Transcribe your podcast

Before we get started, I want to warn you. Suicide is mentioned in this episode. There's one part of this story I haven't told you yet. Mine, I knew if I was going to tell Father Ryan's story, I needed to talk to the man himself. I hoped getting his version of events would help me understand why he did what he did. That's why reaching out was one of the first things I tried to do. I found Ryan's email address on a court document.


I had barely started doing my own investigation. But in November of twenty seventeen, I sent Ryan a message asking if he'd talk. To be honest, I assumed the email address wouldn't work, it'd be old or he'd never respond. Instead, he answered eight minutes later and I thought, oh, there's a chance he might talk. That's one of the reasons I took this podcast on. By that point, I had been a reporter for almost nine years.


You get to know how people act when they do or don't want to talk. He seemed to gain in his response. Ryan didn't even bother to say hello.


He wrote, quote, First of all, I would like to know how you got my contact information. Second, I've had a documentary done once a few years ago, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it was never aired. Completed. Third, you would have to check with my attorney about this. That was it. He didn't say no, but he didn't say yes either, so I asked him again, we went back and forth for months. He always had some excuse or he'd stall for one reason or another.


Remember, I'm not the first person to try this ABQ seventeens Lucas Geisler covered Ryan in Missouri. I said, my name is Lucas. I work at ABC 17 News in Columbia. And he hung up on their second call. Lucas got him to answer a few questions, but Ryan refused to get into his legitimacy. I did my best to ask him about Are you really a priest? Was really the question like, were you ever ordained? Like, did you go through that sacrament?


And he would not touch it. Nobody's ever gotten this guy to explain himself, answer for what he's done. A pattern formed, he'd respond and several times fairly fast, then just go silent for weeks or months whenever he would reach out. I would try to get him to set a date for us to meet, but he'd usually say there was no point that a conspiracy existed to keep him silent. As part of his evidence of this conspiracy, he sent me an autobiography, he seems to have a couple of versions.


One is 95 pages long. He calls his autobiography The Silenced Lamb.


And in it, Father Ryan tells his story of being a hero, priest persecuted for standing up for the truth and what's right.


Among the many stories, a few stand out Ryan Conex himself to two priests who end up dead, one murdered, another from an apparent suicide. But in both stories, he's the good guy. Until he would actually talk to me, I was stuck, these emails were all I had to get his side of the story. This autobiography was his version of events. And let me tell you, it is one hell of a version of events. From now on her media, I'm Alex Schoeman and this is Smokescreen Fake Priest.


I'm reading the longer version of Father Ryan's autobiography. It's got 10 chapters. Ryan opens the first chapter by reliving the day a priest was murdered. His name was Father Alfred Koontz. His case has drawn a lot of attention in Wisconsin over the years.


It is a tragic shock turned into many questions in 1998. How could something like this happen in such a small town to a priest and in such a brutal way?


The small town of Dane became the center of a high profile murder investigation that has yet to be solved.


The death of Father Alfred Kunz is the village of Deyn remains one of the area's greatest mysteries.


This morning at St. Mary's Church, the body of sixty seven year old Alfred Koonce was found on the floor of a hallway at St. Michael Catholic School in Daine, Wisconsin. Blood was everywhere. Someone had cut Father Koonce his throat. It was the first murder in this little town in almost 30 years, police told reporters. The evidence suggests whoever killed Koonce likely would have left the school covered in blood and with marks on their face. But the case remains unsolved.


One of the police's more prominent theories is that Coons interrupted a burglary. But there are all kinds of theories.


It's one of those unsolved murders that's developed its own following kind of figure that they would have someone in custody after a few days.


Matt Abbott is a writer who spent years on this case wondering, well, you know, was it an interrupted burglary?


Was it some other possible motive?


Where does Ryan Scott fit into this case?


I did have a telephone conversation with him the last probably 30 minutes or so. And then I was subcircuit schmale as well.


