Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Real Name: Unknown, possibly Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia
Nicknames: Anna Anderson, Anna Tschaikovsky, Anastasia Manahan, Fräulein Unbekannt (German for “Miss Unknown”)
Location: Yekaterinburg, Russia; Berlin, Germany
Date: July 17, 1918; February 18, 1920


Details: Anastasia was an Imperial Grand Duchess of Russia, daughter of Czar Nicholas II, the wealthiest man in the world. She was born with his captivating azure blue eyes, but he already had three daughters. He, along with all of Russia, wanted a boy, an heir to the throne. She probably sensed that she was a disappointment. She grew into an unrepentant tomboy, a jokester, the family clown. Even after a son was finally born, she remained the rebel of the imperial Romanov family. Her impish nature was irrepressible, whether she was roller skating on the decks of the imperial yacht or enduring the pomp and panoply of the Russian court.
Then, on July 17, 1918, Anastasia’s fairytale life came to a horrible end. She was just seventeen when her entire family was executed, along with their physician, Dr. Eugene Botkin, and three servants: Alexei Trupp, Anna Demidova, and Ivan Kharitonov. Their burial site remained a dark state secret. As far as history was concerned, that was the end of Anastasia and her family.
Nineteen months later, on February 18, 1920, a young woman, nameless and alone, wandered the gloomy damp streets of Berlin, Germany. When she came to Bendler Bridge, spanning the murky Landwehr Canal, the stage was set for one of the world’s great mysteries. She jumped into the water, in an apparent suicide attempt. However, she was pulled to safety by a passing policeman. Eventually, she would take the name "Anna Anderson" and shock the world by claiming that she was Anastasia. The debate over her identity rages to this day.
Historian James Blair Lovell wrote the book Anastasia: The Lost Princess about Anastasia and Anna; he had known Anna since 1972. After studying her and her life, he became her biographer and confidant. He says there is absolutely no doubt in his mind that Anastasia survived her family’s assassination, made it to the United States, and died there as Anna.
Despite adamant opinions on both sides, it seemed this was a mystery which would never be solved. Then, on July 12, 1991, in a remote field near the Siberian city of Yekaterinburg, Russia, the remains of the Romanov family were finally unearthed. To the astonishment of almost everyone, two bodies were missing from the grave; one was Anastasia’s. Now, using sophisticated DNA technology, scientists may finally be able to answer once and for all the question that has haunted history for nearly seventy-five years. Was Anna in fact Anastasia, whose name means "she who is reborn"?
For over 300 years, the Romanovs ruled over Russia. Nicholas II was fated to be the last czar of the country. In the beginning, his life was the envy of the world. He had an adoring wife of royal blood, Alexandra, granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England; four beautiful daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia; and finally, a son, Alexei, heir to the throne. Alexei, however, was a hemophiliac. His disease was kept a tightly held family secret, and the seven Romanovs drew more and more into themselves. Even their closest relatives saw little of them.
But while the Romanovs lived in grand and increasingly isolated opulence, most of their subjects were starving. When Nicholas involved his country in World War I, hundreds of thousands of his soldiers had neither shoes nor rifles. More than a million men were killed or wounded. Supply lines collapsed; food shortages and unrest spread through the country. Finally, the people rebelled. In March 1917, Nicholas abdicated the throne to a provisional democratic government, but soon after, that government fell to the radical Bolsheviks. Nicholas’s mother and sisters made it safely out of the country, but he, his wife, and their children were virtual prisoners in their own palace.
On August 13, 1917, the Romanovs were banished in the dead of night from the Summer Palace just outside St. Petersburg. They were taken to a two-story house in Yekaterinburg owned by a military engineer, Nikolai Ipatiev. Eleven months later, the entire Romanov family was executed, or so it was thought until the mysterious young woman appeared in Germany on February 18, 1920. After her suicide attempt, police first took her to Elisabeth Hospital, then had her committed to Dalldorf Asylum, a mental institution just outside Berlin. She had no identification papers and refused to give any information about herself. As a result, she was dubbed "Miss Unknown." Only much later would she take the name "Anna Anderson."
At Dalldorf, Anna underwent her first physical examination. Doctors discovered that her body was covered with scars, for which they could find no explanation. According to Lovell, she began to reveal her own personality very slowly. For many months, she virtually never left her bed. According to him, she was, in her mind, "in hiding." The best place for her to hide was in the asylum where no one would come looking for her or suspect that she was Anastasia.
