In 1920, a woman in Berlin, Germany attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Spree River. She carried no identification papers and refused to tell her rescuers he name. Because she had attempted suicide she was considered mentally unstable and sent to a psychiatric hospital. There she stayed silent for years - and then things got interesting. Her roommate at the hospital was reading an article in a magazine about the former royal family of Russia, the Romanovs. In the magazine were photograph of the royal family. The roommate insisted that the woman whom had attempted suicide looked remarkably like the youngest of the royal daughters, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov.
Quietly the mystery woman announced that she was indeed Anastasia.
Two years earlier the deposed Russian Tsar, Nicholas II and his family along with four servants had been killed by a communist firing squad in the basement of the house they were being held captive in.
The bodies were buried in a nearby forest in an unmarked pit. Almost immediately, rumors began to circulate that one of more of the five Romanov children had survived. Anastasia was the one most often named as the one who could have gotten away.
The woman in the mental hospital in Berlin was given the name Anna. Anna's explanation as to how she was the Grand Duchess and how she had survived was that she and her sisters had family jewels sewn into their corsets making them difficult to pierce by bullets or bayonets. When the firing ended her family lay dead on the floor, she pretended to be dead, revealing herself to a soldier sent to take the bodies away. That soldier helped Anna escape. Anna claimed that over the next two years she stayed with that soldier and even had a child with him while they hid from the communists. One day when the solder did not return with food she left for Berlin to seek out relatives. Upon her arrival in Berlin she worried that they would not recognize her and she tried to end her life.
Word began to spread about Anna's claims and she began to gather supporters including a childhood friend, a cousin and son of the Romanov court's doctor, Gleb Botkin. Botkin's son said Anna knew things that only the real Anastasia would know. When she first met the doctor's son for example, she asked him about his "funny animals". Years before the Russian Revolution, Gleb had drawn Anastasia pictures of animals wearing court clothing. Anna had several scars on her body that doctors said came from bullet woulds and stab wounds. She recognized some members of her extended family which had escaped Russia but others she did not. Anna spoke English, French, and German, and could understand Russian. She refused to speak Russian because it was the language of those who had murdered her family.
Anna also had many detractors including the Tsar's youngest sister and mother. The Empress's sister and Anastasia's tutor said that Anna was a good actress who was only seeking the family inheritance. The Tsar's sister, Olga Alexandrovana said in a book, "My telling the truth of Ms. Anderson does not help int he least, the public wants to believe the mystery. They want there to have been a survivor".
Those who believed Anna provided her with suitable housing in fine hotels, physical and mental health care and travel opportunities.
In 1932 with the financial backing of a wealthy American newspaper, Anna went to court in Germany to legally prove she was Anastasia Romanov. The trial lasted until 1938 making it the longest court trial in German history. The final decision of the court after hearing eye witnesses, medical professionals, testimony from members of the royal family and cross examinations was that there was not enough evidence to either prove or disprove Anna's claims.
There were similarities between Anna and Anastasia. Both reportedly had the same slight foot deformity and her ears appeared to be a match for those of Anastasia. Ears are like fingerprints, unique to each person.
By 1940 most of Anna's supporters had abandoned her, leaving her almost broke and homeless.
She cam to America and in 1968 she married an American college professor named John Manahan Anderson. The two lived in Chancellorsville, Va. where they became known as eccentrics. Although Jack Manahan was wealthy, they lived in squalor with large numbers of dogs and cats and piles of garbage. Anna died of pneumonia in 1984. Even after he death the mystery continued.
In 1991, the bodies of the Tsar, Tsarina and three of their daughters were discovered and exhumed from the mass grave where they had been buried by the Communists in 1918. The bodies of the son, Alexi and Anastasia were not found. This again gave more support to Anna's claims.
In 2007, the bodies of Alexi, Anestasia and the servants were discovered. DNA testing confirmed that the remains were of the seven members of the Russian royal family and than none of them had survived. DNA was taken from Anna's tissue and hair samples. This also confirmed that she was not Anastasia Romanov.
Anna still has supporters who claim that the DNA was doctored. There is even a Facebook page titled "Anna Anderson WAS Anastasia Romanov."
Anna's story has inspired books, movies, Broadway shows, animation and even a ballet. In January, Deadline.com announced that actress Glenn Close would play Anna in a new movie called "Duchess". Time magazine dubbed Anderson one of history's greatest importers.
So who was Anna? One possible theory, which the DNA evidence appears to confirm, is that she was Franziska Schanzkowska, a mentally troubled Polish factory worker who disappeared in 1920.
Anna Anderson late in life