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Before we get started, we wanted to let you know suicide is briefly mentioned in this episode. It's February 24th, 2016, Father Ryan's freedom is on the line.


All right, we're here in the matter of state of Missouri versus Ryan asked, gaveling her case. Number 15 HD S.R. zero zero two seven seven.


He's at the old Howard County Courthouse in Fayette, Missouri. It's in the center of their town square. The judge is threatening to put him in prison for seven years unless he pays some overdue fees.


We're here because he hasn't paid his court costs and he didn't come to court when I told him to.


Both John Brown and his daughter Maria are in the courtroom.


The sheriff is back in the room with him over here on the right. And I'm looking at him. And Ryan is shackled at the legs and he's handcuffed.


John and Maria are investigators. They had taken Father Ryan on as a client a couple of months earlier and they were gathering evidence for a lawsuit. Ryan plan to file against the Howard County sheriff.


Father Ryan tells the judge he's broke and apparently he doesn't work and he says he's not going to work.


The judge seems ready to throw Ryan behind bars. Then Ryan's attorney asks for a break, a few minutes to try and figure out some way to pay those fees. And we'll go off the record. It's after this moment. The part off the record, you're not going to believe Father Ryan sets his hopes on John Brown. They said, can you pay it? And he could pay it. But he's looking at me, you know, and, you know, he hired me.


Maria, his daughter is looking to John to save the day, too.


How could this poor man be put into jail? Please bail him out. He's so heinous and he's so great.


Father Ryan owes five thousand six hundred ninety eight dollars and six cents. That's a lot of money to just throw down. But that's what he does.


John decides to pay it all went over there and I slapped the money down and paid his fine.


Here's Ryan's attorney.


We've made arrangements to cash and balance in the matter very well. Maria is watching the sheriff, you could just see his jaw drop because everybody was expecting Ryan to go to jail and just like that, Father Ryan is free to leave.


Russ, the guy who arrested Ryan, grabs John before he leaves. What are you doing?


Why are you doing this? He was in a rage. And I said. He's my client. And as far as I know, he's innocent, not just innocent of the probation violation that put Ryan in court that day. At the time, my daughter and I thought he was a priest, like for real. And we thought these police were doing them wrong and, you know, trodden on his rights as a priest. How much of a fool I was?


From now on her media, I'm Alex Schoeman and this is Smokescreen Fake Priest. To understand why John would make this kind of decision, we have to go back a little. It's January 2016, a month before that sentencing hearing where everything was on the line, John and Maria Brown have moved Father Ryan, their client, into an empty home they owned in Columbia, a city in central Missouri. It's home to the University of Missouri and about 40 miles south from Armstrong, the small town where Father Ryan had opened his Abbie.


Maria took the lead on the case, she would spend hours with Ryan, she'd take him to run errands, or sometimes they would just talk.


We just began building a friendship, building a rapport, and then he would give me details of his case. I would then document the facts and then go research him and pass them on to John and the attorney so that we could he could build his case.


The case they're building is against the Howard County Sheriff's Department and Russell Harrison. Father Ryan has convinced them that Russ was out to get him. Ryan wanted to sue, but in order to win, he needed evidence. John and Maria were hired to help him gather it. What's a little confusing is that John is also good friends with Russ, the guy who wanted to put Father Ryan in jail.


We had been friends for about 25 years or more, but John and Maria still took Father Ryan's case. They saw flaws in Rusty's investigation, but the whole situation was delicate.


It didn't tell Father Ryan that I knew Russ Harrison on a personal level.


And since he had this vendetta against Russ for writing this false probable cause statement, Maria and John really believed Russ messed up.


The probable cause statement was junk. I've been doing I've been an investigator since 1993 and it was just junk.


If you could see it was so biased and was fabricated.


They bought Father Ryan's story that there was sort of a conspiracy to get him locked up. In fact, during one of her talks with Father Ryan, Marea learned that Russ may have had a unique motive.


Just a couple of weeks after we put him in the house, he let me know that Russ Harrison had pursued him sexually.


In other words, Maria is saying Father Ryan told her Russell Harrison had hit on him, pursued him. And when Father Ryan didn't welcome his advances, Russ got pissed.


Maria didn't think this case was entirely about elder abuse. She suspected it was about love and revenge. I wanted to extract the facts from their relationship because I had, I guess, hypothesized that this was a love affair that had gone wrong.


She thought Russ could have arrested Father Ryan out of spite.


Russ didn't actually use facts for that probable cause statement.