Anna hid her identity successfully until a woman named Clara Peuthert was admitted to the same ward at Dalldorf in December 1921. Clara was a "devotee" of royalty magazines. She saw pictures of the Romanovs in the magazines. She began to believe that Anna bore a striking, uncanny resemblance to the Grand Duchess Tatiana. Anna neither confirmed nor denied Clara’s claim. Staff also noticed that Anna spoke German with a Russian accent.
After Clara was released, she told Russian émigré Captain Nicholas von Schwabe, former guard to Nicholas's mother, about Anna. He visited her at Dalldorf and also came to believe that she was Tatiana. He showed her a photograph of Nicholas's mother; she later identified her as her grandmother. He contacted several members of the Russian nobility exiled in Paris. They sent an official representative, Madame Zinaida Tolstoy, to Dalldorf. When she saw Anna’s face, she recognized her eyes as being the same as Nicholas’s. She later said that when she saw Anna’s eyes and face, she knew she was looking at one of Nicholas’s daughters.
Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, a former lady-in-waiting to Alexandra, visited Anna but said she was too short to be Tatiana. Anna replied, "I never said I was Tatiana." Eventually, she told Captain von Schwabe and several nurses that she was actually Anastasia. Indeed, she did resemble Anastasia facially, and in height and age. Apparently, several childhood scars, injuries, and birthmarks were checked out, and they too matched. Now, the fresh scars seemed to make sense. Perhaps, they were remnants of Bolshevik bullets and bayonets.
Four years later, in July 1925, while Anna was hospitalized for surgery, she received a visitor. Shura Gilliard, Anastasia’s former nanny, had come to see for herself just who "Miss Unknown" was. She recognized her as Anastasia, both by her childhood scars and by a bone deformity on her right foot. Then, Anna beckoned to Shura to massage her forehead with cologne. It had been a favorite childhood ritual of Anastasia’s, known only to the two of them. During the visit, Anna also called Shura by the pet name that Anastasia used for her. However, Shura later stated that she did not believe Anna was Anastasia.
Shura and her husband, Pierre (the family's tutor), later brought Nicholas’s sister, Olga, to visit Anna. Olga had last seen Anastasia when she was a plump, boisterous adolescent more than a decade earlier. Anna apparently recognized Olga immediately. Olga said that Anna had lost so much weight that she was unable to make a positive visual identification of her. However, after the two talked for a while, Olga reportedly said to her: "You are my niece. I recognize you."
The next day, in a private visit with Olga, Anna made a revelation about Nicholas’s secret bank account which would ultimately prove to be her undoing. Anna said that Nicholas had an $80 million bank account in the Bank of England (which would now be worth over $5 billion). The rest of the family was unaware of this alleged account. According to Lovell, Anna was then betrayed. The account was ample motivation for Olga and the other surviving Romanovs to deny her identity, and therefore, her right to any of the money. In essence, she was once again "Miss Unknown."
However, Anna was not abandoned by everyone. In 1927, she took up residence in a German castle under the protection of a sympathetic duke and duchess. That spring, Gleb Botkin, a close childhood friend of Anastasia’s, traveled from his home in the United States to see whether she had somehow survived. He was the youngest child of Nicholas’s physician, Dr. Eugene Botkin. The doctor had been executed along with the Romanovs, but Gleb was able to escape from Russia.
Gleb immediately recognized Anna as Anastasia. The two had a childhood game that they would play together called "funny animals." He would draw or paint a watercolor painting of animals dressed in human clothing and in human-like situations. He would give the picture to Anastasia. Then, she would make up a story to explain the actions in the picture. During their meeting, Anna asked to see the pictures that he had drawn. As she looked through them, she remembered the stories that she had made up years earlier to accompany the pictures. Lovell says that it was the most significant recognition of Anastasia in her lifetime. Gleb then became her most ardent supporter, her "lifelong champion."
Only later would Anna recount to Gleb what she knew about the terrible night of July 17, 1918. She said that she had been horribly wounded and rendered unconscious during the execution. She was thrown on a truck with the dead bodies of her family. The truck lumbered off into the night, heading to a secret gravesite. At some point, the truck overheated and stopped. A Polish soldier named Alexander Tschaikovsky was one of those left to stand guard. He realized Anastasia was not dead. Aided by his brother, he spirited her to safety in a farm cart.
