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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Mum expected to admit abducting daughter

February 5, 2015

source: The New Zealand Herald

A former Auckland woman is expected to plead guilty to kidnapping her infant daughter 20 years ago to start a new life in New Zealand and Australia, US media reports.

Dorothy lee Barnett

Dorothy Lee Barnett, 54, is charged with one count of international parental kidnapping, and falsifying two passport applications.

She allegedly fled the United States in 1994 with her then 10-month-old daughter Savanna Catherine Todd, who now goes by the name of Samantha Geldenhuys, from South Carolina during a court-approved visit.

Barnett initially went to South Africa, where she married Juan Geldenhuys and later gave birth to son Reece, now 18, before moving to New Zealand and becoming a citizen. She later moved to Australia in 2007.

She was arrested in Queensland in November 2013, where she was living as Alexandria

Barnett had earlier fought the charges, but after a failed bid to have the counts dismissed, she is expected to enter a guilty plea during a court appearance in Charlestown, South Carolina, next Tuesday local time (Wednesday NZT), The Post and Courier reported.

She would then be sentenced by US District Judge Richard Gergel, according to court records seen by the newspaper.

She faces up to 30 years in prison.

Barnett’s lawyer Russell W Mace III said she was “hoping for a positive resolution to the case”, The Post and Courier said.

“My client is looking forward to completing this part of the criminal process.”

It’s understood Barnett indicated during a proceeding on Tuesday that she planned to change her plea.

Barnett has been behind bars since her arrest more than 14 months ago, and her supporters say her health has deteriorated during that time. She was denied bail late last year, but still holds out hope of being reunited with her daughter.

“She’s looking forward to seeing her daughter, whether it’s in the courtroom or once she’s eventually released from jail,” Mr Mace said.

Her daughter and friends in Australia have publicly supported her, saying she was trying to protect Savanna when she fled the US.

Barnett accused her former husband Benjamin Harris Todd III of abuse during their divorce proceedings, but a judge ruled there was no evidence of her claims and granted him full custody of the child.

Barnett left her home with Savanna during a court-supervised visit in April 1994 and never returned.

The former flight attendant was reported to have fled the US with the help of Faye Yager, founder of shadowy organisation Children of the Underground, which helped women escape allegedly abusive relationships.

Denying bail last year, US Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant said in court documents she “willfully and through a course of careful planning abducted a minor child from the lawful custody of her father, left the United States, and for the last 20 years has engaged in extensive travel to various countries through the use of multiple false identification documents in order to avoid detection”.

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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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Queensland mother Dorothy Lee Barnett to be extradited to US for alleged child abduction

September 4 , 2014

Source: Brisbanetimes

A mother accused of abducting her infant daughter 20 years ago will be extradited to the United States.

The federal government has ordered Dorothy Lee Barnett, 53, be surrendered to US authorities to face international parental kidnapping charges, despite an appeal from her lawyers.

Ms Barnett was arrested on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast last year and charged with kidnapping her 10-month-old daughter, Savannah Todd, in 1994 and fleeing the US.

A digitally aged photo of Dorothy Lee Barnett released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children during the search for the alleged kidnapper.

A digitally aged photo of Dorothy Lee Barnett released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children during the search for the alleged kidnapper. Photo: Supplied

In November 2013 Australian and US police found Ms Barnett and her daughter, who now goes by the name of ­Samantha Geldenhuys, living in the suburb of Mountain Creek, west of Mooloolaba.

When arrested, Ms Barnett consented to extradition but then reneged.

Her lawyers asked the federal government to prevent the extradition, but federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan ordered this week that Ms Barnett be surrendered.

Savannah Harris Todd was taken when she was 11 months old.
Savannah Harris Todd was discovered at the age of 20 living in Australia.

Savannah Harris Todd was discovered at the age of 20 living in Australia

“The minister arrived at his determination following careful consideration of the provisions of Australia’s extradition law and taking into account representations made by, and on behalf of, Ms Barnett,” a government spokeswoman said in a statement to Fairfax Media.

According to US authorities, Samantha’s American father, millionaire stockbroker Benjamin Harris Todd III, had been granted sole custody of the then-10-month-old.

It is alleged Ms Barnett left for a birthday party with her infant daughter in South Carolina and never returned.

Mr Todd has spent the last two decades searching for his daughter, making public appeals for information on her whereabouts and circulating age-progressed photos of Samantha and her mother on international missing persons websites.

Ms Barnett is alleged to have fled to Europe on a false passport, changing her name to Alexandra Canton.

In 1995, she married a man named Juan Geldenhuys in South Africa with whom she had a son.

The family moved to New Zealand, before settling in Australia in 2007.

Mr Geldenhuys returned to South Africa about five years ago and is believed to have died from bone cancer in October, just weeks before his former wife’s arrest.

Samantha attended the local high school on the Sunshine Coast and, after graduating, moved to Townsville to study nursing at James Cook University, where she found a boyfriend in an engineering student.

Ms Barnett faces more than a decade in a US prison if convicted of international parental kidnapping and passport-related offences.

She has remained in custody since her arrest last year, but has regular visits from her daughter and son.

US authorities have two months in which to escort Ms Barnett to the US, subject to any application for a review of Mr Keenan’s order.


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