Couple Claims Eight-Year-Old Dwarf They Adopted Was Really An Adult Sociopath

Published September 25, 2019
Updated January 31, 2020

The Barnetts adopted Natalia Grace of Ukraine in 2010. They were told she was a child, but her vocabulary and adult teeth suggested otherwise.

Natalia Barnett Smiling

Kristine BarnettNatalia Grace came to the U.S. two years before the Barnetts adopted her in 2010, but had no birth certificate. Initial tests showed she was between 8 and 10 years old, though later tests proved otherwise.

An Indiana couple that believed they were scammed into adopting an adult Ukrainian with dwarfism are now being charged with felony neglect of a child.

According to Newsweek, Kristine Barnett and her now-ex-husband Michael adopted Natalia Grace in Florida in 2010 and were told she was eight years old. The girl had come to the United States from Ukraine two years earlier but lacked a birth certificate.

Elated at the prospect of expanding their family, the couple visited several doctors to determine the girl’s age. She was originally found to be between eight and 10 years old, yet afflicted by spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia — a rare bone-growth disorder that results in dwarfism.

But Natalia Barnett soon began to exhibit odd and violent behavior, such as hiding her periods and threatening to kill members of the family. The Barnetts consequently came to suspect that Natalia was older than they thought and contacted doctors to conduct bone density tests — which suggested Natalia was at least 14 or even older.

A WISH TV segment on the strange case of Kristine and Michael Barnett and their adopted Ukrainian daughter, Natalia Grace.

According to The Daily Mail, the family’s primary care physician, Dr. Andrew McLaren, wrote a letter in 2012 stating that Natalia’s so-called birth year of 2003 was clearly inaccurate and that she had fooled everyone into believing she was a child.

The Barnetts consequently rented a Lafayette, North Carolina apartment for Natalia in 2013 and left her there. They moved to Canada and ceased any and all contact with the girl. The couple has since been charged with felony neglect for abandoning their adopted daughter.

Kristine Barnett, however, remains adamant that Natalia is not only a fully-fledged adult but also a dangerous sociopath. Natalia’s whereabouts — and her actual age — are currently unknown, while the Barnetts are due to stand trial.

“The media is painting me to be a child abuser,” Kristine Barnett insisted. “But there is no child here.”

Believing They Were Saving A Child

The 45-year-old mother is no stranger to difficult parenting. Her son Jake was diagnosed as autistic and it was believed he’d never master his own speech or socially interact with others. Jake would not only master his speech but would grow up to be a savant with numbers and enroll in Purdue University at the age of 12.

Barnett chronicles the steps she took to improve her son’s quality of life in her memoir, The Spark, for which the author was largely commended.

The Barnetts also had experience as foster parents, having run a children’s daycare from their Westfield, Indiana home. So in 2010, they naturally agreed to the “emergency adoption” of eight-year-old Natalia Grace.

But it soon became clear to the family that Natalia had tendencies and behaviors not befitting a child.

Natalia Barnett Selfie

Kristine BarnettKristine Barnett said Natalia would stand over her family members’ beds at night, holding sharp objects.

Kristine Barnett claimed the girl would throw bloody clothes into the garbage to hide that she had a period. She noted too that the girl had adult teeth and pubic hair.

The author also claimed that Natalia had threatened to stab the family in their sleep and poured bleach in Barnett’s coffee.

“She would make statements and draw pictures saying she wanted to kill family members, roll them up in a blanket and put them in the backyard,” Barnett told DailyMailTV.

“She was standing over people in the middle of the night. You couldn’t go to sleep. We had to hide all the sharp objects.”

Additionally, Kristine Barnett claimed Natalia did not grow in the time that she lived with the family. Growth can reportedly still occur even in children with Natalia’s form of dwarfism.

Natalia was later diagnosed with a psychological illness seen mainly in adults, Barnett added.

According to the Barnetts, the girl’s behavior only worsened as they grew more skeptical of her age.

Kristine Barnett claimed she saw Natalia Barnett attack her baby boy over the baby monitor one day. The girl would scoff at the “childish” exercises during family therapy. By 2011, Natalia was allegedly hearing voices and engaging in aberrant behavior.

“She was jumping out of moving cars,” claimed Barnett. “She was smearing blood on mirrors. She was doing things you could never imagine a little child doing.”

When the girl reportedly pushed her adopted mother against an electric fence in 2012, she was officially placed in a state-run psychiatric unit. Barnett claims Natalia admitted she was much older during that time and several clinicians proved this was so.

