Mum’s 20 years on the run with daughter
A woman has revealed how in the space of a few months she went from being a new mum overjoyed at the birth of her daughter to being on the run from the police and branded mentally unstable.
It was 1994 when US woman Dorothy Lee Barnett had her nine-month-old daughter, Savanna, taken away from her following a nasty custody battle.
A short time later the new mum, referred to as "Lee" by her friends, concocted a plan to take her daughter and disappear, seeing it as her only option to keep her daughter safe.
For the next 20 years Lee would be vilified by her ex-husband, the police and the media, branding her as dangerous, mentally unstable and violent.
"I need to tell the truth about what's happened ... something needs to be changed," she told CBS's true crime program 48 Hours.
Lee met her future husband, Harris Todd, when she was working as a flight attendant in South Carolina and he as a stockbroker.
One thing led to another and the two eventually decided to get married and, to many, Todd seemed like a perfect southern gentleman.
However, Lee's best friend, Patty Roth, thought something was off about their relationship.
"They wanted very different things out of life. She was very outgoing, and he kind of kept her to himself," Roth said.
"When Lee decided to get married I did not agree with that choice. Lee wanted children. Harris was very clear - to everyone that he never wanted children."
But Lee thought Todd would eventually change his mind.
When Lee fell pregnant seven months into their marriage, the cracks in their relationship started to show.
"I said to him, I said, 'I have a feeling I might be pregnant.' And he said, 'it's OK. Just have an abortion,'" Lee said. Todd has denied he suggested Lee have an abortion.
"I was heartbroken. … But I still thought, 'Ah, he'll come right.' … Anyway, two days later, I found out I was pregnant. He was very cold and indifferent. And he remained that way."
She said that throughout her whole pregnancy, even when she was eight months pregnant, Todd would tell her "there's no baby".
Things worsened, with Todd claiming the problem wasn't the baby but that Lee was violent and unpredictable.
Lee reportedly tried everything in her power to make the marriage work and was surprised when Todd one day agreed to go to marriage counselling, but little did she know those sessions would be the thing that saw her baby taken away.
The couple went to a psychiatrist named Dr Oliver Bjorksten, who was suggested by Lee's mother. But she had no idea that Todd had already convinced her mum and Dr Bjorksten that she was mentally unstable and these sessions were a way to have her diagnosed.
Todd has always said he did what he did to help his wife but Lee believes it was all an elaborate set up so he could "save face for walking out on his pregnant wife".
Todd denied 48 Hours' recent request for an interview, the program said, but back in 1999 he told the same show Lee was violent and he was terrified of her.
"You never know when you're going to come through the door and have a flower pot launched," he said almost 20 years ago.
Lee said Todd would tell her, "You're sick, you're insane."
"And he'd say … 'Look in the mirror. See your face. It's contorted. You're insane. You're insane.'" she said.
All of Lee's close friends maintained that they had never seen her act violently or argue, with Roth claiming she was even present when Lee received a threatening and hateful phone call from her husband telling her she was "sick and crazy".
Lee filed for a divorce when she was seven months pregnant.
It was Roth who was by her side when she gave birth to Savanna but just two and a half months after she was born Todd, sued for custody.
Lee said it was his way of punishing her for leaving him.
Dr Bjorksten testified that Lee was mentally ill and had a condition "associated with violence", a testimony Lee said was "life destroying".
Despite two other psychiatrists testifying that there was nothing wrong with Lee, the judge awarded Todd sole custody.
Lee tried to appeal the decision but was unable to because the judge didn't file the necessary paperwork, leaving her feeling like she had no other option than to disappear with Savanna.
She got fake birth certificates and passports for her and her daughter, changing their names to Alexandria Maria Canton and Samantha.
For years the mother and daughter travelled between Germany, France; Malaysia, South Africa, Botswana, and New Zealand before finally settling on Australia's Sunshine Coast.
By that time Lee had remarried a man she met in South Africa, Juan Geldenhuys, and the pair had a son, Reece,
Savanna, now Samantha, grew up thinking Juan was her dad and even when he split from her mum after falling in love with another woman, Lee "stayed strong and resilient.
Almost 20 years on from when Lee disappeared, police knocked on the door of their Queensland home in 2013 and arrested their mum.
Samantha and Reece were told everything, and found out that the world was convinced their mother was evil for what she did.
"And that's when ... I learned when I was born, I learnt Savanna. I didn't know anything before that," Samantha said.
"Every characteristic they said that my mother had was wrong and incorrect. Every single thing. Like, she had bipolar. I mean, that was the most incredibly confronting thing. And I felt very rude because I just laughed in their faces."
Samantha later found a diary her mum had used to detail everything and that she intended to give her one day when she told her the truth about her past.
Lee was extradited to the US where she was prosecuted and served 21 months in prison on charges of international parental kidnapping and two counts of passport fraud.
She defended her decision to take her daughter, believing it was her only option.
"The law was broken when a corrupt court system took that baby from me and took her mother away from her," Lee said.
"There's nothing wrong with me. I've never done anything violent. I've raised two amazingly healthy, intelligent children who are happy,' she said. 'So who's telling the truth? And who's lying?"