In 1991, Lee Barnett married a good friend she'd known for six years, who was also her stockbroker. Things were fine until ten months into the marriage, when she realized she was pregnant. At first, her husband told her to get an abortion, and when she refused to do so, he accused her of being violent, promiscuous and mentally ill. Worse, he claimed that he was suffering from PTSD because of her abuse.
At first the couple agreed to go to marriage counseling, but behind her back her husband spoke to the psychiatrist and told him that she was severely mentally ill. Naturally, not knowing what was going on behind her back, Ms. Barnett became very puzzled when the doctor recommended that she take psychiatric medications such as Navane and Lithium. It made no sense to her that a doctor would recommend that she take major medications when she was pregnant. It took Lee a while to figure out what was going on. As it turned out, the psychiatrist gave Lee Barnett a diagnosis that doesn't even exist in the DSM, and didn't exist in her day: irritable hyperthermic temperament.
Eventually, after a lengthy custody trial, Lee lost custody of her baby daughter, Savanna, when the child was only 9 months old. Her ex husband was given sole custody of the little baby, and Lee was ordered to hand over the baby immediately, which meant that the baby had to be weaned immediately. Also, as a result of the judge's avoidance tactics, Lee Barnett was unable to appeal the decision which she would have preferred to do.
Subsequently, Lee was only allowed to see her baby four nights a month. During her first visitation with her child, accompanied by the GAL, her ex husband met her and handed over the child. The little girl was in really bad shape. She had a huge contusion on her forehead, and blood coming out of her nose. Ms. Barnett asked her ex what happened, and the GAL said, "What's the big deal, the child had a little spill." When Ms. Barnett then took the child to an emergency room, the pedestrian who was aligned with her ex-husband called in to the staff and informed them that she had a severe mental illness and so they stopped treatment and told Lee to take the child home. Still, they told her to check to see that the baby was all right every two hours, which is exactly what you would do if there was a concussion. The final straw was when her ex-husband stated that the diagnosis Lee had was genetic, and that as soon as their child began to have symptoms, he would be sure to put the child on medication.
Therefore, approximately two months after the custody decision, in 1994 Lee Barnett fled the country.
In order to obtain a passport which she could use to get out of the country, Lee Barnett needed a picture i.d. as well as a birth certificate for herself and Savanna using different names. Therefore, she traveled to Texas where she borrowed a car from friends and got brown contacts and a dark wig. To get a picture i.d., she was able to get an i.d. from the airlines through friends. She then took the i.d. removed the lamination, put a different picture inside, and relaminated it. She then traveled to California where she was able to obtain fake birth certificates. With those false documents, she went to the passport office and obtained brand new passports. Her name was now Alexia Canton and her daughter's new name was Samantha.
She then returned to South Carolina, picked up the baby, and her brother drove her to Atlanta, GA where she took a flight to Germany. She left everything behind--her family, her friends, her entire life. In Germany she had a big scare. Once she landed, the intercom went on and a voice announced that Alexia Canton and her baby should stay in their seat. For a while, after the announcement, Ms. Barnett was fearful that the authorities had caught her well before she could make a clean escape. However, as it turned out, what happened is that the flight crew was concerned that she had so much luggage and wanted to help her out. So three airline employees took her luggage, bypassed the crew line, eliminated any passport check, went on and put her on the train to Paris. From there, she bought an expensive flight to Malaysia.
First, Ms. Barnett moved to Kuala Lumpor and worked there for 7 months. Then she decided to go to South Africa. Amazingly enough, she made friends right away and was eventually introduced to her second husband, a truly wonderful man. Luckily, her second husband loved her daughter and got along well with the little girl. They married and Lee was quickly expecting another child, a little boy, so there was only 2 years between the two children.
The family lived in South Africa for a while and eventually moved to Botswana; from there they moved to New Zealand and eventually settled in Australia. From then on, Lee Barnett lived a really normal life. The kids were involved in sports and went to an International School so they could use their diplomas to go to school anywhere once they graduated. Eventually when the kids were 12 and 14, she divorced but maintained a good relationship with her second husband despite the divorce. She worked full time for a publishing company, and earned extra money by hosting international high school students. This paid her mortgage. She also cleaned houses on weekends.
Overall, Lee spent 20 years on the lam until one day, on November 5, 2013, 12 police officers with guns appeared at her doorstep. At that point, she had to call her daughter who was in College by then and explain the situation, as well as inform her son who was still in high school. Her daughter's first reaction was to ask the question, "Does that mean my daddy isn't my daddy." I explained that "no" that wasn't true. She later found out that friends of her second ex husband in Botswana had turned her in. This was an extremely difficult situation because her 2nd husband had died 8 days before she was arrested, and the children were still in shock from that loss.
In the end, Lee Barnett was in prison for 10 1/2 months. She tried to fight extradition with the help of her friends back in the U.S. who had kept her legal papers in case such a circumstance arose. That fight failed and she was eventually returned to South Carolina in chains escorted by three federal marshals. Upon her return, she was sentenced to 21 months mitigated by the time she served.
Lee Barnett states that when this happened to her, it felt as though she was Alice in Wonderland caught in a situation beyond her control. She thought that she was alone. Now she has come to understand that this is happening to so many people. Mothers are continuing to lose their children and often end up in jail. Sometimes Lee feels guilty, for herself and for Samantha. It is a form of survival guilt. But she is also grateful for the way her story turned out.
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