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The Case Of Anastasia Romanov And Anna Anderson

The Case Of Anastasia Romanov And Anna Anderson

Estimated reading time: 34 minutes

I am sure many of you have heard the names and stories of Anastasia Romanov and Anna Anderson. Like many, I have found the story of the last days of Russian Romanov Imperial Family in 1918 fascinating – a tragic story of a gruesome family massacre. In the early 1920s, all the world knew with any certainty was that the Bolsheviks executed the Tsar. The Tsarina and the children were supposedly in a place of safety. But, investigators thought otherwise. The Bolsheviks had murdered the family. However, there were no bodies. Then, a Russian patient released from a German hospital, claimed that the Tsar’s youngest daughter Anastasia was alive. Was this woman, known as Anna Anderson the Grand-Duchess, or was she an imposter?

Miss Unknown

On 27 February 1920, a policeman pulled a young woman out of the Landwehrkanal in Berlin. She had jumped off the Bendlerstrasse bridge, intent on suicide. The woman carried no papers, and did not identify herself. The hospital registered her simply as Fraulein Unbekannt, or Miss Unknown. For six months, she said nothing. Scars covered her body and she was clearly traumatised. When she did speak, staff noted that she spoke German with a Russian accent.

Clara Peuthert, a Russian patient, arrived at the hospital and met Miss Unknown. Clara recognised her to be none other than a Grand-Duchess of Russia. On her release, Clara sought out Russian royalty and nobles, telling them that Grand Duchess Tatiana, the second daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, had survived. However, when a Russian émigré met Miss Unknown, she commented, “[s]he’s too short to be Tatiana.” Miss Unknown replied, “I never said I was Tatiana.”

Anna Tschaikovsky

By May 1922, many believed that Miss Unknown was none other than Tatiana’s youngest sister, the missing Grand-Duchess Anastasia Romanov, last seen in 1918, aged 17 years old. Soon Miss Unknown was calling herself Anna Tschaikovsky. Anna being a shortened version of Anastasia. Her knowledge of details of court life and her physical resemblance to Anastasia was uncanny. The line of visitors to the hospital grew. Had Anastasia survived?

Anna Anderson
Anna Anderson

Birth of Anastasia

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia was born on 18 June 1901 into the Imperial Romanov family. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, her father, was initially disappointed that she was not a boy. He desperately needed a male heir to inherit the throne. He and his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, already had three daughters Grand-Duchess Olga (born 15 November 1895), Grand-Duchess Tatiana (born 10 June 1897) and Grand-Duchess Maria (born 26 June 1899). But the Tsar’s disappointment turned to joy. Anastasia was a bundle of fun. On 12 August 1904, the Tsarina gave birth to Anastasia’s brother Alexi Nikolaevich, the Tsarevich of Russia.

Family Portrait of The Romanov Family, Anastasia Romanov is pictured far right sat next to her father
A Family Portrait of the Romanov Family
Anastasia Romanov is pictured far right sat next to her father.


Anastasia Romanov was a happy energetic child, earning the family nickname Shvybzik, or ‘merry little one’. Blonde and blue-eyed, she was short and had an impish laugh. She and her sister Maria shared a room, and became known as the “Little Pair”. According to the court physician’s son, Gleb Botkin, “[Anastasia] undoubtedly held the record for punishable deeds in her family, for in naughtiness she was a true genius.” She would cheat to win at games and play pranks. Some called her “evil”, others a “terrorist”, but she was charming. The wife of an American diplomat noted that Anastasia committed the social faux pas of eating chocolate at the opera without removing her long white gloves.

Life followed a strict daily schedule. Anastasia lived in the Alexander Palace to the south of St. Petersburg at Tsarkoe Selo, moving to the Winter Palace occasionally, and holidaying on yachts. The family was very close, religious and lived simply. The children had to clean their own rooms. For entertainment, they put on plays, played and read a lot. Whilst Anastasia received an impressive home education, learning languages, history, science, maths, geography, dance and etiquette, she was not studious. Her English teacher, Sidney Gibbes recalled that she tried to bribe him to attain a higher mark with a beautiful bunch of flowers. When he refused she gave the flowers to her Russian language teacher. She loved her first dog, often sleeping with him, and when he died in 1915, Anastasia bought another dog called Jimmy.

Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Nikoleavna Romanov in Darmstadt Hesse
The four daughters of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna
Pictured left to right: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia

World War I and the Outbreak of the Russian Revolution

When war broke out, the Russian Imperial family changed many of the rooms in the Palace into a hospital. Anastasia was too young to treat the wounded soldiers, but she cheered them up by playing chess and cards and reading to them. Many of the soldiers were illiterate, and Anastasia taught them to read. She would write letters for those who could not write. She loved going to the hospital.

Marie and Anastasia visiting the wounded soldiers during WW1
Anastasia and Maria visiting the wounded soldiers during WWI

In February 1917, Anastasia caught measles. Outside the palace walls, life was tough. millions of Russians were dying in the First World War. There were food shortages and high unemployment. Growing discontent with the monarchy led to riots against food rationing, lighting the flames of the Russian Revolution. Life was about to change dramatically for Anastasia. As the Revolution took hold, guards put the Imperial Family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace. When her father abdicated his throne on 15 March 1917, the family were now effectively captives, first of the Provisional Government, and later the Bolsheviks. On 1 August 1917, the family took the train from St. Petersburg to Tyumen. There they boarded steamers to Tobolsk, an old town east of the Urals and a historic capital of the Siberia Region, in the company of their guards. It was remote, only accessible by boat, and in winter the river froze.

Looking like a man

The journey started off hot and dusty, and at stations they had to close the curtains of their carriage, so that no-one would see them. When the train stopped near a little house, a boy approached the train. “Uncle, do you have a newspaper?” he asked. Anastasia realised he thought she was a man because her hair had been cut short when she had measles.

Captivity in Tobolsk

The family settled into life as captives at the Governor’s house in Tobolsk. Anastasia was able to write to relatives at a desk surrounded by pictures of their “beloved hospital.” At first, the family visited the local church to attend services, but this caused problems, so they continued their religion at home. She laughed with their guards and wrote about the many funny things happened. She played with Jimmy, her dog, drew, sewed, played in the garden, kept up her schoolwork, acted in plays, sat with her family chatting about the old days and watched passers by. But the energetic Anastasia needed more. In one letter she mentioned she was putting on weight due to little movement, although she “had not yet turned into an elephant.”

Anastasia writing a letter in captivity at Tobolsk
Anastasia writing a letter in captivity at Tobolsk

To pass the time the family found jobs to do, sawing, chopping, and splitting firewood and cleaning snow from the paths. During Lent she fasted and got to go to Church. She received gifts and letters and heard rumours about what was happening in Russia, but did not know who to believe and” after all”, portentously she wrote, “people only tell you half a story.”

The Romanov Family pictured in Captivity at Toblosk
The Romanov Family Pictured in Captivity in Toblosk
Romanov Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Time to Move

On 22 April 1918, a new commander arrived at Tobolsk. In the days prior, Anastasia burnt all her diaries and letters. The commander arrived with the news that the Tsar was to move elsewhere. The Tsarina did not want to be separated from the Tsar. Anastasia’s brother Alexei, a haemophiliac, had been bleeding internally after a recent fall and could not be moved. The family discussed what to do and agreed to split up for a short-time. The Tsar, Tsarina and Maria travelled ahead, leaving on 26 April 1918. The remaining children would follow later, along with their tutors and servants.

Although the plan was to move to Moscow, Bolsheviks stopped the train in Yekaterinberg, a major town in the Urals named after the wife of Peter the Great. Surrounding the town were ironworks and metallurgical industries. Their new home was to be Ipatiev House in the centre of the town. Its owner, wealthy businessman Nicholas Ipatiev left when he received two days’ notice to quit the house from the Bolsheviks. Soldiers got to work, turning the house into a prison, building a high wooden stockade around its perimeter and whitewashing the windows. The house name changed to the House of Special Purpose.

Sewing with a Purpose

The Tsarina wrote to her children. She used prearranged code words. Her daughters understood that they would be searched on arrival at Ipatiev House. Anastasia and her sisters sewed jewels into her bodice. She packed her belongings. The family had lived in Tobolsk surrounded by many of their possessions and furniture. Now servants emptied the house. Anastasia, Olga, Alexei and their retinue, boarded the boat for the 2 day journey to Tyumen, and then boarded the train to Yekaterinburg. Anastasia took her dog with her. She travelled third class, but her tutors and companions travelled in fourth.

