Dorothy Lee Barnett eluded the FBI for two decades after she fled the United States with her infant daughter in tow. Barnett shares her story in an encore of 48 HOURS: “Dear Savanna” to be broadcast Saturday, Dec. 8 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
“I feel the FBI and every other law enforcement agency underestimated me,” Barnett tells correspondent Maureen Maher.
In 1994, Barnett was in the midst of a bitter divorce with then-husband Harris Todd. One day she and the couple’s 11-month-old daughter, Savanna, vanished. The disappearance launched an international search for Barnett and Savanna that didn’t end until she was arrested in Queensland, Australia, in 2013.
The case, which 48 HOURS has been covering since 1999, raises significant questions about parental child abduction, the issues that emerge in a bitter divorce, and what penalties should be leveled on a parent who flees with a child after losing a custody case.
When Barnett fled her home in Charleston, S.C., she headed to Europe, where she spent time in Germany, France, then Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Botswana and Australia. Barnett became Alex Geldenhuys. Unbeknownst to Savanna, she became Samantha Geldenhuys.
While they were on the run, Barnett also kept a secret diary for her daughter, planning one day to tell her the whole story of her life. That changed in 2011, when the FBI got a tip that Barnett was living in Queensland, Australia. And then there was a knock on Barnett’s door in 2013.
Barnett and Savanna open up to 48 HOURS about their extraordinary life before Barnett’s arrest and how their lives have unfolded since.
48 HOURS: “Dear Savanna” is produced by Liza Finley and Ryan Smith. Diana Modica, Grayce Arlotta Berner, George Baluzy and Richard Barber are the editors. Linda Martin is the update producer. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.