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Orphan True Story & Real Life Crime Explained

Orphan follows the story of Esther, a little girl who turns out to be a killer, and her adopted family. But Esther and her secrets aren’t fictional.

Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2009 film, Orphan tells the story of a couple who adopts a nine-year-old girl who may not be exactly what she appears, and was based on real-life events. Produced through Dark Castle Entertainment, the psychological horror film received mixed reviews, but everyone agreed that the performance of Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, the mysterious orphan, was haunting and exceptional.

Audiences who found Orphan and other killer kid movies like Bad Seed and The Omen particularly chilling will be disturbed to learn that the plot of Orphan is actually based on the true story of Barbora Skrlová, a woman who was discovered posing as a 13-year-old boy in Norway after she had escaped from another family where she had facilitated extreme child abuse on the family’s other children.


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After the film’s release in 2009, it spawned another incident ten years later in which an Indiana couple adopted a six-year-old Ukrainian girl named Natalia Grace who had a form of dwarfism that made her about three feet tall and also gave her some additional difficulties with mobility. However, after being with the family for a few weeks Natalia began acting strangely, threatening the family and acting erratically, after which the mother became convinced Natalia was actually an adult. Here are the true stories behind the movie Orphan – as well as those seemingly inspired by its plot.

The True Stories Behind Orphan

Esther In Orphan 2009 Movie

The case of Barbora Skrlová was a national news story, when 13-year-old “Adam,” an adopted boy in Norway went missing and it was discovered that he was actually a 33-year-old Czech woman. Skrlová committed her first crimes in the Czech Republic where she came to live with two sisters, Klara and Katerina Mauerova, and Klara’s two children. Klara had significant mental illness, so much so that it was the cause of her separation from her children’s father. Because of this, Skrlová was able more easily to manipulate her.

She began controlling and manipulating the family, pretending that Klara’s two sons, Ondrej and Yakub, were breaking things and misbehaving, and then convincing the sisters to administer increasingly violent punishments against them for the boys’ imagined mistakes. Eventually Skrlová had convinced the sisters to lock the boys in the basement and deprive them of food. When a neighbor alerted the police to potential abuse in the household, the two sisters were arrested, but Skrlová escaped, pretending to be a child. When a 13-year-old boy of Czech parents went missing, Skrlová stepped in to pose as him. It is believed that the parents helped Skrlová pose as their son until she eventually ran away and their ruse was discovered.

After Orphan’s release in 2009, nearly 10 years later, a unique case came to light which may have been inspired by the events depicted in the film. Indiana couple Kristine and Michael Barnett were well-versed in raising children with special needs. In 2010, they adopted six-year-old Natalia Grace from the Ukraine; she had a form of dwarfism that made it difficult for her to walk. Natalia had been in the US for about two years when she came to live with the Barnetts, coming to live with them after her last adopted family had given her up for undisclosed reasons.

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After a while, Natalia started acting strangely. Kristine reported that the girl was threatening the family, standing over them at night, and she even saw her once trying to pour bleach in Kristine’s morning coffee. Kristine began to suspect that Natalia was not actually a child and backs up this suspicion with Natalia’s sophisticated vocabulary, lack of interest in toys, and medical tests which supposedly show Natalia as having the bone density and teeth of a teen or young adult, though later tests dispute these conclusions.

Based on Kristine’s belief that Natalia was dangerous and running a scam, the Barnetts legally changed Natalia’s age on her birth certificate to twenty-two years old in 2012, and then in 2013, they rented her an apartment and moved to Canada. Later, legal charges were waged against the Barnetts in 2014 when Natalia reported to the police that she had been abandoned by her family.

The Barnetts were charged with two counts of felony neglect of a minor. Kristine still maintains that Natalia is a dangerous adult running a scam, while Michael, now divorced from Kristine, claims the couple knew the entire time that Natalia was a child, but Kristine convinced everyone to lie about her age. Natalia’s age is still up for debate, and legal action is ongoing to reverse the changes to her birth date that the Barnetts made. When asked about the case, Kristine specifically referenced the 2009 film saying, “The movie Orphan is exactly what happened.”

Orphan’s Esther Will Return For A Prequel Movie

It’s been over a decade since Orphan arrived and floored audiences with its sick twist, and now, Esther/Leena will soon be back in a prequel movie titled Orphan: First Kill. Isabelle Fuhrman will be back to play Esther – despite her being a decade older, the filmmakers say they employed a combination of make-up effects and camera tricks to make her still look believable in the role. It’ll be interesting to see how well they do using those methods, as audiences have become accustomed to expensive CGI de-aging techniques in recent years. Paramount has yet to set a date for Orphan: First Kill‘s release, but the prequel finished filming back in December 2020, so sooner is probably more likely than later. Whether anything in the prequel will be based on the Orphan true story, Barbora Skrlová or Natalia Grace remains to be seen.

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