Pierre Gilliard

One of her tutors was Pierre Gilliard, a Swiss national who taught Anastasia, Maria and Alexei French. Gilliard lived with the Imperial family for thirteen years, and later wrote a book about this time. The guards separated Gilliard from his pupils on the train. On arrival at Yekaterinburg, carriages waited at the station. From his window, Gilliard watched the children disembark the train, on May 23, 1918.

The sailor Nagorny, who attended to Alexei Nikolaevitch, passed my window carrying the sick boy in his arms, behind him came the Grand Duchesses loaded with valises and small personal belongings. I tried to get out, but was roughly pushed back into the carriage by the sentry. I came back to the window. Tatiana Nikolayevna came last carrying her little dog and struggling to drag a heavy brown valise. It was raining and I saw her feet sink into the mud at every step. Nagorny tried to come to her assistance; he was roughly pushed back by one of the commisars. 

Bokhanov, Alexander; Knodt, Manfred; Oustimenko, Vladimir; Peregudova, Zinaida; Tyutynnik, Lyubov (1993). The Romanovs: Love, Power, and Tragedy. London: Leppi Publications. ISBN 0-9521644-0-X
Pierre Gilliard and Alexei
Pierre Gillard and Alexei

Splitting up the Royal Household

Giliard remained on the train. Other members of the household went straight to prison. Later that day, the Bolsheviks told Gilliard he was free. But free to do what? Despite requests, he could not join his pupils. Instead, he lived on the train for a further month, and watched from the street as two of the Royal household, Anastasia’s valet, Sedniev, and the sailor Nagorny left the house by carriage. He later learnt they were taken to prison and shot in a wood for remonstrating with the guards when they seized a gold chain that was used to hang holy images over Alexei’s bed.

LIfe at Ekaterinburg

Imprisonment at Ipatiev House was worse than at Tobolsk. There were machine guns in the house and garden. Although there was electricity and a bathroom, there were no beds. Anastasia slept on the floor. The local monastery sent food for the family, but this was eaten by the guards, who were coarse and often drunk. Initially the guards sought to humiliate the family in every way they could, but the sisters sang religious tunes and charmed the guards with their gentleness and serenity. This new found peace did not last long. The guards changed. Yakov Yurovsky arrived with ten men, nearly all were Austro-German prisoners of war.

Yurovsky wrote two notes about his time with the Imperial Family, one in 1922 and one in 1934, and much of what we know comes from these notes and other statements of the guards. Yurovsky removed jewellery and watches and valuables from the Imperial family. The girls said nothing about the jewels in their corsets. Yurovsky wrote that the family led a regular middle-class lifestyle. After morning tea, the girls would sew, mend and embroider. They would run into the kitchen, help cook, make up dough and play cards. They dressed simply and played with their little dog and the kitchen boy. The family read the bible and on 14 July, celebrated the Orthodox Liturgy with a priest.

Ipatiev House in 1918
Ipatiev House in 1918, where the Romanov family was murdered

16-17 July

Outside the high fence, troops loyal to the Tsar, were nearing Ekatrineberg. Planes buzzed overhead. Anastasia may have noticed the arrival at around 2pm of a local commander who talked to Yurovsky. Her little friend and Alexei’s playmate, the thirteen year old kitchen boy, left the house. The sisters were worried, but Yurovsky told them little Sednev was going to meet his uncle.

Around 1.30 am on 17 July 1918, Yurovsky woke the Royal family and their staff. The White Army were nearing Yekaterinburg, and violence was expected. Yurosky explained they needed to be moved for their own safety. At the height of summer, nights in the Urals are short, and a move in darkness would be best. The family dressed quickly, each of the children donned their jewel laden clothes. The family made their way to the cellar, the Tsar carrying Alexei, one of the Grand-Duchesses carrying a little dog, They also took pillows and some small items.

In the cellar with them were their physician Eugene Botkin, cook Ivan Kharitonov, maid Anna Demidova and footman Alexei Trupp. The Tsar and Tsarina asked for chairs. The group then waited, expecting to depart shortly. Outside the engine of a truck was running. What happens next is still debated.

Announcement of Execution of Tsar

For the next few days, guards continued to patrol outside the house. On 20 July, a soldier paraded in the streets of Ekaterinburg carrying a placard. It announced that the sentence of death passed on the ex-Tsar Nicholas Romanov was carried out on the night of 16-17 July. It also says the Tsar’s family had been transferred to a place of greater safety. A few days later, newspapers in Russia published a copy of this proclamation.