Ryan has talked with several reporters about what he thinks happened to Father Kootz. He told Matt the reason he was connected to Father Coots was that they had been compiling a list of pedophile priests. They plan to publicly shame the priests, to try to stop them from hurting children. The father, Ryan, said the Catholic Church murdered Koonce to stop him and to say, in my initial communication with Ryan, I was inclined to believe him. However, that did not last very long before I started to hear from other people.


I started to do a little more investigating and to find out that a lot of things just didn't add up. Father Koonce and Ryan did know each other, but it's hard to know for sure how well I had to do some digging to figure it out. From what I can tell, Father Koonce was in many ways the guy Father Ryan was claiming to be. He was a well respected, traditionalist priest. He was ordained before the Second Vatican Council.


The diocese let Father Koonce continue to do old school masses. He'd been there for 31 years and had made a reputation for himself. He was a polarizing figure. He sounded very fire and brimstone. He was the kind of guy who stood up to the modern Vatican. Other outsiders felt comfortable confiding in him to other countries.


Don't be a priest who was very much in the know about certain things. He was also Greek, I think about how he handled information.


Back in the mid nineties, Father Ryan was being pressured to close his first abbey and leave Wisconsin. The Diocese of the Cross wanted Father Ryan to prove he was a priest to prove he was actually ordained. So Dale Lowinger, one of his followers at the time, introduced him to Kootz.


I think it was I'd ask girls if he would meet with Father Ryan and to see if he was really in a properly arrogant priest.


Maybe Kootz, a respected traditionalist priest, would defend him and help boost his standing with people who doubted him. What doesn't make sense about that is that Ryan would have in theory known there was nothing for Father Koontz to prove because he was never actually ordained by the Roman Catholic Church.


This is one of those moments where I feel like I'm missing something. Why would Father Ryan ask for help proving something that wasn't true, something that would expose his lies? I reached out to the Dane County sheriff's office. I wanted to know if investigators thought the Catholic Church had had anything to do with Currentzis death. Father Ryan thought so. But did the cops the sheriff did not want to answer any of these questions. Matt said besides one big publicity push a couple of years ago.


They've stayed fairly tight lipped.


I guess that they have released some, but it hasn't been a tremendous amount, but that's what they feel is appropriate.


In his autobiography, Ryan describes the days after his death almost like a Catholic spy novel. In it, he's arranging secret meetings and talking to investigators.


He plans to publicize the list of pedophile priests on his own. Everything he says about himself is the opposite of what I've heard. He's the one fighting for justice, trying to save kids from sex abuse, risking his life for the record. Matt does think Father Cutie's investigations could have made him a target. He's just not sure there's evidence Ryan was actually that involved.


I still think it is a possibility that it had to do with whether it was a specific list. I'm not so sure. But I know that, you know, he was investigating some cases of clergy corruption. And, you know, there were some priests who weren't very pleased with him.


But some people who know Father Ryan well think he might have been involved. Both the John Brown, the investigator, invite a bar. The former nun have their suspicions. On more than one occasion, they've tried to convince me that Father Ryan could have wanted Koonce dead, they're not alone. Ryan gets mentioned by people talking about the case on different message boards, too.


I believe he has something to do with the Coombs murder. Maybe Coons found out Father Ryan wasn't really ordained and threatened to expose him by the bar and are working on it.


We're putting evidence together. I've grown to trust both John and Vida, but I just don't see it. I haven't seen enough evidence to suggest Father Ryan had anything to do with his demise. Matt Abbot, that writer who's covered the case, asked a detective for his take on whether Father Ryan did it.


He didn't seem to think that Ryan Scott was involved with the murder. The Dane County Sheriff's Office wouldn't tell me if Father Ryan was ever a person of interest. So from the sound of things, police don't think Ryan's a killer.


What is fascinating, though, is how Father Ryan himself really wants people to know he was in his orbit. It's as if he takes this horrible murder and intentionally makes it a part of his own story. Coons may not have died at the hands of the Catholic Church, but Father Ryan sure likes to think he did. A big part of his autobiography is dedicated to it. But this wasn't actually the only story he'd include about sex abuse in the church.