One therapist in January 2012 said the girl confessed to being 18. In June 2012, the staff at Larue Carter Hospital in Indianapolis said that Natalia told them how she tried to kill her family members. Natalia Barnett reportedly called it “fun.”

Trouble With The Law

That same year, the Barnetts decided to take action. They managed to “correct” Natalia’s legal age to 22 through a Marion County Superior Court so that she could receive the psychiatric care she needed as an adult and be cut free from the family without repercussion.

While Kristine, Michael, and their sons Jake, West, and Ethan all moved to Canada the following summer, Natalia Barnett was left in a rented apartment in Lafayette in July.

Cynthia Mans And Natalia Barnett

FacebookCynthia Mans and her children, which seems to include Natalia as of November 2018.

Kristine Barnett said she paid rent for a year before the family left the country and that she helped Natalia to get a Social Security number, apply for an ID, and get food stamps.

When Natalia Barnett was evicted in 2014, police said neighbors had taken her “under their wing.”

Michael divorced his wife that same year.

It’s unclear where Natalia is now, or how old she really is, though couple Antwon and Cynthia Mans did petition to become her legal guardians in March 2016. This would require restoring Natalia’s original birth date to 2003, to which the Barnetts filed an objection.

According to Cynthia Wilson-Mans’ Facebook account, however, it certainly appears as though Natalia has joined this new family.

Nonetheless, on Sept. 11, 2019, both Kristine and Michael Barnett were charged with felony neglect. As it stands, the Barnetts are adamant they are not guilty.

“I have been cooperative the whole time,” said Kristine. “I have been truthful with people the whole time. I am being charged by the state of Indiana for crimes against a child when the state of Indiana has determined multiple times that Natalia was an adult.”

Michael And Kristine Barnett Mugshots

Tippecanoe County JailBoth Michael and Kristine Barnett have been released on bail and a bond, respectively. Their side of the story has been corroborated by several clinicians and hospital staff.

“From day one this was a mission of love. But when you bring a child into your home, you expect them to be a child. To be accused of this is unconscionable to me. It’s just horrifying.”

Kristine Barnett was released on Sept. 19 after posting a $5,500 bond, while her ex-husband was released after posting $5,000 bail.

Another Twist In The Plot

Just when you thought this story couldn’t get stranger, Daily Mail TV found a woman claiming to be Natalia Barnett’s birth mother in Ukraine in early October.

The woman, Anna Volodymyrivna Gava, told Daily Mail TV that Natalia really is a child and denied claims that she’s an adult sociopath. Gava said she was forced to give up her daughter 16 years ago due to her condition.

Through a translator from her home in Ukraine, Gava said: “I know exactly how old she is. This girl is my daughter who was born 16 years ago. Doctors told me to leave the baby: ‘Leave her, don’t ruin your life,’ they said. Both them and my mom told me to leave her. They said the baby would never be good, that she would never be able to move, that she would be chained to a chair or to a bed.”

She continued, “She now lives in America with adoptive parents who want to ditch her. I thought everything was okay with her and it turned out that it’s not all okay.”

Daily Mail TV added that reporters also saw a document from an orphanage where Natalia was supposedly taken in that suggested she was a baby in 2003. However, reporters were not permitted to take photos of this document.

Meanwhile, Gava made a plea directly to Natalia: “Daughter, forgive me for what happened 16 years ago. Visit soon for me to see you. We are waiting for you. You have two sisters and two brothers.”

Depending on who you believe, Natalia Barnett is either 16 or 30 years old right now — based on the documents used to age her.

Straight Out Of A Hollywood Film

The Barnett case has striking parallels to Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2009 thriller Orphan. In the movie, actress Vera Farmiga and actor Peter Sarsgaard attempt to start anew after their unborn baby dies by adopting a young girl.

The couple believes the child is a nine-year-old Russian girl named Esther. Though the age and nationality don’t quite match, the Russian girl in the movie became similarly violent.

Fortunately, the Barnett’s case has been without any of the brutality as depicted in the Hollywood horror.

As it stands, Kristine and Michael Barnett will have to prove in court that Natalia was an adult when they left her or suffer the legal consequences of abandoning a child.

Ultimately, it’s a story ripe for cinematic adaptation, except for this time, the producers could rightfully add: “Based on a true story.”

After learning about the curious case of Natalie Grace, read about the 11-year-old pregnant Florida girl forced to marry her rapist. Then, learn about the woman who was arrested for grilling her daughter alive.

Marco Margaritoff
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff has also published work at outlets including People, VICE, and Complex, covering everything from film to finance to technology. He holds dual bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a master's degree from New York University.