A Wife’s Revenge from Beyond the Grave

From The Free Press: In October of last year, Free Press reporter Francesca Block came across a fascinating tip in her inbox. It told the story of Allan Kassenoff and Catherine Youssef, a couple of New York City litigators who married in 2006. It was a tempestuous union, which resulted in three daughters, and ended with a series of terrible abuse allegations. Allan finally filed for divorce in May 2019, triggering a brutal custody battle that remains infamous in the courts of New York. It was still ongoing when, just over a year ago, Allan received a horrifying email—Catherine had traveled to Switzerland where she would die by assisted suicide.

But death did not part the Kassenoffs.

When Francesca started digging into their story, she found that nothing was as it seemed. To get to the truth, she has spent more than eight months speaking to dozens of people and reading hundreds of documents. This is the longest piece we’ve ever published, and it’s well worth your time. Because it isn’t just a story about one family’s ugly domestic dispute, though that story is a wild one. It’s equally a story about how social media can distort our perceptions, reflecting complicated human beings in a funhouse mirror that bears little relationship to who we really are. —The Editors

I. ‘The Video Footage Doesn’t Lie’: The Case Against Allan

This is a story that ends with my own assisted death in Switzerland.

That is how the suicide note began.

Allan Kassenoff was standing in the driveway of his Westchester home on Saturday, May 27, 2023, when he read it. His wife, Catherine, had emailed it to dozens of people—including judges, attorneys, journalists, police, friends, and even staff at Allan’s law firm, Greenberg Traurig—but she hadn’t sent it to her husband. A colleague had forwarded it to him.

Allan and Catherine had spent the previous four years fighting in court over the custody of their three young daughters. After millions of dollars, and over 3,000 court filings, the divorce still hadn’t been finalized.

In four single-spaced pages, the email detailed how Allan had been an abusive husband who had manipulated the corrupt court system into cutting off Catherine’s parental rights. She accused him of “ruining the lives of my children, me,” and so many other “parents (mostly mothers) who have tried to stand up against abuse.”

“Perhaps if I had not been re-diagnosed with cancer I could have lasted in this fight longer,” she wrote, disclosing a recurrence not even her closest friends had known about, and which Allan told me he doesn’t believe was real. “But I do not have the strength to go forward,” she concluded.

Catherine also embedded a Dropbox link that included hundreds of court documents, police reports, her children’s therapy records, and videos of her husband yelling—evidence that showed, she wrote, “exactly how abusive Allan Kassenoff is.”

While reading Catherine’s suicide note, Allan started to cry, he told me. “I felt bad for her,” he said. But he also admits he felt relieved. According to him, his wife was the abusive one, and had “made my life a living hell for so long.”

But while Catherine’s story may have ended that day, Allan’s torment had only just begun. In her suicide note, Catherine told readers, “Don’t let my death be in vain.” And whether she knew it or not, there were plenty of people willing to avenge her.

Then a successful patent litigator—representing big-name companies from Pfizer to Samsung and making nearly a million dollars a year—Allan was working at his law firm’s office in White Plains the following Wednesday, May 31, when his phone started ringing. He didn’t recognize the number, but picked up, and the person at the other end of the line started cursing at him.

“As soon as I hang up,” he told me, “it’s ringing again.”

He was bombarded by strangers’ voices, he told me, calling him an “asshole,” or claiming he “killed his wife,” or telling him he should “lose his kids.”

Within hours, all his email inboxes had also started to fill up with death threats from people he didn’t know. “Burn in hell,” read the subject line of an email sent to his work address. “I hope you die,” the stranger wrote. He was also getting messages on Facebook: “Go kill yourself,” “Die slow and painfully,” “Coming for you.” One person tracked down his home address and sent him a bottle of red paint—including a note: “I hope the color red haunts you for the rest of your life. From Catherine.”

Whoever it was did the same thing for five other colors: orange, yellow, blue, purple, and green.

Then, one of his daughters told him that an account on TikTok had begun posting Catherine’s videos of Allan. The account, which then had over 2 million followers, is run by Robbie Harvey, a 41-year-old digital creator living in Pensacola, Florida, who presents himself, in his TikTok bio, as a “citizen journalist.” A self-proclaimed recovering “narcissist” and “former bad husband,” Harvey’s page was dedicated to “speaking up for women.”

He started posting about Catherine four days after her death.

“This is quite possibly one of the most heartbreaking videos that I have ever created,” Harvey says in his first TikTok about the Kassenoff case. He’s sitting in a soft-lit room wearing a gray t-shirt, before his lips curl inward, almost quivering. “It does not have a happy ending.”

Harvey then plays one of the videos that Catherine included in the Dropbox link she sent out the day she died. (It’s not clear how he came by the footage. Harvey declined to comment for this story.) It shows Allan storming around the house, shouting at his wife, repeatedly yelling “Shut up.” You can hear kids screaming in the background.

In another video Harvey shares, Allan calls Catherine a “fat loser.”

“What did you call me?” she says.

When he repeats the insult, she instructs him to say it “one more time.” He does.

Then, Harvey takes out his phone and reads from Catherine’s suicide note, which she posted to Facebook, as solemn piano notes begin in the background.

Seeing Harvey’s post, Allan realized why he’d been getting death threats. As so often happens on social media, the TikToker had told a compelling story of good and evil, then watched it go viral: Harvey’s original post has since been deleted, but screenshots show it received at least 23.1 million views; Harvey re-uploaded it on June 13, 2023, and this version has since racked up 11.7 million views, 1.4 million likes, and over 14 thousand comments.

“Allan Kassenoff should be arrested for abuse,” reads one.

“Justice for Catherine,” many others declare.

“We will be her voice,” one user promises. “We won’t let him get away with this.” 

But Allan insists the reality of his marriage was far more complicated than the TikTok narrative makes out. He told me he felt “embarrassed” about the videos of him screaming and says: “I regret my reactions to her behavior—especially when the children were present.”

But the footage was, he said, taken out of context: “What people don’t understand is what happened before that and what happened every other day.” His wife, he says, pushed him to the edge.

One of his daughters also had objections to Harvey’s version of events. The day after the TikToker first posted about the Kassenoffs, their middle child, then 12, sent him three messages in a row:

“Why are you posting videos about my dad?? Stop getting involved.”

“You don’t even know the true story.”

“You don’t know anything.”

In response, Harvey made another TikTok post, which included screenshots of the messages—and accused Allan of sending them from his daughter’s account. (This daughter confirmed to me that she sent the messages herself.)

In the video, Harvey breaks the fourth wall: “Allan, I know you’re watching me,” he says to the camera, before posting the screenshot: “Is this you?”

In the weeks that followed, Harvey posted almost daily about Allan—making nearly 40 TikToks that often reuse the same pieces of video footage. Some have gained over 10 million views. “I know there are many sides to a story,” Harvey says in one, pausing slightly before adding: “The video footage doesn’t lie. That monster has possession of these children, so I’m going to keep talking about it.”

That video has gained 1.6 million likes.

In the month after Catherine’s death, Harvey’s account grew by half a million followers—followers that Harvey urged to take action. In a video that has since been deleted—but which Allan saved and says was posted on June 8, 2023—Harvey says to the camera: “Allan Kassenoff is a shareholder at this law firm,” before posting the logo of Greenberg Traurig. “And since this law firm has not done the right thing and fired Allan Kassenoff. . . I figured it’s time to get their attention.”

More here.

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