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11th May 2023

Father who adopted ‘child’ that turned out to be 22-year-old feared she would stab them

Steve Hopkins

‘She tried to poison and kill my wife’

A dad whose family adopted a Ukrainian woman they thought was a child has claimed his family feared she would stab them.

Michael Barnett, who was recently acquitted of neglect charges, and his wife, Kristine Barnett, adopted Natalia Grace Barnett on April 26, 2010, believing they were taking home a six-year-old child. Natalia turned out to be 22.

The unbelievable story is being told in the documentary, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace, which will be released in three parts on Investigation Discovery (ID) 29 May.

In a trailer for the doc, Barnett claims Natalia was an “adult sociopath masquerading as a child” and says we “were all abused”.

Barnett recalled how after adopting Natalia, she quickly became violent when they suspected she was an adult posing as a child.

The couple petitioned a probate court to change her birth year back 14 years, which was granted in 2012, legally changing the Ukrainian-born dwarf’s age from nine to 23.

The family claimed Natalia was “told her new birthdate at the orphanage in Ukraine” before she moved to the US, and alleged she “threatened to stab” their children while living with them in Layfette, Indiana.

Barnett says in the documentary: “She tried to poison and kill my wife.

“[And] one night, I opened my eyes and Natalia is standing at the foot of the bed with a knife in her hand.”

His son, Jake, says in the documentary that he “definitely didn’t feel safe” around Natalia.

After the couple was granted their petition, they moved to Canada with their three biological sons. Their eldest, Jake, was meant to start college.

The Barnetts left Natalia in Layfette, Indiana, after getting her an apartment, but were later charged with neglect for abandoning a child.

Police discovered her living alone in 2013.

The family maintained they were the victims of fraud.

At the time, police said Natalia was left on her own for three years and that her dwarfism meant she had difficulty walking.

The abandoning a child charge was later dropped, but the family was still charged because authorities believed Natalia was still reliant on them.

Barnett told the Mail in 2019 of Natalia: “She was standing over people in the middle of the night. You couldn’t go to sleep. We had to hide all the sharp objects.

“I saw her putting chemicals, bleach, Windex something like that, in my coffee and I asked her, ‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘I am trying to poison you.’ The media is painting me to be a child abuser but there is no child here.”

Speaking on This Morning, Barnett claimed Natalia would “put thumbtacks face up on our stairs so when we’d walk up and down stairs, we’d be stepping on thumbtacks”.

Natalia appeared on Dr Phil in 2019 where she denied all the family’s claims.

She said she thought “I had found the right family for me” after moving between a lot of different families.

A synopsis on the trailer for the documentary bills it as an “astonishing odyssey of deceit, colourful characters, twisted family dynamics and unbelievable testimonies”.

“Initially assumed to be a 6-year-old Ukrainian orphan with a rare bone growth disorder, Natalia was adopted by Kristine and Michael Barnett in 2010. However, the happy family dynamic soured when allegations against Natalia were brought by the Barnetts who alleged Natalia was an adult masquerading as a child with intent to harm their family. In 2013, Natalia was discovered living on her own which ignited an investigation that led to Michael and Kristine’s arrest and a firestorm of questions.”