Episode 9: Orphan

Orphan came out on July 24th, 2009 and is considers an American-Canadian-German-French psychological horror film. It was produced by Joel Silver, Susan Downey, Jennifer Divsson Killoran, and Leonardo DiCaprio. It was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and was based on a story by Alex Mace. It features Vera Farmiga who you may recognize as playing Lorraine Warren in the Conjuring films, Peter Sarsgaard who is the creepy mofucka from Skeleton Key, and Isabelle Fuhrman who was also featured in the Hunger Games.

This is a lesser known film than we've done so far so I will actually provide a small plot summary without spoilers. The plot follows Kate (played Vera Farmiga) and John Coleman (played by Peter Sarsgaard), mother and father of two, who are dealing with the stillbirth of their third child. The couple choose to adopt Esther, a 9-year-old Russian girl from a local orphanage. They bring Esther home to meet their two children, their 5 year old deaf and mute daughter Max, and their 12 year old son Daniel. Daniel immediately dislikes Esther while Max cozies up to her quickly. As the family tries to acclimate into a life with their new family member, Kate begins to notice concerning behavior from Esther. Is she really a 9 year old orphan in need of a new home or is she a psychopathic older woman with a sinister agenda?

The film's budget was $20 million and has made over $78.8 wolrdwide. The film only holds a 55% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes for some stupid reason. It's a good movie, and it was original, but it received many mixed reviews. It was also very controversial among pro adoption groups as it brings light to a terrifying, yet incredibly unlikely, possibility for adopters. The film ended up putting a pro adoption message on the DVD to quell those who were upset.

Some fun facts:

Isabelle Fuhrman who plays Esther actually auditioned for the role wearing an old fashioned dress and ribbons tied around her wrists and neck, which encouraged this look that she adopts for the film.

There is a "subtle uneasiness" of the Orphan poster, a picture of Esther's face. The uneasiness comes from the symmetrical nature. We as humans aren't used to pure symmetry in faces and relating that back to the uncanny valley, we find it eerie. They took the photo of Isabelle Fuhrman then mirrored one side to create this effect.

Aryanna Engineer, who plays Max, is actually mostly deaf in real life. She also had no idea what was going on during filming. She did not realize it was a movie, but thought she was playing a game.

Vera Farmiga is a pianist in the film, all of the films are actually of her playing the piano very impressively. She was upset that all of her piano scenes did not make it to the final cut of the film, as her composition was meant to be a larger part of the movie.

The film's codename for shipping was "Infant Terror."

In earlier drafts of the script, Kate and John go to the orphanage not to see girls for the first time, but to bring presents to Yolanda, a seven-year-old Puerto Rican girl whom they plan on taking home the next day. There, they meet Esther (this scene plays out almost exactly as it does in the finished film). Although she impresses them, especially John, she finds out that they have already planned to adopt Yolanda. The next morning, Sister Judith finds Yolanda hanging in a closet; it is assumed that she died in a kids' game gone wrong, but implied that Esther killed her. John later suggests to Kate that they adopt Esther instead.

Let's get to the real life stuff.

So in 2007 there was a couple in the Czech Republic trying to keep an eye on their child so they bought a video baby monitor. Well, the baby monitor picked up a stray signal. On the monitor they saw the image of a small naked boy tied up in what looked like a basement. Obviously they called police immediately and police search the town of Kurim. Sisters Klara and Katerina Mauerova refused to open a locked door in their home. Fireman broke it down and found Ondrej, Klara's 8-yr-old son tied and bound with duct tape and extremely dehydrated. They also found his 10-yr-old brother Jakub and a 13-yr-old girl named Anna. Ondrej and Jakob had clearly been tortured for months.

Klara Mauerova

The court heard allegations that relatives had partially skinned Ondrej and EATEN HIS SKIN as well. The boys in court described how their mother whipped them with belts, would drown them, and put out cigarettes on their skin. They would be handcuffed and tied to tables for days at a time standing in their own urine. Klara had installed a similar baby monitor to the Czech couple to watch the torture of her boys. Super fucked up. Klara said she received messages from the "Doctor" describing how to torture the boys and it was later determined she was part of an international cult.

