Natasha Ryan: The Girl Who Hid in the Cupboard

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Natasha will forever be regarded as that girl who hid in the closet. How she made her parents and the world believe that she was dead remains a shock. Natasha was 14 years old when her parents couldn’t find her in Rockhampton. This was in the year 1998.

A picture of Natasha.
Source: Tumblr

It was not only Natasha who was missing at this time, several other girls went missing during that period too. This disappearance made the police properly investigate the possibility that serial killers had murdered her. But, Natasha wasn’t dead. She was found alive and even showed up to the 2003 trial of the man they’d presumed killed her.

The Disappearance of Natasha Ryan

On the 31st of August 1998, Natasha went missing after her mom had dropped her off at her school. In August, before she disappeared, Natasha had already ran from home once, with the help of her boyfriend, Scott Black.

A portrait of Natasha before her disappearance.
Source: Flickr

Last time she disappeared the police were alerted, she was found after just two days, and her boyfriend was fined close to $1,000 for police obstruction. Scott Black claimed that he had helped Natasha because she had threatened to commit suicide.

The Search for Natasha Ryan

Believing she might have fallen prey to Black, the police ran an extensive search. Bushlands were burnt down to aid the investigation, and local state emergency services were called out. The search cost about $400,000. After the long investigation, they still couldn’t find her, and assumed she was dead.

Police officers are standing outside the car.
Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Natasha’s family had a memorial service held in Bundaberg, a place in Queensland. The memorial was held on her birthday on the 9th of May, 2001. After two years, she was found just a few kilometers from her home. Take note that she’d disappeared for four years and eight months.

Who was Leonard Fraser?

Fraser was serving a life sentence for rape, murder, and the abduction of Keyra Steinhardt, a nine-year-old. At this time, Fraser had confessed to five murders, including Natasha’s. This happened in 1999. Fraser’s confession was a big deal for the police.

A vintage portrait of Leonard Fraser.
Photo by Victor Colin Sumner/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

Fraser was charged with Natasha Ryan, Veverly Leggo, and Sylvia Benedetti’s murders. In addition, Julie Tuener’s manslaughter was also one of his crazy acts. Fraser also stood trial in a Supreme Court in Brisbane.

Jenny Kerwin, Dropping off Natasha at School

On the 31st of August 1998, her mother, Jenny, had pulled up at Rockhampton High School to drop off Natasha. Natasha Ryan, who was 14-years-old at the time, leaned over from the passenger seat, when Jenny reached out to her, pecked her on the cheek, and said, “I love you.”

Jenny Kerwin speaks in a televised interview.
Source: YouTube

Throughout the nearly five years Natasha was gone, she had questioned if her mother truly loved her. In 2003, during her appearance on the show 60 minutes, Natasha said, “if someone loved you that much, how could they make you go through so much pain?”

Natasha Ryan on 60 Minutes in 2003

Natasha never returned from school that day. The police investigation into Natasha’s disappearance went on for months. The police and local state emergency services searched the entire city for her whereabouts, and after a while, they finally had a breakthrough.

A still from the televised interview to Natasha.
Source: YouTube

In May 1999, Fraser was charged with the rape and murder of Keyra Steinhart, who also went missing for more than eight months. This was explained to Natasha on 60 minutes. The police had speculations that Fraser was a serial killer and thought he’d killed Natasha too.

Fraser’s Life During Trial

While behind bars and awaiting trial for Steinhart’s murder, Fraser made outrageous confessions to other inmates, telling them about the multiple killings, which later resulted in his capture. He also made mention that a witness tied him to Natasha’s disappearance.

A mugshot of Leonard Fraser.
Source: Facebook

The trial was supposed to be held in April 2003. Eight days into that trial, Rutledge, who was the deputy director of public prosecutions at that time, made several announcements. At the end, the judge addressed the court, stripping Fraser of all of Natasha’s murder allegations, as Natasha was still alive.

Natasha’s Secret Life

14-year-old Natasha had spent more than five years living in secret with Scott Black. When Natasha was 14, Scott Black was 22. Natasha moved into Scott’s home, which was in Yeppoon, a nearby town. Up until this point, Natasha still hasn’t revealed the major reason for her disappearance.

