We adopted a little girl —but now think she’s a ‘sociopath’ adult

When Indiana couple Michael and Kristine Barnett adopted 6-year-old Natalia Grace, a little person originally from Ukraine, in April 2010, it was a dream come true. 

But almost immediately, the Barnetts claim they found themselves living in a nightmare.  

“[Natalia] threatened to stab my sons, drag their bodies outside and bury them under the deck,” Michael Barnett alleges in Investigation Discovery’s new docuseries “The Curious Case of Natalia Grace,” out Monday. 

“She tried to poison and kill my wife!” he says. 

“She’s a sociopath.”

In the six-part series, Michael details the terror he, Kristine and their biological sons, Jacob, Wesley and Ethan, claim they endured at the hands of Natalia, who was born with a rare form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita. 

The Barnetts adopted Natalia in April 2010. A separate adoptive family originally brought her to the U.S. in 2008.
Courtesy of ID

“What they’d hoped would be a very happy home life turned into a true-life horror story,” legal analyst Beth Karas, a featured contributor in the doc, told The Post.

But was Natalia the perpetrator — or the victim?

On April 26, 2010, after retrieving Natalia from the Adoption by Shepherd Care agency in Hollywood, Florida, the Barnetts allegedly made a shocking discovery while bathing their new daughter. 

“Natalia had full pubic hair,” says Michael. 

A tight shot of Natalia Grace Barnett smiling.
Michael and others in the doc allege that Natalia showed physical signs of maturity although she claimed to be six years old.
Courtesy of ID

The disturbing find prompted them to believe she was an adult masquerading as a child — despite paperwork showing her date of birth as September 4, 2003. Later, the couple claimed to have discovered she’d been menstruating.

“We don’t know who she is. We don’t know where she’s really from,” says Michael. “Who the f – – k is this person? For all I know, she’d been living in Ukraine for 20 years.”

He also alleges that Natalia began plotting to murder his family within the first four months of the adoption. 

Kristine Barnett (far left) with sons Ethan, Jacob and Wesley, and Michael Barnett (far right).
In April 2010, Kristine and Michael Barnett decided to adopted a little girl into their brood of three boys.

“She’d been taking knives out of the kitchen and hiding them under her bed,” says Michael in the doc. “[She said], ‘I’m going to kill your in your sleep.’”

Michael claims that Natalia maliciously baited the Barnett boys onto high-traffic roadways, smeared feces on their faces, spiked Kristine’s coffee with poisonous cleaning supplies and attempted to push her into a high-voltage electric fence. 

“She’d been screaming out loud, ‘You f – – king bitch, I’m going to kill you. You’re going to die,’” he says of the fence incident. 

A black and white image of a scowling Natalia Grace Barnett.
Michael claims Natalia subjected him and his family to violence and often threatened to kill them in their sleep.
Courtesy of ID

In 2012, the couple had Natalia admitted to the Larue Carter House mental hospital in Indianapolis.

“She’s not a kid. That’s an adult,” an anonymous hospital employee says in the doc. 

“I remember seeing how busty she was,” says another. “She talked about sex a lot … Natalia was propositioning the men.”

Natalia, who did not participate in the documentary and could not be reached by The Post, has publicly denied all of the allegations. In 2019, she went on “Dr. Phil” and said the claims were “not true at all.”

“I’m 16,” she said tearfully.

Natalia Grace Barnett on "Dr. Phil" in 2019.
During a 2019 interview with Dr. Phil, Natalia firmly denied that she was an adult impersonating a child.
Dr Phil

Others who’d encountered Natalia before she lived with the Barnetts say that she was nothing more than a disabled and harmless child who had been bounced around from home to home after arriving in the US in 2008. 

“In my heart, Natalia is the daughter I never had,” says Judith Irving, a little person who had considered adopting Natalia.

Irving says Natalia’s alleged acts of violence against the Barnetts were likely empty threats. 

