REUNION: Samantha and Reece Geldenhuys with mum Dorothy Lee Barnett.
REUNION: Samantha and Reece Geldenhuys with mum Dorothy Lee Barnett. Contributed

Kidnap mother tells of life on the run

DOROTHY Lee Barnett's only regret from spending nearly 20 years as an international fugitive is breaking the law to protect her daughter.

The former Sunshine Coast resident - who lived here under the name of Alex Geldenhuys - has been stopped by probation conditions from leaving the US, her native country, since being released from prison. But she desperately wants to return to the Coast.

Ms Barnett, 55, was arrested by FBI agents at her Mountain Creek home in November 2013 for kidnapping her baby daughter, Savanna, from South Carolina in 1994 and fleeing the US with fake passports.

Savanna's name was changed and she grew up as Samantha Geldenhuys, taking the family name of her mother's second husband, Juan Geldenhuys.

Ms Barnett and Mr Geldenhuys have a son, Reece, who will turn 20 on Friday.

Samantha, 22, discovered Mr Geldenhuys was not her father only after her mother's arrest.

Ms Barnett said she kidnapped Samantha for her safety after her ex-husband in the US was granted custody.

In February, a South Carolina court sentenced Ms Barnett to 21 months in jail, but with time already served before the sentencing she was released in May after serving 18 months and 10 days.

Her incredible evasion of authorities took her to Germany, France, Malaysia, South Africa, Botswana and New Zealand before she moved to Australia in December 2007 and set up on the Sunshine Coast.

Samantha had New Zealand citizenship, which Ms Barnett used to enrol her in school.

Ms Barnett's former life caught up with her after Coast man and close family friend Stephen Schofield learned that Samantha's biological father, Benjamin Harris Todd III, lived in the US and hadn't heard of his daughter since 1994.

Mr Schofield contacted Mr Todd before police became involved, leading to Ms Barnett's arrest.

Ms Barnett regarded those actions as a heart-breaking betrayal.

"Not only for the children and me, but it would have also been devastating to the children's dad and their friend, Juan Geldenhuys, if he had not died eight days earlier," she said.

"This betrayal left Samantha and Reece without a parent, a home and financial resources."

She said she feared being caught every day of her time on the run, but would not change what she did.

"All the hell I went through for 20 years with hiding and the last 18-plus months in prison were worth it to keep my daughter safe," she said.

"I have no regrets except for having to break the law to protect my baby."

She said she had spoken with Samantha at least twice a day during her time in prison.

"Since I'm out we usually text, Facebook (message) and call five times week," Ms Barnett said.

"I was finally reunited with her last month in Charleston, South Carolina, when she made a trip over to see me."

Samantha has moved from the Coast to Townsville, where she studies at James Cook University.

Ms Barnett said she missed the Coast terribly but since being reunited with friends and family back in the US, a combination of the two "would be a wonderful thing".

"We have been blessed to have so many of the Sunshine Coast friends, strangers, the Mountain Creek High School and Mooloolaba surf Club there to offer their incredible generosity and support.

"We will always be indebted.

"I told the children as much as it hurts to have someone intentionally harm you, the flipside is the hundreds who supported us and have shown us how much we are loved."

For more information on Ms Barnett's story, visit usa-vs-dlb.com



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