Family is one of the most important aspects of life, especially as a child. Without your parents, you would have had no guidance to mold you into the adult you are today. But what if you grew up only to find out that your whole childhood was a lie?
That’s what happened to Steve Carter Jr., who was adopted at the age of three. Though eventually he became well aware of the fact that those who raised him were not his birth parents, he still wanted to learn more about his biological family. Unfortunately, his curiosity led him to uncover a very disturbing truth…
United States Army officer Steve Carter was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii in 1980. Living with his wife, Pat, the couple decided to adopt a child. They were immediately drawn to a three-and-a-half-year-old boy named Tenzin Amea (below, third from the left), who was in foster care on the island.
Born January 16, 1977, Tenzin had already been in the care of the State for three years. Steve and Pat said the moment they saw him it was love at first sight, and adopted him on September 23, 1980, as soon as they could file the paperwork.
Steve and Pat knew little about their new son’s birth parents. His father was said to be native Hawaiian, and his mother was arrested in 1977 when Tenzin was just five months old. When Steve and Pat adopted the little boy they renamed him William Steven Tenzin Carter.
The young boy once known as Tenzin started going by Steve Jr. and settled into a new life with his parents in the wealthy town of Medford Lakes in southern New Jersey. He had the kind of “normal” childhood that many kids would be envious of, participating in local sports and enjoying plenty of friends.
Andre Engels / Wikimedia Commons
As Steve Jr. (below, middle) grew into adulthood, he was never was able to shake off his curiosity about who his birth parents could have been. Even his family took his heritage as a joke. “With his blonde hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion,” Steve Sr. said in an interview, “[he] does not strike one as being of Polynesian extraction.”
With that in mind, Steve received a unique Christmas gift in the form of a DNA test and was shocked to find out that he had Scandinavian ancestry. Even so, that seemed like it might have opened him up to even more questions than answers.
CNN / YouTube
That wasn’t the first time Steve Jr. was struck by the idea of DNA testing: In 2011, he read a story about a woman named Carlina White (below), who was kidnapped as a baby from a Harlem hospital and raised in Connecticut, believing her kidnapper to be her birth mother until she was 23. She learned the truth after researching missing persons.
Carlina White / Facebook
Recalling Carlina’s story, Steve Jr. didn’t stop at questioning his Scandinavian heritage. He began a quest to learn more about his past, starting with a search on missingkids.com, which is run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. After combing through records, he made a startling discovery.
CNN / YouTube
Under a listing for a person named “Marx Panama Moriarty,” who’d been missing since July 1977, there was an age progression sketch of how the missing boy may have looked in his teens. Steve Jr. couldn’t believe his eyes. “I got chills,” he said in an interview. “I was like, holy crap, that’s me.”
Steve got in touch with the appropriate authorities as soon as he could for a DNA test. Eight months later, they had proof that he and “Marx” were indeed the same person! Steve Jr.’s wife, Tracey, encouraged him to pursue the truth even further.
CNN / YouTube
After more research, this is what he found: On June 21, 1977, Mark Barnes, a Vietnam War veteran who was working as a journalist at the time, was gardening outside his home in Hau’ula, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, when his girlfriend, an artist named Charlotte Moriarty, said she was taking their six-month-old son, Marx, on a walk around the neighborhood.
Charlotte, who had a reputation for being a free spirit, never returned. After three weeks, Mark finally called authorities to report his son and girlfriend missing. Unsurprisingly, the police struggled to find any traces of their whereabouts.
Devastated, Mark spent over a year searching for his missing partner and son all over Hawaii. He didn’t want to give up hope, but he had no way of knowing for sure that his son was alive, living a new life in a completely different part of the globe, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Because the truth was when Charlotte and Marx went on that fateful walk, they weren’t just strolling around the neighborhood. They made their way to the opposite end of Oahu, where a resident saw them loitering and called the police.
Carissagalardo / Wikimedia Commons
Once the police officers showed up, Charlotte made up fake names for herself and her son: Jane Amea for herself, and Tenzin Amea for her son. She even provided a fabricated birthday for the boy. By the time Mark reported his girlfriend and child missing three weeks later, police couldn’t make any connection.
As Charlotte was taken to a psychiatric hospital, and the boy once known as “Marx” was put into the care of the state, Mark had no idea that his son was in an orphanage just 30 miles away from his house. Worse yet, when Charlotte disappeared after checking herself out of the hospital, Mark lost his way of retrieving the boy.
