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Imposter: The Man Who Came Back from the Dead review – the absolute zenith of true-crime TV
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Imposter: The Man Who Came Back from the Dead review – the absolute zenith of true-crime TV

It has seemed lately as though the true-crime documentary might have had its day. Even recent offerings from Netflix, the wellspring of the genre, have begun to feel a bit tired or desperate. A four-part series from Channel 4 on the subject of a US fugitive who faked his own death seemed, therefore, an unpromising proposition.

But there is still room, it turns out, for truly extraordinary stories – especially ones aided by a cast of tremendously televisual real-life characters – to break through and make you boggle once more in disbelief at the weirdness this world can hold.

Imposter: The Man Who Came Back from the Dead tells the story of a Covid patient in a Glasgow hospital who in 2021 woke from a coma to find himself accused of being one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals: Nicholas Rossi, a US citizen and registered sex offender, who had faked his own death after several rape charges. The name by which his English wife of four years, Miranda, knew her supposedly Irish husband was Arthur Knight – one of several aliases, said US authorities, he used to commit then escape his violent and fraudulent activities.

You may remember Knight/Rossi from the media coverage – which he courted assiduously – at the time. He was the man in the wheelchair and the oxygen mask fervently insisting on his innocence and rolling up his sleeves to prove that he did not have the tattoos the police say helped identify him as Rossi – along with the fingerprints they took that one might have thought would settle the matter.

Miranda Knight, Arthur Knight’s wife in Imposter: The Man Who Came Back From The Dead.View image in fullscreen

But the series is stuffed with reveals, switchbacks and hairpin turns to Rossi’s story long before we arrive at that hospital bed in Glasgow, most of which are related by people so mesmerising you cannot believe they haven’t been sent straight from central casting and scripted to a T.

Rossi’s father, David, talks about all the treatment centres and courses he and his wife sent their son to in the hope of controlling his “wicked” behaviour. Later, he reveals that he once beat the boy bloody, pushed past endurance when “Nicky” was hitting his mother at Disney World.

Rossi went into foster care and massaged stories of his abuse and torture there into the beginnings of a political career. As a teenager, he interned as a page, under the name of Nicholas Alahverdian, at the Rhode Island House of Representatives. A local politician, Brian Coogan, wanted to adopt him – until the judge in charge told him Alahverdian had been placed in care because he was violent with his mother, grandmother and siblings and was in fact the instigator of all the abuses he talked about, victimising other children. The state was running out of places to put him, but the judge wouldn’t let Coogan adopt him.

Michelle Minnaar in the documentary ImposterView image in fullscreen

From there, Rossi seems to have gone through life causing as much suffering as you might imagine an untrammelled apparent psychopath would do. Victims of his sexual violence are given time to tell their stories and do so with startling honesty and composure. “I felt emotionally, psychologically and mentally raped already,” says Michelle Minnaar, at whose UK home he arrived from the US a few days after they met online. “The physical part was just icing on the cake.” His first wife, who met him at a Mormon singles event, says he started beating her the moment they were married (the secret recordings she made before escaping are harrowing); she felt nothing but relief when news of his supposed death in Moscow reached her.

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The intimidatory tactics and countersuits mount and more US police and investigators become involved, until, US authorities claim, Rossi fakes his own death and flees to Scotland. Undeterred, the authorities tighten the noose until eventually Rossi is reduced to claiming in court that a tattoo artist crept into the Covid ward while he was unconscious to frame him by reproducing the Rossi ink on Knight’s arms. He continues to claim that he is Knight and denies all of Rossi’s alleged crimes.

It is a meticulous documentary series that, as all the best in the genre do, shows you what happens when someone is born devoid of any belief that social or moral rules apply to them. It is always fascinating, always terrifying, and in Rossi’s story it seems to have reached its zenith. And yet. The genre may have plucked all the lowest hanging fruit, but there will, it seems, always be another story to be told.

Source: theguardian.com