Dorothy Lee Barnett vanished with her 11-month-old daughter Savanna in 1994, setting off an international manhunt that would be unsuccessful for 20 years until she was eventually found and arrested. Just weeks before fleeing the U.S., Barnett had been in the midst of a divorce and custody battle with her husband Harris Todd and on February 18, 1994, the judge awarded full custody of their daughter Savanna to her father, according to CBS News.
During a scheduled visitation with Savanna, Barnett took her daughter from her home in Charleston, South Carolina, and boarded a plane to France using fake documents she’d had made for the two. She would spend time in Germany, France, Malaysia, Singapore and more while evading the authorities.
Less than a year after fleeing the U.S., while in South Africa, Barnett met and fell in love with an engineering geologist named Juan Geldenhuys. She said she confessed to him her whole story and they decided to get married. Soon after, Barnett and Geldenhuys welcomed a baby boy and named him Reece. Barnett became known as Alex Geldenhuys and Savanna became Samantha Geldenhuys.
Where is Dorothy Lee Barnett’s daughter Savanna today?
She Is Known as Samantha Geldenhuys & Is Living in Australia, Where She Works as a Nurse
The Geldenhuys eventually moved to Australia after Barnett had been on the run for about 13 years and settled down on the Sunshine Coast. Savanna, who is known as Samantha, told CBS News, “The Sunshine Coast is known for its beaches. It’s a very wonderful and family-like environment to grow up in.”
Barnett and Geldenhuys ended up splitting up after moving to Australia and Geldenhuys remarried, leaving Barnett as a single mother. Samantha described her as “strong” and “resilient,” as well as a “great single mother.”
In 2013, Barnett’s past finally caught up to her after she said she confided in the wrong person, and she was arrested in Queensland, Australia. At the time, Samantha was away at university pursuing nursing studies and Barnett called her: “I said, ‘Sammy. You know how we’ve never had communication with the family and friends in the U.S.?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, I was married before … And I’m going to jail now … ’cause I’ve been accused of kidnapping you and I said I had to keep you safe,'” she explained to CBS News.
Samantha told the outlet she called her mother back and said, “‘Wait does that mean that dad wasn’t my dad?’ And then she started crying and I started crying.” The news was all the more devastating because Juan Geldenhuys had died just a week before from bone cancer. Samantha said, “I’m very lucky to be able to say the last thing I said was, ‘I love you.'”
Samantha finished her studies and now works as a nurse on the Sunshine Coast in Australia, where she still lives, according to the Sunday Mail. In 2019, she got married in Fiji after moving the wedding there so her mother could attend, since Barnett was denied a visa to Australia following her release from prison on parental kidnapping charges.
Samantha Spoke About Finding Out Her Story & Described Meeting Her Biological Father
Samantha Geldenhuys has since opened up about finding out what happened and meeting her father Todd for the first time. She told CBS News that her mother started writing a diary before she gave birth to her daughter and she read it after Barnett’s arrest: “It starts off on the first page saying, ‘To my dear Savanna. Someday I’ll give this journal to you so that you can hopefully understand your mother.'”
She told the outlet that finding out what happened hasn’t changed anything between her and her mother. “She is the most important thing and she was and she has been and she still is,” she told the outlet.
Samantha also revealed that she wrote an eight-page letter to her father Todd, telling him, “I can have the most amazing relationship with him as long as I am 100 percent sure there’s no revenge, there’s no spite, no nothing.” She said she just wanted to know from him why he claimed that Barnett was violent or mentally ill in court. She said he didn’t reply to that but did write to tell her he was happy she did well on her exams.
Samantha said she met her father for the first time since finding out the truth at his home and it was “surreal.” She described their meeting: “He held … out his hand to shake my hand. And I thought, ‘Well, I’m not quite comfortable with that. I’d rather give a hug.'” She said they were both a bit awkward and he showed her around his house, but they didn’t really discuss their relationship.
She said she’s open to having a relationship with her father despite having not seen him since their first meeting. However, she said that she needs him to understand, “There is no way I’m letting go of my mom. I have been very lenient with him with all the stuff that he has said and I want to know if he will be the same with me when this comes out.”