He let his personal emotions get involved and to say, hey, if you don't want to be my lover, well, I'm going to just put you in jail and then I'm going to see you every day.


That's an incredible accusation. But the Browns don't make it lightly. It's a possibility.


I know Russell Harrison for twenty six years, he was my internist. And it's a possibility what John's saying here is that he thinks his old friend could have had a romantic relationship with Father Ryan, but it wasn't just speculation. John and Maria did their own investigation, too.


Here they are interviewing neighbors of Father Ryan's church, its February 2016.


Did you ever see a man in uniform around there? Very often. Oh, yes.


The neighbors saw us park outside to go to Sunday services.


Did you ever see him other than Sundays, like throughout the week? Oh, yes. Yeah, he was there quite often. Was he in uniform? Oh, yes.


They noticed dress at the church a lot earlier, two or three times a week, four times a week, maybe twice a day sometimes. Sometimes he'd be here for about 10, 15 minutes. Sometimes he'd be here for an hour or so. Their investigation was pointing to Maria in a certain direction, one they knew would sound shocking to a lot of people, they were quick to remind me that as investigators and expert witnesses, their income is totally dependent on how reliable they appear in court if we lie.


We're dead. If we lie about this stuff, it's over, you know, they pay me a lot of money and they trust my work and they trust Maria's work. If Maria and I ever told a lie, we would be impeached. And if you were impeached as an expert witness, do you think a little firm will hire you to get to the bottom of what really happened with the two men?


Maria goes back and forth between them, talking to both Russ and Father Ryan. So I'd have I'd meet with there were a couple of times where I'd meet Russ Harrison. He told me his back story and his interactions with Ryan. Ryan doesn't know that I know, Ross, that he's telling me his perspective on their relationship.


She kept them both in the dark so she could get them to talk freely. And they did.


And I think by me validating Ryan, that's why he started talking about the closeness of the relationship.


I talked to Russ Harrison. He said he couldn't do an interview, but that he identified as a straight man. He denied Jon's claims, including the whole idea that he ever hit on Father Ryan.


Maria and John collected enough proof of the relationship, that it was included in the lawsuit against Howard County. And Russ, it was framed as a possible motive for Russ to push the charges, even though the alleged victim, Patricia, didn't want the case to move forward.


Father never suggested he never said anything about putting any more money. He never said anything about getting any part of the farm.


Ryan's lawsuit accused Russ of lying in the sheriff's office of being negligent. The lawsuit also alleged Ryan was mistreated in jail. Oh, it was horrible.


It was pathetic how they were treating this man. I promise you that jail was hell.


The lawsuit accused Russ of making sexual advances on Ryan, advances that Ryan rejected. So Ruska Mac and started accusing Ryan of crimes. And I did my job. I collected the evidence.


That's the mindset John and Maria went into that courtroom with in February 2016. They felt Russ and the sheriff's office were just out to get Ryan. Remember, they had arrested Ryan 22 days earlier on a technicality. They said he hadn't told his probation officer he'd moved into John Brown's property. John said he told Russ himself that Father Ryan was staying at a house of his.


I said, Russ, he's staying with me. I've got nothing. You know, nothing's going to happen. He's not running away.


John's pitch to Russ didn't work.


He sent the police down there to arrest him and the police went down and right there on the spot, Ryan collapsed on the floor when they said his heart was bad.


But that's Ryan's modus operandi. I mean, any time he gets in trouble, he collapses on the floor.


But the police took Father Ryan in and he would spend the next 22 days in jail waiting for a hearing with the judge. Maria had been visiting him and didn't want to see him suffer any longer.


And then towards the end of his twenty two days, I had gone into his cell and he just he wanted to die. He couldn't take it anymore. He wanted to die.


And he had the dark bags under his eyes and he was really despondent and very, very depressed.


Maria believed Ryan, even if at this point she was starting to notice things that didn't quite add up, she went to John hoping he would do something.


She begged me and she was crying. Crying and pleading with me, and I thought, wow, you know, I'd do anything for my daughter, she's a good kid. So I did. I went to the hearing and I. As it turned out, you know, they were going to put him in jail for seven years and I stopped him. John wanted to make his daughter happy, to serve his client to do the right thing. So he paid the more than five thousand dollars and stabbed Father Ryan from going to prison for seven years.


John was sure of himself that day back in early twenty sixteen. But today John is remorseful because of what he'd find after he set Ryan free.


