Back in 2019, a most curious story broke about a family in Indiana. Michael and Kristine Barnett stood accused of two counts of felony neglect of a dependent. After adopting a girl, originally from Ukraine, in 2010, the couple left her in an apartment in Indiana while they moved to Canada. She was 8 years old... or was she? Kristine claimed, in an exclusive with The Daily Mail that at the time Natalia was left in Indiana she was actually a violent, 22-year-old con woman. The bizarre, sad case is now the subject of a three-part documentary, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace and we. have. so. many. questions... the first one being...
Isn’t this Natalia Grace story just like Orphan?
You remember! The 2009 horror movie about the seemingly sweet child adopted by a loving American family from Eastern Europe who, they ultimately discover, is not a child at all but a violent 33-year-old who escaped from a mental institution and used her “rare hormone disorder” to dupe families into adopting her... and then murdering them. Yes. Yes this is, at least based on one version of events just like that... or is it? (You will find this second-guessing sentence construction will be used a lot in this article because there are just that many twists, turns, and uncertainties.)
Who is Natalia Grace?
Since this answer depends on who you ask, we can start with the initial assertion believed by everyone. Natalia was born in Ukraine on Sept. 4, 2003. She came to America in 2008 through a special program. But for two years, none of her potential adoptive families worked out and she was moved throughout the country, ultimately winding up in Florida in 2010. While there, she was taken in by the Barnett family — Michael, Kristine, and their three sons — who lived in Indiana. At the time, they believed Natalia to be 6 years old.
It also feels relevant to point out here that Natalia has a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that results in short stature (Natalia is about three feet tall), and can affect vision and hearing. This diagnosis would be crucial to later claims made by the Barnetts...
Is Natalia Grace a child?
According to claims made by Kristine Barnett, she began to suspect early on that Natalia was older than her Ukrainian birth records claimed. Her demeanor and vocabulary seemed to be far more mature than that of the average 6 year old. Moreover, Kristine claimed in her exclusive interview with the Mail that she observed pubic hair and evidence of menstrual cycles. It prompted the family to take Natalia to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis for a bone density test.... which they say concluded that Natalia was at least 14.
Augmenting this shocking turn of events are allegations that Natalia made multiple attempts to do the family harm, including (but not limited to) attempting to throw Kristine into an electric fence, pour bleach in her coffee, and make threats to stab the Barnetts (including her adoptive brothers) and bury them on the property. Over the years, Natalia was treated by mental health professionals. Kristine told the Mail that during treatment, Natalia actually confessed to being an adult. In 2012, the Barnetts went through Marion County courts to legally change Natalia’s birth year from 2003 to 1989. They set her up in an apartment in Indiana and they left the country in 2013.
Natalia disputes Kristine’s claims.
In 2019, Natalia appeared on an episode of Dr. Phil to tell her side of the story. She denied all of Kristine’s allegations above with one exception: she admits to telling her mental healthcare worker that she was an adult, but, she claims, she did so under Kristine’s instruction. She said this instruction was repeated when the Barnetts left her in her own apartment: “if anyone asks say you’re 22.” Natalia asserts that she was 8 at the time.
But what about the bone density tests...?
The twists: they keep turning...
Well, a 2019 investigation by BuzzFeed News found not only that those tests determined Natalia to be approximately 8 years old, but that a 2012 skeletal survey done at the same hospital found she was approximately 11. (If the 2003 birth certificate is accurate, those are pretty close to the ages she would have been in those years.) Michael allegedly told police that he knew Natalia was a child when they left her alone in her own apartment, a statement his lawyer says was taken out of context.
Where is Natalia Grace now?
Shortly after Natalia was left in a second Indianapolis apartment in 2013, neighbors became suspicious of her claim that she was 22 years old. She was approached by Cynthia Mans (who appeared with Natalia in her appearance on Dr. Phil alongside her husband, Antwon), who invited Natalia into her home with her children. Cynthia claimed she never observed any of the behavior the Barnetts claimed to have witnessed, and that Natalia was a great sister and aunt; she was even in the delivery room when one of her adoptive brotherS was born. In 2016, the Mans petitioned to be Natalia’s guardians. But because she was still an adult on paper, according to the judge on the case, the Mans dropped the petition but as of at least 2019 Natalia, who then said she was 16, still lived with them. According to the segment on Dr. Phil, Natalia’s birth mother in Ukraine also spoke to The Daily Mail and asserts that Natalia was, indeed, born in 2003. The outlet confirmed they found paperwork from the orphanage confirming that the girl had been placed there in October 2003, when she was a month old.
No matter whose story you believe, Natalia is now an adult: the question is whether she’s 19 or 33. It’s unclear whether footage of Natalia in the ID trailer is archival footage or new interviews — as far as we can tell she hasn’t made a public statement on the upcoming doc — but we can’t wait to find out.
The Barnetts have not been found guilty of neglect.
The couple, who have since divorced, have been somewhat less vocal about the events in the media due to a gag order that had been implemented at one point in the case. But in 2022, Michael was acquitted of all charges. Kristine’s case was dismissed. In the docuseries, the family continues to assert that Natalia terrorized and abused them for the duration of her stay in their house.
The Curious Case of Natalia Grace premieres on May 29.
Based on the trailer, the three-part series promises to be dramatic and riveting. Honestly, it really looks like this backstory is really just the beginning of this case. As it is, there’s so much that is also out there that we just couldn’t fit into this article. Wild, we tell you! WILD!
The series will premiere on ID (Investigation Discovery) over three consecutive days (May 29, 30, and 31) from 9 to 11 p.m. ET/PT and on Discovery+.