true crime

Three women vanished without a trace. Years later, they were found alive and well.

The list of people who go missing for long periods of time, before eventually being found alive, is very short.

According to Hester Parr, a Professor of Human Geography who conducted a study of 45 people who had been reported as missing, this is because even if one does want to vanish, it’s really not that easy.

Most people who went missing on purpose only lasted a couple of weeks, she told Mamamia‘s daily news podcast The Quicky.

The Quicky explores people choose to go missing. Post continues below.

“Although it sounds as though weeks is not a long time, when you imagine somebody disappearing into a new life that’s quite a long time when the police are searching for someone and they have very little resources,” she said.

“Often people who go missing want to stay missing, although they’re in a very traumatised state. They’re trying to avoid CCTV, they’re trying not to take money out of a bank so they can’t be identified.

“It’s quite distinctive sorts of behaviours that people adopt to stay missing, but it’s really hard to do it for a long period of time, so that’s why the statistic that 99 percent of people who are reported missing actually return… it’s really hard to stay missing.”

The rarity of people who successfully leave their old lives and create entirely new ones means that when someone is discovered to have done so, we can’t help but be intrigued.

Here are three women who vanished for years before being discovered alive and well.

Natasha Ryan.

Natasha Ryan was dropped off at school in Rockhampton, Queensland, on the morning of August 31, 1998, yet never had her name marked on the classroom roll, prompting an exhaustive and unsuccessful police and SES search.

Natasha had a tendency to run away from home, her parents told police, but this time felt different. Natasha’s 21-year-old boyfriend told authorities he had no idea where his 14-year-old girlfriend was either.

As time passed, the backdrop of Natasha’s disappearance – three other local women Beverley Leggo, 36, Sylvia Benedetti, 19, and Julie Turner, 39, had recently gone missing from Rockhampton too – painted a macabre picture.

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All signs pointed to Natasha being murdered that school morning. Authorities had no leads on where Natasha's body was, but they did have a confession from Leonard "The Rockhampton Rapist" Fraser - a man who had spent 20 of the preceding 22 years in prison for sexually assaulting women. He'd admitted to Natasha's murder as part of a police deal that would exempt him from mingling with the general prison population.

It was April 11, 2003, almost five years after Natasha's disappearance, when things took a baffling turn.

Fraser was on trial at the time, when police prosecutor Paul Rutledge stood to announce that Fraser was not guilty of the murder of Natasha Ryan.

Because Natasha was alive.

Detectives had found her the night before, healthy and well, hiding in a cupboard at her boyfriend Scott Black's house. He had, of course, insisted to police on numerous occasions that he had not seen or heard from Natasha, but he had been hiding her away all along.

The teenager had been living quietly with Scott, first in Yeppoon and then back in Rockhampton, just four kilometres away from the mother who had dropped her at school on that final morning of winter.

She told investigators that when visitors were over she would hide in cupboards, but otherwise she would wander around the house like normal - albeit with the curtains closed. When she left the house, it would only be under the cover of darkness.

Natasha was fined $1000 for causing a false investigation. Scott was convicted of perjury and handed a three-year jail sentence, of which he served 12 months. He was also forced to pay $16,000 towards the cost of the investigation.

In 2008, when Natasha was 24 and Scott 31, the couple married in Byfield's Ferns Hideaway in front of 35 guests.

Lucy Ann Johnson.

Alaskan mother Lucy Ann Johnson was last seen by her neighbour in Surrey, British Columbia, in September 1961. But it was not until May 14, 1965, that her husband Marvin Johnson reported her missing, admitting to police that she had vanished years beforehand, leaving him and their two children behind.

Police immediately suspected foul play, with Marvin emerging as their prime suspect. They considered bringing charges against him and excavated his yard to look for clues as to Lucy's whereabouts but found nothing.

For years, investigators compared the DNA from unidentified remains to DNA from Lucy's two children, but again, their investigations were fruitless.

The case went cold and charges were never laid. Marvin eventually remarried and died in the 1990s of natural causes.

In July 2013, Lucy's daughter Linda took out advertisements in newspapers in northern British Columbia, where she knew her mother had past links. Her ad was discovered by a woman named Rhonda in Yukon who recognised Lucy, because Lucy was also her mother.

"We received a phone call from a woman in the Yukon who called and claimed that she had seen the picture of the missing person in the free newspapers, and said the missing person we were looking for was actually her mother," a police spokesman told CBC News.

"The original daughter of Lucy Johnson, who went above and beyond to promote and try to generate tips all over B.C., actually somehow connected with a [half] sister, who she did not know she had at the time," he said.

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After being missing for almost 52 years, Lucy was discovered alive and well in Yukon.

Then 77 years old, she said she disappeared because Marvin was abusive and he would not let her leave with their two children.

After vanishing, she remarried and had four more children.

A couple of months later, Linda disembarked a plane in Whitehorse, Yukon, and was greeted by her mother, half-sister, half-brother and a couple of aunts.

She was greeted with a hug 52 years in the making: "My mum grabbed me, gave me a big hug and said 'I love you'," she recalled.

Margie Profet.

The most interesting thing about biologist Margie Profet used to be her controversial theories about evolution and pregnancy, arguing that menstruation, morning sickness and allergies are three of the body's highly-adaptive protective mechanisms which have evolved to flush out bacteria and viruses.

She won grants, wrote books, and was a darling of the media, featured in numerous magazines.

That is, until she vanished from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 2002, Margie cut ties with her family, and between then and 2005, gradually began to stop contact with colleagues, friends and anyone else she was acquainted with.

Margie's mother filed a missing-persons report with Cambridge police, searched the streets and shelters, and even hired a private detective to find her daughter.

Former University of Washington classmate Mike Martin Googled Margie in 2009 after coming across her work, and was surprised to discover a very limited Wikipedia page with no recent updates. So intrigued by her disappearance, he spent the next three years tracking her down.

He wrote a story about Margie's disappearance in May 2012, and though many suspected the worst, he began to hear from people who suggested Margie was alive and well, and looking to reconnect with those she'd cut off more than seven years earlier.

Less than three weeks after his story was published, Martin received an email from Margie's mother, Karen:

"Margie had called us on Monday, after someone who knew her Googled her name and found from your article that she was being sought by family and former colleagues. She had not known that people were looking for her and deeply regrets giving anyone cause for concern on her account.

"At the time we lost track of her, Margie was in severe physical pain. Not wanting to trouble anyone else, she did not disclose the fact to us or to her friends, but moved to a new location in which she thought the pain would soon diminish. Instead, it persisted for many years.

"Unable to work because of it and subsequent injuries, she had long lived in poverty, sustained largely by the religion she had come to early in the decade.

"Margie is finally home now, recovering from her long ordeal and hoping to find work in the near future. She is very happy to be reunited with her family, and we are overjoyed to have her back."

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