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The search for a missing mother surfaces claims of her lover’s ‘life of deceit’ | CNN


Brisbane, Australia

Marion Barter received plaudits for her heat as an elementary faculty instructor, however in 1997 the 51-year-old mother-of-two turned stressed, stop her job, offered her home, and flew from Australia’s beach-lined Gold Coast to begin a new life in Europe.

Her household by no means noticed her once more.

If Barter had vanished with out a hint, Australian police might have taken her case extra significantly, however when her daughter, Sally Leydon, reported her missing, she wasn’t added to the missing individuals record, and later a police officer advised her Barter wished no contact with her household.

For Leydon, there have been too many unanswered questions, and 25 years later she remains to be looking out for solutions.  Did her mother depart of her personal accord, and did she actually need to vanish?

For greater than three years, journalists working with Leydon and a band of beginner sleuths have chased down clues, charting their progress within the podcast, “The Lady Vanishes,” with 14 million downloads, in line with the podcast’s govt producer.

After the podcast aired, New South Wales police launched a formal overview of the case which gathered sufficient proof to warrant a deeper investigation and ultimately an inquest that ended final month.

To date, no person has been charged with wrongdoing associated to her mysterious disappearance.

New South Wales State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan had been as a result of hand down her findings on Wednesday into a case that had examined proof unearthed by the podcast and its listeners and data gathered by police.  

But on Monday, the listening to was postponed “following further investigations,” in line with a courtroom spokesperson who declined to elaborate.

During the inquest, a number of witnesses gave proof into Barter’s disappearance, however proceedings had been dominated by the questioning of one man, Ric Blum, who for the primary time responded on to the query: “Did you kill Marion?”

Blum, now 83, emphatically denies killing Barter or having any involvement in her disappearance in 1997, although he advised the courtroom he had an affair with her for 4 months earlier than she disappeared.

During the inquest, Blum was requested a number of instances about a number of “coincidences,” together with that Barter had modified her title within the days earlier than she left Australia to an alias that Blum had utilized in an advert trying for companionship – that Barter answered.

Other girls advised the inquest of their encounters with Blum, claiming that he had introduced himself as a single, rich coin supplier who, in some circumstances, promised a “new life” overseas.

Instead, the courtroom heard Blum was a married father-of-two residing on a incapacity pension together with his spouse in a small coastal city in New South Wales with felony convictions in France and Belgium for fraud, forgery, and confidence methods. Blum acknowledged he had affairs however denied any wrongdoing.

“It’s not just my mom who has been affected by this now. We’ve exposed a way bigger fish than what I ever expected to find,” Leydon advised CNN. “I believe there’s more (women) out there. And I really need to encourage people to come forward.”

Barter was final seen in Surfers Paradise, within the coronary heart of the Gold Coast, on June 22, 1997, by her good friend Lesley Loveday, who dropped her at a bus station, from the place she’d journey to the airport to fly to the United Kingdom.  

After three marriages and divorces, Barter was craving one thing new, and Leydon, the eldest of her two kids, had inspired her to go. “For me, as a 23-year-old at that point, I was like, ‘Well, if you’re not happy, just go on a holiday. It doesn’t matter, it’s not the end of the world. Plenty of people leave their jobs,’” she advised CNN.

Leydon advised the podcast and the inquest that her mother phoned her from a payphone in late July and mentioned she was having a fabulous time within the quaint English city of Tunbridge Wells and appeared ahead to seeing extra of the nation.

That was the final time they spoke. 

Marion Barter with her children Sally and Owen.

Leydon recounted what occurred subsequent through the inquest, recalling reminiscences which have performed on her thoughts for 25 years.

After that decision, weeks handed with no contact, and after her mother did not telephone her brother for his birthday on October 18, Leydon mentioned she referred to as her mother’s financial institution in Australia.

Leydon mentioned a financial institution employee, who acknowledged she shouldn’t reveal particulars to somebody apart from the account holder, advised Leydon that one thing uncommon appeared to have occurred. 

Every day for greater than three weeks, somebody had entered branches in Byron Bay and on the Gold Coast, the place Barter used to dwell, and withdrawn 5,000 Australian {dollars} (about $3,370) at a time from her mother’s account, Leydon mentioned, citing the financial institution employee. A separate switch of 80,000 Australian {dollars} ($54,000) was made on October 15, the inquest would later hear.

