Alex Geldenhuys, previously Lee Barnett, and daughter Samantha in Thailand. Source: Supplied
Alex Geldenhuys, previously Lee Barnett, and daughter Samantha in Thailand. Source: Supplied

Mother facing years in jail over kidnapping of daughter

A MOTHER arrested on the Sunshine Coast faces more than 20 years in jail in the US after allegedly kidnapping her daughter following a failed custody battle.

The case of Savanna Catherine Todd has featured on some of the US' top crime shows with public appeals for information on her whereabouts.

But speaking to Channel Seven's Today Tonight, the Townsville-based woman, who now goes by the name Samantha Geldenhuys, said she was "not a victim".

She was 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.

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

 Just weeks later, in April 1994, Ms Barnett and Savanna disappeared during a supervised visit.

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

Lee Barnett filmed a video explaining her decision to kidnap her own child, which she left for her closest friends and family.

The FBI raided their houses and seized all copies, except one.

"It's about time that somebody tells the true story," Lee said in the video.

"I just lost custody of my nine-and-a-half-month-old nursing baby to a very, very, evil, evil, man.

Ms 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.

Ms Barnett, now 53, was arrested on the Sunshine Coast in November and faces an extradition hearing on Monday charged with kidnapping.

In an interview aired on Tuesday night, Samantha Geldenhuys 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 told Today Tonight.

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

"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 Ms Geldenhuys learnt Mr 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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