April 27, 2015
Source: Yahoo, BBC
‘If he wants to be a part of my life he can’: Woman who grew up in Australia not knowing she was kidnapped from the U.S. as a baby by her mother meets her biological father for the first time
- Samantha Geldenhuys was born in Charleston, South Carolina
- Her mother kidnapped her and eventually settled in Queensland, Australia
- Dorothy Barnett snatched her from her father when she was just a child
- Now Barnett, who was under the alias Alexandria Geldenhuys, is in jail
- Samantha was born Savanna Todd, but only found out when she was 21
- Recently she met her biological dad Benjamin Harris Todd III for first time
- Her step-dad Juan Geldenhuys died a week before Barnett was arrested
A young woman who was kidnapped by her mother as a baby and taken across the world from the US to Australia has spoken about the moment she met her biological father.
Samantha Geldenhuys, born Savanna Todd, recently discovered her mother’s name was not Alexandria Geldenhuys but Dorothy Barnett, and the man she thought was her father was actually her step-dad.
Now, the 21-year-old, who grew up in the beachside suburb of Townsville, has opened up to Channel Seven’s Sunday Night about coming to terms with the shocking news about her mother being an international fugitive, and meeting her biological father for the first time.
‘It was good, it was casual, it was really nice,’ Samantha said of her ‘secret’ meeting with father Benjamin Harris Todd III.
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Samantha Geldenhuys on meeting her father for the first time
‘As I said in the courtroom once I have my mother sorted, I have the opportunity to continue my life, and if he wants to be a part of it then he can’, she added.
At the end of last year the young Queensland woman travelled to Charleston, South Carolina where her mother is currently imprisoned.
This followed the moment the Australian Federal Police came knocking on the door of the family home and arrested Samantha’s mother.
That was when the young blonde learned she was the subject of one of America’s longest running child kidnapping cases, and that her mother’s real name was Dorothy Barnett who was an international fugitive wanted by US federal authorities.
Samantha’s father, a wealthy stockbroker, was granted sole custody of her when she was just a young baby, after a custody battle in court where Todd claimed Samantha’s mother Ms Barnett was abusive and unstable.
Dorothy Lee Barnett pictured with baby Savanna kidnapped her daughter after a bitter custody battle and absconded to South Africa and eventually Australia where she lived as a fugitive under an assumed name until her lie unravelled following a slip of the tongue while drinking with friends
‘Unfortunately in the absence of knowledge one’s mind can conjure up all sorts of things,’ Mr Todd told Sunday Night, speaking of the two decades he has been without his daughter.
But on an unsupervised visit, Samantha’s mother fled the country with her, first travelling to Asia and South Africa before settling in Queensland, Australia.
‘She just took me and ran,’ Sam told Channel Seven. ‘She started anew just for me.’
It was a lot to take in the blur that followed. Sam’s mother made several appearances during extradition hearings in a Queensland court before Ms Barnett was finally deported to the US and immediately placed in prison.
Channel Seven’s Sunday Night program accompanied Ms Geldenhuys to the US for a tearful reunion with her mother and to attend 53-year-old Ms Barnett’s trial on Parental Kidnapping and US Passport Fraud charges, for which she is now serving prison time.
Another life: Samantha pictured with the mother she knew as Alex Geldenhuys, whose real name was revealed as Dorothy Barnett following her dramatic arrest in Queensland last year and deportation back to a US Jail
A still from footage of baby Savanna before her kidnapping by her mother, who was only allowed supervised acess to her daughter after a court case in which Benjamin Todd III alleged Barnett was bipolar
Sunday Night tells the story of mystery baby Savanna Todd
While Stateside Samantha also made contact with the friends and family she would have had, had she not been kidnapped by her mother.
Patty Roth, Barnett’s former best friend was particularly emotional about the reunion.
‘She instantly bonded with my girls, and that was special,’ Patty told Sunday Night.
The dramatic events of Sam’s past began on an access visit in 1994, when Dorothy Barnett did not return baby Savanna to Benjamin Todd and the two disappeared.
