48 Hours December 4 2021: What Happened to the Perfect Child?

Tonight, Saturday December 4 2021 at 10pm ET/PT, CBS broadcasts a new episode of with 48 Hours contributor Troy Roberts revisits a story from over two decades ago about what happened to a 9-year-old Russian girl, adopted by an American couple, who’s adopted parents say she tried to kill her little brother. Roberts and the girl, now known as Sabrina Caldwell, reunite over twenty years later and tell their stories in an emotional interview.  

Scroll down to read a summary and watch tonight’s (12/4/2021) 48 Hours episode titled “What Happened to the Perfect Child?”


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After a young girl is adopted from Russia, her American parents come to believe she is capable of murder and return her. Years later, “48 Hours” contributor Troy Roberts learns her surprising story. Watch Saturday, December 4 at 10/9c on CBS and Paramount+.


Episode Summary

More than two decades ago, 48 HOURS contributor Troy Roberts reported on the heart-wrenching story of a 9-year-old Russian girl who was adopted by an American couple. They called the little girl Caralee, and their lives together started with promise. But two years later, the couple came to believe Caralee was dangerous, even capable of murder. They say she tried to kill her little brother.

Roberts was there as the American couple returned Caralee to Russia and left her behind in a children’s psychiatric hospital. For years, Roberts tried to find out what became of Caralee, and last summer they reunited. He learned her surprising story in a special edition of 48 HOURS: “What Happened to the Perfect Child?” to be broadcast Saturday, Dec. 4 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network and streaming on Paramount+.

“I’ve done many stories during the course of my career, but this was one that – that really stuck with me,” Roberts says.

Caralee’s story first aired on 48 HOURS in 2000. She had been adopted by Crystal and Jesse, an American couple whose last name 48 HOURS agreed to withhold.

Before her adoption, Crystal and Jesse say Caralee was described by their adoption agency as wonderful, outgoing and intelligent. But once in the United States, the couple says she was angry and distant and started behaving badly. Then, they say, the unimaginable occurred – she tried to throw her younger brother off a 30-foot-high deck. She saw several psychiatrists. One psychiatrist told 48 HOURS she was a homicide risk. The couple sent her for months of treatment, but they say nothing seemed to work. Saying they were out of options, they returned her to Russia, and left her in a children’s psychiatric hospital, with Roberts there reporting every development.

It is a story that has haunted Roberts ever since.

“I always wondered how she was doing, if she was thriving, if she was happy,” Roberts says. “Many years passed. She was in my thoughts and in my heart.”

And over the years, Roberts tried to keep track of that little girl, but was unable to find out what happened to her. Then last summer, she reached out to Roberts, and they reunited in North Carolina, where Caralee, now known as Sabrina Caldwell, lives. In an emotional interview, she opened up to Roberts about what she says happened on that family deck and about her amazing journey from a locked Russian ward to finding happiness decades later in North Carolina.

“I have an amazing husband. I can’t thank God enough for him,” Caldwell tells Roberts. “I have amazing kids. But if I didn’t go through what I went through, I wouldn’t have that.”

And the story does not end there.

For his part, Roberts tells Caldwell how meeting her, and seeing her left behind in Russia, changed his life forever.

“I started saying to myself, you know, ‘Maybe one day, I can rescue an older child,’” Roberts says.

And he did. Four years after he left that Russian hospital ward, Roberts became certified to adopt, and learned about a woman in Djibouti, Africa, who was hoping to find an American to adopt her 4-year-old son, whose safety she feared for, because he was mixed-race.

Today, that boy is Jonah Gray Roberts, 23, and both he and Troy Roberts share their incredible life together on 48 HOURS.

“It seems everyone’s story has a happy ending, and that’s pretty cool, you know?” Roberts says.

48 HOURS: “What Happened to the Perfect Child?” is produced by Murray Weiss. Doreen Schechter is the producer-editor. Joan Adelman and Gary Winter are the editors. Gabriella Demirdjian is the field producer. Patti Aronofsky is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.


This newsmagazine investigates intriguing crime and justice cases that touch on all aspects of the human experience. Over its long run, the show has helped exonerate wrongly convicted people, driven the reopening — and resolution — of cold cases, and changed numerous lives. CBS News correspondents offer an in-depth look into each story, with the emphasis on solving the mystery at its heart. The program and its team have earned critical acclaim, including 20 Emmys and three Peabody Awards.



About 48 Hours

This newsmagazine investigates intriguing crime and justice cases that touch on all aspects of the human experience. Over its long run, the show has helped exonerate wrongly convicted people, driven the reopening — and resolution — of cold cases, and changed numerous lives. CBS News correspondents offer an in-depth look into each story, with the emphasis on solving the mystery at its heart. The program and its team have earned critical acclaim, including 20 Emmys and three Peabody Awards.

This show is broadcast on CBS, also known as the Columbia Broadcasting System.

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8 Responses

  1. Alyson Lloyd says:

    Why didn’t they simply adopt a child for the US? I’m sure they are BLOND girls here in the US to adopt and I think they’re LESS expensive!! I’m glad Sabrina Caldwell has a great life now. She could have had it years ago, if her American “parents” had a little faith in her.

  2. Caitlyn says:

    I’m so glad Sabrina is happy and has a great family. My heart broke for her in that original episode. To return a child because you can’t mold her into what you want her to be like, that’s despicable. And for a therapist to say that because she has an attachment disorder she cannot feel love I wanted to throw something through my TV at them!!!

  3. Michelle says:

    I don’t understand how anyone can “return” a child. If she were their biological child what would they have done? I am curious what became of them, and if Sabrina ever reached out to them, not that it really matters. Sabrina is amazing, and happy! That is what is truly important.

  4. Eva Cuffy says:

    We can’t control what the couple did and who they are. I personally never give up so I don’t think I would have done what they did no matter what. I was trying to see what happened to the first adoptive parents but could not find the link. Anyone can help?

  5. Katherine A Pignonedigraci says:

    It sounds almost as if those people who adopted her wanted an almost perfect little girl. I understand that the little girl had issues, but they should have expected it. I almost believe they convinced that little girl she had tried to kill her little brother. Also, the lack of emotion on those people when they returned her to Russia was very evident to me. I didn’t see any tears on their part. I’m just glad she is doing well today with a wonderful husband and a family of her own. God bless her.

  6. Anita Klune says:

    This episode with TonyRoberts was excellent.

  7. Julie L Callen says:

    The adoptive parents are horrible. Sabrina ended up not being the cute perfect little girl and they throw her away. What would they have done if she was a biological child? Would they have given up so easily? They can rot in hell as far as I am concerned!!
    As far as “Sabrina”, live your best life! You are a winner! So pleased someone believed in you and provided you with a good home and life.

  8. When I was watching the original, I noticed that the little boy was always next to the mother and the little girl was off by herself. It was a weird dynamic. I think Troy Roberts made the point: What happened to the perfect little girl? No child is perfect and I’ve seen adoptive parents rescind adoptions for things that I accepted my children doing as normal growing pains. You can’t quit when the going gets tough. Plus, this child needed more attachment and to be reassured that she was being accepted. I felt great pain for the little girl while watching the beginning of the episode. I almost didn’t watch it because I found the first part so upsetting. I’m glad she finally found the love she deserved.

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