Story of Woman Who Kidnapped Her Daughter 20 Years Ago and Now Reveals Why and How She Did it

In 1994, following a harsh legal battle, Dorothy Lee Barnett lost custody of her baby. Without thinking it twice, the woman took the little girl.

The two vanished for over two decades and hid in several countries. More than 20 years later, Barnett finally opened up about her reasons and strategies.

Barnett gave an exclusive interview for CBS’s “48 Hours,” recalling when she first felt the need to defy the law and kidnap her daughter. 

"I knew as a grown woman ... if I couldn't prove that I wasn't mentally ill ... how could a 2 or 3-year-old?" she said.

From that moment on, mother and daughter started a world trip that was going to take them from South Carolina in the US to France, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, before settling down in Australia.

It was in Australia where Savanna became Samantha, and where Barnett married once again to a man she always told her daughter it was her real father.

Before getting found by the authorities after an incredible international investigation, Barnett had another child and divorced for a second time, but in 2013 she was sentenced to 21 months in prison. She was released in 2015.

According to Barnett, she had learned from what she had seen on TV that she could easily get a new identity in the city of Los Angeles. That is when her life started to resemble an action movie.

With her fake documents in one hand and her daughter in the other, Barnett, disguised with a new hair color and haircut, managed to pass airport security and travel to Paris, France with the little girl.

Barnett made her daughter pass a baby boy named “Nick,” something she could easily do since the baby didn’t even have hair yet.

"Most fugitives mess up, make mistakes because they can't leave the life that they came from. This didn't occur in this case. ...she totally cut all ties from everyone," FBI agent Chris Quick once said.

But Barnett did make one mistake, and it was to reveal her secret to someone she thought she could trust in Australia. This person contacted the girl’s father, Harris Todd, and revealed Barnett’s new identity to him, which lead to her capture.

It took the mother and daughter 13 years jumping from one country to another before they started to have a more stable life in Australia. She never told her daughter the truth of what had happened back in the US.

"When she talked about America, she loved it. But at the end of the day you could see in her eye – and if you know and you love someone well enough you can see when they are hurting,” Samantha later told CBS.

“And it's not – it's not for me to sit there and go, 'well, get sadder and tell me more and – and tell me why, and I deserve to know,' 'cause I didn't, you know. I trusted that when she wanted to tell me, she'd let me know," she added.


But the truth came to knock at their door 19 years after their adventure began, as Barnett remembered.

"I was on the telephone at 7:30 in the morning and there was a big pounding on my door. I was still in my pajamas and I open the door and this man was standing there with guns [...] and he said, 'I'm here with a warrant for your arrest,'" she said.

"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 e been accused of kidnapping you and I said I had to keep you safe."

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#DorothyLeeBarnett kidnapped her #daughter in 1994 after obtaining forged birth certificates and getting passports #Barnett opened up to 48 Hours about her decision to take her daughter away She and her husband Harris Todd had been locked in an ugly #divorce and uglier custody battle Todd was awarded #custody of baby #Savanna after painting a picture of Barnett as a violent and mentally unstable parent and wife He told the court he would have his daughter evaluated by a #psychiatrist at the age of three if she had any signs of a similar condition to her mother Her #mother said 'I knew as a grown woman ... if I couldn't prove that I wasn't mentally ill ... how could a two or three-year-old?' She went on the run for the next two decades before she was arrested in 2013 and sentenced 21 months. read more on @dailymail

A post shared by NICK JEAN 📸 🗣 🎼 🏡 (@nickjean) on

Barnett was always afraid that this day was going to come, and so she always kept a diary for Savanna/Samantha to eventually read to try to understand why her mother did what she did, and that she loved her.

"If you think about every single little thing that she has gone through, I've lived this wonderful life. She did everything she could and more to just keep me safe," Samantha said after reading the diary.


For 20 years, this remained one of America’s most baffling cold cases involving the disappearance of a small child, and it suddenly was solved after an incredible investigation.

Cases like this give hope to others that have been waiting for so long after mostly everyone has given up, because it is an example of how things can totally change when you least expected.

The parents of Madeleine McCann, who has been missing for over 12 years since she was apparently kidnapped in Portugal when she was 3, are an example of this.

They have recently been given the hopeful news of two promising leads that have prompted the UK government to continue funding the investigation. After all these years, the McCann’s haven’t lost hope of seeing Madeleine alive once again.

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