Was Natalia Grace A 6-Year-Old Girl Or Adult Woman When An Indiana Couple Adopted Her?
“I want the puzzle to be complete,” says the Ukrainian orphan of sharing her side of the story for the first time.
Child or grown woman? The question first raised by a former Indiana couple who adopted Natalia Grace grabbed the world’s attention well over a decade ago, but uncovering the truth has been a perplexing journey of bizarre twists and turns that continues to this day.
In 2010, Michael and Kristine Barnett adopted and welcomed who they initially believed was a 6-year-old girl from Ukraine into the home they shared with their three young sons, Jacob, Wesley and Ethan.
The Barnetts first learned about Natalia from a Florida adoption agency. According to the agency, Natalia had dwarfism, or skeletal dysplasia. The couple flew to the southern state, where they met the girl, who they said seemed thrilled to join the family.
The couple later claimed they began to believe something was amiss with their adopted daughter almost from the start. According to Michael, he and his wife were alarmed to discover Natalia had pubic hair, and they later learned she was regularly menstruating despite her purportedly young age.
At first, Michael and Kristine believed perhaps Natalia was a little older than they were led to believe. As more doubts crept in, the couple said Natalia’s behavior began to change. “Natalia was with us four months, and that’s when we start to witness her dark side,” Michael has said.
The father once alleged Natalia would attempt to smear her feces on his youngest son as well as “doing as many things as possible to cause hurt or harm or mental distress to the entire family.”
The father also has claimed that one night he awoke to find Natalia at the foot of the bed holding a knife. According to Michael, she allegedly threatened, “I’m going to kill you in your sleep.”
The Barnetts said their lives were turned upside down, and they believed Natalia could be dangerous.
The situation came to a head in 2012 when Natalia was briefly institutionalized and the Barnetts petitioned to have her re-aged as an adult.
A judge eventually signed off on the Barnett’s petition and determined Natalia was at least 22. The family then put Natalia in an apartment on her own in Westfield and occasionally would check in on her. After neighbor complaints and reports of allegedly inappropriate behavior, a building manager said Natalia’s lease was not renewed.
The Barnetts, who had since moved to Canada, where their son Jacob was attending graduate school, then put Natalia in a second-floor apartment in a rougher neighborhood in Lafayette. Natalia continued to live alone until a local couple, Antwon and Cynthia Mans, welcomed her into their home and treated her like a daughter.
In 2019, Indiana State Police Det. Brandon Davenport began to look more closely into Natalia’s case and spoke with Michael. According to reports, Michael turned on Kristine, who he had divorced years earlier. In one police recording, Michael claimed to Det. Davenport that his ex-wife was a “master manipulator” who “will do whatever it takes ‘til she gets everything.”
In the recording, Michael also tells the detective he believes Natalia was 20 to 22, which would have made her just around 16 years old when she was living alone in Westfield.
As a result, in yet another twist in the case, police charged Michael and Kristine with neglect of a dependent.
In 2022, the court sided with Michael’s defense team’s argument and ruled that since Natalia was determined by a judge to be an adult around the time she was allegedly neglected that she couldn’t be portrayed during Michael’s new trial as a child.
As a result, prosecutors were unable to bring up Natalia’s age, and a jury found Michael not guilty of every count against him. Still, jury foreperson Jayne Parker has said she and other jurors all believed the defendant was guilty of abandoning Natalia but they were unable to reach a guilty verdict due to the judge’s strict parameters. “We feel that Michael Barnett had really gotten away with abandoning and neglecting his child,” Parker noted.
Charges against Kristine were dropped months after her ex-husband’s acquittal.
But the question remained: How old was Natalia and was she a victim or the cause of the Barnetts’ problems?
Michael has said he began to wonder if Kristine could have manipulated Natalia while they were still all living together. “Natalia was abused by that woman,” he has now claimed. “I was abused by that woman. Jacob was abused by that woman. My other two sons are abused by that woman right now, today. That woman is a controlling, lying, manipulating woman. We were all abused!”
In an effort to solve one aspect of the ongoing mystery — Natalia’s age — once and for all, Det. Davenport recently traveled to Ukraine to meet with Natalia’s birth mother, Anna Gava, in an effort to obtain answers.
Davenport learned Gava was born in 1979, which would have made her just 10 years old if she had given birth to Natalia in 1989, as the court in Indiana previously determined.
And while Natalia was not allowed to speak about the cases while criminal charges were still pending against Michael and Kristen — she now can.
In The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks, Natalia is telling her side of the story for the first time. “I want the puzzle to be complete,” she says.
For more on this case, stream The Curious Case of Natalia Grace on Max and for the first time, hear Natalia’s side of the story on The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks, streaming now on Max.