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Adopted girl accused of ‘masquerading’ as 6-year-old speaks out in new doc: ‘Do I look like a monster to you?’

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A Ukrainian orphan who was accused by her former adoptive family of “masquerading” as a child wants to share her side of the story.

Natalia Grace was the subject of Investigation Discovery’s (ID) docuseries “The Curious Case of Natalia Grace,” which premiered in May of this year. Now she is coming forward in a new six-part docuseries, “The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks,” where she’ll attempt to clear her name.

“In every lie is a hidden truth, but you’ve gotta dig enough to be able to see it,” Natalia said in the series. “They’re not going to get away with this. This is my side of the story.”


“Do I look like a monster to you?” she added.

Ken Maxwell, the former FBI agent who investigated Natalia’s case, told Fox News Digital that he isn’t surprised Natalia is speaking out now.

“Natalia didn’t have an opportunity to tell her entire story, even on the witness stand,” Maxwell explained. “And of course, she had the gag order looming over her from the beginning… It’s a natural evolution of events. The trial is over, and the gag order was lifted. That allowed her to have a platform. We were very anxious, obviously, and very excited to hear her side of the story.”

Natalia Grace smiling in a close-up photo

Michael Barnett and his then-wife, Kristine Barnett, adopted Natalia in April 2010. At the time, she was listed as 6 years old. Six months later, the parents allegedly began witnessing violent behavior and called into question whether Natalia was a child or an adult woman scamming the family. Natalia has a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita.

According to the docuseries, the couple alleged that Natalia hoarded knives in her room and placed clear thumbtacks on the stairs facing up so that they would step on them. Natalia was also accused of trying to poison Kristine’s coffee with a cleaning solution and dragging her toward an electric fence.

“From the beginning, it was very bizarre,” Maxwell explained. “You have this orphan from Ukraine who comes to the United States, is adopted by a family and then accused of all kinds of bizarre behavior… And then this case received a tremendous amount of media attention on an international scale… So right from the beginning, we wanted to probe further.”


Kristine Barnett wearing a bright blue sweater sitting on the sidewalk with her children

Maxwell took a deep dive into Natalia’s past in Ukraine.

“There is a record of a birth, there are records from the orphanage, which we were able to obtain,” he said. “But there were still some unanswered questions in terms of her whereabouts after she was born, which was allegedly in 2003, according to her Ukrainian birth certificate. There was a plumbing or sewer accident at the hospital where she was born that destroyed some records… Whether it was a coincidence or not, her file was missing.”

“… You’re also dealing with adoptions in Eastern Europe,” he continued. “If you just Google adoption anomalies or fraud in Eastern Europe, you’re probably going to get a little bleary-eyed reading the past incidences. I’m not saying all adoptions, I’m just saying that it’s on record that there have been certain improprieties in adoptions from Eastern Europe in the past.”

A close-up black and white photo of Natalia Grace

Maxwell said he and his team spoke to Natalia. She claimed she suffered trauma in Ukraine as a child, which impacted her memory. She recalled an unknown man putting something over her face, causing her to pass out.

The docuseries claimed that, following Natalia’s alleged behavior behind closed doors, the Barnetts petitioned a court in 2012 to legally change her birth year from 2003 to 1989, which was granted. That changed her age from 8 years old to 22. The family then moved to Canada with their biological children. According to reports, the couple’s eldest son was slated to start college there.


Kristine Barnett holding a book next to her son

The Barnetts landed in hot water in 2013 when it was discovered that Natalia was living alone in an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana, leading to an investigation and their arrests. In 2019, the couple, who have since divorced, were charged with neglect of a dependent.

Michael was ultimately found not guilty by a jury in 2022, and Kristine had all of her charges dismissed this year. Both parents had previously claimed the charges were bogus, saying Natalia was an adult and not a neglected child.

The docuseries showed Natalia’s dental records from 2011. It seemed to indicate that she had 12 baby teeth remaining, which would have made her between 6 and 9 years old at the time. Her former dentist said the results were “indisputable.”

Natalia Grace smiling as Kristine Barnett looks away at a computer

The series also showed Natalia getting tested by TruDiagnostic, a lab that offers an at-home epigenetic test to determine how old someone is “from a biological standpoint, on a cellular level.” The docuseries showed that in August of this year, Natalia was informed that she was “closer to 22.”

