The idea of an adopted 13-year-old turning out to be a 33-year-old adult posing as a child might just seem like horror movie fodder, but it’s a bizarre tale that’s very much rooted in reality.
Along with similarities to the mysterious case of Natalia Grace Barnett, the premise may sound familiar to anyone who’s seen Orphan, a 2009 psychological horror starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder and Jimmy Bennett.
It follows a married couple who adopt a young girl called Esther from an orphanage, but later find out that she is a fully-grown adult masquerading as a child.
The film was loosely based on the real life story of Barbora Skrlova, who fooled Norwegian police, teachers and childcare workers into believing she was a teenage boy called Adam.
Skrlova was actually a 33-year-old woman on the run from police investigating a child abuse case in the Czech Republic.
The case involved a cult suspected of abusing children, with police raiding a house in Brno to find an abused eight-year-old boy, two adult women and who they thought was a 13-year-old girl.
The teenager turned out to be Skrlova, posing as an adolescent, who went on the run and fled to Norway.
Pretending to be a 13-year-old boy, authorities said 5ft 2 Skrlova had her breasts bound and head shaved.
When ‘Adam’ suddenly disappeared from an Oslo children’s home, police launched a nationwide search for the missing child, with tips eventually leading them to Skrlova in the Arctic city on Tromsoe.
“It turned out that the so-called missing teenager was a 33-year-old woman,” Norwegian police said.
“Not even we have been able to figure out what is up and down in this case.”
Ingjerd Eriksen, principal at Marienlyst school in Oslo where Skrlova was a student, told Dagbladet: “Looking back, we can say that we wondered about ‘Adam’s’ behaviour.
“But this is not easy to know. Children at this age are very different, and can be masculine or feminine.”
The case becomes even more chilling in the context of the child abuse investigation Skrlova was fleeing.
Eight-year-old Ondrej had been locked and chained in the cellar of his home in Czech Republic by his own mother Klara Mauerova.
Appearing in court in 2008, Mauerova admitted abusing Ondrej and his 10-year-old brother Jakub, but claimed she had been manipulated by her sister Katerina and Skrlova.
All three of them had been part of a cult called the Grail Movement, which has followers across the globe.
It is believed that Mauerova had met Skrlova while studying pedagogy in college, with Skrlova introducing herself as a young girl called ‘Anicka’, saying she didn’t have anywhere to stay.
Mauerova took her home, where she lived with her two sons and sister, and adopted Skrlova.
The court heard allegations that relatives had partially-skinned Ondrej and then eaten the raw human flesh.
The brothers also said their mother and other relatives stubbed cigarettes out on their bare skin, whipped them with belts and tried to drown them.
Concern was raised when a man in Brno picked up a signal on his baby monitor from the identical monitor next door, which showed the victims beaten, naked and chained in the cellar.
Skrlova was sentenced to five years in prison, but was released after serving half her sentence after her lawyer argued her psychological well-being deteriorated.
She had also been charged with deceiving a children’s home into thinking she was 13 but was found not guilty.