Kidnap mother tells of life on the run

December 13, 2015


DOROTHY Lee Barnett’s only regret from spending nearly 20 years as an international fugitive is breaking the law to protect her daughter.

Samantha and Reece Geldenhuys with mum Dorothy Lee Barnett

The former Sunshine Coast resident – who lived here under the name of Alex Geldenhuys – has been stopped by probation conditions from leaving the US, her native country, since being released from prison. But she desperately wants to return to the Coast.

Ms Barnett, 55, was arrested by FBI agents at her Mountain Creek home in November 2013 for kidnapping her baby daughter, Savanna, from South Carolina in 1994 and fleeing the US with fake passports.

Savanna’s name was changed and she grew up as Samantha Geldenhuys, taking the family name of her mother’s second husband, Juan Geldenhuys.

Ms Barnett and Mr Geldenhuys have a son, Reece, who will turn 20 on Friday.

Samantha, 22, discovered Mr Geldenhuys was not her father only after her mother’s arrest.

Ms Barnett said she kidnapped Samantha for her safety after her ex-husband in the US was granted custody.

In February, a South Carolina court sentenced Ms Barnett to 21 months in jail, but with time already served before the sentencing she was released in May after serving 18 months and 10 days.

Child Recovery Agents Parental Kidnapping

Her incredible evasion of authorities took her to Germany, France, Malaysia, South Africa, Botswana and New Zealand before she moved to Australia in December 2007 and set up on the Sunshine Coast.

Samantha had New Zealand citizenship, which Ms Barnett used to enrol her in school.

Ms Barnett’s former life caught up with her after Coast man and close family friend Stephen Schofield learned that Samantha’s biological father, Benjamin Harris Todd III, lived in the US and hadn’t heard of his daughter since 1994.

Mr Schofield contacted Mr Todd before police became involved, leading to Ms Barnett’s arrest.

Ms Barnett regarded those actions as a heart-breaking betrayal.

“Not only for the children and me, but it would have also been devastating to the children’s dad and their friend, Juan Geldenhuys, if he had not died eight days earlier,” she said.

“This betrayal left Samantha and Reece without a parent, a home and financial resources.”

She said she feared being caught every day of her time on the run, but would not change what she did.

“All the hell I went through for 20 years with hiding and the last 18-plus months in prison were worth it to keep my daughter safe,” she said.

“I have no regrets except for having to break the law to protect my baby.”

She said she had spoken with Samantha at least twice a day during her time in prison.

“Since I’m out we usually text, Facebook (message) and call five times week,” Ms Barnett said.

“I was finally reunited with her last month in Charleston, South Carolina, when she made a trip over to see me.”

Samantha has moved from the Coast to Townsville, where she studies at James Cook University.

Ms Barnett said she missed the Coast terribly but since being reunited with friends and family back in the US, a combination of the two “would be a wonderful thing”.

“We have been blessed to have so many of the Sunshine Coast friends, strangers, the Mountain Creek High School and Mooloolaba surf Club there to offer their incredible generosity and support.

“We will always be indebted.

“I told the children as much as it hurts to have someone intentionally harm you, the flipside is the hundreds who supported us and have shown us how much we are loved.”

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Parental Abduction – U.S. Woman Enters Plea in International Kidnap Case

September 30 , 2014

Source: abcnews

A woman accused of abducting her infant daughter from South Carolina 20 years ago pleaded not guilty Monday during her first court appearance after being extradited from Australia.

Dorothy lee barnett

Dorothy Lee Barnett, 54, entered the plea before U.S. Magistrate Bristow Marchant. Her attorney requested that her bond hearing be delayed.

Barnett faces a count of parental kidnapping and two counts of falsifying U.S. passport applications. Authorities allege she did not have custody of her then 10-month-old daughter Savanna Catherine Todd when she took her from South Carolina back in 1994.

Barnett was found in Australia last year where she had been living under several aliases. She fought extradition but was finally returned to the United States last week.

Her attorney, Russell W. Mace III, told the judge he needs time to contact Barnett’s family and friends from out of state and out of the country to come vouch for his client. At a bond hearing a judge decides whether a defendant can be released after weighing whether he or she is a flight risk.

Mace told the judge his client had been back since Friday and he only met her for the first time Saturday.

He told reporters later that he has been in contact with Barnett by telephone since she was arrested and jailed in Australia last November. He would not comment further.

Barnett appeared before the judge in a gray-striped prison jumpsuit and there were shackles on her hands as she signed the court papers acknowledging her plea. She did not comment except to tell the judge she understood both the charges and that she would have to remain in jail at least until the bond hearing.

Conviction on the charges carries a maximum penalty of 30 years.

Authorities said that in 1994, Barnett left for a birthday party with her daughter and never returned. The previous year Barnett had filed for divorce from her husband, Benjamin Harris Todd III, a Bowling Green, Kentucky, native and former Charleston stockbroker.

The daughter has since been living a normal life in Australia, authorities said.

Prosecutors have not yet said just how Barnett was found in Australia after almost two decades.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams, who told the judge the government will oppose bond, would not comment following the hearing.

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