Missing Australian Teenager Resurfaces
Fri Apr 11, 5:48 AM ET
By PETER O'CONNOR, Associated Press Writer
CANBERRA, Australia - Australian teenager Natasha Ryan, who disappeared four years ago and was presumed dead, has resurfaced — midway through the trial of an alleged serial killer charged with her murder.
Ryan, now 18, was found Thursday, hiding in a closet at her 26-year-old boyfriend's home just half a mile from her mother's home in Rockhampton in Queensland state.
She was being questioned on Friday by police who earlier interviewed her boyfriend. It was not immediately clear whether charges would be filed.
Ryan's dramatic reappearance coincided with the trial in a Queensland court of Leonard John Fraser, 51, who was charged with the murder of her and three other women whose bodies have been found.
Prosecutors immediately dropped the charge against Fraser for Ryan's murder, although the three other murder counts remain.
The case has been adjourned until Monday, when Fraser's lawyers are expected to argue that they also be withdrawn and the entire trial abandoned.
Fraser had pleaded innocent to all four murders.
Ryan disappeared when she was 14. Her family had been so sure she was dead, they held a memorial service for her a year ago.
A police spokesman said officers raided the boyfriend's house after a tip-off arising from Fraser's trial.
Ryan's father, Robert, confirmed his daughter's identity over the phone by asking her to tell him his pet name for her. She answered correctly.
Detectives questioned the boyfriend Scott Black on Thursday night before releasing him and referring the case to the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions.
Black, a milkman, had been fined $600 in 1998 for obstructing a police investigation in a previous incident in 1995 when Ryan ran away from home for the first time and stayed in a hotel.
Robert Ryan's second wife, Debbie Ryan, said her husband had been hit "pretty hard" by the shock of discovering his daughter was alive.
Natasha Ryan returned to her mother's home Thursday night. The house was besieged by media Friday but neither Ryan, her mother nor Black have made any public statements.
The family's lawyer Ross Lo Monaco said that when police phoned the mother, Jenny Ryan, on Thursday to tell her they had found Natasha, she at first assumed they were talking about a body.
"Mrs. Ryan was in shock, she didn't know if she could believe it and she was concerned it may have been a false alarm," Lo Monaco told reporters.
Lo Monaco said the mother and child reunion had been "an emotional scene."
"It was sad to realize that Mrs. Ryan for all of these years had assumed that her young daughter was dead, but it was nice to see them finally reunited," he told reporters.
Fraser, who is serving a life sentence for the separate rape and murder of 9-year-old girl, was charged in the four murders after detectives secretly taped him in prison.
On the tape, Fraser confessed to killing her and the three other women four to five years ago.
Paul Wilson, one of Australia's top criminologists, said such secret prison confessions are usually unreliable as evidence.