Leydon rushed to Byron Bay with a picture of her mother, however nobody may affirm that they’d seen her.

On the identical day, October 22, Leydon contacted police.

Marion Barter with her former husband and friends.

NSW Police recorded her considerations however didn’t add Barter’s title to the missing individuals record, and when Queensland Senior Constable Paula McKenzie made inquiries with the financial institution, she mentioned a financial institution teller advised her Barter had withdrawn all her cash and didn’t need her whereabouts disclosed. 

“The teller was just so insistent that it was definitely her and there was no other way about it,” McKenzie advised the inquest. 

It could be 14 years earlier than Leydon discovered that her mother returned to Australia below a new identification. Privacy considerations thwarted Leydon’s earlier makes an attempt to extract details about her mother from a number of official sources, she mentioned.

“The privacy issue is such a big deal,” Leydon mentioned. “All those gates were tightly shut with a massive big padlock, and until such time as I get a death certificate for my mom, that padlock remains absolutely fastened.”

Detective Senior Constable Gary Sheehan advised the inquest that he appeared into the case and advised Leydon in 2011 that her mother had modified her title and returned to Australia on August 2, 1997. He mentioned he didn’t inform Leydon Barter’s new title or the place the data got here from as a result of that was confidential.

Leydon later discovered that her mother was now often called Florabella Natalia Marion Remakel, an uncommon title she didn’t acknowledge – “I instantly knew at that point that somebody was involved, and somebody was telling her to do this because it’s just not in her personality to do it,” Leydon advised CNN.

When Leydon obtained a copy of Remakel’s Australian immigration entry card, she instantly acknowledged the handwriting as her mother’s, leaving little doubt for Leydon that her mother had returned. Barter, now Remakel, had written on the cardboard that she was a housewife residing in Luxembourg who was coming to Australia for a momentary journey.

For police, Barter’s title change and secret return to Australia was additional proof the instructor had staged her personal disappearance – and with out having spoken with her or bodily sighting her, they declared she was not missing.

When social employee Joni Condos, an avid listener of true crime podcasts, heard the title Remakel on “The Lady Vanishes” one evening in 2019, she delved deep into on-line archives to attempt to discover a hyperlink.

“I was sitting on the couch, it was midnight. And then I just thought, I’ll just give the newspapers a bit of a go. Because, you know, why not?” she mentioned.

In an Australian on-line archive, Condos searched a number of variations of “Remakel” and located an commercial in a French-Australian newspaper positioned in 1994 by a 47-year-old man – “single, tall, dark, sober, non-smoker”  – trying for a relationship with a view to marriage.

It was signed “F. Remakel,” with a post-box handle and telephone quantity in Lennox Head, northern NSW, lower than two hours by automobile from the place Barter lived. 

The potential connection was too intriguing to disregard.

Condos and the podcast’s producers searched Australian information and will discover no file of anybody named Remakel, however an internet search of information in Europe confirmed one man of the identical age and preliminary – Fernand Remakel – who was residing in Luxembourg.

In 2019, when the podcast’s producers knocked on his door, Remakel denied any information of Marion Barter.

Undeterred, the journalists and Condos dug a little deeper into the Luxembourg Business Register and located his ex-wife, Monique Cornelius. Separately, one other listener linked the telephone quantity within the advert to a coin enterprise within the NSW city of Ballina run by Frederick De Hedervary. 

The title Frederick De Hedervary would later lead police to his newest alias, Ric Blum.

Now an aged man with a white beard and glasses, Blum shuffled into Ballina Court House with a strolling body, surrounded by tv cameras to present proof on the inquest.

The courtroom heard that Blum had emigrated to Australia in 1976, and since then had modified his title at the least 13 instances, utilizing his new identities to acquire drivers’ licences and passports. 

When requested why, Blum mentioned: “I just changed my name as a fantasy because it’s legal. I didn’t have any specific purpose.”

Ric Blum told the NSW Coroner's court that he last saw Barter in June 1997, just before she left Australia.

He admitted utilizing Fernand Remakel’s title to take out a driver’s licence in Australia, and knew of the title by way of Remakel’s ex-wife, Cornelius, who he advised the inquest was a “fantastic person.”