Anna told Gleb that she and Alexander fled to Romania, married, and had a child together. He was later shot and killed during a street fight in Bucharest. After that, she placed their child in an orphanage. She, accompanied by Alexander's friend, eventually made their way to Berlin, where she planned to find her relatives. However, the friend later abandoned her. Fearing that her relatives would not recognize her, she decided to end her life by jumping off Bendler Bridge.
At last, Anna had someone who believed in her completely. Next, Gleb convinced Anna to make a claim on an account owned by Nicholas in Germany, just under an arbitrary ten-year deadline. He hired New York attorney Edward Fallows to help. Twenty years after the Romanov assassination, on August 17, 1938, Gleb and Fallows were finally able to go to court in Berlin in an attempt to claim Anastasia’s inheritance and thereby prove Anna’s identity. None of the principals had any idea that the case, including several appeals, would drag on literally for the rest of their lives.
From the beginning, Anna’s attorneys based their arguments on the numerous points of similarity between her and Anastasia. Experts analyzed photographs of both women’s ears. The match reportedly impressed even Anna’s bitterest enemies (however, some experts stated that the ears did not match). Various scars and birthmarks also matched. Handwriting samples were analyzed and found virtually identical. Her face was examined by renowned anthropologist and criminologist Dr. Otto Reche, who concluded that it matched Anastasia's; however, other anthropologists disagreed with his conclusion. Former Romanov employees, childhood friends (including Gleb and his sister), and some relatives identified Anna as Anastasia; they claimed she knew things only Anastasia would know. They believed that any memory issues or lapses she suffered were due to the attack by the Bolsheviks.
However, other relatives and friends of Anastasia, including Nicholas's sister, Alexandra's sister, and family tutor Pierre, said that Anna was an impostor. They believed she only wanted the inheritance. They noted that she did not look like Anastasia, spoke no Russian, did not know any intimate details about the Romanov family, and did not recognize key members of the Romanov household. Investigators could find no trace of the "Tschaikovsky" family or any evidence that she and Alexander married in Bucharest. Doctors said that scars on her body came from surgeries, not bayonets. Dentists said that her missing teeth had been extracted, not knocked out. Finally, the Romanov family's dental surgeon examined plaster casts of Anna's jaw; he said there was no similarity to Anastasia's.
By the age of fifty-eight, Anna had become increasingly eccentric and was almost totally uncooperative, both with her own attorneys and with the courts. She lived in a remote German village near the Black Forest. Her modest cottage was overgrown with weeds and overrun by her four dogs and thirty cats.
In 1959, during an appeal of the case, a judge and two language experts came to ascertain whether Anna, who almost always spoke German or English, could also speak Russian. She refused to allow anyone into her house except the judge. When he extended his hand to shake hers, she refused to do so, saying that she was afraid of germs. In fact, she considered it a breach of etiquette on the part of "a lowly German Supreme Court judge" to want to shake the hand of a Russian grand duchess. She refused to speak Russian to the judge. However, she was otherwise "totally social" with him. After ten minutes, she ended the meeting and dismissed him. She later claimed that she understood Russian, but refused to speak it because "it was the language of those who killed [her] family."
Finally, in 1967, a German high court issued a decision. There was not enough evidence to prove Anna’s claim. The court did state, however, that the death of Anastasia could not be considered a verifiable historical fact. Despite that small victory, Anna had had enough of lawyers and courts. In 1968, she moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where Gleb introduced her to one of his friends, Jack Manahan. He was eighteen years her junior. On December 23, 1968, shortly before her visa expired, the two married.
One year later, Gleb died, never wavering in his belief that Anna was Anastasia. In fact, around that time, she began calling herself "Anastasia Manahan." She and Jack were a quirky, eccentric couple, a bane of their neighbors’ existence. Over the years, his once beautiful house became overgrown and full of cats. In late 1983, she was forcibly committed to a psychiatric clinic. In an act of desperation, he abducted her from the clinic. After an extensive car chase, they surrendered. Two months later, on February 12, 1984, she died of pneumonia. Her body was cremated, and her ashes were buried in the churchyard of Seeon Abbey in Bavaria, Germany. In 1990, Jack passed away, maintaining to the end that his wife was Anastasia.