“I find being scared of a child, when you’re a full-size, grown adult, a little ridiculous,” she says. “[The Barnetts] wanted to claim she’s older than she is. That’s just crazy. Who thinks of that?”

Michael and Kristine Barnett in Venice, Italy.
In the doc, Michael claims he and Kristine were happily married for 15 years before adopting Natalia. However, the pair had a history of domestic violence dating back to 2003.
Courtesy of ID

After a month at the mental institution, Natalia was released. Soon after, Michael and Kristine had her age legally changed to 22 years old and rented her a single-floor apartment in a Westfield, Indiana, complex. 

There, according to this series, residents accused Natalia of stalking, terrorizing and sexually harassing adults and children in the neighborhood. 

“She’s really evil and devious,” says former neighbor Sue McCallum in the series. “People think, ‘She’s small and deformed. She couldn’t possibly do all the stuff everybody’s saying.’ But they’re wrong and she did do it.” 

The landlord refused to renew Natalia’s lease the following year. 

The Lafayette, Indiana home where the Barnetts rented Natalia an apartment.
The Barnetts rented Natalia an apartment, which was not modified for her special needs, in a two-story home in Lafayette, Indiana.
Ron Wilkins/Journal & Courier, Lafayette Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Barnetts, who were preparing to relocate to Canada, then placed Natalia in a two-story apartment building — but without customizations for her special needs — in Lafayette, Indiana. 

“They dumped her,” Karas told The Post. “The idea that they would put her in an apartment that didn’t have modifications or an occupational therapist is heartbreaking.” 

Michael now claims in the documentary that it was Kristine’s idea to leave Natalia alone to fend for herself. He also alleges that Kristine was cruel to Natalia.

Kristine was not interviewed in the documentary, and a phone number listed for her was not in service when reached by The Post.

Kristine Barnett (left) and Michael Barnett posed together on a couch.
Kristine and Michael Barnett filed for divorce in 2014 amid their ongoing marital and legal issues.
Courtesy of ID

The couple divorced in 2014.

That year, after struggling to survive alone, Natalia moved in with Antwon and Cynthia Mans, whom she’d met by happenstance and had only known for three days. 

In the doc, Karas explains that several law enforcement agencies actively investigated Natalia’s case between 2014 and 2019 to determine if she’d been wrongfully abandoned by the Barnetts.

In September 2019, Michael and Kristine were charged with two counts of neglect. 

A mugshot of Michael Barnett (left) and a mugshot of Kristine Barnett.
In 2019, Michael and Kristine Barnett were charged with neglect for allegedly abandoning Natalia in an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana.
Courtesy of ID

Karas tells The Post, “One set of the neglect charges was based on Natalia being a child who was abandoned. The other set [was based on] Natalia being a special needs adult who was abandoned.”

The prosecution set out to prove that Natalia was actually a minor. 

In December 2019, they located her birth mother, Anna Gava, who confirmed that Natalia was born in 2003. 

In footage from a pretrial deposition on Oct. 14, 2022, Natalia testifies about her age, saying, “I’m 33, legally. Biologically, 19.”

Michael Barnett (left) and Kristine Barnett walking out of court in Lafayette, Indiana.
Neither Michael nor Kristine Barnett were convicted on neglect charges.
Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier, Lafayette Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

However, during Michael’s trial, which began Oct. 24, 2022 in Lafayette, a judge ruled that neither Natalia’s biological nor legal ages would be mentioned during the proceedings. 

Michael was ultimately found not guilty on both neglect charges on Oct. 27, 2022. The neglect charges against Kristine were dismissed on March 23, 2023. 

Natalia has reportedly remained a surrogate member of the Mans family, who accompanied her to court during the trials. 

“I don’t know that there’s any one victim [in this case],” said Karas. 

“Is Natalia a convincing con artist or a neglected child?” she asked. “I don’t know that we know the whole truth.”