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Nicholas Rossi: The man behind the oxygen mask

Jun 27, 2023

The image of the bearded man in the wheelchair, wearing a three-piece suit and an oxygen mask has become a familiar one in Scotland.

He claims he is an orphaned Irish man called Arthur Knight.

But Scottish courts have ruled that he is actually Nicholas Rossi, a 35-year-old American wanted in the US over allegations of rape and sexual assault, and that he can be extradited to his homeland.

Already a convicted sex offender, he faked his own death in 2020 and fled to Scotland to escape prosecution.

In December 2021, he was traced to a Covid ward in Glasgow where he was arrested.

People who knew Rossi before he left the US have told BBC Scotland News he is a violent and manipulative man who leaves a trail of chaos in his wake.

They include his ex-wife, who says she was the victim of a sustained campaign of physical and psychological abuse during their seven-month marriage.

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Kathryn Heckendorn, the ex-wife of Nicholas Rossi, has spoken about the domestic abuse she suffered.

Kathryn Heckendorn married Rossi in Dayton, Ohio, in October 2015, just six months after they met in church. She felt rushed, she knew it was a mistake.

"He broke me down and we got married without telling anybody," she said. "We went to the court house, it was him and I and the judge and we went home and we started life.

"It was the first day he first hit me, right after we were married."

Rossi was controlling - he cut her off from family and friends; dictated what she could wear - and manipulative.

He would fly off the handle over insignificant issues, punching, pushing, and restraining his new wife.

"I would be hit on a daily occurrence," she said. "[I would be] put down verbally [and told] just how stupid, dumb I was. If I didn't act that way, I wouldn't have to get hurt.

"There were times when he would hold a knife to my throat or his throat.

"When he had it to my throat I told him to just go ahead, it'll be better than this hell I'm living in.

"As soon as I said that he let me go and he held the knife to his throat and I laughed, I said 'go ahead, that's even better'. He put the knife down and he just started hitting me."

When she finally escaped, a recording she made of one instance of abuse ensured her testimony was believed.

Granting Kathryn a divorce, a judge accused her husband of "gross neglect of duty and cruelty".

"The recording helped a lot in court and also the fact that Nick never showed up," she said.

It was not until they were already married that Kathryn learned Rossi was a registered sex offender.

Seven years earlier he had been found guilty of sexual imposition and public indecency while a student at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio.

"Mary" met Rossi for lunch on the campus after making contact on MySpace. He told her he was new to the area and looking for friends.

After lunch, he offered to walk her to class.

"He took me into the basement of a stairwell and that's where he attacked me," she said.

"He pinned me up against the wall, he starts trying to kiss me. I turn my head to the side. Yuk."

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WATCH: The story of Nicholas Rossi, the US fugitive who ‘faked his own death’

She said his hands were "all over me".

"I made it clear it was unwanted. I made it clear that I didn't want to be there. The realisation of what just happened to me started to hit me and that's why I went to the police.

"I filed a complaint. He did get found guilty of public indecency and a sexual imposition charge. There was a fine. There was some jail time but it was suspended and then he had to register as a sex offender for 15 years."

The incident on the college campus in January 2008 would have lasting implications for Rossi.

The evidence gathered when he assaulted Mary provided a breakthrough for prosecutors investigating an alleged rape in the state of Utah in September the same year.

Nine months after the Sinclair College assault, he is alleged to have attacked a former girlfriend, pushing her on to a couch and forcing her to have sex while ignoring her pleas to stop.

"This case sat cold in Utah from 2008 until about 2019 when we entered the evidence from a rape kit that had sat on the shelf into the database and that allowed us to get a hit on a man named Nicholas Rossi," said David Leavitt, Utah's former county attorney.

Rossi was a "great kid... a special kid", according to his uncle, Michael Alahverdian.

But the pair lost touch when Rossi was about seven, shortly after his mother and father - Michael's brother - split. Rossi later took his stepfather's name.

When they reconnected on Facebook 15 years later, Rossi told Michael he had been taken into care as a child where he was physically and mentally abused.

In 2011 Rossi launched a high-profile bid to sue those involved in his care in Rhode Island. The state's child welfare agency always denied liability but eventually they settled, reportedly for about $70,000.

Michael said he believed Rossi's stories of his time in care and they worked together bring about reform in the sector, but in about 2017 he stopped returning his uncle's calls.

"The next time I head of him was that it was on the news that he had passed away," Michael said.

Rossi's death was reported in January 2020. A month earlier he had told the media he had weeks to live after being diagnosed with late-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

"It was tough, it was hard, because I never said goodbye to him," Michael added.

In 2021 Michael's brother Jack - Rossi's biological father - died. On the day he buried his brother, Michael discovered his nephew was still alive.

"I get home and on the news is that Nick [Rossi] was found alive," Michael said.

"And I'm like wait a minute, is this a dream or nightmare, these two things happening together the same day.

"It hurts that someone that supposedly loves you and cares about you will just go out there and deceive you.

"It's not just me, it's other people too that cared about him. My family was in shock. It hurts."

Rossi had been arrested in Glasgow while being treated for Covid.

Hospital staff who had treated him said they recognised him from the Interpol wanted notice, which included images of distinctive tattoos on his arms.

Over the months that followed he made a series of court appearances and took every opportunity to tell anyone who would listen he was the innocent victim of mistaken identity.

He sacked at least six lawyers and claimed he had been given the tattoos while unconscious in hospital in an attempt to frame him.

In an interview with BBC Scotland News he would not reveal his arms and could not provide a birth certificate.

Instead, he produced a certificate of his wedding to current wife Miranda in 2020 and a special marriage licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury. "I wouldn't lie to the Archbishop of Canterbury," he said.

The truth, according to the US authorities, is that Nicholas Rossi left the US in 2017 and initially flew to Dublin.

Police records show that in the period leading up to his departure he was being investigated for identity theft and credit card fraud worth $200,000 (£156,000) after his foster parents accused him of "betraying him in the worst possible way".

In June that year he was in England where a brief relationship ended with alleged behaviour that led Essex Police to investigate a rape claim.

A Scottish sheriff finally ruled that the man claiming to be Arthur Knight was Nicholas Rossi in November 2022.

Rossi had repeatedly tried to delay the extradition process.

"It angers me first that he keeps pulling all these stunts - he was doing the same thing with our divorce," Kathryn told BBC Scotland. "Always being ill or having some legal issue. Some excuse to postpone, delay, continue the hearing, the same exact stuff.

"It's frustrating that he still continues to deny that he's Nicholas Rossi or Alahverdian. Even when we were married he had 10 aliases, which I found out later.

"When we were married he was already in the process of having his tattoos removed. I couldn't even distinguish what the tattoos were at the time, they were already mostly gone. If he's pulling that charade then he's the dumb one.

"The only one he's got convinced is himself."

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