Anna's relation was unknown. Anna was formally adopted by Klara and thought to be a victim of Klara's torture, despite the fact that Anna was in much better shape than Ondrej and Jakob when they were found. Before Anna could testify in court, she went missing instigating a huge search party for the victim. Around the same time, a woman supplied a Czech passport to enroll her son Adam into a school. School authorities noticed Adam's strange behavior however Adam then also went missing. Another nationwide search began. Adam was found in the Arctic city on Tromsoe. However, Adam wasn't Adam. Adam was actually 5'2" 33 year old Barbara Sklrova who had both posed as the 13-yr-old Anna to hide her involvement in the torture of Ondrej and Jakob. She then fled and posed as Adam to avoid testifying in the Mauerova case. I'll put pictures of her on the blog but honestly she looks like a 13 year old and I tried to look into it but I have NO clue how Klara Maureova was able to legally adopt her. Regardless, Sklrova was actually another member of the cult and had contributed to the terrifying ordeal the boys went through.

Kristine and Michael Barnett are 45 years old and 43 years old respectively, and they have 3 sons including Jacob Barnett. Kristin is an author and motivational speaker whose expertise was in raising children with special needs. She wrote "The Spark: A Mother's story of nurturing, genius, and autism," about her son Jacob who is now 21 years old. She and her husband ran a children’s day care from their Indiana home. Kristine said in an interview "I always wanted to have a larger family and I had very severe complications in my pregnancies and was unable to have more children. I also at that time had a very privileged life. I felt that if I had the ability to help another person in the world then I wanted to do it" Because of all of this she and her husband decided to adopt a daughter.

In 2010, Kristine and Michael Barnett adopted Natalia Grace from a Florida adoption center after her previous adoptive parents suddenly gave her up. This meant it was an emergency adoption and they had to sign the paperwork all the way in Florida within only 24-hrs. Natalia has previously been fostered by at least two different families out of state. They were told that she was 6 years old, from Ukraine and had a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal which affects the bones of the spine and can cause difficulty breathing, early arthritic and weak joint mobility. Because of this, Natalia is about 3 ft tall and needs help walking.

Kristine claimed that only a year later, Natalia tried to push her onto an electric fence, poured bleach in her coffee and threatened to stab her and her husband while they were sleeping. In an interview Kristin said, "she was standing over people in the middle of the night. You couldn't go to sleep. We had to hide all the sharp objects. I saw her putting chemicals, bleach, windex something like that, in my coffee and I asked her, What are you doing? She said, 'I am trying to poison you.'" Natalia was a woman. She had periods, she had adult teeth. She never grew a single inch, which would happen even with a child with dwarfism. She was jumping out of moving cars. She was smearing blood on mirrors. She was doing things you could never imagine a little child doing." Kristin also said that Natalia had adult vocabulary. Natalia said of Kristin’s school, "These children are exhausting, I don’t know how you do it" and Once during family therapy, Natalia "scoffed" at the childish bonding exercises. Natalia was brought to mental health specialists who determined that she was an adult.

Two years later in 2012, Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis examined medical evidence and ruled that Natalia was born in 1989 which would make her 22 at the time. Her birth certificate originally stated that she was born in 2003 but the Barnett’s petitioned Marion Superior 8 to legally change the girls birth year to 1989 and make her 22 instead of 8.

In 2013, Michael and Kristin were living in Hamilton Country and rented an apartment for Natalia on North 11th Street in Lafayette. They moved her there then they moved to Canada so that Jacob (their 15-year old son who was a physics prodigy) could study at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario. Jacob was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and had his first academic paper published at 12. By age 15, he was studying at a prestigious physics institute. This was the second apartment they rented for her, because she caused problems at the first property and got evicted. They did not want her to be homeless, so they got her another apartment, paid a year’s rent up front, got her a social security number, apply for benefits, food stamps and an ID.

