Granzow returned to Maryland around 2014, records indicate. He might have been fleeing Utah, since in January of that year a court there issued a warrant for his arrest for failing to appear. In Maryland, he again ran into trouble. Court records in that state show that multiple debt collection agencies have sued him. (The Utah warrant remains active.)
As for Trostle, she was previously married too and had lived in Wisconsin. According to Wisconsin state court records, she and a man named Samuel Trostle filed for divorce in 2009. The divorce record listed her address as Moscow, Russia. Again, the sleuths had been right—Trostle was Russian. People-search results indicate that she, like Granzow, has previously lived in Utah.
But none of that proved whether Nicky existed or had cancer. Reverse image searches didn’t turn up any duplicate pictures for the ones of Nicky.
There was one clue, in the Trostle divorce records. Under “additional text” in the petition, a note said: “For divorce (with minor child).” Was that child Nicky?
Sam Trostle had gotten far away from his ex-wife, Nailya. By late 2017, he had traveled to the Philippines, where he had opened restaurants with his new wife, Joreen. Like so much of this story, Sam and Joreen’s background revolves around the internet. The two met in an online chatroom in the early 2000s while Joreen was in her native Philippines. After Sam divorced Nailya, he and Joreen met in person and eventually got married. Their romance was the subject of an hour-long Filipino TV episode.
I reached Sam and Joreen over Facebook in late 2017. Sam said Nicky was real—and so was the cancer. “My daughter Nicky does have terminal cancer, sarcoma cancer, stage 4,” he wrote to me. “It started in her left arm but has since spread to the lymph nodes and lungs. I have been to meetings with doctors at Johns Hopkins, a leading sarcoma expert at Children’s National in DC, and it’s real.” He added, “I have seen how my daughter suffers because of this sickness.”
I asked Sam if he had any documents to confirm this, but he said he couldn’t find any. Debbie Asrate, who at the time was a spokesperson for the Children’s National Health System, and Helen Jones, a spokesperson for Johns Hopkins Medicine, both confirmed that a patient named Nicky Trostle had been treated at their facilities. Jones said Nicky had been released. Citing patient confidentiality, they wouldn’t say more.
Nicky was real, even if she was Nailya’s daughter, not Granzow’s. This meant that in trying to expose Granzow as a scammer or a Russian troll, the Twitter sleuths had sabotaged his fundraising campaigns. A real girl, who seemed to really have cancer, needed money for care and might not get as much as she could have.
A couple of weeks after I learned the truth about Nicky, Sam Trostle’s wife, Joreen, messaged me. “Nicky passed away,” she wrote. Granzow tweeted the news on December 10, 2017: “Nicky is dead. Thanks every good friend here that helped her and gave her hope when alive. She’s gone now.”
These days, Granzow is more influential than ever. That’s because after Nicky’s death, he found something new to tweet about. In February 2018, he posted a link to buy a blackjack strategy book he apparently had written, Get the Blackjack Advantage: How to Use Advantage Strategies to Rob the House. It was self-published under the name “Jeremy Stone.”
Less than three weeks later, he posted a link to another book by Jeremy Stone, The Deep State: The Novel. This was the start of a whole new web identity for Granzow. He rebranded as Jeremy Stone, changing his Twitter handle to @DeepStateExpose and launching a website. He described himself as a “bestselling author” and the “world’s foremost authority on the deep state.”