In a family home in Indiana, television cameras capture the lives of the Barnett family. But while their child prodigy son Jacob takes the spotlight, a far more bizarre story is unfolding behind the scenes. Yes, over time, mom Kristine apparently begins to notice strange things about her adopted daughter Natalia. And what she allegedly observes suggests that the girl is not quite who she seems.
Despite appearances, the Barnetts have never been a typical family. At just 13 years old, you see, son Jacob was already attending college and was hailed a genius by the national press. But while the teenager was building his unlikely career, his sister, Natalia, would find herself at the center of a strange mystery.
According to the Barnetts, they believed that they were adopting a young Ukrainian child when they welcomed Natalia into their home. But as time passed, they seemingly noticed that something was amiss. Apparently, the girl displayed rather more grown-up traits, such as a set of adult teeth – as well as a personality that occasionally turned disturbingly violent.
Natalia had lived with the Barnetts for years by that point, sharing their home and settling into Indiana life. Now, though, Kristine began reporting episodes of psychotic behavior – and a lingering suspicion that she was being deceived. And to the outside observer, what followed may be almost too fantastical to believe. So, what happened when a real-life horror movie allegedly played out?
Well, for Kristine and her husband, Michael – from whom she is now separated – family life had never been an easy ride. When their eldest child, Jacob, had been just a toddler, for instance, the parents noticed that he was having problems. According to CBS show 60 Minutes, the young boy had stopped talking shortly before his second birthday.
Yes, Jacob seemingly began to regress, refraining from making eye contact with those around him. Then, when Kristine and Michael consulted the doctor for advice, they were ultimately told that their son was autistic. What’s more, the boy remained insular and withdrawn even after the couple had turned to a number of therapists for help.
However, the Barnetts finally saw light at the end of the tunnel. By the time that he was three, Jacob was already obsessed with science and math, and his parents subsequently realized that the boy was happiest when pursuing those passions. Kristine and Michael were therefore determined to keep their son challenged on an intellectual level – a decision that started him on an incredible path.
At just eight years old, then, Jacob began sitting in on college classes. Then, two years later, he rather incredibly taught himself all of the high school math curriculum in just a couple of weeks. Finally, in 2012 – when he was still only 13 – Jacob was enrolled at Indiana University on a full scholarship. That way, he could attend math and physics classes at the Purdue campus in Indianapolis.
That same year, reporters from 60 Minutes filmed a story about Jacob and his academic career. In the segment, the prodigious teenager can be seen both in class and relaxing with his family at home. But while Natalia only appeared momentarily during the report, her story would ultimately come to eclipse that of her brother.
Meanwhile, after her experiences with Jacob, Kristine dedicated her life to working with autistic children. In fact, she invented a method known as SPARK that encourages parents to connect with their kids on the youngsters’ own levels. Through this approach, it’s claimed, the children can be encouraged to leave their shells and interact with the wider world.
And according to reports, Kristine and Michael were so committed to supporting others like their son that they even opened their own community center. Known as Jacob’s Place, the charitable organization helped to support families with autistic children. The couple also began acting as foster parents, welcoming needy young people into their home.
However, it was this self-confessed desire to care for troubled children that seemingly sparked this bizarre story. It all began in May 2010, when Kristine and Michael traveled to Florida in the hope of extending their family. Yes, although the Barnetts already had Jacob and his two younger brothers, Wes and Ethan, they were seeking yet another addition to their clan.
“I always wanted to have a larger family, and I had very serious complications in my pregnancies and was unable to have more children,” Kristine told the Daily Mail in September 2019. “I also at that time had a very privileged life. I felt that if I had the ability to help another person in the world, then I wanted to do it.”
What’s more, Kristine and Michael had been presented with an unusual opportunity prior to their trip to Florida. Apparently, a Ukrainian girl who’d already been in the U.S. for two years was in need of a new home. It was said, too, that her current adoptive parents could no longer care for her.
With only 24 hours to make a decision, Kristine and Michael rushed to Florida to meet the girl. While there, though, the couple were given scant details about her previous life. Supposedly, the child’s name was Natalia, and she had been born in September 2003 – which should have made her six years old at the time of the emergency adoption. Yet there were seemingly further complications.
