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3 Women Found Unhurt in Utah Admit Faking Disappearance : Investigations: Their bloodstained car is found to be part of a hoax Suzanne Ballinger, her daughter and a friend hoped would generate sympathy.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Three missing Rialto women, sought by police after their bloodstained car was found abandoned in North Hollywood last week, turned up safe in Utah on Wednesday night and admitted that they faked their disappearance to gain sympathy from family members, Los Angeles police said.

“It was all a hoax,” Lt. John Zorn said.

Los Angeles and Rialto police had been investigating the disappearance of Suzanne Ballinger, 38, her 17-year-old daughter, Sherry Richards, and Sherry’s friend, Laura Fleming, 18.

They vanished last Thursday after leaving the Van Nuys print shop where Ballinger worked.

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Ballinger’s car was found Sunday in North Hollywood with “small amounts of blood” on the seat, police said, raising fears at the time that the women had met with foul play.

But Ballinger’s husband called Los Angeles police Wednesday night to say that all three were safe in Ogden, Utah.

“We subsequently made a call to a crisis counseling center in Ogden, Utah, and established that the women were safe, and had not been victims, and had perpetrated a hoax to generate sympathy for unspecified personal problems,” Zorn said.

It was not revealed what the personal problems were.

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Ogden police verified that the women were Ballinger, Richards and Fleming, Zorn said.

The women admitted that the blood found in the car was the result of a self-inflicted wound and that they had scattered the contents of their purses, Zorn said.

“We believe they left Los Angeles on Friday and took a bus to Ogden, Utah. . . . I’m speculating that that’s as far as they could get on a bus with the amount of money they had,” Zorn said.

The three will not face charges, Zorn said.

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Ballinger was last seen about 11 p.m. on Aug. 23, when she left her job as a typesetter for East Valley Printing and Graphics in Van Nuys, accompanied by her daughter and Fleming.

According to a co-worker, Ballinger complained of a headache.

Rather than face the two-hour drive home to San Bernardino County, Ballinger planned to check into the Carriage Inn on Sepulveda Boulevard, as she sometimes did when she worked late.

The three women never arrived at the motel.

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Ballinger’s white 1987 Ford Thunderbird was found by police Sunday in the parking lot of an apartment complex in the 11300 block of McCormick Street near North Hollywood Park, about four miles north of her office.

Neighbors said it had been parked there since Friday morning.

The keys were still in the car, as were the purses of all three women, police said.

Ballinger’s stepson, Eric Ballinger, 19, said Fleming is a friend of Richards who has lived with the family for the last month or so since moving from Colorado.

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Fleming was learning to be a typesetter and worked with Ballinger at the printing shop, he said.

Times staff writer Nieson Himmel contributed to this story.


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