Before Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004, Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson established MySpace in 2003. It was an instant hit, especially among teenagers.
Lori Kozlowski of Forbes writes, “From 2005 to 2008, MySpace was the most visited social networking site in the world, often surpassing Google in number of visitors.”
Users could log in with a password, limiting access to their account to only themselves or their parents. They could add friends, write to people, post photos, and play music.
But with such a platform, anyone worldwide had access, even criminals.
The 2010 American documentary “Catfish” became the first to coin the term “catfishing,” the process of a person pretending to be someone else online through fake photos and a false persona.
The documentary followed New York City photographer Nev Schulman in 2007 when he believed he had found the woman of his dreams on Facebook. However, she was a forty-something married woman in Michigan.
The film exposed the dangers of chatting online and meeting people through the internet. It also emphasized that you do not fully know who is on the other end. People can be whoever they want online, and some are none the wiser. But there are others who find out the hard way.
Carly Ryan was born on Jan. 31, 1992. She resided with her mother, Sonya Ryan, in Stirling, South Australia, roughly 10 miles southeast of Adelaide.
At 14, Carly had a MySpace account and one on VampireFreaks.com. It is now an online clothing store, but in 2006, it was another social networking site.
Carly began talking to an 18-year-old American musician named Brandon Kane on Vampire Freaks. Brandon contacted Carly after getting to know one of her friends online and claimed he had recently moved to Victoria.
Like many kids her age in the mid-2000s, Carly was an “emo” who wore mainly black clothing, heavy dark eye shadow, and black or red lipstick. She wanted to meet online friends who shared similar interests.
Ryan was cautious about her daughter’s online behavior. She kept the family computer in the kitchen, so she could monitor who Carly was chatting with online.
Carly and Brandon spent 18 months talking to each other online before switching to speaking on the telephone. Carly also chatted with Brandon’s adoptive father, Shane, a security guard.
The phone conversations appeared normal, with Carly and Brandon asking each other how school was going, talking about music, etc.
But Shane became more involved in their conversations. Carly’s mother grew concerned, telling Carly that something did not seem right. But the naive teenager begged her mother not to ruin her friendship with Brandon.
Carly constantly talked about Brandon and soon fell in love with him. She believed that he also loved her.
Around Carly’s 15th birthday, Shane arrived at Carly’s house carrying hundreds of dollars worth of clothing, including a corset and lingerie. The latter two items were allegedly a birthday gift from Brandon.
Shane wore a shirt with a security logo and flashed Carly’s mother his security license. Realizing he had nowhere to stay, Ryan invited Shane to Carly’s birthday party and offered him a room in their home overnight. Ryan later said Shane seemed like a normal, protective, loving father.
But at the party, Shane told Carly, “I love you. I would never let anything happen to you. You are beautiful.” Carly later told her mother that Shane also made sexual advances toward her. She rejected the middle-aged man and told him he was “old, fat, and gross.”
Ryan ordered Shane to leave and began monitoring her daughter’s internet use more closely.
On Feb. 19, 2007, Brandon called Carly and lured her to a deserted beach at Victor Harbor, 50 miles south of Stirling. Carly lied to her mother, saying she was going to a sleepover with friends. When Carly did not return home on Feb. 20, 2007, Ryan called the police.
Later that morning, someone walking along the beach found Carly’s battered body floating facedown in the shallow water at Horseshoe Bay in Port Elliot.
According to Adelaide Now, an autopsy revealed 19 injuries, including several blows to the head. The cause of death was facial trauma, drowning, and suffocation. The medical examiner had found beach sand in her esophagus.
The hunt for Carly’s killer began with investigators examining security footage in the Port Elliot area on Feb. 19, 2007. Carly was spotted on CCTV in the company of two males driving a light blue car. Witnesses saw her around 9:30 p.m. at the beach. She was not seen alive again.
The vehicle the men were driving led police to Garry Francis Newman, 50. Newman was the man Carly and Ryan knew as “Shane.” On March 3, 2007, investigators raided Newman’s Mornington Peninsula home. They discovered a notebook detailing over 200 online aliases Newman used to meet teenage girls.
Newman had forced his adopted teenage son to pose as Brandon during phone calls with Carly. The boy was the other male seen on the CCTV footage with Newman and Carly. His identity has never been made public.
Investigators arrested both men during the raid. When police entered Newman’s home, they found him chatting online with a 14-year-old girl in Western Australia. He was using his fake alias, Brandon Kane. Police learned the boy had witnessed his father kill Carly.
When questioned by the police, Newman denied knowing and meeting Carly and continued denying it throughout his 2009 trial.
On Jan. 21, 2020, Newman was sentenced to life imprisonment with a 29-year non-parole period. His adopted son, a minor at the time, was acquitted of all charges.
After the horrific murder of her 15-year-old daughter, Ryan started the Carly Ryan Foundation. She helped pass Carly’s Law in 2017. Per the foundation’s website, “Carly’s Law will make it a crime for an adult to use a carriage service to commit an act in preparation for, or planning to, cause harm to or engage in or procure sexual activity with a minor. Importantly, this will include those who misrepresent their age.”
When I first read about Carly Ryan’s murder, I suddenly remembered something. For several months in 2006, my then-13-year-old daughter had been chatting online allegedly with a teenage boy in New Zealand she had met on MySpace. His name was Elliot, she said.
My daughter was “emo” and a bit goth. She loved MySpace and would jam in her room to Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Panic at the Disco, and Paramore. If my daughter and Carly had met back then, they would have been best friends. They were so much alike.
My daughter and Elliot chatted online quite often. She was naive. It was only a matter of time before he gained her trust, and I became suspicious, just like Carly’s mother. My daughter seemed to be falling for this person, which bothered me immensely.
I told her she had no idea who she was speaking to. Elliot could be an older online predator not in New Zealand, but in the U.S. I talked about online dangers, but she refused to believe me. She insisted this boy was “cool” and “definitely a teenager.” I knew something was not right.
My husband and I worked full-time jobs. My daughter would arrive home from school before us and get on the computer. Thankfully, their “friendship” stayed online, and she never met him.
I began monitoring her internet usage as best I could. Eventually, with the craziness of raising kids and working, I forgot about this boy, and she did not speak of him after our discussion. One day in early spring 2007, I remembered and asked if she was still chatting online with Elliot. She said no and that the communication between her and him had abruptly stopped.
We had no idea why. But I wonder, with all the similarities, could she have been talking to Newman when he chatted with Carly? They say it’s a small world, so you never know.
It’s unlikely that it was Newman, but to this day, I believe my daughter was speaking with an adult male. I’m thankful my family and I had a positive outcome, and it breaks my heart that Carly’s family did not.
Carly should be here today with children of her own and a husband who loves her. Instead, a monster ripped her from a loving family and a future.