Across Europe, newspapers reported that the wireless stations of the Russian Government had announced that the Tsar had been executed and that the Tsarina and her son had been sent to a place of safety. Two weeks later, reports came in that Alexei had died a few days after his father, due to exposure. There was no news of the rest of the family.

Gilliard’s Visit to Ipatiev House

On 25th July, barely a week after the execution of the Tsar, Ekaterinburg fell to the White Army. The two tutors Gibbes and Gilliard hastened to Ipatiev House. There, Gilliard found the Royal Family’s rooms on the first floor in an indescribable state of disorder. He thought every effort had been made to rid the rooms of any evidence of the family. He found small half burnt articles in stove ashes, including toothbrushes, hairpins, buttons, and the end of a hair brush. On the browned ivory were Anastasia’s initials. Gilliard thought that if the children had been sent away, they must have gone without any of their toilet items. More worryingly, the Empress had left behind her favourite charm, which she put up everywhere to ward off ill-luck.

He descended to the bottom floor. Because the house was built on a slope, some of it was below ground. Gilliard described the room where the family gathered, as “sinister beyond expression.” Light filtered in through a small barred window. Investigators had torn the room apart by the time he got there. He could see bullets, blood and bayonet scars. Gilliard was clear in his own mind that many people had been put to death there, but Who and How? He was sure the Tsar and Tsarina would have been together, and convinced she too was killed. But the children? Were they also massacred?

Ipatiev House, Cellar Room after investigators had torn it apart
Ipatiev House, Cellar Room in 1918 after investigators had torn it apart

Official Enquiry

As soon as Ekaterinburg had fallen, the White Army opened a judicial enquiry. Some peasants from a nearby village said that on the night of 16-17 July and for a few days after, they had seen the Bolsheviks in a forest near their village The peasants had found objects near a shaft of an abandoned mine, not far from which were the remains of a large fire. Officials visited the forest and found other objects that belonged to the Imperial family. Officials began to believe that all the family had been killed, especially in light of a horrific scene the White Army found in nearby Alapayevsk.

On 18 July, the Bolsheviks threw other members of the wider Russian Royal family down a mineshaft in Alapayevsk. When those bodies were examined, the White Army discovered only one had been shot. It looked as if all the others had been thrown into the mine shaft and killed by grenades. Unlike at Alapayevsk, there were no bodies in the mine shafts near Ekaterinberg. Witnesses gave statements that supported the story that the Tsarina and the children had moved elsewhere. But were these stories true, or the work of Bolshevik agents? In the meantime, there was still hope that somehow the children had survived.

News Filters Through Europe

In August 1918, the Pope intervened and asked if the Tsarina and her daughters could be transferred to a neutral country. A Bavarian priest, the Tsarina’s German relatives, the Vatican and King Alfonso XIII of Spain hatched a plan to move the Imperial Family to Spain. They opened negotiations with the Soviet Government, who replied that that there was no possibility of moving the family to Spain as there was no communication between Moscow and the place where the ex-Tsar’s family were residing. In September, the English press reported fears that the Tsarina and her daughters had been murdered. But others reported the family were alive. These conflicting reports continued to circulate through October. The Pope continued his efforts to obtain information on the whereabouts of the remaining family. In November, Vatican circles believed the Tsarina and her daughters had been killed. But there was no evidence. It was too horrid to imagine that the whole family had been killed.

Carl W. Ackerman

In December, Carl Ackerman, an American journalist and special correspondent of the New York Times, arrived in Ekaterinburg to investigate the Tsar’s death. He obtained and translated a document written by Parfen Alexlevitch Dominin, who appeared to be the Tsar’s major-domo. He did not meet Dominin and Dominin’s name is not mentioned by Gilliard. Dominin told off a late night trial of the Tsar and the words he spoke when he left his family to go to meet a firing squad. The Tsarina and her son left by car, for an unknown destination. He made no mention of the Grand-Duchesses.

Ackerman is said to have visited Ipatiev House and spoken to many people, including a judge, who did not believe the family had been killed in the cellar. Ackerman could find no-one who possessed proof that the family had been killed. The investigators had not reached a conclusion, and Ackerman doubted the Imperial Family had been killed. Ackerman’s reports were printed in the New York Times and lent credibility to the story that the children were alive.