Blum mentioned the connection had solely ever been platonic, and that Cornelius often visited the manufacturing facility the place he labored.

However, his tone modified when the senior counsel appearing for the coroner, Adam Casselden SC, learn aloud from a letter Blum had written to Cornelius in 1980, when he was residing in Luxembourg together with his younger household.

In the letter, Blum mentioned: “My enchantress I have never in my life made love like that with anyone before … Monday I leave for the UK and Ireland, a few days to buy our boat … I simply want to get to know this country which is as sweet as your smile, pretty as your eyes and warm like that love that I have for you. I am intimately persuaded that you will not regret your decision to leave with me and to start a new life.”

In a NSW Police assertion learn to the courtroom, Cornelius mentioned she’d had a sexual relationship with Blum that ended when she found he was married with kids.

She referred to as Blum a liar and “very big and dangerous manipulator.”

“For example, at the beginning of our relationship he told me that he worked for the British Embassy in Luxembourg as a special agent,” she mentioned.

Blum admitted writing the letter however he mentioned on the time he was infatuated with Cornelius, insisting that they’d by no means had a sexual relationship, as she claimed.

“She’s lying all along. She’s a liar. She’s lying, lying, lying,” he mentioned.  

Marion Barter was last seen by her friend at a bus stop on the Gold Coast in June, 1997.

Questions turned to Barter,  and Blum made an admission that had remained secret for virtually 25 years. 

He revealed that he’d had a four-month affair with the schoolteacher from February to June, 1997 – the identical month she left Australia.

He had positioned the advert below the title “Fernand Remakel” that Barter had answered, and so they’d met three or 4 instances at her residence with out his spouse’s information. 

To journalist Alison Sandy, govt producer of “The Lady Vanishes,” the admission was a shock – till then there was no agency indication that Blum was in shut contact with Barter within the months earlier than she disappeared.

“It all fell into place. It all made sense. That was the missing piece of the puzzle we’d been looking for the whole time,” she mentioned.

Blum advised the courtroom he ended the connection with Barter earlier than she left Australia as a result of he was married with kids and didn’t need “drama.”

The courtroom heard Blum traveled to Europe on June 17, 1997, 5 days earlier than Barter left for the UK, and he returned to Australia on July 31 – two days earlier than Barter returned below the title Remakel. 

When it was put to Blum that their overlapping journey dates gave the impression to be “quite a coincidence,” Blum mentioned he and Barter didn’t discuss their respective journey plans. 

“I didn’t travel with her,” Blum mentioned. “After she left Australia, I never saw her again.”

Blum mentioned he didn’t even know Barter was missing till police knocked on his door final yr.

A video was performed to courtroom of Blum’s formal interview with police, displaying the outdated man sitting together with his arms propped on strolling sticks.

“Did you murder Marion Barter,” a police officer asks.

“Are you kidding … no, no,” Blum replies.

“Did you in any way harm Marion Barter?”

“No, I never harm anyone,” he says.

“Did you might have any interplay with Marion Barter when she returned to Australia after the second of August, 1997?


“Do you know where she is?”


Other girls advised the inquest about their encounters with Blum. 

Two years after Barter left Australia for Europe, Janet Oldenburg took a related journey with Blum, who she knew as Ric West.

Oldenburg advised the courtroom she met Blum in 1996 by way of her husband’s coin gathering circles, and so they reconnected in 1999 simply as she had finalized her divorce. Money was tight, and he had supplied her a job, however earlier than she’d began, he proclaimed his emotions for her and urged her to maneuver with him to the French Riviera “to start a new life.”  

She advised the courtroom Blum talked about different potential locations, Algeria and Spain, “because the weather would be nice and warm, and I could have some servants, things like that to look after the house, so I wouldn’t have to do anything.” He advised her his coin enterprise was value 12 million Australian {dollars} ($8 million) and he owned a 20,000 acre-property planted with purple cedar. 

At the time, Oldenburg advised the courtroom she was 51 and “very vulnerable” after splitting from her husband, who “took care of everything” throughout their marriage. 

“I felt uplifted to start a new life, a new beginning,” she advised the courtroom.

An image around 2008, of Ric Blum, born Willy Wouters, who also used the aliases Frederick De Hedervary, Ric West and Richard Lloyd Westbury, among others.

