Suicide blamed on Facebook faker

By David Fisher, Caroline King

Peter Russell took his life after falling for Facebook persona Laura Jane West. Photo / Supplied
Peter Russell took his life after falling for Facebook persona Laura Jane West. Photo / Supplied

The mother of a man who committed suicide after he was rejected by an online persona of the "Facebook Predator" has spoken of her hatred for the woman.

Distraught mum Raewyn Ford said her son, Peter Russell, 21, took his life after being dumped by Natalia Burgess. His family now want police to refer the case back to the coroner after discovering the degree to which he was manipulated.

Russell, from Christchurch, who had proposed to vivacious blonde "Laura Jane West", never found out that she was in fact a bogus identity.

"I hate her," said Ford. "I hate her for everything she's doing to these young boys - playing head games with kids and actually convincing them she's a real person. It's just wrong."

It is the latest twist in the bizarre story of Burgess, 27, who is under investigation after developing dozens of online relationships with teenagers.

Raewyn Ford said "West" asked to be added as a friend to her son's Facebook page in January last year. They were in regular contact by phone and online, and in April Russell posted a video clip on YouTube proposing marriage.

She agreed but two months later cancelled what was to be their first meeting - at Christchurch Airport - claiming she had to go to England because her father had had a heart attack.

In June, Ford said, West contacted Russell and said she had married someone else. In October last year, he was found dead.

"It was just too much for him," she said. "A lot of people were taken in by that lady. She's a predator, that's the only way I can put it. A predator that likes to play head games with guys."

Cousin Jade McCreath said Russell told family members he had sent naked videos of himself to Burgess and she had threatened to release them online. "We believe Burgess to be the reason why Peter is no longer with us."

McCreath said that, after Russell's death, Burgess continued an online relationship with his 16-year-old brother, posing as the fictitious Abby Jane Zoey William. She said one evening she had been communicating by text message using the "Laura" and "Abby" personalities before turning up in person "to console him with sex".

The Herald on Sunday has previously revealed how Burgess created fake online personas over the past 10 years and used them to lure young men into relationships.

A teenage woman has described how she tried to take her own life after being told that her best friend - another of Burgess's fake online identities - had committed suicide.

The woman said she met Burgess as a false persona called Amy Marie West in April 2009.

"I thought she was my best friend, my sister. We talked on the phone about everything."

Burgess claimed to be aged 17 and to have a child. The woman said: "I told her things I haven't even told my mum."

As their friendship developed, she became Facebook friends with those who claimed to know "Amy", not realising they were all characters created by Burgess. Months after becoming friends she got a call from the "Laura" persona who was sobbing over the phone. "I got a phone call about 2am saying Amy had committed suicide." The "Laura" persona told the woman that she had found Amy's body and, while crying, said she did not know what to do with Amy's abandoned son Brook, 2.

"I felt there was nothing I could do for myself any more. Amy had texted me just before she committed suicide saying she loved me and she was sorry. Then I got that phone call which completely broke my heart."

She said her mental stability was further threatened when Amy's friends - in reality a string of personas created by Burgess - started telling her they were also going to take their own lives.

"It is a twisted messed up story and it has affected a lot of people," said the teenager who now has a permanent medical condition and receives ongoing psychological help.

- Herald on Sunday

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