By now the French and other Allies wanted to know what had happened to the Imperial Family. In February 1919, Nikolai Sokolov was appointed to lead the investigation. He took a systematic, methodical approach, re-examining the evidence. He and his team interviewed hundreds of people. On February 25th, the hammer blow came. One of the soldiers who had been guarding the Imperial Family, Paul Medvedev, admitted that all the family and four servants were killed in the basement of Ipatiev House. He could not say where the bodies were located.

Winters in the Urals are hard. With snow everywhere, the ground in the forest and around the mineshaft could not be investigated until the snow thawed. Once April came, investigators emptied the mine shaft, sifted ground and dug clearings. They uncovered evidence of three burning sites and found relics of the Imperial Family. By now Solokov had formed a very clear view of the crime.

Solokov’s Conclusions

Solokov concluded that soon after the family gathered in the basement, Yurovsky, seven Austro-Germans and two other accredited executioners entered the room armed with revolvers. Yurovsky told the family that they were to be put to death and immediately shot the Tsar. Each man had an assigned victim.  There was a hail of shots. Anastasia survived the initial shooting, but was wounded. She began to scream as the gunmen approached her. They bayoneted her to death. The gunmen murdered every member of the Imperial Family and their four servants .

Guards made stretchers out of sledges and loaded the bodies onto the truck whose engine had been running. Time was short, due to the early sunrise. The truck drove to the forest. On the way, a wagon, driven by a woman, approached the truck. She had set off early from her village to sell fish in the town. The guards turned her around and told her not to look back. She told her fellow villagers what she had seen. They set out to see for themselves and met a cordon of soldiers in the forest.

Meanwhile, as the the guards placed the bodies in a clearing, they discovered the jewels in the Grand-Duchesses’ clothes. They cut up the bodies, battered their faces with rifle butts. After covering the bodies in sulphuric acid, they burnt them. It took three days and nights to destroy all the bodies. They then scattered the ashes in the forest or threw them into the mine shafts. Solotov published his findings in 1924 and died later that year.

The Relics

The investigation team found hundreds of articles and fragments trodden into the ground. The Tsar’s buckle, a fragment of his cap and the frame which held the picture of the Tsarina which he always carried with him. The Tsarina’s favourite earrings, the glass of her spectacles. Fragments of necklaces, shoes, buttons and hooks, and crucially for those who did not want to believe all the women had been killed, six metal corset busks. Why would they burn corsets if the soldiers had not already killed six women? The only six women who were missing were the Tsarina, her four daughters and their maid.

Gilliard struggled to comprehend that all the children had been killed. He remained in Ekaterinberg, helping with the enquiry. In March 1920, as the military situation became unstable, he asked General Janin, head of the French mission in Siberia, to take the relics to France, along with the evidence of the enquiry. He filled three heavy valises which he gave to Janin. Janin took the evidence and relics to France.

More Confusion

In July 1920, Charles and Henri Omessa published a book, the Last Tsar. This threw more confusion onto the events on the night of July 16. Their story was based on the testimony of a former secret courier who served the Tsarina and had managed to infiltrate the guards at Ekaterinburg. According to this courier, the Tsarina and her children stood on a porch after the Tsar had been executed and were then marched into the forest where they were burned alive. The authors referred to a heap of ashes in the wood, among which was a diamond.

In 1921, Pierre Gillard published his memoirs of his time at the Russian court. He repeated Solokov’s conclusions that all the children he tutored were dead. But in the early 1920s, the situation was not clear, and without bodies, the competing theories were all speculation.

Emergence of Impostors and Anna Anderson

While he was in Russia, Gilliard went to a school to look at a boy who claimed to be the Tsar’s son. Gilliard was disappointed to see he was an impostor. As time went on, with no definitive proof, about two hundred people claimed to be members of the Tsar’s family. Normally, it was easy to prove they were imposters, or the person themselves quickly admitted to the hoax. But one person split opinion, and that was Anna Tchaivosky, who would later call herself Anna Anderson.

In 1922, as the emigrees lined up to visit Anna in hospital, the Russian Government expressly denied that the children and the Tsarina were killed. When Anna claimed that she had feigned death and hidden among the bodies in Ipatiev House, her story fit the official narrative. She said a sympathetic guard heard her breathing and helped her escape. For those who knew the young prank playing, charming Anastasia, the story rang true.

