The GPO girl is having a moment. In 2013 a girl was found wandering O’Connell Street, alone, unable to speak and acting “in a distressed manner”. She appeared to be young, likely in her teens, and remained non-verbal throughout her stay at a Dublin hospital, though drawings she made led to a suspicion that she had been trafficked to Ireland.
“After 2,000 hours of police work and so much care and attention from many State agencies, all at a combined cost to Ireland of around €350,000,” as a new podcast tells it, her identity was revealed. She was Samantha Azzopardi, an Australian con-woman who has created more than 100 aliases over the course of her life and peddled them on at least three different continents.
Hot on the heels of a Paramount+ documentary on the subject called Con Girl comes RTE’s Finding Samantha – Doc on One, an exhaustive dive into the story behind the GPO girl produced by Nicoline Greer and Tim Desmond, with Australian journalist Sharon Davis. There’s a reason why we keep returning to this tale: at its core is a woman who has impersonated a whole cast – a bereaved Russian gymnast, a talent scout, a Swedish girl wanted by Interpol, a schoolchild with learning disabilities, and these are only some of the identities we know about. What we don’t yet know is why.
She has deceived many people – one Australian family even attempted to adopt her before her paperwork was revealed to be forged – parents, children, educators, police, social workers, government officials, doctors and more, and left a trail of broken lives in her wake, often manipulating her victims to help her perpetrate further scams.
The Doc on One team does a good job of following every breadcrumb in an attempt to make sense of this baffling tale, but the weirdness just multiplies, and six episodes in, things get more tangled and the answers more elusive. There are wild goose chases – Davis ends up at a fish market to meet a stranger from whom she accepts an SD card she treats with caution until she discovers it’s empty – and a chronology of scams and pseudonyms that become nigh on impossible to follow.
Greer, Desmond and Davis have covered wild terrain: a mix of gumshoe journalism, brazen doorstepping and interviews with everyone from detectives to journalists to victims to an Australian judge, as well as archival material that includes a confrontation with Azzopardi. They make good use of audio material and build the stakes so that hearing Azzopardi’s voice for the first time has a chilling effect. That said, the Alice in Wonderland quotes and Cara Delevingne poem introduced to bracket episodes are less effective and feel like overkill in a tale that’s already jammed with real human drama.
It’s testament to the power Azzopardi exerts over people that even the journalists digging into her become paranoid, and rightly so: a master of manipulation and mind games, she plays with her victims and these journalists alike, as if trying to see how much they will fall for and accept. What, then, does that make us as listeners?
And where are we going with all of this? As compelling as the catch-me-if-you-can-ness of Azzopardi’s trajectory is, six episodes in I’m still wondering what kind of resolution the promised final episode can provide. A quick Google shows that Azzopardi is out of jail and nobody knows where she’ll turn up next. I find myself hoping it will be on this podcast: if the GPO girl speaks, I know I’ll be listening.