I regret that terribly. I regret doing that. This man should have gone to prison is a plague on this planet Earth. Pretty much nothing seems easy since this pandemic started, and sometimes you just need to talk about it, but opening up to those around, you can be hard talk space. Online therapy lets you connect with a licensed therapist for a fraction of the price of in-person therapy. Talk space wants to give us the support we deserve at a price we can afford.


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If you have a few minutes to spare it, help us to fill out this short listener survey. It'll let us learn more about our audience, which helps us sell the ads that keep this podcast free. You can also share your opinions about the show so we know what you think is working and what we could do better. Please go to W-W smoke screen DOT fan to fill out the survey. Thanks. After John and Maria saved Father Ryan from seven years in prison, they still worried Father Ryan's case was pretty thin.


They needed more evidence to back up his story. John wanted documentation. Now, it turned out after Father Ryan was arrested, the Methodist church he had bought in Armstrong, Missouri, had been repossessed and all of Father Ryan's belongings were still inside.


But I knew that we needed what was in the church boxes and boxes and boxes of documents in file cabinets. You've got to put a case together. You've got to have documents. So I bought church. In order to build and win this case, John decided he needed to buy the church. It cost him around 25000 dollars. But what is absolutely unbelievable about this is that as he's completing this deal, John hears from Ryan's attorney, who's already inside the nearby hearing.


He's across the street in the courthouse. And I receive a text message from his attorney saying, we need you here now. It's then when John arrives at the hearing that he drops about another five grand to get Ryan out of jail in just 30 minutes. John spent more than 30000 dollars to help Father Ryan. It was a risk because he also had no idea what was inside the church when he bought it. This church is a unique piece of property.


The sanctuary is a big octagon. Father Ryan bought it from a French musician.


The musician used to travel to the small Missouri town to take advantage of the church's amazing acoustics. Father Ryan instead preferred to keep the place quiet. I've seen photos of how Ryan set up the place.


In one photo, there's a wooden sign posted next to a small statue of a praying monk. It reads, Silence is spoken here. The floors are old wood, scratched and worn.


John had someone recorded him the first time, he went inside the church.


So now that, you know, I've had access to this building and I see the layout of the rooms, I better understand what may have happened.


Father Ryan's religious artifacts cover the walls and shelves. Those pews rest delivered look almost medieval. A big crucifix hangs over the entrance. It definitely looks like a church, only a creepy church. This is John's newest investment. It's such a gamble. He's now out more than 30000 of his own money with no guarantee that he'd get it back, all to hopefully find evidence that would prove Ryan's case and help him win. One of the first things John found once he was able to get inside the place was a letter from the Council of Bishops within the American Catholic Church addressed to Ryan.


Here's John reading it.


The council has no choice but to excommunicate you from the American Catholic Church. This letter will serve as your final notice. So this is the first clue. That's just the beginning. This is the first big piece of tangible proof to John that Father Ryan is actually full of it. John then looked at the computer they gave Ryan to use and what he found there really upset him.


He got out of jail in December.


Right around Christmas, but here, December twenty nine, twenty fifteen, right, just a couple of days after he gets out of jail, here he is posting sincere men, only male for male casual encounters.


What's this?


So he makes all of these emails and he's seeking out men here on Friday, one January 20, 16 at 19, 19 here, he's talking with one of his people.


He's trying to entice. He's trolling for men in each man that he's trying to troll for.


He gives different stories like one, oh, I'm somewhat muscular. Build extra weight makes me look bigger than I want in, blah, blah, blah. Then he tells somebody that he's a nurse, that he's in the army.


John made it clear that he didn't care. Ryan was looking for men. It's that he was looking for men while also claiming to be a Catholic man of God.


This is great stuff.


But you can't do this and be a priest. So how am I going to handle this as an investigator?


You tell me, how am I going to sit in front of a jury and say he's he's he's a priest in all of this stuff over and over. By that point, John was confident Ryan is lying, that he was helping a con man, but Maria still hadn't totally turned her back on Ryan. She seemed to find ways to make excuses for these first discoveries. She thought Ryan might be gay, but he could still have gone through the process to become an ordained priest.


She just thought he was struggling with how to balance his faith with his sexuality.


I felt at that time I felt that he. Was telling the truth that he really was a priest. He was just a conflicted priest. You know who was gay, but as they spent more time together, things started changing for Maria to his inconsistencies, they became more blatant. Things really weren't adding up.


A priest is not supposed to have relations outside of the church. And he told me I'm a celibate priest, but I'm not a celibate man.


And then I thought, this isn't really making any sense.


As Maria was starting to see Ryan differently, John was finding hard evidence of possible crimes. Since buying the church, he was also able to access Ryan's financial records.