For one, Natalia apparently had a condition that made her different from other little girls. Allegedly, she’d been diagnosed with spondyloepimetaphyseal dysplasia – a bone disorder that results in dwarfism. Owing to this health issue, then, Natalia would likely not grow to normal adult height, and she would probably face a whole host of other health problems throughout her life, too. Could this be why the six-year-old was looking for a new home?
Well, according to Kristine, she and Michael were left none the wiser, as they were not told why Natalia’s original carers had given her up. “Out of compassion for their situation, I didn’t want to press them for information on what had gone wrong,” she explained to the Daily Mail. Nevertheless, she and Michael quickly decided to adopt the girl – despite her disabilities.
So, with the paperwork signed, the Barnetts took Natalia back to Indiana to start a new life. Within a short period of time, though, the parents apparently realized that caring for the girl was going to be a difficult challenge. “[She] was extremely nervous,” Kristine recalled. “You could see she was going to need a lot of support and care. We did notice immediately in the parking lot that she couldn’t walk. There was nothing in the paperwork stating that.”
Despite this, Kristine has claimed that they were determined to give Natalia the best possible life. Soon, then, she and Michael were taking their daughter on a trip to Disneyworld and treating her to ice creams. Back home in Indiana, they also held a party for their new family member. And in photographs, the girl can be seen smiling and with her face painted to resemble a butterfly.
However, it was on an early trip to the sea that the Barnetts apparently began to suspect that something was wrong. “The boys rushed into the water, and Natalia wanted to be carried into the ocean,” Kristine later recalled to the Daily Mail. “Michael and myself were physically exhausted, so we asked her to wait just a few minutes. With that, she just got up and ran into the ocean. I remember looking at Mike and thinking, ‘What’s going on? She couldn’t walk a second ago, and now she just got up and ran.’”
From there, Kristine says, things only got stranger. According to the mom, she noticed something odd while giving Natalia a bath: the allegedly kindergarten-age girl had fully grown pubic hair. “I was so shocked,” Kristine admitted. “I had just been told she was a six-year-old, and it was very apparent that she wasn’t.” And as time went on, more clues apparently arose to suggest that Natalia may have been older than the Barnetts had been told.
As Kristine explained, Natalia spoke with a grown-up vocabulary and preferred to spend time with teenagers over children her “own age.” And even more bizarrely, she seemed unable to recall anything about the language or culture of Ukraine. “At the time I ran a little school, and I remember [that Natalia] said to me, ‘These children are exhausting. I don’t know how you do it,’” Barnett told the Daily Mail. “I was like, ‘You’re supposed to be a child yourself.’”
Before long, then, Kristine apparently began to suspect that Natalia may have been a teenager rather than a child. When the mom allegedly discovered bloodied clothing in the garbage, for example, she believed that the girl was menstruating – and attempting to conceal it. Regardless of this, though, the Barnetts have since claimed that they remained committed to caring for their daughter.
But Kristine’s misgivings only marked the beginning of a story that soon spiraled out of control. And, ultimately, she would come to believe that Natalia had actually never been a child while under her care. Instead, the mother has claimed that the girl was really a 22-year-old woman with severe mental health problems – and bent on destroying the family.
Kristine has also asserted that she took her daughter to see their family doctor, who arranged some medical tests. And according to her, Natalia’s bone density proved that she could not have been less than 14 years old. Then, as suspicion mounted, the girl’s behavior supposedly began to get worse.
According to Kristine, Natalia became violent – even lashing out at a baby boy – and by 2011 she had taken to smearing the walls with “bodily fluids.” The Barnetts’ daughter even allegedly began making death threats against her adoptive relatives. “She would make statements and draw pictures saying she wanted to kill family members, roll them up in a blanket and put them in the backyard,” Kristine said to the Daily Mail.
Yes, as Kristine tells it, Natalia was bent on causing harm to the family. “She was standing over people in the middle of the night,” the mother claimed. “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.’”
