Some Australians might not realise that, in between iconic sandwich spreads and architectural masterpieces, our great land is also home to one of the most twisted missing person cases of all time.
It was the last day of winter in 1998 when the Rockhampton community was stunned to learn one of their own had vanished in daylight; Natasha Ryan was dropped off at school that morning, yet never had her name marked on the classroom roll, prompting an exhaustive and unsuccessful police and SES search.
The teenager locals fondly referred to as “Grasshopper”, the 14-year-old who gave up her Christmas Day to visit the sick and elderly, was gone.
Months later, the girl’s mother Jenny Ryan told the media: “I don’t believe Natasha would have let me go through all the pain if she was out there.”
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 girlfriend was, either. As time passed the backdrop of Natasha’s disappearance – three other local women in Beverley Leggo, 36, and Sylvia Benedetti, 19, and Julie Turner, 39, had recently gone missing from Rockhampton too – painted a macabre picture.
All signs pointed to Natasha Ryan being murdered by a monster on that chilly 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.
In a deal with police to exempt him from mingling with the general prison population, Fraser admitted to the murders of five women, mostly between 1998 and 1999 - including Natasha Ryan.
Fraser told them, yes, I took Natasha's life.