Natalia Grace, a Ukrainian orphan with dwarfism whose adopted parents claim she pretended to be a child and terrorized their family, told a very different story in a series of interviews that aired this week.
“The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks,” which aired on Investigation Discovery, answered some lingering questions about the bizarre case and shocked producers with additional uncertainties that may prompt a follow-up series.
“‘Natalia Speaks’ is one of those projects where the further we dug in, the more twists and turns we uncovered,” Investigation Discovery President Jason Sarlanis told The Hollywood Reporter, detailing last-minute developments in production.
“Our viewers are so invested in Natalia’s case we felt our series needed to reflect the constantly shifting truth of her situation. One thing has always proven to be true with Natalia’s story — nothing is ever what it seems.”
The six-episode series is a follow-up to its counterpart, released in May, which focused on the claims of adoptive parents Kristine and Michael Barnett.
Due to flooding at the Ukrainian hospital where she was born, she has no birth certificate to legally identify her age. Adding to the confusion, FBI Special Agent Kenneth J. Maxwell told producers, the judge who handled the girl’s adoption proceedings was later terminated for corruption.
Anna Gava, Natalia’s birth mother, said in interviews that she gave her daughter up for adoption due to her disability.
The Indiana couple adopted Natalia in April 2010, believing she was a 6-year-old.
But after six months of alleged strange behavior, the parents claim they began to suspect their daughter was an adult woman scamming their family. Natalia has a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, giving her a small frame that left her true age a mystery without medical testing.
According to the earlier docuseries, Natalia hoarded knives, placed thumbtacks facing upward so the family would step on them unwittingly and, at one point, attempted to poison her adoptive mother with Pine-Sol.
But in her most recent interview, Natalia attempted 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. “They’re not going to get away with this. This is my side of the story. Do I look like a monster to you?”
The Barnetts successfully petitioned a court in Marion County to change Natalia’s birth year from 2003 to 1989, making her legally 22.
They moved her into an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana, according to the documentary, and moved with their three biological sons to Canada. There, neighbors noticed that the new renter struggled with everyday household tasks and often went hungry.
Although she was legally an adult, the Barnetts were charged in 2019 with neglect of a dependent due to her disability.
The adoptive father was found not guilty by a jury in 2022, while the mother’s charges were dismissed this year. Both parents defended themselves against accusations against them in the documentary, claiming Natalia was an adult capable of caring for herself.
Through a blood sample via TruDiagnostic, a medical lab specializing in biological aging, producers of the series determined Natalia is 22 years old, disputing her legal age of 34.
In a possible explanation of the Barnetts’ motivation to change Natalia’s age, documentarians assert the couple wanted to exploit the girl for money. Their son Jacob inspired “The Spark,” Kristine Barnett’s book about raising her son with autism and his academic achievements, which earned a $600,000 advance and had a pending movie deal, according to the documentary.
But when the girl was tested and found to be of average intelligence, legal expert Beth Karas hypothesized in the series that the couple plotted to have her removed from their home.
First, Karas posited, the Barnetts had the girl’s age changed legally. Because her genetic disorder rendered her a dependent for whom they would be legally responsible regardless of age, they fabricated details of her alleged sociopathic behavior to place her in a prison or psychiatric facility.
Natalia was committed to Larue Carter, an Indiana mental hospital, in June 2012, but the facility quickly determined she wasn’t mentally unstable.
She was subsequently sent to a halfway house, where she called her adoptive parents and told them she was afraid to live with drug addicts.
Michael Barnett told producers they took the girl back to avoid negative appearances if the girl was harmed.
But Natalia, who confronted her adoptive father in the last episode of the new series, claims she was abused by the couple. She was pepper-sprayed three times, she said, and Kristine once gave her three times her prescribed dose of heart medication in an attempt to kill her.
Natalia also described how her adoptive mother forced her to insert a tampon at 7 years old. This caused her to bleed, she claims, which Kristine later used as false evidence she was menstruating.
But new details from Natalia’s latest adoptive parents, Bishop Antwon Mans and his wife Cynthia, raised more questions.
The Mans family has publicly defended Natalia on television shows like “Dr. Phil” and even stood by her when she confronted her former adoptive father for the documentary.
But two weeks before the series was slated to air and six months after they formally adopted her, the couple made a frantic call to producers.
“Something ain’t right with Natalia,” Bishop Mans said in an audio clip aired in the last 90 seconds of the series. “This girl is tweakin’. I feel like she’s the enemy of the house. And she said to us we have held her hostage. … We’re done, we’re done with her.”
“Natalia is stabbing her family in the back over a complete lie,” Cynthia can be heard saying, backing up her husband’s claims.
“Our series was already finished and locked, but we instantly mobilized with our producers to ensure that this shocking development was included in our finale,” Sarlanis told The Hollywood Reporter of the twist. “We genuinely thought Natalia had found a happy ending with her new family, so you can imagine we were all thoroughly shocked when that call came from the Mans.”
Now that it has aired live, “The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks” is available for streaming via HBO Max and Discovery +.