An American Horror Story: Innocent Child or Adult Sociopath?


Kids. They grow up so fast. 

It looks like the 2009 film 'Orphan' may have been based on a true story after all, according to former adoptive parents Michael and Kristine Barnett. 

The couple, now divorced, believed they were adopting a precious six-year-old girl from Ukraine back in 2010. However, they now claim that the child was really a full-fledged adult with a twisted plan to kill everyone in the family.

Kristine and Michael Barnett have been charged with neglect and abandoment of a dependent. Original photo from BuzzFeed.
Kristine and Michael Barnett have been charged with neglect and abandoment of a dependent. Original photo from BuzzFeed.

In July 2013, the Barnett family left for Canada, presumably leaving the "child" to fend for herself alone in an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana. Now, nearly six years later, Michael Barnett and his estranged ex-wife Kristine face two felony charges for neglect and abandonment of a dependent.  

There's something wrong with Esther. Or maybe, there's something wrong with Natalia.

Unusual Beginnings

In an interview with This Morning, Michael Barnett opened up about the bizarre way Natalia Grace entered the family's lives.

He and his then-wife Kristine were originally looking to adopt a girl from Haiti. However, the 2010 Haiti Earthquake shut down all adoption agencies in the country, derailing the Barnetts' plans to adopt the little girl.

Then, a few months later, the Barnetts received a phone call.

"...Out of nowhere, we got a phone call from an adoption agency in Florida," Michael Barnett said. "They had reached out to us and they said 'Hey, we've got the perfect child for you, we've researched you, we know all about you, and we think you should adopt this girl Natalia.'"

Natalia Grace has a rare form of dwarfism that will never allow her to grow more than 3 to 4 feet tall. The Barnetts suspect her to be older than what they thought she was. Photo from Refinery 29.
Natalia Grace has a rare form of dwarfism that will never allow her to grow more than 3 to 4 feet tall. The Barnetts suspect her to be older than what they thought she was. Photo from Refinery 29.

Michael Barnett admitted that at the time, he did not see anything strange about the random call from the agency. 

The father of three also said that the agency informed them that Natalia's adoption was a "closed adoption", which means there is no interaction between the prospective adoptive parents and the child's biological parents, nor is there any information provided between the two parties.  While a closed adoption is more common in international countries, they are not common in the U.S.

With Natalia's adoption considered a closed one, the agency would only offer two photos of her, a Ukranian birth certificate, and a medical statement from two years prior. 

The true oddity, according to Michael Barnett, was the slim time frame the family was given to adopt her. 

"[The agency told us], 'You have 24 hours to tell us whether or not you want to adopt her. If you don't adopt her within 24 hours, we're sending her directly to foster care,'" he said.

Although the Florida agency seemed to have pressured the Barnetts into making a hasty decision, Florida's adoption laws explicitly state that all adoptive parents must go through an in-depth adoption study which includes providing the following:

  • background checks
  • health records 
  • financial statements 
  • five letters of recommendation
  • interviews with prospective parents
  • home inspections  

Nevertheless, the Barnetts and their three children went to meet Natalia in what Michael Barnett described as a "tiny office room in a strip mall."

From the moment the girl came into the office to meet them for the first time, Natalia seemed to become attached to the Barnetts instantaneously, a factor that seemed to baffle Michael Barnett as he relived the odd encounter.

"She was just given up for adoption by her old family five minutes before that," Michael Barnett said. "We should have recognized that there's no six-year-old on the planet who would be happy in this situation, [but she] immediately start[ed] referring to Kristine and I as 'Mommy' and 'Daddy.'"

The father of three went on to say that after quickly signing paperwork, Natalia was officially theirs to keep. However, red flags about the child's age immediately arose that same night. 

While giving the supposed six-year-old a bath, Kristine Barnett noticed something and frantically alerted her husband in a tone he knew meant "something was very wrong."

"I came rushing into the bathroom and I found Kristine white as a ghost," he began. "She was truly shaken, I had no idea why... and Kristine simply said 'Look.'"

What he saw shocked him.

"Natalia, at age six, had full pubic hair," Michael Barnett exclaimed.

The shocking revelation caused the pair to wonder if their six-year-old new daughter was actually older than they thought.  

The Barnetts also discovered that she had her menstrual cycle when they found her undergarments stained with blood. While some young girls may feel anxious or confused when they first start their periods, according to Michael Barnett, Natalia openly admitted to having her menstrual and that she had been hiding it from them. 

The average age for young girls to hit puberty is around eight to 12-years-old according to the American Academy for Pediatrics, with the average age for girls to first start their menstrual cycles being 12. 

