Sweet Bobby, a podcast series from Tortoise Media, sells itself as an unbelievable true story, a “live, multi-part investigation” into a complex crime, “a screwed-up, crazy kind of love story filled with death, lies and witness protection programmes”. It opens with a lawyer telling the host Alexi Mostrous, an investigative reporter for Tortoise, about “the craziest case I’ve ever seen”. There’s ominous music, and clips of a woman sobbing. It’s clear that Sweet Bobby promises to be the latest in a long line of salacious, surreal, whiplash-inducing true crime podcasts that started in 2014, when Serial became a phenomenon. By that metric, it delivers.
Mostrous introduces us to Harkirat Kaur Assi, or Kirat. It’s her story this series explores, often in her own words. When it begins, in 2010, Kirat is a happy, vibrant 30-year old from a close-knit Sikh community in west London, working part-time as a presenter on a local station, Desi Radio. One day she receives a Facebook message from a man called Bobby. Although they’ve never met in person, they have friends and family in common. Their chats become increasingly intimate. They bump into each other once in person, but Bobby is distant and acts as if he doesn’t know Kirat. They stop speaking for a couple of years – and then Bobby suddenly reappears in Kirat’s life with a shocking story. Though he is now living in the US, they quickly grow closer, and enter a relationship that soon becomes controlling, consuming Kirat’s every waking moment.
Mostrous tells us almost from the start that Bobby isn’t who he says he is. At the heart of this story is catfishing: the practice of creating a fictional online persona in order to deceive one’s victim. But to provide the podcast with all the requisite twists and turns, key details are held back, some until the final moments of the series. At the end, some questions remain unanswered. And, like many true crime sagas that largely rest on the compelling testimony of a single witness, there are nagging ethical questions that are, for the most part, left unaddressed.
This article appears in the 12 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The age of economic rage