Maxwell said Natalia was first placed in an apartment in the summer of 2012 after her age was changed. Natalia said she was abandoned in a second-story apartment in which she was unable to navigate the stairs. Natalia also claimed she was without a walker or a wheelchair.

In court, Natalia testified that she learned nearly everything about her life from a family that took her in. While prosecutors said she was “entirely dependent” on the Barnetts, defense attorneys argued “she wanted nothing to do with the Barnetts. She had moved on.”


Natalia Grace wearing a pink sweater standing next to a toy car

The defense showed jurors videos of Natalia running across a street, walking through a grocery store and clinging to the edge of a pool. They argued she was an able-bodied adult who was no longer interested in being a part of the family.

“The apartment manager I interviewed would’ve never issued a lease to a minor,” Maxwell said.

According to the special, there were some neighbors in Natalia’s apartment complex who questioned her behavior.

Prosecutors couldn’t charge the Barnetts with neglect of a child because of Natalia’s court-ordered age change, People magazine reported.

A close-up of Kristine Barnett crying

The docuseries features sit-down conversations between Michael and Natalia. Kristine did not participate in the special. In response to Fox News Digital’s request for comment, Kristine forwarded a Facebook post from the Law Office of Mark Nicholson.

“… The truth is, sometimes people are falsely accused of crimes, as in this case,” it read in part. “Our client was innocent of the crimes charged. Unfortunately, some people are upset because we won. The people upset have watched a TV show, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace, and naively think they know everything there is to know about the case. They have had no part in the case… Because we cared about the truth, we proved the facts to the courts and the prosecutors, and the facts forced them to dismiss the criminal charges and, eventually, the entire case.”

One thing is certain for Maxwell – things went wrong for Natalia right from the start.


The Barnetts sitting next to each other as they hold hands

“She’s born as a little person who’s severely handicapped,” he said. “Her birth mother immediately signed custody to the social service authorities in Ukraine. She’s abandoned at the hospital, right after birth. That’s traumatic enough for any child, whether they have disabilities or not… Natalia recalls living in at least three or four different places, although she can’t remember all the specifics. She believes she was living with foster-type parents for a bit, but then placed back in the orphanage. She gets adopted by the first family who brought her over to the United States back in 2008. And they had her for less than a year. They then begin their efforts to have her readopted through an organization [for little people].”

Natalia Grace taking a selfie

“After three possible attempts there to place Natalia with families of little people, that fell through,” Maxwell continued. “And then eventually the Barnetts took custody and adopted Natalia in 2010. So she wasn’t in any one place for a long period… And then you only had one side of the story being set forth, that this was a monster, a homicidal monster… We know from history and past cases that in trauma-related adoptions, there are oftentimes incidents of adoptees acting out, having all kinds of emotional or mental challenges… It’s not uncommon.”

Maxwell said that whether Natalia acted out “in a bizarre fashion or not,” there was no question that she was “a very troubled young person who had experienced tremendous trauma.”

“It would not be unusual at all for someone like her to act out in a manner that, shall we say, does not conform with society’s best expectations,” Maxwell said. “… I’m not trying to overly defend Natalia. I’m just saying you’ve got to consider all the possibilities here.”

side-by-side split mugshot of the Barnetts

Natalia has vehemently denied the allegations made by the Barnetts.

Natalia has since been adopted by her new father, pastor Antwon Mans. They reside in Crawfordsville, Indiana. In 2019, the Mans family told Dr. Phil that Natalia never exhibited any kind of violent behavior toward them.

Maxwell admitted that Natalia’s case still has unanswered questions.


A screen still of Natalia Grace on the Dr. Phil Show

“People should consider the old cliché of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Maxwell said. “Let’s talk about shoes. Natalia didn’t even have the right shoes to walk in. Imagine the physical suffering she went through and the medical necessities she needed. She still needs to undergo corrective surgery. Regardless of whether you think Natalia was some evil child or not, she was still a child at one time.”

“The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks” will premiere across three consecutive nights beginning Jan. 1 at 9 p.m. on ID. Fox News Digital’s Emma Colton and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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