In 1997, a 9-year-old Russian girl was adopted by an American couple, who came to believe that she was capable of murder after they say she tried to toss her little brother off a 30-foot-high deck.
Eventually, the couple brought her back to Russia and left her there in a locked children’s psychiatric institute. “48 Hours” contributor Troy Roberts chronicled every development along the way for a show titled, “The Perfect Child,” which aired in 2000.
In 1997, Crystal & Jesse were a young married couple eager to start a family. After years of trying to have a child on their own, they decided to adopt.They came across a Russian adoption agency’s website and saw a photo of a 9-year-old girl.
Ever since then, Roberts was haunted by that dramatic story, and left wondering what happened to that blue-eyed Russian girl. And after more than two decades, they reunited in North Carolina, not far from where she lives.
And in an emotionally charged interview, that girl, now 33, provided Roberts with the amazing details of her journey, from a locked psychiatric ward in Russia to finding happiness in the United States in “What Happened to the Perfect Child?” airing Saturday, December 4 at 10/9c on CBS and Paramount+.
Her odyssey began when Crystal and Jesse, an American couple whose last name “48 Hours” is withholding to protect their privacy, traveled halfway around the world to a Russian orphanage hoping to find loving children in 1997.
“When we finally learned that we were going to be able to go over to Russia and pick up a little boy and girl of our own, it was just a tremendous event,” Jesse told Roberts at the time.
“And we were very excited,” said Crystal.
They named their adopted children Caralee and Joshua, but not long after they returned to the United States, they say, Caralee began to behave badly.
“We would see her staring off into the distance blankly in a trance-like state,” Jesse explained.
“There was a coldness in her and an anger,” Crystal added.
The little girl eventually announced that she was hearing voices and hallucinating. Then the unimaginable occurred: Crystal and Jesse say Caralee tried to throw her brother off a 30-foot-high deck outside their home.
“She had him in her hands and was going to throw him over the deck,” Crystal explained to Roberts two decades ago as they stood together on that deck, with Crystal demonstrating how her daughter held her brother over the railing.
“And I just started screaming, “Put him down, Caralee!” Crystal recalled. “Put him down!”
She said she asked Caralee, “What are you doing?” and the child replied, “I’m gonna kill him.”
The incident seemed to take on a life of its own as the couple took Caralee to see several psychiatrists. One psychiatrist who saw Caralee described her as “a homicide risk” and likely a danger to the entire family. The couple installed an elaborate security system. “We’ve had cameras installed and we’ve had alarms,” Crystal told Roberts.
They sent the girl for several months of treatment, but say they came to believe there was no tangible improvement, although at least one psychiatrist said Caralee behaved impeccably.
They also accused the agency that helped them find Caralee of hiding the full extent of her mental issues – a charge the agency denied.
Feeling they were out of options and insurance coverage for treatment, they decided they had no choice but to return her to Russia, to a children’s psychiatric facility, where physicians there might have better success with her.
And Troy Roberts, who was with them covering the story, gave her his business card and some rubles and told her to hide them in her sock before they shared a final tearful goodbye.
That heart-wrenching story aired in 2000. The show triggered an outpouring of responses from viewers, and also left Roberts with a haunting mystery, wondering what happened to her.
Incredibly, the girl, who now calls herself Sabrina, reached out to Roberts last summer, and they met in North Carolina, not far from where she lives with her husband, Philip Caldwell, and their three young daughters and newborn son.
She revealed the astonishing details of her life, including her time with Crystal and Jesse, what she says happened on that deck that day, and how she traveled from a locked Russian ward to having a loving family in the United States.
In the summer of 2021, Troy Roberts was reunited with the person he knew as Caralee. Now, at 33, she is a married mother of four who calls herself Sabrina. / Credit: CBS News
“So, were you hallucinating at that time?” Roberts asked.
“No … no seeing things,” Sabrina replied, explaining that she became depressed, even suicidal, because she felt that her adopted parents favored her brother, and that she wasn’t the daughter they really wanted. “Just a child trying to get out.”
As for the deck incident, Sabrina said she was merely having trouble trying to bring her brother down the steps, as Crystal had asked her to do. She insisted she would never try to harm him. “I did not try to kill my brother,” she told Roberts.
But, she says, that is all in the past.
“I have an amazing husband. I can’t thank God enough for him,” Caldwell told Roberts. “I have amazing kids. But if I didn’t go through what I went through I wouldn’t have that.”
She even told Roberts how she reached out to Crystal and Jesse to let them know how things had worked out for her.
And this story does not end there.
For his part, Roberts tells Caldwell how meeting her in 1999, and seeing her left in Russia, hit him like no other story he covered, and changed his life forever.
“I started saying to myself, you know, maybe one day I can rescue an older child,” Roberts recalled.
And he did!
Four years after he left that Russian ward, Roberts became certified to adopt, and he learned about a woman in Djibouti, Africa, who was hoping to find an American to adopt her 4-year-old son.
Troy and Jonah Roberts. / Credit: Troy Roberts
By coincidence, the child bore an uncanny resemblance to Roberts. “I look at his picture … he was my son.”
Roberts made three lengthy trips to Djibouti to get to know the boy and his mother, who were living in an abandoned building and sleeping on the floor. The mother said she had a brief affair with a French soldier, and after she gave birth to their son, she feared for his safety because he was mixed race. She hoped to find him a safe and secure life in the United States.
Today, that boy is Jonah Gray Roberts, 23, and both he and Troy Roberts shared their own wondrous journey together in this new “48 Hours.”
“It seems everyone’s story has a happy ending,” Roberts concluded, speaking also about Crystal and Jesse who, along with Joshua, have three biological daughters as well. “And that’s pretty cool, you know?”