Armed with a laptop and Wi-Fi, the Barnetts set out to find answers and solve the mysteries surrounding their new adopted daughter.

Testing, Testing

Natalia Grace was born with a rare form of dwarfism called Spondyloepiphyseal, an inherited bone growth disorder that causes the individual to have a short stature, skeletal abnormalities, and vision and hearing disabilities. People with this form of dwarfism have normal, average-sized hands and feet, though adult heights range from three to four feet tall.  

Reportedly, Natalia is currently three feet tall.

With the knowledge of Natalia's condition, the Barnetts decided to test their theory that she may be older than six by setting up a playdate with a girl who had a similar condition.

During the playdate, Michael Barnett said he noticed that Natalia's head was bigger and had more of an adult-sized shape whereas the other girl's head matched that of an actual child. He also cited disparities between both girls' attitudes.

"After that day when we had the playdate with another girl with the exact same kind of dwarfism that Natalia had-and supposedly at the exact same age-you knew immediately these two people were nowhere near the same level of maturity," Michael Barnett concluded.

Although Natalia is allegedly from Ukraine and had a Ukranian birth certificate, Michael Barnett asserted that the girl never spoke a word of the language, nor did she have any hint of an accent.

Determined to get to the bottom of her true origin, the adoptive parents set Natalia up with a Ukranian friend of the family in an attempt to see if the two could communicate. 

Alas, they could not, much to Natalia's chagrin.

"When the Ukrainian woman began speaking to Natalia in what was supposed to be her native language, which Natalia has never had an accent her entire life," Michael Barnett said matter-of-factly, "she got very angry and very upset and began to lash out."

While most young children would typically throw temper tantrums, Natalia seemingly turned to more deadly measures.

Dial M for Murder

Natalia's devious antics apparently started off small with her putting thumbtacks on the stairs of the Barnett's home. Then, things began to take a turn for the worse.

Kristine Barnett told Daily Mail TV that Natalia hid knives underneath her bed and poisoned her coffee. She also claimed that their then adopted daughter would stand over them with a knife as they were asleep, threatening to kill them.

"She would stand over people in their sleep, she would stand in the middle of the room and she would say 'I'm waiting for the right time,'" Kristine Barnett said.

Michael Barnett also backed up his ex-wife's claims, stating that Natalia "tried to kill Kristine twice."

He described the first time Natalia attempted to bury his then-wife, claiming that what started as an ordinary chore of washing dishes quickly escalated into a murderous plot.

"...[Natalia] decides she's going to help do the dishes. Kristine's got her coffee mug sitting on the table, and [Natalia] is happy that she's being a part of the family," Michael Barnett told Dr. Oz during an interview on The Dr. Oz Show.

"Kristine turns her back to go to another room to get something and by the time she returns, Natalia's already poured a whole bunch of Pine-Sol into the coffee," he continued. "She's about 10 seconds too slow. When confronted about it, it was a plain and simple matter-of-fact answer, a very thought out, adult answer: 'I'm trying to kill you.'"

Another time Natalia allegedly tried to get her new family to meet their maker was during a trip to their son's college. Their son Jacob Barnett, who was around 12 at the time, is a young math prodigy who once appeared on a segment of 60 Minutes along with the rest of the Barnett family.

According to Michael Barnett, the girl stole items of importance to each son; a toy cow, a toy car, and their eldest son's homework. Then, while the boys were not paying attention, she threw the items into the street, subsequently causing them to run into traffic to retrieve their valuables. The former adoptive father said that at this point, Natalia calmly turned to her new parents and said, "I'm trying to kill the boys."

After constantly being threatened by their adopted daughter, the Barnetts finally decided they had enough and sent Natalia to St. Vincent Stress Center, where Michael Barnett says she expressed a strong desire to kill the family, documenting her plans to execute them and even where she would keep their bodies.

Thirteen Going On 30

An affidavit filed by Tippecanoe police stated that on June 3, 2010, Natalia was examined at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital and that a doctor had determined her age to be eight at the time. Two years later, the same hospital determined her age to be 11.

However, in March 2012, an Indiana physician ruled that Natalia was, in fact, an adult. 

Kristine Barnett also told Insider that after a checkup with a dentist, the alleged little girl did not have children's teeth. She revealed that after a couple of psychiatric visits, doctors also confirmed that she was an adult and that she was "suffering a severe psychological illness only diagnosed in adults."

