Facebook predator unmasked

By David Fisher

Natalia Burgess used photos of younger women. Photo / Supplied
Natalia Burgess used photos of younger women. Photo / Supplied

This is the real face of the woman accused of being a Facebook predator.

Natalia Burgess, 28, of Mangere in Auckland, has assumed multiple false online personalities to form internet relationships with teenagers.

Her identity has so far remained a secret as she stayed hidden behind a web of online personas.

But the Herald on Sunday was able to penetrate her attempts to disguise her identity - and discovered she is known to police.

We have found Burgess has at least six other online personas including: Laura Jane West, Jordz Williams, Becca Maria Jullienne, Abby Jane Zoe William and Racheal Marie Drent.

The personas were bolstered by photos taken from the Facebook profiles of genuine people.

Burgess was unwilling to comment yesterday.

A man who answered her phone said: "We're not doing anything unless it goes through the lawyer."

Over a year, Burgess used her multiple online personalities to form internet relationships with dozens of teenage boys and men across the country.

Almost 40 boys at St Thomas of Canterbury school in Christchurch were caught up, along with dozens of others.

Many believed they were in relationships with attractive girls their own age.

She would arrange to pay for some to have their mobile telephones topped up with credit - and they would spend hours through the night talking to her.

Along the way, the Herald on Sunday has found Burgess also pretended to be a family member of murdered Christchurch woman Emma Agnew and set up an internet memorial page expressing her grief.

We have also found she pretended her father was among the 29 men killed in the Pike River mining disaster.

One of her fake profiles - Laura Jane West - posted a bereavement message that read: "I miss you and I will never stop loving you, R..i.p daddy terry xx."

The only miner to have lost his life with that first name was Terry Kitchin.

His family last night said he had three children and none carried the name Laura West. They also did not know Burgess.

The Herald on Sunday has learned that Burgess grew up in Westport as the adopted daughter of a religious family. Friends say she stood out in the town being Samoan by birth but adopted into a European family.

The Herald on Sunday has also been told by some caught up in the scam that they spent hours on the phone to Burgess or the personas which have emerged as fakes.

Burgess would also play the false personalities off against each other - having them arguing online over rights to various boys and men.

Victims have also told how the false personas would be used to back up each other's stories - including one case in which a young man was told over the internet of a false persona committing suicide.

He believed the woman was real and had killed herself in despair over a relationship gone wrong.

Burgess then set up RIP memorial internet pages - and used as tributes online videos made in homage by an eager suitor.

The revelation of her identity comes as police finish interviewing many of the boys at St Thomas of Canterbury who fell victim to her scam.

Youth division senior sergeant John Robinson said the case would be reviewed by lawyers to see if any law had been broken. No one was facing charges yet.

Robinson - who would not address Burgess by name - said the law around "grooming" by online predators was being studied.

Police had previously said they believed a sexual motive lay behind the fake Facebook relationships.

He said there had been air tickets sent to schoolboys to get them from Christchurch to Auckland. The trips had not gone ahead after parents became involved, although one trip to visit a persona who had made a "suicide attempt" almost did.

Robinson said reluctance on the part of the victims had also resulted in threats toward family members by the various personas used. The nature of the threats showed the person controlling the personas had a large reserve of knowledge drawn from the internet.

"The lesson in this is be careful what you put out there. We want people talking about this a lot more than they are," said Robinson.

He said rules around keeping computers in a central family area no longer applied when mobile phones allowed internet connections anywhere. It meant parents needed to have more open conversations about internet dangers with their children, he said.

Motueka youth leader Ethan Williams, 18, said he formed an online friendship with Laura Jane West last year - and was then introduced to her "sisters" Burgess and Jullienne.

He said the Jullienne persona claimed to be the sister of Anna Jullienne, who plays Nurse Maia Jeffries on Shortland Street.

Each of the personas had different photos accompanying their online biographies and Facebook pages.

While in the online relationship, Williams made videos as a tribute to their relationship and his friendship with her "sisters". The Herald on Sunday showed him yesterday that his videos were linked to online obituary pages for the women.

"This is crazy," he said, seeing the pages. "Who would go to this much effort? I feel like a complete idiot.

"It's like an episode of Shortland Street. They get sick of someone so they kill them off."

Williams said he was told by Burgess she was 23 and on home detention for an assault-related conviction.

The online relationship started breaking down after about a month. Williams said he also became suspicious of inconsistencies in the stories.

"It got really weird. Natalia and Becca started threatening other friends over Facebook."

Correspondence provided by Williams showed Burgess threatening to "smash" a female friend that he knew in real life, not just over the internet.

Student Kyle Lawson, 21, said one of the personas told him another had committed suicide.

"One of them told me she had walked into a house and the other one had killed herself over some guy."

Lawson said: "It reinforces everything you get told about the internet. You've got to be careful with Facebook. You don't know who's on the other side."

Hamilton's Toni Hanham's photos were used as part of the scam - and then featured on a memorial "RIP" page. She said her friend's Facebook profiles had been searched for new photos of her used to support false identities.

"It was a shock - you can't even believe that it happened. It's actually horrible," said Hanham.

"I figured her to not be very attractive if she has to use other people's photographs to get attention."

- Herald on Sunday

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