And then I start looking at other things like he started, I could see were stealing money. I had all of this financial records.


I got them all from the church and I started to put out these bank statements together and for example, here on October 31st, 2011, and this is so sad, this man, I'm not going to mention the name, but his his father died and left him an inheritance of forty seven thousand eight hundred and fifty dollars, forty seven thousand eight hundred and fifty dollars goes right into Ryan's coffers in the money disappears.


I mean, these are the actual receipts for the deposits, right? John is now in a bind. He's already spent all this money, five grand for the fines. Twenty five more for the church, countless hours of invested time because he believed in Ryan.


And yet, despite all this new information, John still thinks Ryan's case against the sheriff's office is legitimate, that it's a winner, but he now realizes the guy he's helping is almost definitely a crook.


And I'm looking at this and I'm saying, how am I going to explain this to a jury? This man is so crooked, then John finds something else. It's the last straw.


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As John dug deeper into Father Ryan's records, he found more damning evidence his newest client was up to no good. John already knew Father Ryan had moved a few things from Illinois up to Iowa. It allowed him to avoid losing them in bankruptcy court. But now he's got receipts for storage units that make it look like Ryan shipped Relix gold and other valuables all across the country to hide from bankruptcy trustees.


Ryan ships all the goods to stolen property down to these two storage buildings at this complex. So now he's got all this stolen goods and they're hot on his trail.


After Ryan got out of jail, he started to try to get these objects back. John's read the emails Ryan sent out in them. Ryan isn't telling people. He's e-mailing that he's Father Ryan. Instead, he claims to be Sister Maria, as in John's daughter, Maria.


This is 2016. And he wants to recover either the money or some of these goods that he sent out all over the country so he wouldn't get caught with the hard goods.


He turns my daughter into a nun, Sister Maria. Unbelievably, Maria even remembered Ryan being open about what he was doing. He had said, hey, Maria, I have emailed this guy that I bought some stuff from and I've made you Sister Maria.


So I'm going to make you a nun. And then you can I'm going to correspond with them to see if he will give me back these items for work, for my monastery. That made me uncomfortable.


John doesn't know what to do. He now understands Father Ryan has fully betrayed them. What am I going to do about that? By this time, my daughter gets really alienated because she's being abused by Ryan.


At that point, things deteriorate quickly between the Browns and Ryan. Maria felt manipulated and wronged. They're both done covering Ryan's bills. As Maria tells it, Ryan refused to help pay any of their money back. They said, I don't know. I don't know how to take care of myself. I don't know how to live on my own. I I've always had somebody else do it for me. That was his excuse. She stopped giving him money so the electric and water got cut off.


And I just let him stay there like that. And then he would just call and send me text, like, how could you do this to me? I don't have any water. My dog is going to die, you know, bring me some gallons of water. And I refused to do it. He stayed in the house for about two more weeks and he left it a mess and he stole whatever I had in there and he disappeared. He just left.


Maria had had enough. She never wanted to speak to Ryan again. And then he kept reaching out to me. And then he began reaching out to John to try to get me to come back and be his friend, be his confidant. And I wanted to be very far away from him because he's very manipulative and he can make you feel extremely guilty. I don't want to be treated that way. It sounds like an abusive relationship, one that took a lot of strength to escape.


Maria said. It can be hard to admit when you trusted and believed in such a liar, but she wants to make sure no one else falls for this person.


And you've got to process those emotions. And then you have anger. You have resentment towards the person who did that to you. And then you begin to have self-doubt because you think, how could I let this happen to me, how naive I was. You have to face it and process it and turn it around and say, well, how can I use the experience that I have and share those feelings with someone else so they don't have that same feeling to.


But here's the craziest part of all, after all the ways Ryan had betrayed John and Maria, they still stick with Father Ryan. At least they keep him as a client through the entire lawsuit. Now, I guess if you're in their position, it's hard to know what exactly to do, they've sunk a ton into the case. I can't imagine how tough it would have been emotionally when you get stuck helping someone who tricked you. While it's hard to put myself in John's shoes, I do understand how he sort of separating the case from the other, more insidious things he started to find about Ryan.


I have a job to do, Alex. Right. So even though he's a scumbag and he's done all these things, I mean, even the lies, the audacity of him to present himself as a priest.


And I know he's not a priest. I know that well. The truth of the matter is Howard County abused, Ryan gave Langer's. Civil rights, they abuse it. That's the truth, John. Maria turned all their evidence over to Ryan's lawyer, the accusations against Russell Harrison Ryan's mistreatment in jail in the mishandling of the case. The lawsuit was filed in September 2016. About a year later, the sheriff's department and Russell Harrison settle the lawsuit.


