True Crime

Natalia Grace’s Real Age Is Revealed In New Docuseries Natalia Speaks

The DNA test is the latest in a battery of such tests.

If you’re like me, you watch a lot of true crime docuseries. So when I tell you that The Curious Case of Natalia Grace (TCCoNG), which aired on Investigation Discovery (ID) last May, is one of the absolute wildest ones we’ve seen, that’s saying something. At the heart of this bizarre case lies the question: how old is Natalia Grace? Because while she and her supporters claim she was born in 2003, her adoptive family vehemently asserts that she was born in 1989, making her 34 today. A new follow-up series, Natalia Speaks (NS) reveals Natalia Grace’s real age through science, laying this central query to rest once and for all. But first, a recap for those who haven’t seen the original series or need a refresher...

In 2010, Kristine and Michael Barnett adopted Natalia Grace, a 6-year-old originally from Ukraine.

Her first adoptive family in the United States, was the Ciconnes, in 2008. But for reasons that remain unclear and/or disputed, in 2010 she was adopted by the Barnetts who already had three sons. In time, however, the Barnetts would not only claim that the girl had violent, even murderous tendancies, but that she was, in fact con-artist adult. (If this sounds familiar, yes, it’s the plot of The Orphan, which came out a year before the adoption in 2009.)

Natalia around age 7. The Barnetts would claim she was approximately 21 at this time.Courtesy of Investigation Discovery

In 2012, the Barnetts had Natalia’s age changed from 8 to 22.

Armed with a note from a family doctor and a social worker, the Barnetts went through the Indiana court system to legally re-age Natalia, claiming that she was not 8 years old, but born in 1989 and was 22 years old. With that, they placed her in apartments to live on her own where she routinely drew the attention of neighbors as being unusual.

The first docuseries released last year did not include interviews with either Natalia or her new guardians (whom she refers to as her parents), Cynthia and Antwon Mans, relying primarily on the testimony of Michael Barnett. But in NS, we learn Natalia’s side of the story, and she alleges horrifying abuse at the hands of her adoptive family. She also holds fast to her claim that she is, in fact, 20 as of press time (at the time of filming, she was still 19). Though she had purported to be older in the past, she says, she did so under the instruction of her adoptive mother, Kristine.

A DNA test has concluded that today, Natalia is in her early 20s.

In the very first episode of the series, which premiered on Jan. 1, Natalia submits to a DNA test that puts her age around 22 years old, which lines up pretty well with her claims and her Ukrainian birth certificate. (She will turn 21 this October.) But in an emotional moment during this episode, shortly after receiving her results, she weeps with her father Antwon, saying “They knew and they still did what they did.” And, indeed, this DNA test is not the first medical test to conclude that Natalia was, in fact, a child throughout her time with the Barnetts. Sadly, none of those tests were submitted to Indiana courts in 2012.

Natalia’s age had been confirmed by previous tests that were never submitted to the courts in 2012.

Natalia Grace in 2011. She was approximately 8 years old at the time.Courtesy of Investigation Discovery

A 2019 investigation by BuzzFeed News found that 2012 tests conducted at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis — a bone density test and skeletal survey — revealed that she was between 8 and 11 years old. Being approximately 9 at the time, Natalia’s Ukrainian birth certificate listing her birthday in October 2003 appears to have been pretty accurate.

Moreover, the first episode of NS brings to light that in addition to the tests at Peyton Manning, the Barnetts had multiple medical records indicating Natalia’s age in keeping with what was on her birth certificate. Jackie Starbuck, the former deputy prosecutor for Tippecanoe County, who led the 2023 neglect case against Michael Barnett, tells the documentary crew that the Barnetts provided medical records to Natalia’s elementary school from before she lived with them that indicate her age as being in keeping with her birth certificate. The results of a 2010 endocrinology exam by Dr. Andrew Riggs found Natalia to be between 9 and 11, which the Barnetts had been made aware of.

Natalia’s childhood dentist confirmed her age directly to Kristine Barnett back in 2011, months after she was adopted.

The series also interviews the Barnett family dentist, Dr. Tim Gossweiler, who says that Kristine brought Natalia in for an appointment in 2011 concerned that she was older than she purported to be. Though Gossweiler conceded that Natalia was quite articulate for a 7-year-old, X-rays showed that she not only still had 12 baby teeth in her mouth with her adult teeth were visible beneath them. He determined her age to be between 6 and 9 years old. “There’s really no question,” he told the documentary crew. “This is way too many baby teeth to be an adult. It’s indisputable. You can’t fake teeth coming in like this. So when mom and Natalia left, mom knew that Natalia was around 8 or 9, which is right in the range that she said she was,” he told the documentary crew.

Gossweiler was unaware of Natalia’s re-aging and appeared startled upon learning that her age had been changed by nearly 15 years. “Wow,” he said. “That... that seems crazy.”

Indeed it is.

The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks airs Jan. 1, 2, and 3 on ID beginning at 9/8c.