John Brown thinks this second case should be reopened and it involves another dead priest. Talks base believes we all deserve to feel our best. Their mission make therapy affordable and accessible for all. And with thousands of therapists licensed in over 40 specialties, you're sure to find the support you need. The Talk Space Network is composed of thousands of licensed therapists experienced in treating depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma, relationship issues, food and eating and more talk space on line therapy lets you connect with a licensed therapist for a fraction of the price of in-person therapy.


Match with your perfect therapist from the comfort of your device and reach out 24/7. Talk space covers 40 million people for online therapy through their insurance or employer, and it's secure and private using the latest encryption technology to keep your information safe, match with your perfect therapist at talks based dotcom or by downloading the talk space app. And don't forget to use promo code priced at checkout for a hundred dollars off your first month. That's a hundred dollars off your first month at talks base dotcom promo code priest from NPR podcast Throughline.


We're taught that the U.S. is a representative democracy, one where everyone has a say. But in the more than 200 years since the country's founding. Has that ever actually been the truth? Introducing a special through line series that takes a look at the history of American democracy, what it was meant to be, where it's failed and what it might become from the reasons for an electoral college to who gets the right to vote. Listen now to the Throughline podcast from NPR.


I'm down in John Brown's basement. This is kind of like my war room. He's an investigator, so he's got all kinds of different work from different cases. Big white sheets of paper are pinned to the walls, covered in writing. A bunch of file folders are laid out on a long table. And then there's the files he's got on Father Ryan.


I put together evidence this book after book after book of evidence. I put that together and I'm going to illuminate the truth that surrounds this convict, this terrible man. John Brown has never quite forgiven himself for getting Father Ryan out of jail, putting that terrible man, as he puts it, back on the streets. So now John Brown is trying to find evidence that Father Ryan is a criminal, something he could bring to the cops. And you know, John, once he starts digging, he doesn't stop.


So he spent a lot of time reading the details about the death of a second priest, Father Clarence Cook. He thinks something doesn't add up and that Father Ryan might be the missing piece of the puzzle that would make that senseless death make sense. Father Cook was found inside a car parked in the middle of a gravel road.


They find him in the trunk of his car. And he's dead. This was September 1990, a red Buick was found abandoned in rural Missouri. The Missouri State Patrol noticed the car had Wisconsin license plates, no footsteps or markings nearby. All the doors were unlocked in the back seat.


There were priestly robes in the front, a note, a short message written in cursive.


Whoever left it turned the note so it could be read through the window. The trooper was able to make out what it said, quote, I can't stand my pain anymore. I've hurt so many. A locksmith unlocked the trunk. Father Cook's body was inside. At first, investigators treated it as a homicide, but they found no evidence of foul play. So ultimately ruled it a suicide. That's what cops think, but John Brown sees the Clarence Cooke case differently.


Why would Father Cook drive nearly seven hours to park and put himself in the trunk? And if he did climb into the trunk, why weren't his car keys found at the scene?


Now, how many people do you know that commit suicide by opening your trunk? The keys disappear. They get in the trunk and they close it.


Father Ryan brings up Father Cook in his autobiography. Ryan says young boys told him about inappropriate things Father Cook was doing on camping trips and outings.


Now, Ryan said in his story that he claimed that Father Koc was molesting kids in summer camp.


Ryan claims he took these concerns to his cousin, who happens to be an actual ordained priest in the local parish. Ryan says his cousin, a man named Thomas Coile, told him it was delicate. Don't tell the bishop, let father cook be. In other words, Ryan's cousin tells him to drop it.


Less than a week later, Thomas Coyle, the parish priest, he ordered Ryan gone. He said, you're going to have to leave suddenly. He was loved person, and there's zero zero evidence that father ever molested anyone, but Ryan made that claim.


