Little Judith Eva Barsi was an adorable actress of both television sitcoms and the silver screen. Born in 1978, She began her career in television, making appearances in commercials and television shows such as Cagney and Lacey, (ironically playing a child named Sauna in a show about child abuse who had to be removed from her family), and later appeared in the films Jaws IV, providing the voice of Ducky in The Land Before Time, (also ironically, about a child who has lost her family due to death), and All Dogs go to Heaven, a film which would be released one year after her death. Chillingly, Barsi played a child in the true account entitled Fatal Vision, about a doctor who murdered his wife and children.
Judith’s father, József Barsi, fled Communist Hungary after the 1956 Soviet occupation. He eventually relocated to New York in 1964, and then to California, where he met Maria Virovacz, who was also a Hungarian immigrant escaping the Soviet occupation. As a child, Virovacz suffered psychological and physical abuse from her father. In turn she married a mentally and physically abusive man who would eventually abuse little Judith. They were an example of a successful, famous family who managed to hide their demons from the public for years.
Barsi himself was an “illegitimate” child. In Hungary, “that’s just like the plague. When he would go to school kids would make fun of him.” Barsi had no self-esteem and turned to alcohol. Judith was born to these tormented people. Virovacz in particular was consumed with greed.
Perhaps seeking the American Dream, she began grooming the adorable Judith to become an actress. A relative told her that the odds of little Judith becoming a star were “10,000 to 1.” However at the age of five, she was discovered at a skating rink. Barsi’s first role was in Fatal Vision, playing the diaper-clad toddler Kimberly MacDonald, although Barsi was six at the time of the miniseries’ transmission. She went on to appear in more than 70 commercials and guest roles on television. By the time she started fourth grade, Judith was earning an estimated $100,000 a year, which helped her family buy a three-bedroom house in West Hills, Los Angeles.
As she was short for her age (she stood 3 ft 8 in (1.12 m) at age 10), she began receiving hormone injections at UCLA to encourage her growth. Her petite build led casting directors to cast her as children that were younger than her actual age. Her agent was quoted in The Los Angeles Times as saying that when she was ten, “she was still playing 7, 8.”
As Judith’s career success increased, Barsi became increasingly abusive, jealous, and paranoid, and would routinely threaten to kill himself, Maria, and Judith. The hatred between the two adults was palpable. Barsi used to state “I hate that whore“, referring to his wife. His alcoholism worsened, and resulted in three separate arrests for drunk driving. In December 1986, Maria reported his threats and physical violence toward her to the police. After they found no physical signs of abuse, she eventually decided not to press charges against him.
After the incident, Barsi reportedly stopped drinking, but continued to threaten Virovacz and Judith, which included threats of cutting their throats as well as burning down the house, behaviours Barsi had exhibited during his first marriage in Hungary. He reportedly hid a telegram informing his wife that a relative in Hungary had died, in an attempt to prevent her and Judith from leaving America. Physical violence continued, with Judith telling a friend about him throwing pots and pans at her, resulting in a nosebleed. Judith told friends she was afraid to go home. Due to the abuse, she began putting on weight and exhibited disturbing behavior, which included plucking out all her eyelashes (trichotillomania) and pulling out her cat’s whiskers.
Before Virovacz and Judith left for the location of Jaws in the Bahamas, Barsi entered Judith’s bedroom and held a kitchen knife against her little throat, threatening to kill her if she and her mother didn’t return home after the shooting (pun) of the movie. Once they reached the Bahamas, Virovacz told everyone about her fears for herself and Judith but few people took her seriously. After Barsi contacted Judith by phone in the Bahamas threatening once again to cut her throat, Virovacz took little Judith and returned to him possibly because if they left Bari, Virovacz and Judith would have to go into hiding. That would mean the little girl would have to “give up her career”. Virovacz didn’t work and if she removed Judith from the film industry, she would lose a source of income. Virovacz refused to abandon the dream.
After breaking down in front of her agent during a singing audition for All Dogs Go to Heaven, Judith was taken by Virovacz to a child psychologist, who identified severe physical and emotional abuse and reported her findings to Child Protective Services. The investigation was dropped after Virovacz assured the case worker that she intended to begin divorce proceedings against Barsi and that she and Judith were going to move into a Panorama City apartment she had recently rented as a daytime haven from him. Virovacz also told the worker that Barsi was “running around with a woman” and she would soon be seeking a divorce from Barsi. Friends urged Virovacz to follow through with the divorce but she resisted, reportedly because she did not want to lose the family home and belongings. One tactic Virovacz used to “drive Barsi out of the house” was to stop cleaning. The house looked like a house in the reality show Hoarders. “It was a living pig-pen.”
Judith was last seen riding her bike on the morning of July 25, 1988. That evening, Barsi shot her in the head while she was sleeping, and then his wife. He spent the next two days wandering around the house, and said during a phone conversation with Judith’s agent the next night that he intended to move out for good, and just needed time to “say goodbye to my little girl.” He wandered alone around the house for two days. He then poured gasoline on the bodies and set them on fire. After incinerating the bodies, he went to the garage and shot himself in the head with a .32 caliber pistol. On August 9, 1988, Judith and Maria were interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
Don Bluth, the director of The Land Before Time, described her as “absolutely astonishing. She understood verbal direction, even for the most sophisticated situations,” and he intended to feature her extensively in his future productions. Judith was a little child who could have become a major star. Her mother’s greed and father’s mental instability destroyed the child. Little Judith was a child who had been miserably failed by both her parents.