Kristin said she was talking to Natalia every day and had come up with a plan to enroll her in college to get her high school diploma and study cosmetology. But by the time they had moved to Canada, Natalia had completely stopped answering Kristin’s calls and never returned them either. Kristin found a little pink dress in her closet and a small pink bicycle outside her house and worried that Natalia had stopped taking her meds and was posing as a child again. Kristin said that the last time they spoke on the phone, Natalia told her she was cooking spaghetti for her new family.

In June 2014, Michael and Kristin got divorced and in September 2014, Natalia told the sheriff's deputies that the Barnetts had abandoned her. A September 11th affidavit of probable cause stated that in June 2010, Dr. Andrew Riggs at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital estimated Natalia's age to be about 8 years old. The same record from this hospital shows that in June 2012, a skeletal survey was performed on Natalia, which concluded that she was about 11 years old.

The Tippencanoe Circuit Court appointed attorneys Michael Troemel and Ladona Sorenson to Natalia’s case. Troemel represented the guardianship case and Sorenson represented Natalia. Troemel claimed that, "The Barnetts basically filed an ex parte petition, and this kid was not represented. And this is what really sticks in my craw. The kid's sitting out there, and her parents say, 'Well, were going to turn you into an adult.' which is what I find incredibly offensive". They, as well as the Tippencanoe County Sheriff’s Department claimed that Natalia was a child when her parents left her in the apartment and moved to Canada. They charged Michael and Kristin with two counts of felony abandonment of a dependent.

On Friday, September 27th, both the Barnetts pleaded not guilty to these two counts of felony neglect of a dependent. Kristin stated in an interview that her and Michael were victims of fraud and the girl they adopted was an adult con artist who tried to kill her. She said that Natalia, "would make statements and draw pictures saying she wanted to kill family members, roll them up in a blanket and put them in the backyard." She said that Natalia had pubic hair, menstrual cycles, mental health disorder that typically develop in people in their teens and early 20s and stated that Natalia confessed to psychiatric specialists that she was an adult. Kristin has paperwork that confirms her version of events and that health care professionals shared her concerns. One therapist in 2012 said that Natalia told her she was 18. In June 2012 at Larue Carter Hospital in Indianapolis, staff said Natalia described how she had tried to kill family members and had no remorse about it, going as far as to describe it as fun.

According to the prosecutors probable cause affidavit, Michael Barnett told investigators that he and Kristin knew that in 2012, doctors at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital determined Natalia was a minor. He stated that despite believing she was a minor in July 2013 when they moved to Canada, they still decided to leave her in Lafayette as they move to Canada. However, Michaels lawyer, Terrance Kinnard said that Michael never said he knew Natalia was a child and said that the affidavit was "very selective" about which medical reports it cited.

A letter from Michael Barnett’s primary care doctor at Indiana University Health dated October 24, 3016 stated that he had met Michael and Kristin on may 24, 2010 and that Natalia’s Ukrainian birth certificate stated she was born on September 4, 2003 and that this date was clearly inaccurate.

An article was published at 3 pm today (October 8, 2019) stating that reporters Will Stewart, Svetlana Skarbo and Ben Ashford found a woman named Anna Volodymyrivna Gava who claims to be Natalia’s mother and said that 16 years ago she was forced to give Natalia up for adoption as an infant because of the girls physical disabilities. This would make her 16 years old. She said, "doctors told me to leave the baby: 'leave her, don’t ruin your life,' they said. Both them and my mom told me to leave her. They said the baby would never be good, that she would never be able to move, that she would be chained to a chair or to a bed." She had just divorced her husband and could not care for Natalia anymore.

Papers from Natalia’s orphanage show that she was admitted in October 2003 and was there for 5 years until a couple adopted her in 2008. Anna was told that this couple was going to pay for a surgery that cost $80,000 that Anna could not afford. This couple gave her up in 2010.

They are scheduled for a pretrial hearing on Nov. 11 and their trial is set to take place on January 28, 2020.

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