I thought about that note found in Cook's car.


I can't stand my pain anymore. I've hurt so many. It was baffling. It could be the note of a desperately sad man. But Father Ryan would argue it's the last confession of a pedophile.


Personally, I never discovered a shred of evidence that Father Cooke abused children. I knew that investigators on the case discovered that Father Cook had attempted suicide as a younger man. The sheriff's offices in Wisconsin and Missouri worked together on the case. They also learned from the parish Father Cook had a history of disappearing. Cops just didn't think there was anything suspicious about the death. I reached out to Ryan's cousin, the priest at Father Cook's old parish, to see if he could help explain things, but he never called me back.


Meanwhile, John Brown and I were in frequent contact, I don't believe it was Ryan that did it. I believe it was someone else who did it that Ryan instructed. John Brown hasn't shared what he's found to police in either case, he's still gathering evidence. But as a reporter, this is a tough spot to be. I am being inundated with claims and accusations from every direction. And with Ryan, it's endless. A lot of people accused of crimes tend to try to hide or at least not attract more attention.


Ryan's the opposite. It's like he can't help but slip back into the spotlight. Instead of not being able to find a trace of him, you can find him everywhere. I've wondered if it's on purpose. Is he creating such a massive paper trail that people like me get overwhelmed? There's just so much in his life Father Ryan takes and takes. But in his autobiography, he is the one who helps others. He tries to keep children out of harm's way.


He helps Father Coots investigate horrible secrets. He's calling out pedophiles. It seems so odd he'd intentionally insert himself into these cases. His autobiography leaves out all the pain he's caused, all the people he's hurt. But I talk to a lot of them. That guy who stood in that old photo, tan and smiling, dressed like a 70s porn star, that guy pissed a lot of people off. This is not a man who conned a few people in small Midwest towns.


His concern is nationwide and brazen. I haven't even told you about the time he was hired to run a church in North Dakota after it failed.


He used their mailing list of almost 11000 subscribers to ask donations be sent to him directly over the years as I went down many rabbit holes.


I never lost contact with Father Ryan. He and I would email I would ask him to do an interview. He'd warned me the Catholic Church would try to silence me. There was always a reason he couldn't do it. But then one day in twenty nineteen, all those reasons vanished. 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. Brainwashed from CBC podcasts takes you inside a multipart investigation into M.K. Ultra in Montreal and how the CIA and Canadian government funded secret experiments to find out if people's brains could be rewired and controlled. Learn about the psychiatrist who used hundreds of his patients as human guinea pigs and discover the devastating impacts that the experiments had on the victims, their families and on thousands around the world.


You can listen to brainwashed on the CBC Listen app or wherever you get your podcasts. It's been nearly two years and Father Ryan finally agreed to meet. I started emailing with Father Ryan in twenty seventeen, the way he writes varies if he's happy, things are in order. Punctuation is good. If he's upset, there are all these random capitalizations in the spacing is weird. It's like how a bot would write a comment on social media. Our conversation was essentially a broken record.


Then on August 12th, two nineteen. Alex, I suppose that by now you've forgotten me, but I have not forgotten about your offer. The email is six paragraphs long, but he never once actually says he's going to do the interview. I ask again this time he offers a date. I say yes, but then weeks go by. Finally I get an email that begins here. I sit wondering and in anticipation, like as if we're pen pals and this is the nineteenth century, he tells me a health procedure was postponed.


I pushed for the interview. I tell him if the procedures push back, let's get this thing done.


Silence. About a month later, I reach out just to check in this time, and I don't really know why he asked to meet without doing a recording. I was surprised. It seemed like a genuine suggestion. He wanted to make sure he would be comfortable doing an interview and asked if we could talk first. At that point, I didn't care if he didn't want me to record. I just wanted to get in the same room. What made me hesitate a bit was that Father Ryan added another condition.


He wanted the interview to happen at his house.


