Excerpt from Prologue of Behind the Red Door: A Memoir by Astrid Sullivan
You think you know the story. You’ve seen the news coverage, the magazine articles, the true crime episodes dedicated to the Astrid Sullivan Case. You’ve read about the man in the mask, the weeks I spent locked in a basement—gray and dim but for its bright red door. You’ve heard about the curb I was left on, two blocks from my family’s home in Foster, New Hampshire.
There are many things you don’t know, details the police didn’t release and urged me not to speak of. “We always withhold some key information,” they explained. Something about it being easier to find and interrogate suspects. Something about maintaining the integrity of the investigation. For a long time, I played by those rules, trusting what they told me, that justice is slow but inevitable.
But now, it’s been two decades, more than half my life. I’ve stopped believing that the man who took me will ever be caught. In a way, I’ve stopped believing in the police altogether. So this is my story now, the way it always should have been.
Here are some things you don’t know: the type of mask he wore, his clothes, the words we spoke. I know these things matter to you. Reporters have been asking me about them for years. But here’s what matters to me: what I did to make myself vulnerable; what I did in that basement to survive; what I still want to say to the girl who saw the man who took me.
Because, yes, there was such a girl. I know the police have told you there weren’t any witnesses. But there was one. She was ten, maybe eleven years old.
When the police came to question me, I begged them to find her, search every house in America if that’s what it took. She knew what happened. She saw a feature of the man that I never did. But they returned a few days later shaking their heads. They claimed there was no one who’d come forward fitting the description I gave them.
Not long after, I began seeing a therapist, who ended our first session by suggesting that I had imagined the girl, that I’d invented her as a way to cope with the trauma, a way to find some hope to hold on to while I endured my basement nightmare.
When I pleaded with my parents to take me seriously, to help me look for her, to help me get the answers that only she could provide, they stared at me, a skeptical sadness in their eyes that still hurts to remember.
The police wouldn’t let me talk about her. “If she’s real,” they said, “it could jeopardize the investigation to let this go public. Think of all the crazies who would crawl out of the woodwork, claiming this girl is their daughter.”
I didn’t buy their reasons. If she’s real told me everything I needed to know.
But she was there. I’d bet my life on it. My future children’s lives.
She was not a coping strategy. She was not a dream. She was real: the girl who saw everything but never said a word.
Only sometimes, in my darkest hours, do I momentarily doubt this. Only sometimes, for a sliver of a second, do I think she might have been someone else the whole time—me. A ghost of my former self. A girl I still believed should be spared.