A picture of Scott Black / A portrait of Natasha Ryan.
Source: Tumblr / YouTube

60 Minutes saw the parents’ troubles and divorce as factors that contributed to her disappearance. On 60 Minutes, Natasha says, “Everyone was pissing me off at a point. I didn’t want school; I didn’t want to stay at home; I never wanted that life.”

Natasha’s Life in Isolation

For the last stretch of these two secret lives, Scott and Natasha were living together. Their house was in Rockhampton, and this was where Natasha stayed when Scott was transferred to another city to work as a milkman. With curtains drawn, Natasha remained in insolation.

A view of the cupboard.
Source: Facebook

She spent most of the time watching videos, sewing and exercising. During this period, she studied German online. Anytime a visitor stopped by, Natasha would hide in the cupboard. She basically had zero contact with the outside world.

Natasha’s Reaction to Fraser’s Arrest

When Fraser was apprehended and charged with murder, Natasha saw it as a kind of joke, a ploy to draw her out of hiding. Natasha was expected to say something about Fraser’s arrest when she got out, but she feared prison time.

Natasha sits inside a cupboard.
Source: Pinterest

This was also one of the reasons why she remained hidden. She didn’t want to feel guilty about anything and didn’t want to connect with the outside world at that time. In April 2003, Natasha’s search team got an anonymous tip that revealed Natasha’s location.

Confirming Natasha’s True identity

It had been a long time ago; nobody was sure of Natasha’s latest development. Her father, Robert Ryan, was at court for Fraser’s trial when the family who prosecuted Paul Rutledge called him outside the court to disclose the latest development on Natasha’s whereabouts.

Natasha is going to court.
Source: Facebook

Robert Ryan had to confirm Natasha’s identity, so here’s what he did. Paul, the prosecutor, handed over a phone to Robert Ryan and instructed him to ask the caller a question that only Natasha could answer. Robert Ryan said, “do you recall the name I addressed you as a little girl?” The caller replied, ‘grasshopper.’

Robert Ryan Confirming his Daughter’s Identity

Robert Ryan was thrilled when she replied saying grasshopper. He knew only his daughter could’ve given him that answer. It was his little grasshopper Natasha, whom he had staged a memorial four years earlier, for whom he, his ex-wife Jenny and other relatives had grieved for.

Hearing the news of Natasha’s discovery, the media became swooped!

A headshot of Natasha’s father.
Source: YouTube

Everybody wanted to hear the story at that time, and a celebrity manager, Max Markson, flew to Queensland and got a deal of $120,000 to sell off her story to Woman’s Day and 60 Minutes.

Fraser’s Several Convictions

On the other hand, Fraser had multiple convictions, including the murder of Sylvia Benedetti and Leggo Beverly. There were still other speculations that he was linked to other murders. The truth of this matter may never be known.

Fraser walks escorted by two investigators.
Source: Facebook

Fraser had his name tarnished as he was regarded as the Famous Rockhampton, serial killer. Fraser died in a secure unit at Brisbane in 2007. He had heart complications and couldn’t survive treatments.

Scott Black and Natasha Bryan

Scott Black spent about a year in prison. This was for perjury over evidence that he gave during his committal hearing. In this hearing, he lied that he never heard from Natasha since she disappeared. The court ordered him to pay about $17,000 for the search effort.

An exterior view of Natasha and Scott’s house.
Source: Facebook

On the other hand, Natasha felt very bad that her actions had led to her long-life partner’s sentence. She was fined only $1,000 around 2006, and this was for causing a false police search.

Natasha Claims She Wasn’t Coerced

In Natasha’s statement, she said, “it was never my decision to flee.” This was during an interview with New Idea in 2007. She also stated that “he was doing some nice things and protecting me adequately, and I felt I should be secure around him, so I left.”

Natasha and Scott at their wedding.
Source: News Corp Australia

In September 2008, Scott and Natasha tied the knot, and they then sold their story afterward to New Idea for about $200,000. Following the story, Natasha had four kids and worked in a healthcare center.

