- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia, April 17 (UPI) — As weird stories go, the reappearance last week of an Australian teenager, Natasha Ryan, just as a man was about to go on trial for her murder, would be hard to beat.

The soon-to-be 19-year-old girl was discovered by Queensland police Thursday cowering in a closet in a house rented by her boyfriend, Scott Black, in the coastal city of Rockhampton, in Australia's "deep north." The house was just one kilometer(0.6 mile) from her family home.

Before that, she was last seen by some friends on Aug. 31 1998, meeting a man in an alleyway near the Rockhampton movie houses. Her family had been so certain she was dead, they held a memorial service for her a year ago.

Her reappearance sparked a checkbook war between rival television networks, with Channel Nine's "60 Minutes" program winning the battle for exclusive rights to the story. The program has spoken to Ryan and her mother — with whom she is again living — but refuses to say how much money changed hands, though the sum of U.S.$120,000 is widely tipped.

Neither Natasha, her mother, nor boyfriend Black has made any public statements about her secret life in hiding in advance of the soon-to-be-scheduled "60 Minutes" interview.

What is known from police sources is that during her four years in hiding, she only left the house five times, and hid in the closet whenever anyone came to visit. This has led many to believe that her expose could reveal little more than a pretty dull and lonely life of daytime television, chain-smoking and crisps (chips).

More fascinating is the way Ryan was discovered. Local police raided her home after acting on a tip-off during the trial of an alleged serial killer, Leonard John Fraser, 51. Already serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl, he is also being tried for the murder of three other women.

Fraser was charged with Natasha Ryan's murder following allegations by a fellow prison inmate. He stated that Fraser told him he had smashed Ryan across the head as she slept in his car.

"Well, I hit Natasha, and she was unconscious; I drove to the showgrounds and that's where I murdered her. I took her body out to the pink lily pond near the airport," the inmate said Fraser told him.

When she learned that Fraser was being tried for her murder, Ryan contacted a counseling help line several weeks ago. The counseling service informed police, who tried to trace the call, but without success, before receiving the anonymous tip-off.

Court authorities said Thursday that the trial for Ryan's murder will be abandoned, and there are now doubts hanging over the other murder charges.

Ryan's father, Robert, confirmed his daughter's identity over the phone by asking her to tell him his pet name for her. According to his second wife, Debbie, Robert Ryan has been hit "pretty hard" by the shock of discovering his daughter is alive.

As for Natasha's mother, Jenny, family lawyer Ross Lo Monaco said that when police first told her they had found Natasha, she immediately assumed they were talking about a body.

"Mrs. Ryan was in shock," Lo Monaco told local media.

Meanwhile, Lyle Dobbs, a State Emergency Service volunteer involved in the initial search for Natasha Ryan believes any profit made from telling the story should go to taxpayers who paid for the search.

"I think the people that have really paid in this whole situation are effectively the taxpayers of Queensland that fund the state, and if there's any money to go anywhere, it should go back into Queensland," he told local media.

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