Supporters and Detractors

Gleb Botkin was one of Anna’s biggest supporters. He was the son of the physician who was killed with the Tsar. Gleb had played with Anastasia as a child and she told him about the silly pictures he drew. Other royals and aristocrats, including the Tsar’s cousin Prince Andre Vladimirovich of Russia supported her, and for many years Anna moved from castle to palace to New York apartments living with her supporters.

But others such as the Tsarina’s sister, Princess Irene of Hesse, were adamant, Anna was not Anastasia. Gilliard thought at first she might be, but then changed his mind. His wife, who had been Anastasia’s nanny, and Volkov, the Tsarina’s valet all denied Anna was Anastasia. Anna did not help her cause. She ignored some of her visitors and flew into tantrums when they played games on her trying to trick her into revealing that she was not Anastasia. The mystery continued.

Sensational Discovery – Read All About it

In 1927, a Berlin newspaper broke the story that Anna was a fraud. She was really Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish munitions factory worker, who had been injured in an accident at work. She had dropped a grenade which exploded, injuring her head and killing a foreman. Her landlady reported her missing from her Berlin lodgings in early 1920, and recognised Anna as her erstwhile tenant. The story gathered momentum, but lost credibility because the Tsarina’s brother had paid the investigator who uncovered the story.

Anna met Felix Schanzkowska, the factory worker’s brother, in an inn, but did not recognise him. He swore an affidavit that Anna bore a strong resemblance to his sister, but there were physical differences. Years later Felix said he recognised her as his sister but left her to her new life. In 1938, Anna met the Schanzkowski family again. The Nazi government had arranged the meeting and if Anna was found to have been lying about her identity, she would be imprisoned. Gertrude Schanzkowska was convinced Anna was her sister, but kept quiet, refusing to denounce her sister.

Retouched detail of an old photo first published in Germany in 1927 by the German-language tabloid newspaper Berliner Nachtausgabe and in France in 1929 in La Fausse Anastasie by Pierre Gilliard (see, for example, Kurth, Peter (1983) Anastasia: The Life of Anna Anderson, p. 325, for a publication history)
Retouched detail of an old photo first published in Germany in 1927 by the German-language tabloid newspaper Berliner Nachtausgabe and in France in 1929 in La Fausse Anastasie by Pierre Gilliard (see, for example, Kurth, Peter (1983) Anastasia: The Life of Anna Anderson, p. 325, for a publication history)

United States

By now Anna was attracting international attention. In 1928, Oleg Botkin and a distant cousin, who was a Russian Princess, Xenia Leeds, invited Anna to the United States. On the boat, Anna held a press conference. She was visiting New York to get her jaw reset. A Bolshevik soldier had broken it. One of her supporters booked her into a hotel as Anna Anderson, and the name stuck. Anna was the toast of New York. Socialites paid for her accommodation. Wealthy Americans hosted her, eager to help someone who could be Russian royalty.

The tenth anniversary of the execution of the Tsar approached. Because there was no body, his estate could not be distributed until ten years elapsed after his supposed death. Botkin found an American attorney to pursue claims on Anna’s behalf.

Other Claims on the Tsar’s estate

The estate could be divided amongst relatives. In October 1928, the Tsar’s mother died. She went to her grave in Copenhagen, believing her son to be alive. After the funeral, twelve family members gathered and denounced Anderson as an impostor and her story as a fairy tale.

Anna’s US supporters responded that the family were greedy and unscrupulous only denouncing Anna for money and seeking to defraud her of her inheritance.


The stage was now set for the longest running case in German legal history. Her lawyers sued for her share of the Tsar’s German estate.

When the English tabloid, News of the World sensationally denounced her as a fraud in 1932, her American lawyers sued for libel. The libel case was dismissed when World War II broke out because as a German resident she could not sue in enemy countries. This shut down one avenue to the truth. But her case to prove her identity continued.

Life for Anna in Germany

The litigation, fame, continual interest and obtrusiveness were too much for Anna. in 1929, she suffered a breakdown. A New York court committed her to a New York mental hospital where she remained for two years, before returning to Germany.

During the War, Anna was supported by German aristocrats, living with Louise of Saxe-Meiningen. When the area she was living in became part of the Russian Occupation Zone, a German prince helped her across the border to the French occupation zone, where Anna became a recluse, living alone with 60 cats and letting her house decay around her, dependent on the kindness and generosity of strangers. In 1968 she left Germany for the US.

