In early March 2020, a small but poignant obituary was posted to the memorial Web site EverLoved.com by an unknown user. It spoke movingly in honor of one Nicholas Alahverdian—immortalized in the header with a clip-art oil portrait and a stock image of some golden flowers—who was variously described as a “painter, author, amateur ornithologist, political scientist, sociologist, accomplished orator, and child welfare reform advocate,” as well as a “beloved community leader … to the residents of the State of Rhode Island.”
Alahverdian’s last words to his gathered family urged them to “fear not and run towards the bliss of the sun,” and at the moment of his death the song from the credits of the 1997 Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey vehicle, Contact, rang out in the room. “Earlier in the month,” the eulogy continued, “the House [of Representatives] adjourned with a moment of silence in memory of Mr. Alahverdian.” A great man—a Harvard man, no less—had been lost. An angel had departed this earthly realm. Alahverdian, a “warrior” for children’s rights, was in a better place now.
Not heaven, it turned out. Just Glasgow. In February of this year, Interpol claimed that the sainted Alahverdian had not, in fact, died peacefully surrounded by his family—but had simply upped sticks and moved to the Scottish suburbs, where he could now be found cosplaying as an English gentleman and Glasgow University professor by the name of Arthur Knight.
Wanted on fraud charges and accused of rape and numerous sexual assaults in the U.S., Alahverdian, they said, had faked his own death in Ireland, concocted a Walter Mitty–grade obituary, hotfooted it across the border—and was discovered only when he checked into Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital at the end of last year with a severe bout of coronavirus.
The fugitive was first identified by the distinctive tattoo scars on his upper arms, which correlated precisely, according to the police, to those of the supposedly late Alahverdian. But even before that you could smell a rat. The pinkie ring was all wrong, for one thing. Any Hugo or Henry worth his Maldon sea salt will tell you that what Arthur Knight was wearing on his sausagey finger—with all the subtlety of a late-stage melanoma—was not a signet ring but a sovereign ring. (The former is for princely but penniless public-school boys in West London; the latter, usually made out of a gold coin, is for rough-and-tumble wide boys in the East End.)
Then there was the accent—a sort of am-dram Downton Abbey effort—and the tweedy getup, which seemed pinched directly from the set of a country-house murder mystery. (A regular at a Glasgow pub that Knight frequented remembers how “he had an English accent, but after a few drinks the occasional American word would drop in,” and that Knight would claim to be from “old money” and always have on a fedora, no matter the weather.)
A great man—a Harvard man, no less—had been lost.
You’d say it was stranger than fiction if it weren’t so clearly fiction. And yet Alahverdian/Knight continues to profess his innocence—as well as Interpol’s confusion—and seems determined to clear his good name(s) once and for all.
Nearly two years to the day that he supposedly died, the alleged fraudster sat for a Zoom interview with Rhode Island’s local NBC affiliate 10 News, in which he was accompanied by his English wife—one Miranda Knight—and spoke through an oxygen mask that concealed most of his face, as if Bane had been played by Dick Van Dyke. “If anyone thinks that I am this chap … ,” he told the interviewer, with an utterly up-to-date grasp of English vernacular, “I would love to have them over for a cup of tea.”
Last week, he made good on that promise by inviting a journalist from The Telegraph to his Glasgow home, where he repeated his bafflement at this simple case of mistaken identity—before going on to defend the alleged criminal Nicholas Rossi (another alias), despite claiming to have absolutely no idea who he was. Attempts to prove his innocence, meanwhile, were foiled by his lack of any identity documents or a passport, not to mention the fact that he declined to reveal his arms.
Knight has good reason to distance himself from these Alahverdian and Rossi characters. Their combined rap sheet is long and ugly. In 2008, Rossi was convicted of two sex-related charges in the groping of a fellow student at Sinclair Community College, in Dayton, Ohio, and was later accused of raping an ex-girlfriend in Orem, Utah—the original allegation that led to his arrest in December 2021.
In 2017, he was accused of a scam in which he took out fake credit cards and loans to the tune of $200,000 in the name of his foster mother’s husband, while in January 2020—just weeks before his apparent death from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—he swindled $30,000 out of a Canadian TV personality for bogus P.R. consulting, before embarking on a smear campaign against her when she threatened to sue.
After a bizarre dinner date in 2010, meanwhile, a woman claimed that Rossi had driven her to an A.T.M. and demanded she give him $200, apparently as a contribution toward the therapy he’d need now that she’d rejected his advances.
The fugitive was first identified by the distinctive tattoo scars on his upper arms.
He is also said to have failed to register as a sex offender in Rhode Island, and is accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting at least one other woman. All in all, it’s a far cry from the man who had earned “the unwavering admiration and respect of many,” according to his mawkish eulogy.
Not everything in Alahverdian’s obituary is quite so patently false, however. The fraudster—who worked for many years in child-welfare reform, spurred on by his own alleged abuse in foster facilities—did indeed have friends in high places. When he was a young man working as a runner in the Rhode Island State House some 20 years ago, Alahverdian very nearly convinced former representative Brian G. Coogan of East Providence to take him in. “He has a brilliant mind, but it is a dangerous mind,” Coogan told The Providence Journal after Alahverdian’s arrest, recalling how he and his wife had moved to adopt the precocious teenager before a chief judge in Rhode Island’s family court warned them off it. “There is something really wrong with that kid,” the judge cautioned. “He will try to undermine you and turn your family upside down.”
Joanne Giannini, another state representative, was similarly dazzled by Alahverdian and took the young campaigner under her wing—before cutting him off when he attempted to extort her for cash. “He’d call up and ask for money,” Giannini said, adding that she gave him some—at first. When he pressured her for more and she refused, “he said so many horrible things to me. He knew how to hurt you with words.” Other photos show Alahverdian standing alongside Providence mayor Roberto DaSilva, as well as former vice president Mike Pence—both of whom he’d met in his various political travels.
Alahverdian is currently out on bail, awaiting extradition to the U.S. to face the rape charge brought against him in Utah. Arthur Knight’s wife—the third that we know of—sat next to him throughout the highly peculiar 35-minute NBC interview, straight-faced, placid, and full of well-timed excuses. “I know my husband inside out,” she says at one point. “Since [we] have been together, he has been a gentleman, he has been kind, he doesn’t show any characteristics which frighten me, make me feel uncomfortable.”
“To be in this situation is quite bizarre,” she says, in a rare moment of understatement among the high-wire fabrications. “We’re just a normal, average couple with two dogs doing normal things in our lives.” Like optioning one’s life story to Netflix, perhaps, and never leaving the house without a very large hat.
Joseph Bullmore is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL and the editor of Gentleman’s Journal in London