Natasha Ryan is Back from the Dead

Fraser’s trial went on for long until Paul Rutledge, a major prosecutor in the case, announced to the court that Fraser wasn’t guilty of Natasha’s murder allegation. This statement sent a shock to Natasha’s relatives. Her father, Robert Ryan, almost had a panic attack!

Natasha shows the wardrobe to a reporter.
Source: YouTube

Finding out that his daughter wasn’t dead came as a shock, as he had already carried out her memorial service and was done mourning her. The police raided the house in North Rockhampton, and Natasha was found. It felt like she was back from the dead.

Natasha’s Murder Trial

Twenty days after Natasha was found, she was asked to attend her murder trial for questioning. She told the court that she had never met Fraser and didn’t know of his previous charges. Although Fraser wasn’t guilty of Natasha’s supposed murder, he was responsible for Beverly Leggo and Sylvia Benedetti’s’.

Natasha and her representative are on their way to court.
Natasha Ryan, Max Markson. Source: News Corp Australia

Fraser, at this time, was 51 years old and was sentenced to three prison terms indefinitely. He didn’t finish his sentence before he died. He passed away on the 1st of January 2007.

A Nocturnal Life

For most of the time that everyone thought Natasha was dead, she was living a nocturnal life. She stayed in a beachside house in Yeppoon. She didn’t stay there for long because her husband was transferred due to work.

An aerial view of Yeppoon.
Source: Tumblr

Those beautiful views she had were wasted, as her new location made her stay only in the dark. The curtains were always drawn, and the windows and doors bolted! She said she could go outside for a few swims, but this was done very carefully.

Natasha Ryan is Paying the Price for Lying

Soon after her family and the public discovered that she wasn’t dead, questions began to surface. People asked if they will both face criminal charges for their insensitive act and raising a false investigation into her murder. Scott Black was sentenced to three years by Grant Britton, a judge in Rockhampton.

Natasha hides her face from the camera as she leaves court.
Source: YouTube

This sentence was for perjury after telling the police that he knew nothing about Natasha’s whereabouts. He later pleaded guilty, and his sentence was reduced to 12 months. Natasha was also fined $1000 for raising a false police investigation.

Natasha’s Social Media Saga

The outrageousness of all of Natasha’s story meant she was the headline of social platforms. She made several international headlines, and people were knocking down the door to interview her. The relief people felt when they found out that she was alive was well marred.

Natasha cries during a televised interview.
Source: YouTube

There were calls for both Scott Black and Natasha Ryan to pay back the cash spent on their search and the cost of the false allegations leveled against Fraser.

Where are They Now?

Scott Black and Natasha Ryan tied the knot on the 29th of September 2008. The marriage happened right after Scott finished serving his jail sentence. The couple received about $200,000 from Woman’s Day, and this cash was for free access to the exclusive rights to their story before and after public attestation.

Scott and Natasha arrive at their house.
Source: News Corp Australia

The most recent report on the couple was documented in 2011. The report explained that the couple had three children aged five and seven, and one while Natasha was studying to be a nurse at this time.

Natasha Ryan Hiding in a Wardrobe

About 44 months passed before Natasha Ryan was finally found hiding in a wardrobe. The police stationed at the northern state of Queensland at that time interviewed Natasha. They tried to find out why she absconded, hidden in Rockhampton to be found in a wardrobe eventually.

Natasha shows the wardrobe to a reporter.
Source: YouTube

From the interview, they found out that she ran away in 1998. She said she had left school with a feeling of guilt and stress because her parents must have been worried and assuming she was kidnapped. Well, she wasn’t wrong, as her parents held a memorial service in her honor.

Detectives Thoughts About Natasha Ryan

Detectives concluded that Natasha didn’t want to be found. They are trying to figure out exactly how she could live secretly in Rockhampton without anybody finding out. They also felt Scott Black harbored her, preventing her from relating to the outside world.

An officer speaks during a televised interview.
Source: YouTube

Detectives saw her as another victim of a murderer who had been facing trials on the murder of little girls. In court, prosecutors had claimed that Fraser had confessed to killing Natasha, which he didn’t. This made the police evidence unreliable and led to the end of the trial.