So, for the next year, Natalia spent time in and out of psychiatric care at the St. Vincent Indianapolis Stress Center in Indiana. In 2012, however, the situation apparently got even further out of control. According to Kristine, the girl attacked her during an outing by attempting to pull her on top of an electrified fence.
From that point on, Kristine has said, Natalia was put in long-term psychiatric care. And it was during that treatment that Natalia allegedly confessed to being much older than the Barnetts had originally believed. In fact, one therapist is thought to have stated that the patient gave her age as 18.
Then, in March 2012, Andrew McLaren, the Barnetts’ family doctor, wrote a letter outlining his concerns about his patient. A Daily Mail report claims that he believed Natalia’s 2003 birthdate to be inaccurate and that the young girl was actually a grown woman who was knowingly posing as a child.
Eventually, in June 2012 the Barnetts succeeded in getting Natalia’s birthdate amended in court. Now, she was registered as having been born in September 1989 – making her 22 rather than eight years old. But even though the girl was officially an adult, Kristine has said that she continued to provide her with support.
It’s at this point that the story seems to get even murkier than before. According to Kristine, Natalia left the psychiatric facility in August 2012, after which she and Michael helped the young woman find a place to live. “I co-signed the lease and paid [rent] up front for a year,” Kristine explained. “I did everything you would do when you send your child off to college. I helped her with groceries and bought furniture at Target for her.”
Eventually, Kristine has said, Natalia settled into a property in the city of Lafayette in Tippecanoe County, IN. Then, in 2013, the Barnetts decided to relocate to Canada so that Jacob could begin attending a prestigious physics institute. By that time, though, the family had allegedly lost touch with their adoptive daughter, with Kristine going on to assert that Natalia was no longer returning her phone calls. As time passed, then, it appeared as if everyone in the Barnett clan was getting on with their lives.
In 2014, however, Kristine and Michael divorced, with the latter returning to Indiana to live with his new partner. Then, in September 2019, a bizarre case was filed in Tippecanoe County. Apparently, the authorities were now claiming that Natalia had been a child all along – and that the Barnetts had “abandoned” her.
Reportedly, documents filed with the court allege that there is evidence to support this assertion against the parents. Apparently, there are statements from two doctors that both suggest Natalia was eight years old in 2010. The affidavit even claims that Natalia had handed herself over to the police back in 2014, after which she had told officers that her parents had relocated to Canada and left her on her own.
And the court documents seemingly go even further. Allegedly, Michael Barnett had told a police officer that he had known about his daughter’s real age all along. “Michael Barnett admitted Kristine Barnett told Natalia to tell others [that she] looks young but was actually 22,” the Daily Mail reports the affidavit as revealing. The Barnetts’ lawyers have denied these claims, however.
Perhaps most alarmingly, a friend of Kristine’s has alleged that the mother only found out about the impending court case through media coverage. After that, it’s said that Kristine drove herself all the way to Indiana in order to hand herself in to the police, with both she and Michael subsequently pleading not guilty to charges of neglect. Interestingly, though, a bit of déjà vu hung in the air – and it had something to do with Hollywood.
You see, as the case exploded across the globe, many noted the eerie similarities between the Barnetts’ story and the plot of horror movie Orphan. The film in question features a family that adopts a nine-year-old Russian girl who is ultimately revealed to be an adult woman with homicidal tendencies. In addition, the imposter is said to only appear to be young because of a medical condition.
And owing to the parallels with Orphan, the Barnetts’ case has remained in the news since being brought to court. Yet despite initial claims that Natalia could not be located, she has apparently been tracked down. Furthermore, according to reports, she is currently living in Indianapolis with a Christian family who treat her as a teenage girl. After all that, then, only one question remains: who do you believe?
Indeed, if the Barnetts are correct in their suspicions, Natalia is now a 30-year-old woman who is allegedly conning yet another family. If they are wrong, on the other hand, then they abandoned a minor to fend for herself after moving thousands of miles away. Whatever the final outcome of the case, though, its bizarre nature means that it’s unlikely to disappear from the headlines any time soon.