True-crime series ‘Con Girl’ exposes the many lives and lies of ‘GPO girl’ Samantha Azzopardi
Show gives a fascinating insight into the mind of a con artist who became known in Ireland as ‘GPO girl’
We’re all familiar with the names infamous con artists over the decades.
There was Charles Ponzi, who defrauded people with his illegitimate investment schemes. There was also fraudster and imposter-turned-FBI informant Frank Abagnale Jr., whose outrageous life story was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Catch Me If You Can.
In recent times, the Netflix documentary like Fyreoutlined the deception of Fyre Festival organiser Billy McFarland.
Inventing Anna told the story of Anna Sorokin, who hoodwinked New York’s arts scene for years in the 2010s.
Most of those con artists have a common objective: to acquire as much money as they can, by whatever means necessary.
But not Samantha Azzopardi.
If that name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps ‘GPO Girl’ will.
In 2013, a young woman in a state of distress was found by two gardaí at the GPO on Dublin’s O’Connell Street.
She couldn’t – or wouldn’t – speak English, but managed to communicate that she was 14. Her disturbing doodles of an airplane, a bed and a gun led gardaí to believe that she was possibly a victim of sex trafficking.
Interpol and the Missing Persons Bureau turned up no leads – and understandably, the puzzle became a big media story that made headlines in Ireland and internationally: ‘Who is GPO Girl?’
Having made the decision to go public and hold a press conference to identify the girl, her picture – covertly taken by gardai – went public. Within a day, the story had gone international – and when the southern hemisphere began to wake up, gardai received an interesting call.
After a month spent in Temple Street Children’s Hospital refusing to communicate with staff, it was revealed that ‘GPO Girl’ was not a 14-year-old victim of sex trafficking, but a 25-year-old Australian con woman called Samantha Azzopardi. Her Irish chicanery was just the tip of the iceberg.
“I think it was the fact that she managed to fool gardaí that was almost the biggest thing,” says Sunday Independent journalist Ali Bracken, who features in Con Girl, the new four-part documentary that outlines the trail of lies and deception that Azzopardi left in her wake across the world – as well as the impact it had on her victims.
“Gardaí, by the nature of their job, have to be sceptical of everybody because they see so many things, I suppose. But it’s almost a testament to Samantha that she managed to convince everybody.
“That shows how good she is at manipulating people, and at creating these false personas.”
‘Con Girl’ threads together stories of some of Azzopardi’s victims across the world, each one more unbelievable than the last
Con Girl threads together stories of some of Azzopardi’s victims across the world, each one more unbelievable than the last.
We hear from Hope, who first met her at school in Perth, where the con woman was posing as 16-year-old Russian gymnast Emily Sciberras.
Concocting an elaborate story about her family being murdered, she assimilated into both Hope’s life and her family – to the point where her parents agreed to adopt ‘Emily’.
It was only when her forged birth cert began to raise eyebrows that she was ultimately found out.
Her other personas include Annika Dekker, a Swedish teenager who befriended Californian backpacker Emmy, before leading her into an increasingly dark and tangled falsehood that led to them both going on the run with false identities.
She also went by the name of Layla Evans, who enlisted unsuspecting Frenchwoman Lucie in a nefarious plot involving what amounted to kidnapping.
Azzopardi is also known to have claimed she was a 13-year-old girl called Harper Hart. ‘Harper’ was fostered by a trusting couple who thought she might have been the victim of paedophile ring or a victim of kidnap.
When her elaborate lies began to deceive families and children – as seen in the case of Jazze Jervis, a mother of two who hired ‘Harper Hernandez’ as an au pair for their family – Azzopardi’s scheming took on a more sinister tone.
After a year, Jervis and her husband began to spot some clues that ‘Harper’ wasn’t who she said she was. When confronted, she fled – but not before taking the family’s iPad and Jervis’s ID card with her; a detail that would ultimately prove her unravelling.
Perhaps buoyed by her success working with children, she went on to adopt a new persona in a bid to ensnare young teenager Georgia and her family.
Now posing as Coco Palmer, a talent scout from New York’s Elite Model Management, things began to take a particularly dark turn as she spun a web of lies and false promises. She apparently showed no remorse for deceiving a young girl into thinking all of her dreams were coming true.
The Coco Palmer persona is arguably the most disturbing one of all Azzopardi’s alter-egos. This is because she seemed to project her own trauma – and the possibility that she was herself abused as a teen – on to young Georgia.
She encouraged Georgia to “role play” and approach Child Services claiming that she was a victim of abuse. She used her, as her mother Mel put it, as a “puppet” for her own twisted pleasure.
It also raises questions about safeguarding young people.
Mel, to her admitted regret, had no qualms about travelling across Australia and allowing her daughter to spend time with this complete (and ultimately, dangerous) stranger. Why? Because she told them what they wanted to hear.
Perhaps the most perplexing thing about Con Girl is that throughout it all, Azzopardi does not seem to be particularly motivated by financial gain, but by simply taking a perverse joy in hoodwinking and deceiving.
Why did she do it? The series sees psychiatry professor Richard Frierson muse on several possibilities and diagnoses, but ultimately that question remains unanswered.
A social media expert is flabbergasted by both Azzopardi’s intelligence and her "incredibly gifted” ability to run complex scams concurrently.
Con Girl is undoubtedly a fascinating exploration of a troubled mind.
“She’s so deeply disturbed,” agrees journalist Ali Bracken. “It’s weird, because she seems to crave attention, so she makes up these outlandish stories about her life – but then, when it all begins to unravel, she seems to shun the attention.
"A lot of infamous con men and women, they want to be famous, or infamous. They want to be on the front of newspapers – they crave that. But she never wanted her picture to be taken.
"She’s very, very unwell, and in a way I feel really sorry for her. But at the same time, some of her crimes aren’t victimless.”
In many ways, Azzopardi sees people as players, rather than human beings, as the mother of another of her victims aptly puts it.
Vera Tobin, Professor of Cognitive Science at Case Western University, shares her own interesting theory.
She believes Azzopardi’s ability to weave stories, build worlds and gain people’s trust makes her “a human page-turner; there’s just enough to keep you hooked”.
“All of us let our guard down when a story is compelling,” she adds at one point. “So don’t feel bad.”
Astonishing and unbelievable at times, Con Girlis one hell of a story.
‘Con Girl’ is available on Paramount+
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