Natasha Breaks Down as she Denies Witnesses’ Claims

Natasha tried so hard to comfort herself when the prosecutor clarified that she was lying under oath. “Yes, I’m aware,” she said. This was during the Leonard Fraser trial. However, right before this time, she had broken down a couple of times when questioned about the inconsistencies between her discussion with the police and the witnesses’ evidence.

Natasha stands in court next to her lawyer.
Source: ABC News

Natasha Ryan had not seen her family since 1998; her breaking down at that time was understandable because she’s human.

Fraser’s False Murder Allegation

Fraser had been charged with Ryan’s presumed murder case and the murder of three other women. Ryan’s school counselor, Bean Ngari, told the court that the week before Natasha disappeared, she was upset and felt depressed because she didn’t know how to tell her mother that she was pregnant to Scott Black at that time.

A newspaper clipping on Natasha Ryan.
Source: Tumblr

Miss Bean told the media that Scott Black had recommended some drugs to get rid of the pregnancy. She attested that Mr. Black was quite manipulative and could’ve had a hand in her disappearance, not Fraser.

Natasha Heel’s Attestation to Fraser’s Murder Allegation

Another witness, Natasha Heel, mentioned that she had spoken to Natasha in Fraser’s company, located in Rockhampton Street. She also said this went on for four months before she left the street, and Natasha’s eyes were bloodshot.

Officers escort Fraser on his way to court.
Source: ABC News

As the court made its case on the three murder charges against Leonard, his counsel Gundelach said he would call out Natasha only to give concrete evidence that the allegations leveled against Fraser were wrong. Immediately, she was located, requested to attend court, placed under oath, and told to attest to the murder allegations.

Natasha Regarded as a Troubled Teen

Jenny Kerwin has always loved Natasha Ryan. She had taken it upon herself to drop her off at school every day. Natasha’s failure to return home on that fateful day was a whole lot for her. With immediate alacrity, she called the attention of the police.

Natasha leaves the courthouse accompanied by her attorneys.
Source: Facebook

Natasha was regarded as a “troubled teen” due to her series of suspensions, self-harm, and even drug use sometimes. Combined with the fact that she had absconded from her family a month earlier, police didn’t take her matter seriously, judging that she was only a troubled teen who was going to return home in a few days.

Another Abduction Event Following Natasha’s

Julie Turner, a 39-year-old, also disappeared. This happened just three months after Natasha’s disappearance. Julie Turner was last seen in March 1999. The police have been in an ongoing investigation ever since. Keyra Steinhart and Beverly Leggo also vanished in April.

A portrait of Julie Turner.
Source: Channel Seven

When all these abductions were happening, the city was paralyzed with fear as they realized a murderer was on the loose. A thorough search was initiated. More than 100 citizens volunteered to engage in the search hoping that Natasha and others would be retrieved.

Natasha’s Parents’ Reaction to Her Disappearance

As hours turned into days, and days became weeks, Natasha’s parents feared that their daughter had fallen victim to a psychopath, and he was probably going to kill her, and they might not see their daughter again.

Natasha sits with her mother on the porch.
Source: YouTube

This was their belief for a long period. They even had a memorial service for Natasha because they were convinced she was dead.

Revealing Natasha’s Location

Finding Natasha’s location was quite difficult, and the activity took a very long time. Her location was revealed through an anonymous note that the police received. It turned out that Natasha had been alive all these years while living with Black Scott, a mere six minutes away from the home she grew up in.

The Queensland Emergency Service embroidery on an officer’s shirt.
Source: YouTube

Four years and eight months into Natasha’s disappearance, Natasha attended her murder trial. She told the court that she had never met Fraser. She said she went to Rockhampton because she could no longer stand her mom’s rules and restrictions in her relationship.

Natasha’s Claim During her Escape

Ryan said that during her period of disappearance, she began to repent and regret her decision. She said she shouldn’t have left her mother and was eager to repair her relationship with her mother.

A portrait of Natasha.
Source: Tumblr

Natasha mentioned that she had worried her mother way too much and that she should have told her exactly what happened and the major reason she left. Natasha also mentioned that she was aware that she would have remained dead to her parents if not for the tip the police received.

Scott’s Court Induction

Natasha and Black had gone to great lengths to hide her whereabouts. Natasha had spent almost half a decade indoors. She would draw curtains during the day and conceal herself in a closet anytime Scott invited someone over.