Sixteen months later on July 12, 1991, the remains of the Romanov family were finally exhumed near Yekaterinburg. The gravesite was initially discovered by Dr. Alexander Avdonin, a geologist and historian, and several other scientists in May 1979. However, fearing imprisonment, they decided to keep the location a secret until the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1990, Dr. Avdonin wrote to Boris Yeltsin and told him about the gravesite. He agreed to send investigators out to exhume the bodies.
After the execution, the bodies had been buried hodgepodge. Still, everyone expected to find all seven Romanovs, as well as four members of their entourage, in the grave. Although eleven bodies were supposed to be there, only nine were found. Two were missing. Dr. Avdonin says that for over a year, they looked for the two remaining bodies at the gravesite. However, they were not found.
In an effort to determine which bodies were missing, the Russians invited American forensic expert Dr. William Maples to examine the remains. He and his team looked at them, photographed them, and measured them. For each of the nine bodies, they determined age, sex, and race. DNA testing was also conducted, comparing the remains to living Romanov relatives (including Prince Philip). They determined that the remains belonged to Nicholas, Alexandra, Dr. Botkin, the servants, and three of the daughters. However, Dr. Maples does not believe that any of the daughters found were young enough to be Anastasia.
Also missing were the remains of Alexei. It was the absence of Anastasia’s body, however, which once again fueled the controversy. Was it possible that she had somehow managed to escape the carnage? Dr. Maples doubts that she could have survived that night. Based on the physical evidence, he has not found anything to indicate that anyone survived. He says that the damage to the remains was pretty profound.
The official Bolshevik account is that the Romanovs were imprisoned in the Ipatiev House. In July 1918, fearing that the White Russian Army would try to rescue the Romanovs, the Bolsheviks decided to have them executed. At 1:30am on July 17, Nicholas was ordered by the Bolsheviks to awaken his family. There was unrest in the town, and supposedly, the Romanovs had to be moved for their own protection. The women were given half an hour to dress. They carefully laced on their corsets. A fortune in precious stones and gems had been sewn into the linings.
The Romanovs, along with Dr. Botkin and three servants, were led into the cellar. They had no way of knowing they were about to die. Alexandra asked for chairs; two were brought. Then abruptly, Yakov Yurovsky, the Bolshevik officer in charge, read the orders of execution: "Since your relatives persist in their attack on Soviet Russia...the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you." Nicholas, dumbfounded, asked him to repeat. After the order was repeated, several guards began shooting.
Edvard Radzinsky wrote the book The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II. According to him, when the guards began shooting, the bullets bounced off the Grand Duchesses. They did not know that the women’s corsets had the jewels hidden in them; the jewels apparently protected them initially. The guards believed that God was protecting the Romanovs. They began to "go crazy" and shot at them in a disorderly manner.
Lovell says that Anastasia was not hit when the first shots were fired. Her sisters and Alexei were also still alive initially. The guards proceeded to shoot and stab them repeatedly. According to Lovell, the Bolshevik accounts state that Anastasia was still alive after everyone else had been killed. One account has her standing up and screaming while one of the guards stuck a bayonet through her foot to pin her to the floor, and the other one clubbed her in the jaw with a rifle butt.
Assuming Anastasia was now dead, Yurovsky’s men loaded all the bodies onto a truck. They initially decided to dump the bodies down a mine shaft. However, after the bodies were dumped, it was discovered that the shaft was too shallow. Yurovsky also believed that too many people had witnessed their movements that night. He and his men decided to remove the bodies and take them to another set of mines. However, while En route to the site, the truck got bogged down in the mud. He decided to dispose of the bodies on the spot. He reported that in order to confuse anyone who might locate the grave, he burned two of the bodies and disposed of the charred remains right there. The other nine were buried together a few meters away.
Radzinsky believes that Yurovsky simply invented the scenario to cover up the fact that he could not account for all the bodies. Radzinsky says that they did not see the last two bodies when they buried the Romanovs in the grave. He says that Yurovsky had only one opportunity to explain it, so he made up the part about burning two bodies separately.
Michael Medvedev, whose father was a member of the execution squad, disagrees. He says that when the soldiers began to remove the bodies from the cellar via stretchers, some of the daughters, including Anastasia, regained consciousness and moaned in pain. One of the soldiers, Peter Ermakov, then killed Anastasia.
And so, the great riddle continues. Is the body of Anastasia hidden in a shallow grave near the spot where the rest of her family was found? Or did she somehow survive the assassination, only to emerge years later as the eccentric Anna? Many of those who knew Anna best believe the truth is undeniable. Lovell is certain that she was Anastasia. He says that all she wanted was for the world to leave her alone and for her surviving family members to publicly acknowledge what they privately acknowledged: her identity.
