Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Orphan Natalia Grace confronts adoptive father over heinous abuse claims in explosive reunion

The disabled Ukrainian orphan with dwarfism was accused of masquerading as a child who tried to kill her adoptive parents. Now she’s telling her side of the story as she comes face-to-face with the father who branded her a dangerous sociopath. Andrea Cavallier reports

Thursday 28 December 2023 17:50 GMT
Natalie Grace
Natalie Grace (Getty Images/ ID/Supplied)
Leer en Español

For years, Natalia Grace was accused by her adoptive parents of “masquerading” as a child who they insisted was actually a murderous “sociopath” intent on killing their family.

The curious case of the Ukrainian orphan captivated the world after she was adopted in 2010 by Michael and Kristine Barnett, who later petitioned a judge to change her legal age from eight to 22, after they cited chilling “evidence” that they alleged proved she was substantially older.

Now, after years of alleged torment and heinous allegations, Natalia is sharing her side of the story as she comes face-to-face with her adoptive father in an explosive reunion where she grills him about the countless questions she’s had for years.

The latest in the twisted family saga will be featured in a six-part docuseries The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks, which will premiere across three consecutive nights on Investigation Discovery beginning on 1 January, airing each night from 9-11pm ET.

Natalia, who states that she “lost her childhood” also addresses some of the wild accusations thrown at her, including that she tried to kill her adoptive family.

“They’re not going to get away with this,” Natalia says in the docuseries. “This is my side of the story. Do I look like a monster to you?”

Natalia believes the Barnetts’ lies are confirmed when she finally gets medical confirmation about her age in the first episode.

Natalia Grace speaks out after being accused of trying to kill her family (ID)

The DNA testing done at TruDiagnostic, using just a sample of her blood to determine her “chronological age,” determined she was “closer to 22” in age at this time, which they noted was “pretty close to what you think, you’re almost 20, that’s within 2 years,” according to Dr Halland Chen, who appeared on the documentary.

“I’ve known the truth for as long as I can remember, that I was a kid,” Natalia says, breaking down in tears after getting the results. “I just want people to really see the truth about my age.”

This is significantly younger than 34, which is the age she would be now with her legally changed birthdate of 1989, meaning she was four when she came to the United States from Ukraine and she was only eight years old when the Barnetts legally changed her age, and moved to Canada, leaving her behind in a Lafayette apartment alone.

“This one little piece of paper throws every single lie the Barnetts have said right into the trash, with a match. This is so big, this has been 12 years of just two people, lying their butts off. They ruined a kid’s life,” Natalia said after she was given the results.

“They painted me as a big monster, when in reality, they were the ones. It just proves I was not lying about my age. They ignored everything that was pointing to the truth, just so they could have this stupid lie. They knew it and they still did what they did.”

The docuseries also returned to the dentist’s office where the dentist who saw Natalia more than a decade ago presented an x-ray and pointed out that what it showed was ‘indisputable’ evidence – adult teeth growing in the gums underneath Natalia’s baby teeth.

“You can’t fake teeth coming in like this,” the dentist says on the docuseries. He said the x-ray was taken in 2011 and that Natalia would have been around eight or nine years old at the time.

Natalia recalled that trip to the dentist after she lost a tooth while she was living with the Barnett family. She claimed her adoptive mother Kristine had accused her of pulling the tooth out herself.

Natalia Grace and her adoptive father Michael Barnett in explosive reunion (Investigation Discovery)

But Natalia was still left with questions about why the Barnetts chose to make her so much older than she was.

“I always knew I wasn’t an adult,” Natalia added. “They are hiding something big, I wanna know the answers to these questions and I want people to pay for what they’ve done.”

The sit-down set to air on New Year’s Day is the first time Natalia and her adoptive father Michael Barnett have seen each other face-to-face outside of a courtroom in years

“Why are we here, Michael?” Natalia pointedly asks.

“Why are we here?” Michael responded. “If you’re talking philosophically...”

“No, I want to know — why did you adopt me in the first place?” Natalia asks.

Michael claimed he was also a victim and that he was manipulated and mistreated by Kristine, who is now his ex-wife.

“Many of these questions there’s not going to be a single answer to,” he explained.

“This is not easy. I had the same monster you did. Kristine. I was exceptionally controlled and put down and threatened, was minimalised, anything that was who I was was ripped from me and I was guided and instructed to be exactly what she wanted me to be.”

Natalia Grace speaks out in chilling new docuseries

While the two appear to be trauma bonding over this, Natalia later states that she still believes Michael is guilty, “because he stood by and did nothing.”

“If Kristine was his so-called monster, he could have fought her. I couldn’t,” she later says to the camera.