A picture of Scott Black.
Source: News Corp Australia

During Scott’s court induction, he was ordered to repay about $15,000 of the $150,000 spent on the police investigation. He was also made to spend about 12 months in prison for perjury. Scott’s induction also affected Natasha as she was told to pay $1000 as a fine for a false police investigation.

Natasha and Scott’s Concealed Marriage

Scott Black and Natasha Ryan got married in 2008, and they sold pictures of the wedding ceremony to the popular Woman’s Day for about $200,000. Scott Black now has about three children with Natasha. The wedding was successful even though it was concealed.

Natasha Ryan on her wedding day.
Source: Facebook

The couple did everything they needed to do for a successful marriage. They played the role of pastor and made vows to one another. There is no doubt both parties were determined. They wanted the marriage to work out no matter the case.

Natasha’s Brother, Jason Ryan- Bad Deeds and Indictment

Natasha’s brother Jason Ryan is a criminal. Jason Ryan pleaded guilty to several domestic violence charges leveled against him in Bundaberg. He was about 24 years old at the time. Jason Ryan also assaulted and abused his wife and child in 2017 and 2021.

A picture of Jason Ryan.
Source: Facebook

Jason Ryan’s lawyer cited the family’s traumas, including the main matter, Natasha’s disappearance. Jason was indicted, and he was sentenced to time in prison.

More on Jason Ryan’s Assaults

Jason Ryan pleaded to several domestic charges relating to different incidents. He once choked his partner, pushed her off a sofa, cut her with keys, and battered her. As for the child, covered his mouth and nose forcefully, and the child suffered a disfigured eardrum.

Jason Ryan sits in the backseat of a car.
Source: Facebook

Jason Ryan was jailed for these disgraceful acts; he was depressed for a while, but he wasn’t pardoned, and he was to remain jailed for the time being. Coupled with his sister’s disappearance, Jason Ryan hated himself.

Erin Kelly Prosecuting Jason Ryan

Erin Kelly, who was Crown’s prosecutor at that time, told the court that Jason Ryan had committed physical, emotional, and verbal abuse against the victims we mentioned earlier.

Natasha Ryan leaves court.
Source: YouTube

Judge Micheal Rackemann carefully listened to the prosecutor’s discussion at this time and regarded Ryan’s act as offensive, disgraceful and abhorrent! The prosecution was apt, and this led to his induction and conviction.

Jason Ryan’s Traumatic Story

Nick Larter, who was Ryan’s lawyer at this time, told the court that his client, Jason Ryan, had suffered family traumas and was never counseled for any. Ranging from Natasha’s disappearance to Natasha’s parents’ divorce, Natasha’s disappearance was bizarre to Jason Ryan because it happened when he was just six.

Jason Ryan walks with his dog by the beach.
Source: Facebook

All these events were traumatic for Jason Ryan as he experienced everything at a tender age. His lawyer told the judge to consider these occurrences before passing judgment. While the occurrences were not considered, he was still convicted.

More on Jason Ryan’s Traumatic Experiences

Jason Ryan was at a tender age when his sister, Natasha, disappeared in 1998. Natasha reappeared when he was six and at 24. Jason Ryan was jailed for several disgraceful assaults. Part of the traumatic experience is that his brother died in a car crash. At a young age, Jason had gone through a lot.

A young Natasha Ryan.
Source: Facebook

Jason Ryan’s lawyer, Mr. Larter, told the court that his client couldn’t cope with the public attention that accosted Natasha’s re-emergence. This also added to his traumatic experience. The allegations leveled against him were way more than the traumatic experiencßes he had.

Judge Rackemann Heeding Ryan’s Plea

Jason Ryan’s lawyer, Mr. Larter, kept coming up with different traumatic experiences. The judge at that time, Rackemann, said he would consider Jason’s traumatic experiences and reduce his jail term. He sentenced Jason to four years of imprisonment.

The Scales of Justice statue in Brisbane.
Source: Flickr

Jason Ryan spent about 208 days in pre-sentence custody, and he will remain in pre-sentence till April 2022, when he will be eligible for parole. We can say his lawyer did a great job by making the judge reduce his sentence.