Although Anna is dead, a tissue sample from an operation in 1979 remains. In 1992, Lovell and a research associate discovered that the sample was still archived at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia. DNA tests will be performed on the sample and cross-referenced with the Romanov remains to see if there is a match.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the October 6, 1993 episode.
  • It was the inspiration for the 1956 film Anastasia and the 1997 film of the same name.
  • With a running time of twenty-five minutes, it was one of the longest segments featured on the show.
  • Dr. Maples was also featured in the segment about Little Miss Panasoffkee.
  • Some sources state that Anna's suicide attempt occurred on February 27, 1920, and that the German court made their final ruling in 1970.
  • Although Anna claimed there was an $80 million account in England, it was never found. Members of the Russian aristocracy maintain that it never existed.
  • The court proceedings became the longest-running lawsuit in German history.
  • Over the years, at least four other women came forward, claiming to be Anastasia. There were also seven men who claimed to be Alexei, and a few who claimed to be the other daughters.

Results: Solved. In September 1994, Russian and British scientists concluded that Anastasia's body was one of those found in the gravesite in 1991. This meant that Alexei and Maria's bodies were still missing.
In October 1994, DNA extracted from Anna's tissue sample and hair was compared to DNA from the Romanov's bodies and surviving Romanov relatives; it was not a match. Her DNA was next compared to the grandnephew of a Polish factory worker, Franziska Schanzkowska; it was a match. Franziska had been born into "impoverished circumstances" on December 16, 1896, in Borowy Las, Poland. In 1915, after the start of World War I, she moved to Berlin and found work in a munitions factory. In 1916, her fiancée was killed on the Western Front. Shortly afterwards, she accidentally dropped a grenade while at work, causing an explosion that killed her foreman and gave her head injuries. She became depressed and later spent time in two mental asylums. On February 15, 1920, she vanished from her Berlin apartment. Anna was found shortly afterwards.
In 1927, Alexandra's brother, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, hired private investigator Martin Knopf to look into Anna's claims. He looked through missing persons reports in Berlin and learned about Franziska's disappearance. He believed that she and Anna were the same person. The two had matching physical characteristics (including similar scars, injuries, birthmarks, and deformities). When found, Anna was wearing the same clothes that Franziska was last seen wearing.
Franziska's former roommate identified Anna as her. Later that year, when Franziska's brother was introduced to Anna, he said she bore a "strong resemblance" to his sister. However, no positive identification was made at that time (his family later said that he knew she was his sister but chose to leave her in her new life). In 1938, Franziska's sister met Anna and insisted she was Franziska. However, she also did not make a positive identification because the Nazis planned to arrest Anna for being an impostor. Most scientists and researchers now believe that Anna and Franziska were the same person.
In July 2007, a group of amateur archeologists went out to search for the two missing Romanovs. On their third search, they discovered a second gravesite approximately 230 feet from the first one. It matched the description given in Yurovsky's memoirs. Two burned, partial skeletons were discovered. In April 2008, they were identified through DNA testing as Alexei and Maria. It is now clear that Anastasia’s remains were among those unearthed in 1991, and that she did not survive the family massacre.
However, it remains to be revealed how Anna/Franziska became aware of the intimate parts of Anastasia's life which she revealed to and were confirmed by relatives and friends of the Romanovs. It has been suggested that some of her early supporters coached her with details of Anastasia's life. It has also been suggested that she was able to get information from one group of visitors which she then used to "impress" the next group. It is also not known if she was deliberately an impostor or merely believed she was Anastasia due to her mental issues. It should be noted that she did not initially identify herself as Anastasia, but appeared to go along with it after Clara "identified" her. Interestingly, some supporters of Anna still claim that she was Anastasia and that the DNA results were doctored.
For reasons unknown, the Russian Orthodox Church has refused to accept that the remains belonged to the missing Romanovs. As a result, Alexei and Maria's remains have never been buried. In 2018, the church ordered new DNA testing to be done on the remains. Nicholas's father's body was exhumed, and DNA was extracted from it. That DNA, along with DNA from living relatives, was compared to DNA from the bodies found in the two gravesites. Again, they matched, proving that the remains belonged to the Romanovs.
Sadly, on December 4, 1993, Lovell passed away at the age of forty-two, prior to the DNA results.