When she asks him if he knew about the alleged abuse, some of which he said he did know about, Michael became emotional and claimed he could not do anything because Kristine made threats that he would never see his sons again.

Natalia admitted in the docuseries that when she lived with the Barnetts, she would tell people she was 22 – out of fear.

“When Kristine told me to tell people I was 22, I did it because I was terrified,” she explained, detailing horrific claims of repeatedly being hit with a belt and made to stand against a wall for hours, soiling herself. “I didnt know what she would do.”

During the sit-down, Natalia also fired off questions to Michael and refuted his previous claims about her, including one that she held a knife in her hand as she “loomed” over his bed where he and his wife were sleeping.

“I was never in y’all’s room with a knife,” Natalia exclaims with her head in her hands.

“I know what I saw,” he responded.

Who is Natalia Grace?

When Natalia, who has spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, a rare genetic disorder, was adopted by the Barnetts in 2010 through an agency, the couple were told she was six years old at the time.

But the couple had doubts and later cited “evidence” that proved she was older than she was claiming to be.

When Kristine attempted to bathe their new daughter, however, she was shocked to discover pubic hair; it wasn’t long before the adoptive mother discovered that Natalia had been hiding her menstrual cycle, she claimed.

When Natalia was adopted by the Barnetts in 2010 through an agency, the couple were told she was six years old at the time. But they believed she was much older (Investigation Discovery)

The Barnetts discovered that another girl with the same rare form of dwarfism was also living in Indiana, and the parents arranged a visit so the two children could meet, become friends and support each other.

Michael Barnett claims he was immediately taken aback by how much older Natalia seemed than the other girl — insisting his adopted daughter recognised it, too, and quickly tried to make herself seem younger.

Over the next several months, what started as a question of Natalia’s true age quickly spiraled into a vortex of allegations, the Barnetts claiming their adopted daughter was really a homicidal adult.

Natalia’s adoptive mother Kristine, who could not be reached by ID’s producers for the docuseries, told DailyMail.com in 2019 that her family were terrorised in the months after they adopted her.

Kristine Barnett ( Investigation Discovery)

She alleged Natalia threatened to stab the family in their sleep, pushed her towards an electric fence, and poured bleach in her coffee.

When she asked Natalia what she was doing, Natalia would respond, “I am trying to poison you.”

In the new docuseries, Natalia pushes back against the allegations that she says are blatantly lifted from the 2009 thriller film Orphan.

“I never tried to murder anybody,” she said.

In 2019, the Barnetts were taken into custody on child neglect charges after they abandoned Natalia in a Lafayette, Indiana apartment, and moved to Canada.

Michael was acquitted of the charges in October 2022, while Kristine had her case dismissed in March 2023, just three weeks before her trial. They have been divorced since 2013.

How to watch The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks

Investigation Discovery will air a new chapter in the twisted family saga of Natalia Grace called The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks, on 1 January.

Natalia Speaks dives headfirst into the questions, controversies, and secrets unearthed in the first installment, but this time, Natalia shares her side of the story.

The six-part docuseries will also showcase an extensive, emotional sit-down between Natalia and her adoptive father Michael Barnett as they sit face-to-face for the first time and come to terms with the accusations that have been thrown around in both directions.

“When The Curious Case of Natalia Grace premiered earlier this year, audiences were insatiably compelled by this twisted, confounding saga, making it one of ID’s most viewed, new series across cable and streaming,” said Jason Sarlanis, President, Turner Networks, ID & HLN, Linear and Streaming, Warner Bros. Discovery.

“This story is far from over and it’s clear our viewers have many more questions they want answered. Natalia Speaks is our response to that demand and offers Natalia’s perspective to this stranger than fiction mystery.”

Investigation Discovery will air a new chapter in the twisted family saga on 1 January (Investigation Discovery)

Where Is Natalia Grace today?

Natalia lives with her guardians Cynthia and Antwon Mans and their children in Indiana.

They celebrated Natalia’s 20th birthday in September 2023.

The couple has advocated for Natalia and her disability, and in 2019, they went on Dr. Phil with Natalia and maintained that she never showed any signs of violence toward their family.

In June 2023, they launched a GoFundMe to raise money for a wheelchair-accessible van.

Cynthia Mans claimed she Michael “smirked” at her when found not guilty at his trial.

‘It was like watching my daughter be raped,” Ms Mans says in the documentary. “There was no justice served, if I could have caught Kristine in an alley and put a black hoodie on I would have busted her upside the head.”

Natalia has denied every allegation of murderous intentions and behaviour leveled by the Barnetts.

“They were supposed to take care of me. But all they did was hurt me.”

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in