With this new information, Michael and Kristine Barnett went to an Indiana judge and legally got Natalia's birth date changed from September 4, 2003, to September 4, 1989, changing her age from eight to 22-years-old at the time. Michael Barnett said that changing her birthdate helped the couple to get Natalia admitted into an inpatient hospital, whereas before the change, no facilities would accept her.

After being discharged from the hospital, Michael Barnett claimed that the doctors "declared she was an adult and that it was okay for them, in that case, to release her."

While the affidavit accuses the Barnetts of abandoning Natalia in an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana in July 2013 while the rest of the family left for Canada, Michael and Kristine Barnett profusely refuted this claim. 

Upon her release, Michael Barnett stated that the two found an apartment for Natalia near their home in Indiana and routinely checked up on her, paid her first three months rent, provided her up with social security, and hired a home health aide for her. He also said that Natalia lived in the apartment for a year alone.

As far as abandoning Natalia in an apartment by herself, Michael Barnett said that his son, the family prodigy, had been accepted into a prestigious university in Canada and that due to his young age, the family decided to move to help him pursue his academic career.

"...He had been invited to attend the best place on the planet for Theoretical Astrophysics," Michael began, " it happened to be in Canada and he's 14-years-old. We're not sending our 14-year-old to another country to attend University on his own."

He insisted that because Natalia's lease was ending, his ex-wife Kristine helped to find her another apartment before leaving for Canada.

Michael Barnett continued to say that the only reason they lost contact with Natalia after the move is that she claimed she did not want to have any contact with them in her discharge papers, despite initially requesting that the family check up on her.

"Kristine and Natalia went to find another apartment for her in Lafayette, and it seemed to be a really good location for her," Michael Barnett continued. "...It was within two blocks of a bus stop, an adult education center for her to get her GED, a suicide prevention center..."

That adult education center was the Lafayette Adult Resource Academy, and apparently, Natalia was a student there, according to a neighbor who said she met her while the two were taking classes.

In an interview with News 8, the woman claimed to have befriended Natalia after the Barnetts left for Canada. She also said they used to walk a few blocks home together after taking classes, but that due to Natalia's diminutive size, she did not believe she should be living alone.

Are You My Mommy?

A Ukranian woman who claims to be Natalia's biological mother said that her daughter is really 16-years-old today and not 30.

Anna Volodmyrivna Gava, who has four other children, told Daily Mail TV  that doctors and her mother pressured the woman into giving up her daughter for adoption due to the child's condition, a decision she deeply regrets.

"They said the baby would never be good," Gava said. "That she would be chained to a chair or to a bed."

The mother of four said she was devastated when she learned of Natalia's situation with the Barnetts, and immediately cleared the air about her daughter's age.

"This is my daughter who I gave birth to 16 years ago," she said adamantly. "She is 16-years-old.  I gave birth to her on September 4, 2003, at 6:25 a.m. at the maternity hospital."

At the end of the emotional piece, Gava had one wish: for her daughter to come home.

"Daughter, forgive me for what happened 16 years ago," Gava wept. "Visit soon for me to see you."


With their children in tow, the Barnetts allegedly rode off into the sunset, the nightmares of Indiana well behind them as they made their voyage to Canada. 

However, six years later, a phone call to Michael Barnett concerning Natalia foreshadowed the sequel that was soon to come. Now, the Barnetts both face two counts of felony charges for abandonment. They are set to go on trial on January 28, 2020.

Natalia is reportedly living with Antwon and Cynthia Bishop-Mans, a devout Christian family in Indiana. The pair met Natalia in 2013 after being allegedly left behind by the Barnetts. By 2016, the family petitioned to become her legal guardians but withdrew after the courts upheld the earlier ruling that Natalia was born in 1989 and not 2003.

Despite the suspicion surrounding their newly adopted daughter, the Bishop-Mans are seemingly unbothered by it all, posting happy-go-lucky photos with Natalia on social media.

The Manses with Natalia and their five other children. They have had yet to comment about their decision to bring Natalia into their home despite the allegations. Photo from
The Manses with Natalia and their five other children. They have had yet to comment about their decision to bring Natalia into their home despite the allegations. Photo from

Regardless of the charges and the uproar heard from around the world, the Barnetts and their lawyer, Terrence Kinnard, are confident that the Barnetts will be cleared of the charges.

Kinnard told a reporter on Inside Edition, "We have done a massive amount looking at historical records, medical records, mental health records and it is apparent that this person is an adult and always has been when she was in the care of the Barnetts."

Is Natalia now just a 16-year-old girl who just needs love and affection, or is she really a psychotic 30-year-old out to dupe and harm unsuspecting foster parents? 

We may just have to wait for 'Orphan 3' to find out.