Todd and Barnett had been engaged in a bitter custody battle, but each side has different reasons for the failure of their doomed relationship.
Benjamin Todd II was a softly spoken ‘southern gentleman’ and classical music lover, the son of a nurse and a doctor from Kentucky who entered a career working at financial management company Merrill Lynch in Charleston, South Carolina.
Dorothy Lee Barnett, had been raised by a single mother and stepfather on welfare, and had travelled extensively, running a piggery in Belize, a jewellery business in Africa, before finally settling for a job as a flight attendant.
A young Samantha who insists she had a loving, stable upbringing and that her mother was nothing but loving, doting on herself and her younger half-brother, who’s father is Samantha’s late stepfather Juan
When the pair met, and married after a whirlwind romance, Dorothy became pregnant with her daughter.
Dorothy Barnett’s friends told the Seven Network that Benjamin Todd had wanted Barnett to terminate her pregnancy with Savanna in 1993.
But when the marriage failed, it was Todd who gained custody of Savanna following a court case in which he alleged Barnett was bipolar, and she was awarded only supervised access to her baby daughter.
It was on one of these visits Barnett and 11-month-old Savanna disappeared and embarked on their lives as fugitives, travelling to Malaysia, Singapore, and South Africa where Barnett married Juan Geldenhuys and they had a son.
Mr Todd’s lawyer, J Graham Sturgis told Channel Seven, Benjamin Todd ‘never quit’ looking for his daughter. ‘For years he updated her room to be age appropriate and would record a video message to her on her birthdays,’ Mr Sturgis said
The couple emigrated to New Zealand, where they gained citizenship, and then Barnett and her children moved to Australia’s Sunshine Coast, where they were known as Alexandria, Samantha and Rhys Geldenhuys.
Juan Geldenhuys died from cancer just a week before ‘Alex Geldenhuys’ was arrested.
It was over evening drinks after a day’s sailing in 2011 that ‘Alex Geldenhuys’ slipped up.
Ms Barnett referred to Samantha as ‘Savanna’ and said she had fled an ‘abusive’ relationship in America.
Barnett’s South African friends went online and found a page on the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children’s website.
They saw pictures of a woman who looked like a younger ‘Alex’ and an age-advanced photo of a girl who resembled Samantha.
They contacted Benjamin Todd III in America. His long hunt for Savanna was over.
As Mr Todd’s lawyer, J Graham Sturgis told Channel Seven, Benjamin Todd ‘never quit’ looking for his daughter.
‘For years he updated her room to be age appropriate and would record a video message to her on her birthdays,’ Mr Sturgis said.
‘It is a parent’s worst nightmare not to know what happened to a child [but] he never lost hope and pursued every possibility that might lead to her recovery.’
However, friends of Ms Barnett described Todd as an ‘evil, evil man’ while Barnett herself described his pursuit of her as ‘corrupt’ and ‘criminal’.
Whatever is the truth, the extraordinary story of how Ms Barnett eluded the FBI for two decades, and how her life as a lie unravelled, is said to have ‘deeply confused’ 21-year-old Samantha.
Channel Seven filmed her as she reunited with Ms Barnett in the South Carolina prison where she is serving a 21 month sentence after pleading guilty to one count of International Parental Kidnapping and two counts of False Statement in a Passport Application.
Ms Barnett will be required to undergo two years’ supervised parole following her release.
‘His daughter thus far has been reluctant to meet,’ J Graham Sturgis, told Daily Mail Australia, before the airing of the program.
‘She only knows her mother and the misinformation that has been provided her. She likely would be considered by her mother to be disloyal if she were to meet [Todd] at this time.’
Mr Sturgis said the intensely private stockbroker understood why the daughter snatched from him and who never knew him as father had held off from speaking with him, and that he feared jeopardising his hoped-for reunion with her.
But Mr Sturgis said Todd yearned for the ‘long awaited opportunity’ of meeting Savanna and had literally counted the days – 19 years, six months and 12 days – from the access visit on which Savanna disappeared to when Australian police knocked on a door in faraway Townsville and his long lost daughter was found.
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