Shortly after losing custody of the little girl in a South Carolina court, Dorothy Barnett kidnapped her daughter in 1994, taking her on a journey across four continents, and sparking a case that soon became one of the biggest child-abduction mysteries in U.S. history. The story was back in the media spotlight in November 2013, when Samantha and her mom were tracked down in Australia and Barnett was arrested. But until Monday night, the world had not heard from Samantha, née Savanna Todd, who spoke in an exclusive interview with Australian news show “Today Tonight.” In the broadcast, she says she is firmly on her mother's side.
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“I backed my mom on the first day because I knew who she was and I knew what she did would be for a valid reason,” Samantha says, adding that her mom had a right to be heard. “The truth hasn’t been told just yet.”
According to the report, Barnett alleges that she lost custody of her daughter thanks to an orchestrated campaign against her — including claims of mental illness and violent outbursts — by her ex-husband and Samantha's father, Benjamin Harris Todd. “I just lost custody of my 9-and-a-half-month-old nursing baby to a very, very evil man,” Barnett explains in a video she made back in 1994, shown in part on “Today Tonight,” copies of which she left with friends before fleeing the country.
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Todd did not return a phone call seeking comment from Yahoo Shine. Samantha Geldenhuys could also not be reached for comment.
After leaving the United States with her daughter, Barnett went on the run, kicking off a journey that would take her and her baby girl to Germany, France, Malaysia, Singapore, and finally South Africa in just the first two years. There, Barnett married Juan Geldenhuys, who became privy to her secret. Savanna Todd became Samantha Geldenhuys, the couple had a son together, now 17; and the family moved first to New Zealand and later to Australia, where Barnett and Geldenhuys eventually separated. Samantha finished high school in Australia and began studying for her nursing degree before her stepdad — the man she knew as her father— died of cancer, according to the news report. Soon after, Samantha’s mom was arrested and taken to Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, where she is currently awaiting a hearing and possible extradition to the United States
Samantha tells “Today Tonight” she was, of course, stunned to learn of her history, she understands why her mother kidnapped her. “She became the most incredible woman when she’d realized that she’d saved me. Whatever the case, she succeeded in what she wanted to do, and it wasn’t easy along the way,” she insists. “She gave up everything that she loved, she knew, and started anew just for me.”
That new life came crashing down after a simple slip-up: Former friends of Barnett heard her call Samantha by her birth name, Savanna. They became suspicious, did a little investigating, and got in touch with Todd. It then took two years for the FBI to make the arrest, on international parental kidnapping and passport violations.
As for how Barnett explained the unfathomable situation to her unsuspecting daughter: “She just said there had been an event 20 years ago, that she was being arrested due to her having had a previous marriage and conceiving me within the marriage, and it became unsafe and had to flee to protect me,” Samantha recalls, crying. “I remember saying, ‘Dad’s just been taken away from us — they can’t take you.’”
Since learning the truth, Samantha remains steadfast about her not being damaged in any way by her mother’s actions, and she says she won’t go back to using her old name. “A name does not change who you are,” she says. “Savanna can be a remembrance of what happened 20 years ago, but Samantha is who I am and who I will be.”
As for her mom, who could up to 23 years in prison if convincted, Samantha adds, “She’s a strong woman.”
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