Eleven years ago, Kirat Assi received a message on Facebook from a man named Bobby. There was a family connection — he was the elder brother of her second cousin’s boyfriend, who had recently passed away. Bobby wanted a shoulder to cry on, someone to speak to as he processed the grief of losing a sibling. Kirat obliged. They grew closer. When he had work worries, health problems, when his marriage began to break down, he told her everything. Eventually, they became lovers. Except Bobby didn’t really exist. What started as a simple message turned into a decade of deception and coercive control at the hands of a master manipulator.
In a six-part podcast series from Tortoise Media, host and investigative journalist Alexi Mostrous walks the listener through the extraordinary case of Kirat and Bobby. In the first episode, he describes it as ‘a screwed-up, crazy kind of love story filled with death, lies and witness protection programmes’. It’s a story so fantastical that, were the podcast not produced by a journalist with a history of investigative reporting, I might have struggled to believe it was true.
After the runaway success of the television show Catfish, in which the presenter helps victims who suspect they’re being tricked online to expose the perpetrator, I was concerned this podcast might follow a similar, often predictable, route. But then, this wasn’t an ordinary story — perhaps it stands outside the realms of formula. Equally, Mostrous is a gifted and empathetic storyteller: he knows how, when, and the amount of information to give the listener at any one time. Having Kirat play a central role in the storytelling is a masterful stroke. Where she could come across — quite easily — as slightly gullible, hearing her explain how emotion superseded reason puts the listener in her shoes.