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3 Missing Women Found; Disappearance Was Faked

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Three missing Rialto women whose bloodstained car was found abandoned in North Hollywood last week turned up safe in Utah Wednesday night and admitted that they faked their disappearance to get sympathy from their families, Los Angeles police said.

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

Police had suspected foul play in the disappearance of Suzanne Ballinger, 38, her 17-year-old daughter, Sherry Richards, and Richards’ friend, Laura Fleming, 18. They vanished last Thursday after leaving the Van Nuys print shop where Ballinger worked.

Ballinger’s car was found Sunday in North Hollywood with “small amounts of blood” on the seat, said police, who launched a search for the women.

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But Ballinger’s husband called 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.

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

Police believe they left Los Angeles by bus Friday for Ogden, said Zorn.

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The three will not face charges, Zorn said.

Ballinger was last seen about 11 p.m. last Thursday when she left her job as a typesetter, accompanied by her daughter and Fleming.

According to a co-worker, Ballinger had complained of a headache. Rather than face the two-hour drive home to San Bernardino County, Ballinger told the co-worker she planned to check into a motel, as she sometimes did when she worked late.

The three women never arrived at the motel. Ballinger’s white 1987 Ford Thunderbird was found Sunday in the parking lot of an apartment complex about four miles from her office. The keys were still in the car, as were their purses, police said.

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Times staff writer Nieson Himmel contributed to this story.


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