But I don't know what the deciding factor was. I just know they didn't want to go to court. Nobody will talk about this agreement. The sheriff, Russ, John Brown, Father Ryan. Know what? I tried them all. They agreed to keep it confidential, even though we're talking about public money, tax dollars going to Father Ryan. But because this is Father Ryan, there's always a paper trail. So while I can't get anybody to talk about it, I have read the settlement.


Father Ryan agreed to release Rusk's, the Howard County sheriff, and their insurance company from any future liability related to the claims in the lawsuit rests in the sheriff's office. Never admit fault, but they agreed to pay Ryan ninety two thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars to drop his lawsuit by signing. Both sides also agreed to keep their deal confidential. That's why nobody will talk. It's not hard to understand why Ryan would have agreed to the settlement. More than ninety two thousand dollars is a lot of money.


But what he may not have realized is that the bill from his attorney would equal almost the exact same amount as the settlement. The agreement gave Ryan's attorney the power to take the money Ryan won in the settlement and use it to pay off Ryan's debt first. That meant the attorney could pay himself and John and Maria to before Ryan would have access to any of it.


This time it was Father Ryan who felt he got conned, that his lawyer had manipulated him, made him sign something that wasn't to his advantage. It might have seemed like John was helping Ryan, but in the end, John got something out of it, too, because part of the attorney's considerable expenses included John's fee.


And John's tab is long.


So I have something called a day timer and I carefully record all of this in my day timer every minute I start at every expense I had.


He charges Ryan for everything he and Maria did, including the money he paid to get Ryan out of jail and all of the time they spent on the case.


I did generate that invoice. It came to fifty one thousand dollars. I didn't know what it was going to come out to be, really. I hadn't I hadn't even looked at it because, you know, I have other cases I'm working on, to be exact.


John's bill, Father Ryan comes in at fifty one thousand three hundred seven dollars and eighty six cents. But he did offer a 10 percent discount to drop it down a few thousand. But even with that friendly discount, Ryan was furious.


We met together at a truck stop and he was infuriated. He was screaming.


I think that this lawsuit was his, you know, million dollar ticket.


He just flew off into a rage. Ryan hired a new lawyer and filed a different lawsuit against his previous attorney and John father. Ryan claimed the settlement didn't match his original demands. He had wanted at least fifty thousand dollars for himself, his gun possession charge vacated and an apology from Howard County.


He got nothing, but he's countersued all kinds of lies against me.


Ryan also demanded John give him back his belongings from inside the church. But John wasn't going to give in to Father Ryan's demands this time. He was going to protect himself. And that is what brings us all the way back to that warehouse in Missouri.


I sold the church. For twenty five thousand dollars, I didn't make any money on that church. This warehouse is where John is storing many of the things he pulled out of the church. Ryan claimed in his lawsuit John needs to return everything. But John said this is stolen property taken from followers.


I have some of their stuff and I want to give it back to them.


John is seeking to make up for his mistake back in 2016.


I'm really so sorry. And I apologize to everybody on this planet. I paid five thousand six hundred ninety eight dollars to keep them honest. Seven years of hard time.


I really feel sorry for that. I really regret what I did. I hope God can forgive me for that, because this man is an animal.


He is an animal, and he'll hurt anybody. He has no conscience.


To this day, John is still fighting Ryan in court, but he has spent the last several years using his skills to build another case, this time against Ryan. He hopes perhaps he can repent and make up for setting Ryan free. And he says the things he's found could put Father Ryan back behind bars where he found hundreds of lies.


And I believe he has something to do with the current murder.


Father Ryan is many things but a murderer. That's next time on Fake Priest, he's got old time religion, there is his cash in a coffee can and he makes his decisions down on his knees.


He's a full grown man and he's a fake priest is a production of Nyanza media. It is reported and hosted by me, Alex Schoeman. The executive producer is Jonathan Hirsche. Lead producer is Natalie Rinn, associate producer is Kate Myshkin. Catherine Saint Louis and Vikram Patel are our editors fact checking by Laura Bullard. Thanks to Matt McKinley for our theme music and Blue Dot sessions. Four tracks you hear on this episode Sound Design and Additional Composition by Jesse Pearlstein.


And the song you're hearing now is Old Time Religion by Parker Milsap. Our engineer is Scott Somerville.


Special thanks to Peter Mansoor.