Before they left, Blum inspired her to bury her jewellery within the backyard and to carry private paperwork and the title deeds to the home she owned to the UK, she mentioned. 

Once within the UK, he instructed they separate so she may spend time with her cousin in Manchester whereas he did enterprise in France.

But days later, he phoned her, claiming he’d been robbed and overwhelmed by six males with baseball bats, had two damaged ribs and was in hospital in Lille, northern France.

He advised her he may guide her on a flight again to Australia on December 29, 1999, she advised the courtroom.

Instead, her cousin booked her an earlier flight, and she or he arrived residence on December 20.

A couple of hours after she had returned residence, Blum turned up, apparently unhurt, and appeared “shocked” when she answered the door, she mentioned. 

He advised the inquest he had taken the bandages off and rushed residence when one of her male family members had knowledgeable him that she was catching an earlier flight. At that stage, Oldenburg mentioned she nonetheless trusted him.

But in January 2000, Oldenburg advised police she realized paperwork had been missing, and the jewellery buried within the yard was gone. When she confronted Blum, he mentioned he would ship it again, however just some jewellery was returned. She filed a police report and the inquest heard Blum advised police he despatched all the jewellery again. She by no means noticed him once more.

In courtroom, Blum mentioned didn’t take Oldenburg’s paperwork and had by no means advised her they’d transfer to Europe.

He mentioned he left her within the UK as a result of he didn’t need something to do with her anymore. 

“My life was with my wife and kids in Australia,” he mentioned.

Ginette Gaffney-Bowan advised the courtroom that across the identical time – the late Nineties – she was lonely and “extremely vulnerable” after divorcing her husband. She positioned an commercial within the newspaper looking for friendship that was answered by Blum, who she knew as Frederick De Hedervary.

Gaffney-Bowan advised the courtroom they initially spoke about beginning a coin enterprise, however in a short time the dialog turned to his proposal that she promote her home and purchase an house in Paris. 

When she refused, she mentioned he tried to blackmail her with bare photographs taken with out her consent. She advised the inquest that, to her information, he by no means circulated the pictures.

Gaffney-Bowan advised the inquest that she turned “scared,” and in 1998 took out a restraining order towards him with police.

When requested what he was looking for from her, Gaffney-Bowan mentioned: “Money. That’s all he’s been after all along.”

She mentioned the one cash she gave him was round 30,000 Australian {dollars} ($20,000) as start-up funding for the coin enterprise.

In courtroom, Blum denied her claims and accused her of mendacity.

In his ultimate submissions, Casselden advised the courtroom the proof confirmed Blum displayed a “pattern of behavior in relation to the exploitation of vulnerable single middle-aged women.”

“He has led an extraordinary life of deceit and duplicity, including in relation to his long marriage to his present wife,” Casselden mentioned.

Blum denied he sought to take benefit of Oldenburg and Gaffney-Bowan, however Casselden mentioned his proof ought to be “wholly rejected” in favor of their testimony.

“There is simply no motivation, your honor, for either of them to have lied,” Casselden mentioned.

Turning to Barter, Casselden mentioned the one “rational, plausible explanation” for her title change was that she was in a relationship with Blum and that she modified her title “either on her own insistence, or on his, or a combination of both.”

He mentioned it was probably they traveled collectively as a couple to Europe, and that Blum instructed they begin a “new life.” What occurred subsequent is unclear.

Casselden mentioned regardless of an in depth and ongoing investigation, police have been unable to find Barter – lifeless or alive. This yr NSW Police elevated the reward for data resulting in the arrest and conviction of anybody concerned in her disappearance to 500,000 Australian {dollars} ($338,000).

The inquest could also be concluding, however Leydon says her search for solutions won’t finish there.

“I have a feeling that people think I’m just going to sit back and forget about it. And the reality of that is, I’m not,” Leydon mentioned. 

She needs her mother’s disappearance to result in adjustments within the legal guidelines in Australia to make it simpler for relations to entry a missing individual’s information after a interval of no-contact, to present them a higher probability than she needed to uncover leads and listen to the recollections of witnesses earlier than their reminiscences fade. 

Leydon accepts that her mother is probably going lifeless, however she nonetheless needs to understand how, and why.

“I just want to know where she is and what happened,” she mentioned. “I beg people to help me find that answer.” 

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