Mark wasn’t the only one upset about this turn of events though. “Steve Jr.” also had a biological half-sister named Jennifer, who was eight years his senior. She convinced Hawaiian officials to reopen the case in 2001, which is how they commissioned the sketch of an “adult” Marx.
Once Steve Jr. learned about all of this over three decades later, he was reluctant to reunite with his long-lost family. A few months later, though, he called Jennifer and spoke to his biological father, who’d moved to California.
As for Steve Jr.’s adoptive parents, the news wasn’t easy to hear. “On an emotional level, I felt like we’d taken someone else’s child,” Pat admitted in an interview. In time, however, they accepted the strange circumstances of the boy they raised.
This may not have been the kind of familial situation that anyone would find ideal, but it could’ve been worse. Australian prosecutors realized this when someone stood up to make an announcement while they were presenting their own missing person case. It turned the trial into a scene never before witnessed in life — or on television.
By all accounts, Natasha Ryan of Rockhampton, Australia, struggled through her early teenage years. She’d experimented with drugs, cut her wrists, and was suspended from school. In 1995, she ran away from home.
Authorities found her two days later, staying at a hotel. Her boyfriend Scott Black had aided her flight, claiming she threatened to kill herself and he was protecting her. Years later on August 31, 1998, she disappeared again.
On that morning, her mother dropped her off at school, but the troubled teen never showed up to class. Once again, authorities searched for Natasha, checking first, of course, with Scott Black.
He claimed he hadn’t seen her, and he wasn’t alone: no one had. Police launched a $400,000 investigation into her disappearance. Over 100 locals volunteered their time to the search. They found nothing.
As the search continued, investigators felt a creeping dread… because four other women were discovered dead in the area, including 9-year-old Keyra Steinhardt (pictured below). Would Natasha soon join their ranks?
Authorities eventually arrested Leonard John Fraser for the serial murders of the other four girls. Fraser spent 20 of the previous 22 years in prison for crimes against women—the thought of ending up in the general prison population terrified him…
Speculation suggested that to avoid death-by-general-population, Fraser confessed to another murder, too: Natasha’s. Afterward, her father, Robert Ryan, accepted the confession. His little girl was dead.
On what would’ve been Natasha’s 17th birthday, 70 of her loved ones released balloons into a cool morning sky to celebrate her life. A video played of her in a bridesmaid’s dress at her father’s second wedding. But then?
To answer for his crimes, Fraser faced the Supreme Court of Queensland in Brisbane, where witnesses recalled seeing Natasha with Fraser before her disappearance…until the police prosecutor made an announcement.
On April 11, 2003, police prosecutor Paul Rutledge stood up mid-trial and announced Fraser was not guilty of murdering Natasha. At the announcement, the missing girl’s father fainted. Huh?
As it turned out, a few days prior, authorities received an anonymous note. It read: “Natasha Ryan is alive and well.” The note provided a phone number to call her. So the police used the phone number to track the location.
On April 10, police raided a house in North Rockhampton. The house belonged to none other than Natasha’s long-time-boyfriend Scott Black. There, they found Natasha Ryan just as the note described: alive and well.
Authorities, family members, and even a town wrapped up in her disappearance wanted answers. And Natasha provided them. For the five previous years, she lived with Scott—by choice—in a Yeppoon, Queensland, beach house…
Natasha lived with the curtains pulled shut, avoiding watchful eyes, hiding. At night, she and Scott took a 3-minute drive to the beach, where she enjoyed the sand and water under the cover of darkness.
When Scott hosted guests—and investigators—Natasha hid in a cupboard, which earned her the nickname, “The Girl in the Cupboard.” Eventually, she and Scott moved back to Rockhampton—4 miles from her grieving family.
So, 20 days after Paul Rutledge’s mid-trial announcement, Natasha showed up to her own murder trial. She testified she never met Fraser; witnesses who claimed to see her with him, she said, were wrong.
Still, the jury found him guilty of the other murders, and for those, he went to prison for the rest of his life. Natasha’s appearance at her own murder trial turned into a worldwide media sensation—but she paid for her charade.
Authorities sentenced Scott, left, to three years in jail for perjury; he had, after all, insisted to investigators that he had no idea where Natasha was. Natasha paid a $1,000 fine for causing a false police investigation. But why did she do it?
Natasha never offered a clear answer. “I’m not sure it would make any difference saying why I left,” she said. “I feel whatever I say wouldn’t be good enough for the pain I’ve caused my family.”
In 2008, Natasha—then 24—and Scott married. They sold their wedding photos to Women’s Day for $200,000. By 2011, the couple lived social media-free and raised three children. If nothing else, you can’t doubt their love for each other…