'Nicholas Rossi was like Jimmy Savile' says filmmaker behind new documentary on the US fugitive who fled to Scotland

Nicholas Rossi is now in prison in Utah awaiting trial for two charges of rape. -Credit:PA
Nicholas Rossi is now in prison in Utah awaiting trial for two charges of rape. -Credit:PA

The director behind a landmark documentary on US fugitive Nicholas Rossi said the sex offender was a master manipulator who could have as my victims as Jimmy Savile.

Owen Phillips got close to Rossi and even visited him in jail as the conman fought extradition after faking his own death and fleeing to Glasgow.

Phillips, who worked on the BBC’s Panorama investigation into predator Savile, said Rossi was a controlling, menacing man.

Ahead of tomorrow’s release of his documentary on Channel 4, he said: “This is without doubt the most bizarre story I’ve ever worked on.

“I did Savile for Panorama and there was a feeling that it was the tip of the iceberg.

“If you look at Rossi’s behaviour, if you look at the pattern, if you look at the police reports, then you do kind of think that this is probably the tip of the iceberg with Rossi and there are probably many many more victims out there who he has financially and sexually exploited.

“In the same way as Savile when more victims came forward, it’s the same with this. It’s a distinct pattern that goes back decades.”

Phillips told how he became involved in the astonishing story, first revealed in the Sunday Mail, in the middle of 2022.

He’d previously worked on the Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland and Body in the Pool about the death of a man at the home of Michael Barrymore.

He said: “With Michael Jackson and Michael Barrymore, you are obviously removed from them whereas with this, he’d just call me.

“On the day of my kids’ Christmas play he called me nine times, constantly.

“I got a much better idea of Nicholas Rossi and all the different rouses like Arthur Knight and he’s an extremely complex, dark figure.”

Phillips said Rossi, who claimed he had to wear a breathing mask as a result of being hospitalised with covid, tried to manipulate him and his team but he quickly realised that his Arthur Knight character was fake.

He said: “There something in his eyes which was just a bit off, there were little looks he’d give you which gave it away.

“I started like all these things, looking at it without fear or favour, with an open mind.

“His behaviour was manipulative, it was controlling. He was an interesting character, he could be very funny but there was always a menacing aspect to it.”

Rossi was extradited back to the state of Utah in America in January where he is now facing life in prison for two historic allegations of rape. The 36-year-old falsely claimed he was an Irish orphan called Arthur Knight who had never been to the US and claimed there was a conspiracy against him and a case of mistaken identity.

The documentary heavily features interviews with Rossi’s wife, Miranda Knight, who stood by him throughout the long extradition case and his 18 months on remand in a HMP Edinburgh.

The pair married on February 22, 2020, at a church in her home city of Bristol.Seven days later, he faked his own death from cancer in Rhode Island, believing he was safe from the FBI, who were looking for him.

In the four-episode Channel 4 documentary – Imposter: The Man Who Came Back From The Dead – Miranda, 43, claims she doesn’t recognise Rossi as her husband and maintains he is “Arthur Knight”.

The programme also speaks to his ex wife Kathryn Heckendorn in Ohio who he violently abused and Mary Grebinski, who he was convicted of sexually assaulting in Ohio in 2008, and Canadian TV host and vegan food writer, Nafsika Antypas.

In January 2022 an investigation by the Sunday Mail was able to identify how Rossi had scammed her out of $40,000 dollars while living in Bristol with Miranda after promising to promote her vegan enterprise under the fake name of Nicholas Brown.

Phillips said: “I think the real heroes of this are the women because there is a comedy aspect to him, there a bits of it which are so surreal, but the women who know him, know that it is all an act.

“There the ones who have actually come forward and they risked their security and their safety.

“I think they are the heroes as undoubtably he’s a dangerous man who has gone to extraordinary lengths to deceive.

“He tried to deceive me by saying he’d found his mother in Ireland and she was going to come over to the UK and give evidence.”

Asked about Miranda, Phillips, who met her several times while filming the documentary, said: “I really like Miranda, she seemed really nice and really kind.

“Whenever I’ve asked her if he is Nicholas Rossi, she’s been unequivocal and emphatic that he’s not Nicholas Rossi and those are two things which are hard to put together.

“She’s in a situation now where her husband, if convicted, is likely to get a life sentence.

“You’d hope that Miranda would be able to move on but it’s a difficult one because she clearly loves him.

“We don’t know what their marriage was like and she’s been adamant that he’s the most wonderful husband you could imagine but it’s hard to match that with the behaviour of somebody who’s been charged with very serious domestic violence.”

The documentary was filmed in Scotland, American and Canada.

Phillips said: “He is a dangerous, serial criminal and for all the accents and funny hats, that’s the heart of it.

“It’s a portrait of a very dangerous individual who, from a very young age, has created problems everywhere he goes and I’m sure he’ll go on to create problems in Utah.”

Imposter: The Man Who Came Back from the Dead begins on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday, May 20. To watch the trailer click here.

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