Kidnapping Mother Arrested After 19 Years on the Run

November 25, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Dorothy Lee Barnett, aka Dorothy Geldenhuys, aka Alexandria Maria Canton was arrested in Queensland, Australia November 4th for the 1994 kidnapping of her daughter Savanna (aka Samantha) who was then 11 months old. She’s being held without bail awaiting extradition to the United States where she faces charges of parental kidnapping and two counts of falsifying passport applications. Read about it here (Daily Mail, 11/22/13).

Back in 1993, Barnett divorced husband Benjamin Harris Todd while she was still pregnant with Savanna. In the divorce proceedings, she claimed Todd was upset because she was pregnant, and he leveled allegations of physical and emotional abuse at her. A mental health professional diagnosed Barnett with Bi-Polar Disorder and Todd was given custody of Savanna, with Barnett getting supervised visitation with the infant.

Then, on April 22, 1994, Barnett picked up Savanna at her paternal grandparents’ house ostensibly to take her to a birthday party. That was the last time Todd saw his daughter.

Barnett and the little girl “vanished.”

She is thought to have fled the United States using a fake passport with the help of a secretive organization called Children of the Underground, who help women stuck in abusive relationships.

According to Queensland news reports, Barnett initially fled to South Africa, where she married a man, Juan Geldenhuys, in 1995 and later gave birth to a son, now 17, before moving to New Zealand and becoming a citizen.

Five years ago she settled in Australia after splitting with Mr Geldenhuys, who recently died of bone cancer.

During her alleged time on the run, Barnett used aliases such as Alexandria Maria Canton, federal authorities said, to evade detection.

Once in March 2003 and again in March 2004, Barnett used her new name, Alexandria Maria Geldenhuys, to attempt to get a U.S. passport, according to the indictment against her…

Barnett’s disappearance prompted a probe by the FBI, which obtained a warrant for her arrest in April 1994…


If convicted of the charges she is facing, Barnett could spend three years in prison on the kidnapping charge and 10 years on each of the two passport counts.

I’ll do a piece later on the organization Children of the Underground.

News reports so far haven’t been specific, but it looks like Barnett may be a serial abductor. She had a son by Juan Geldenhuys, but eventually broke up with him and moved to Australia. That may or may not have been legal depending on her divorce decree with Geldenhuys, but whatever the case, she seems to be a person who’s willing to put thousands of miles between her and a child, and the child’s father.

As mental health professionals have found before, parental child abduction is a clear form of child abuse. That’s because the abducting parent and the child are under a constant threat of discovery by police and other authorities. Therefore, little they do can be accomplished in the usual, above-board way. Names must be regularly changed as well as residences. That means the child will be continually uprooted, taken from neighborhoods, schools and friends, all for the sake of avoiding detection.

That in turn means the abducting parent tends to become the sole other person in the child’s life. The other parent of course is gone, plus all that parent’s relatives – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. The same usually goes for the extended family of the abducting parent who, after all, might report the kidnapper’s whereabouts to the police. The constant moving from place to place and name changes mean the child continually says good-bye to new friends, neighbors, teachers, etc.

That leaves the abducting parent as the only person in the child’s life, and, often as not, that’s just what the kidnapper wants – to be the sole source of love, nurturing, information, upbringing, etc. for the child. Such a relationship can result in a sort of Stockholm Syndrome on the part of a child. The child knows that the abducting parent is the sole source of love, protection and nurturance, so the child comes to virtually worship the parent. Often, the usual healthy process of differentiation between child and parent that occurs during adolescence fails to happen or is delayed.

Here’s some information on the psychological impact of abduction on children.

So it seems with Savanna who is all-too-enthusiastic about her mother who kept her from her father essentially all her life. I wonder what Barnett told her daughter about her dad.

During all those 19 years, Benjamin Todd never stopped looking for Savanna.

Court papers say Savanna’s father was the one who lead authorities to find his ex-wife.

An Australian friend of Mr Geldenhuys, Barnett’s second husband, had grown suspicious of her.

He heard Barnett call her daughter Savanna and she had previously spoken about escaping an abusive relationship.

A simple internet search provided old photos of Barnett as wanted in relation to the disappearance of Savanna, and the Australian man was able to contact Benjamin Harris Todd.

In what is so far the funniest aspect of the case,

Barnett’s barrister, Jeff Hunter QC, said his client was not a flight risk and had a close and special relationship with the Sunshine Coast community.

Not a flight risk. Really. The judge of course didn’t exactly buy that argument and denied bail to the woman who’d been on the run for 19 years.

So we’ll follow the case of Dorothy Lee Barnett. She could be sentenced to as much as 23 years in prison, but my guess is she won’t get five. Surely she’ll claim that Todd was abusive to her, Savanna or both even though she apparently made no such allegation in her divorce and custody case. So what will her defense be? That Savanna is a healthy young woman, so, no harm no foul? True, she denied her child any relationship with her father and vice versa, but really, what’s the harm in that?

We’ll see.

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