Kidnapped girl 'not a victim'

Last updated 10:59 29/01/2014
Savannah Harris Todd
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
FOUND: Savannah Harris Todd was discovered at age 20 living in Australia, under the name of Samantha Geldenhuys.
 Dorothy Lee Barnett.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
ACCUSED: Dorothy Lee Barnett.
Savannah Harris Todd
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
GONE: Savannah Harris Todd was taken when she was 11 months old.

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Twenty years ago, Savanna Catherine Todd was kidnapped from her American home by her mother, who had just lost custody of her daughter to her ex-husband.

But speaking to Australian current affairs show Today Tonight, the Townsville-based woman, who now goes by the name Samantha Geldenhuys, said she was "not a victim".

She was just 10 months old and at the centre of a bitter custody battle in South Carolina when her mother, Dorothy Lee Barnett, fled with her from the US in 1994.

Barnett had lost custody based, in part, on a "variant of bipolar disorder" diagnosis and was granted access to her daughter every second weekend.

Contempt-of-court proceedings took place, but Barnett was not stripped of visitation rights and just weeks later, in April 1994, Barnett and Savanna disappeared during a supervised visit.

Her biological father, Benjamin Harris Todd III, has been searching for her ever since.

Barnett is alleged to have fled to Europe on a false passport, changing her name to Alexandra Canton.

In 1995, she married a man named Juan Geldenhuys in South Africa, with whom she had a son. The family moved to New Zealand, before settling in Australia in 2007.

Barnett, now 53, was arrested on the Sunshine Coast in November and faces an extradition hearing on Monday charged with kidnapping, for which she could face more than 20 years in an American jail.

In an interview aired last night, Samantha Geldenhuys, as she is now known, said she was heartbroken by the potential penalties her mother faced.

"I have recently found out she won't be allowed back in the country, she won't see my first-born, she won't see me get married," she said.

"It's not something I want to think about. I think she deserves to be there."

Geldenhuys, who has no memory of her biological father, said she had no idea of her past until it became apparent the authorities had caught up with Barnett.

"She became the most incredible woman when she realised she had saved me," she said.

"Whatever the case, she succeeded in what she wanted to do and it wasn't easy along the way.

"She gave up everything that she loved, she knew, and she started anew just for me."

The revelation also meant Samantha Geldenhuys learnt Juan Geldenhuys was not her biological father.

"I called back within a couple of minutes and said 'does this mean Dad is not my dad?' and she said 'he protected you'," she said.

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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