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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Patricia Nunez has appealed to her ex to bring her abducted children home

May 22, 2015


IT HAS been almost a year and a half since Patricia Nunez last saw her two boys.

Patricia Nunez

And not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about their smiling faces — or if she is going to get them back.

Peyton, 11, and Nathaniel, 7, set off for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disneyland with their father Dariwn Lee in January last year.

Despite her reservations, Ms Nunez agreed to let her children take the overseas holiday in a bid to keep the peace following a lengthy and sometimes “poisonous” custody battle.

But she never imagined they would not come home.

“The last time I spoke to my children was the day before they were due to fly back to Australia,” Ms Nunez told “I have had no contact since.”

Patricia Nunez abducted

But what has been even more heartbreaking as well as frustrating for the Sydney mum is that her children are believed to be in Taiwan, a country which is not signed up The Hague Child Abduction Convention.

This means the Taiwanese authorities are not obliged to return Ms Nunez’s children to Australia.

But even if the country was signed up there is still very little authorities here can do.

While she has managed to obtain court orders for sole custody, she still has to lodge an application with the Taiwanese authorities to prove her ex has breached those court orders by failing to return the children to their mother. And that can take months.

There is also the fact parental abduction is not a crime in Australia.

While it is an offence to remove a child from Australia without the permission of the court or the other parent, it’s not a criminal offence if there are no court proceedings or orders preventing them from taking out of the country.

That is not to say authorities don’t do their utmost to find the abducted youngsters, its just they have less legal grounds to retrieve them.

According to figures from the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre, more than 400 children are abducted by a parent or family member every year — that’s around two or three children every single week.

And Australia has the highest rate per capita of international parental child abductions in the world.

In response, the Federal government in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police have developed an app for parents to alert police if their child disappears or is abducted.

The free technology allows families to store photographs and vital information about their children on their mobile phone, and features advice and checklists on what to do in the crucial few hours when something happens.

But once a child has been taken overseas, the process of getting them home is long, and in Ms Nunez’s case, almost impossible.

But she says she is extremely grateful for all the help she has received over the past year but feels the system renders parents helpless.

She explained she has spoken to “anyone that could possibly help” more than once and learnt how to navigate the complex legal process with help from family, friends and her lawyers.

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And while she says focusing on trying to bring her kids home has helped “numb the pain”, it is always present.

“I feel like I am a victim of domestic violence,” she said. “I may not get beaten everyday but I am in pain every single day. I am a victim of domestic violence every single day because of this, and my children are victims of child abuse because of this.”

Ms Nunez says she has also thought of using other tactics such as hiring private investigators or “mercenaries” to bring her boys home but decided against them not just because of the cost but also because of the complications that could arise.

She says she is trying to keep faith that the path she has chosen will lead to the outcome she desperately desires.

She also says she hopes her children know she will never stop looking for them.

“I want them to know that I have never stopped loving them, I have never stopped looking for them and that I will find them,” she said. “I can’t wait for them to come home. I want them to know that things will go back to normal. And that I now promise that they can have a puppy.”

She also says she wants her ex to make contact with authorities.

“I just want him to know that it makes me really sad.,” she said. “I trusted him. He did the wrong thing. The boys need their mother and their father. I never denied him that. The boys deserve better. Do the right thing and bring them home.”

Any information regarding the childrens’ or husband’s whereabouts should be given to the Australian Federal Police in Sydney on 02 9286 4000 or 131 444 or at their local police station if in Victoria.

May 25 is International Missing Children’s Day. For further information or to show your support

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‘Help bring them home’: Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Justice Minister launch International Missing Children’s Day

May 20, 0215


International Missing Children’s Day has been launched with the intention of helping to bring home abducted and missing children.

William Tyrell

Justice Minister Michael Keenan and Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Andrew Colvin have launched an International Missing Children’s Day campaign in Sydney today.

With the simple slogan ‘Help bring them home’, the focus of the launch held at Fairground Follies in St Peters was on children abducted by a parent.

Michael Watter’s twin daughters were taken by their mother just after he dropped them at school last year.

“Hearing the laughter of other children makes my throat tighten and my eyes sting.”

Thirteen-year-old Laura Veasey and her 11-year-old brother Harrison were also taken by their mother in 2013.

David Veasey said parental abduction should be treated as abuse.

“Because the children are with one of the parents it’s not looked as a crime,” Mr Veasey said.

“But, it certainly has the same consequences as if your children were abducted by some other unknown party.”

Harry Speath fears his ex-wife may have taken his son and daughter Serena and Thomas overseas.

“To some extent if feels like they’ve died but there’s no bodies to bury,” Mr Speath said.

The abductions highlighted today are just a fraction of the 400 cases the AFP deals with every year.

International Missing Children’s Day is on May 25 when people gather worldwide to commemorate the missing children who have returned home, remember victims of crime and continue to find those still missing.

The main purpose of the commemoration is to encourage everyone to spread the message of hope for those children still missing.

Two young people under the age of 18 are reported missing every hour in Australia.
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