I thought, that's weird. But he said if we met there, he'd be able to show us his documents. I had no idea what that really meant, but it made sense to let it be somewhere comfortable for him. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out how comfortable I was. Nothing I'd found suggested I needed to worry for my safety. But then again, so many people I interviewed warned me to be careful. That's when I asked my brother Dan to come along.


He served in the Marines and did two tours in Iraq with him. I wasn't worried.


Just crossed the bridge and pulled into his. General neighborhood Ryan only gave me his address after I assured him I wouldn't secretly record our meeting.


OK, here's this house. We had to pull around to the back. There are two vehicles in the driveway behind the house, Dan and I have absolutely no idea what we're about to walk into. I stopped recording here we walk up to the house, there are a couple of doors, so it's unclear at first where we're supposed to go. Then as I approach a side screen door, it flings open.


And there he is, Father Ryan. He doesn't say anything. He hesitates to make eye contact. He just stands there. He's got on an all black long sleeved shirt, black pants and shoes, I introduced myself, and then one thing I did notice is that he had his white collar not on, but in his pocket.


And I felt like that was to show that he had it.


But he made a conscious decision not to wear it.


I reached out to shake Father Ryan's hand before we went inside. He's not sure if he wants to shake it back, but he does. We follow him right into the back porch. He offers us two chairs and he pulls up a small swivel stool on wheels. I can hear someone or maybe a pet moving around in the back of the house, but he didn't show us around. As a reporter, I've gotten to meet lots of important people. It is always a little jarring when you finally meet and see someone you've spent time covering.


I had all these preconceived notions and the man I met wasn't who I expected. He was nervous this guy was nothing like the con artists in movies or the one I'd heard described. I don't think he ever fully sat back and relaxed ever. I think he was sitting on a stool and like a swivel stool, but he was still very much on the edge of that school stool.


Ryan stayed tense for most of our talk, but he did like to talk.


So he told us his life story, the same one I had read in the autobiography he sent me.


He could go through his story from beginning to end, but he would struggle if you were to ask him questions out of order. He seemed like he had trouble with names, times and dates if they were taken out of context of his storyline.


We talked for about an hour and a half. He did warm up. He started making jokes.


There were flashes of the charm. I asked my brother about it afterward.


Do you see how people could be convinced by him? Oh, absolutely. But there was this vibe that he had. Maybe it came from how tense he was about the meeting, but there was an edginess. Dan noticed it, too. There's just something not quite right about him.


It it really seems like he was acting.


I tried multiple times to get Ryan to let us record the interview, but he never gave in. Instead, he told us he wanted to discuss it with his mom and think things over. I skeptically said, sounds good and waited. It seemed all about attention. I knew by now how to play this game. I'd driven three hours with my brother to essentially get that autobiography read to me.


I'd assume, since he promised to show us documents that he had a big filing cabinet or a bunch of boxes filled with information. Instead, he had a single, very portable small box with papers and frames.


So why the hell did I need to come to his house? I was frustrated, but I knew if I waited after Dan and I left, if I didn't check in, he'd likely decide to do the interview.


The thing is, as much as I needed Father Ryan by now, he kind of needed me. I was the guy willing to listen. I wanted to hear him out in a couple of weeks later, I did hear back. Next time on Fake Priest, my first question for you is a basic one. Why didn't you agree to this interview? I'm not really sure. Every time I have tried to defend myself in the past, quite the opposite has been done.


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 neon how media. It is reported and hosted by me. Alex Schoeman, the executive producer is Jonathan Hirsche. Lead producer is Natalie Wren, associate producer is Kate Myshkin. Catherine St. Louis is our editor, fact checking by Laura Bullard. Thanks to Mount McKinley for our theme music and the blue dot sessions for tracks you hear on this episode Sound Design and Additional Composition by Jessie Pearlstein. And the song you're hearing now is Old Time Religion by Parker Milsap.


Our engineer is Scott Somerville, special thanks to Peter Manseau and Vikram Patel.