300 a month for their rent-controlled apartment; it would later command ten times that amount.
Rodriguez apparently threatened to turn off the heat if the renters did not agree to an increase. Sylvia presented Rodriguez with a petition signed by tenants at 76 Pearl Street on the day of their disappearances. The petition stated that the tenants would withhold their rent payments if Rodriguez followed through with his threat.
Investigators theorized that Rodriguez believed he could receive his desired rental payments from other prospective clients and murdered Sylvia and Sullivan on November 7. There is no evidence to support this hypothesis, but authorities also believed Rodriguez may have dumped the couple's remains in a body of water in the New York City area afterwards.
Extensive searches failed to produce any evidence of the couple's whereabouts. Rodriguez disappeared for two weeks afterwards without explanation. He returned to Manhattan by the end of November 1997, hired a lawyer, and refused to cooperate with law enforcement investigating Sullivan and Sylvia's disappearances.
Sylvia's mother maintained the rent for the couple's apartment from the time of their disappearances. Rodriguez was arrested on unrelated larceny, tax fraud and credit card fraud charges later in 1997. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison. 76 Pearl Street was sold to another landlord, who promptly raised the rent and forced Sylvia's mother to give up the loft.
David King was an associate of Rodriguez and was a co-defendant in a lawsuit with the landlord in 1991. He disappeared from New York City during that year around the time he and Rodriguez had an argument. King has never been located, but it is believed he met with foul play.
It is not known if Rodriguez is involved in Sylvia, Sullivan or King's disappearances. There have not been any arrests in connection with the cases, which remain unsolved. Rodriguez was scheduled to be released from prison in the fall of 2002, but the New York State Parole Board reversed its decision in October of that year.
The Board stated that Rodriguez was "evasive" about the whereabouts of a gun cache that disappeared from his property in the late 1990s. The Board labeled Rodriguez "intentionally deceitful" and he was returned to prison for an additional two years.
He has since been released and maintains his innocence in Sylvia and Sullivan's disappearances. He now lives in the East Harlem neighborhood in New York City.
Sylvia was employed at a Manhattan real estate office for 14 years at the time of her 1997 disappearance. She also worked as a painter. She is a native of the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts. Investigators searched the Hudson River for the couple's bodies, but turned up no evidence. Their cases remain unsolved.