The End of the Court Case

The German court case rumbled on. During the 1950s and 1960s, lawyers gathered evidence to support her claim. The court appointed a graphologist who said Anna and Anastasia’s handwriting was identical. Doctors confirmed she had a scar where Anastasia had a mole removed. An anthropologist examined her face and stated that Anna and Anastasia were either identical twins or the same person. But many witnesses said she was not Anastasia. Finally in 1970, the German court delivered its opinion. There was not sufficient proof to prove Anna was Anastastia, nor was there sufficient proof to prove she was not.

Anna Anderson Interview

Life had not been easy for Anna, but she found some stability in the US. She married Jack Manahan just before her visa expired and lived in Charlottesville. Jack was a wealthy history teacher and genealogist and believed she was Anastasia. Even after the German court case, questions as to Anna’s identity continued. Interviewed in 1978. Anna was petulant with the cameras, and seemed like a child as Jack moved her around for the cameras. When asked if she was the Grand-Duchess, she replied,

“How shall I tell you who I am? In which way? Can you tell me that? … You can believe it or you don’t believe it. It doesn’t matter.”

1978 Documentary on Anna Anderson

When asked about Yekaterinburg, Anna replied in the documentary No, no, no. That never happened. No, no.” Why had Anna kept her identity secret, “Because I would be killed at once.”

The fate of the Imperial Family

Journalists were now investigating not just Anna but also the fate of the Imperial Family itself. Some did not believe the official version of events and were not prepared to dismiss the evidence of the evacuation of the Tsarina and the children as Bolshevik misinformation. BBC journalists, Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold reviewed Solokov’s evidence and files of witness statements. One copy of the statements had ended up at the Hutton Library at Harvard. In 1972, they concluded that the Imperial Family had not been killed, but evacuated, and in 1978 published their views in the book, “The File on the Tsar.”

Summers and Mangold believed the Tsar and Alexei had been murdered, but not at Ipatiev House. The guards had probably killed the servants at the house and moved the Tsarina and her daughters to Perm. They had evidence of the women being at two specific addresses, but the women disappeared when Perm was retaken by the White Army. They concluded that Solokov had suppressed evidence. This was sensational, and gave credence to the fact that just maybe Anastasia had escaped after all.

Anna’s Final Years

In 1979, Anna had cancer. Doctors at the Martha Jefferson Hospital removed a tumor and part of her intestine. She spent her last few years in Virgina and died on 12 February 1984 of pneumonia. Anna maintained till the end that she was Anastasia. Her husband arranged her cremation and kept a lock of her hair. Meanwhile in Russia, others were trying to discover the fate of the Romanovs.

The Search for the Romanovs

In 1976, Gueli Riabov a Russian TV producer passed through Ekaterinberg. He visited Ipatiev House. He approached Alexander Avdonin, a local historian who had known some of the Tsar’s executioners and asked him if he would help find the bodies of the Imperial Family. The men started to re-analyse the evidence. While Riabov explored the archives, Avdonin carried out surveys of the ground. Riabov decided to meet the son of the Tsar’s killer, Yacov Yurosky. The son handed Riabov a note that Yurovsky wrote in February 1934. He said it was a note of a speech Yurovsky gave in 1934 to other Bolsheviks. This became known as the Yurovsky note.

Yurovsky’s Note – Gruesome Details of the Execution

Written sixteen years after the events, this report contained more information than had emerged during Sovlokov’s investigation, and horrific details. It told how bullets had ricocheted off the brick walls in the cellar, how the firing had become random and how the Little Pair, Anastasia and Maria, cowered against a wall together. When the smoke cleared, the guards saw that all the children had survived the initial onslaught. The jewels sewn into their clothes acted as bullet proof vests. The guards then bayoneted or shot the children and carried the bodies out of the building onto the truck.

But one or two of the daughters moaned on the carts. Yurovsky said they were finished off with rifle butts and bayonets.

Yakov Mikhailovich Yurovsky 1918
Yakov Mikhailovich Yurovsky, the executioner of the Tsar of Russia, 1918

Yorovsky’s Note – Clues to the Location of the Romanov Bodies

The report also contained clues to the location of the burial site. Yurovsky described how guards first dumped the bodies in a collapsed flooded mine. But inspection in the daylight, proved the mine was not deep enough. Guards recovered the bodies. Attempts to burn the bodies failed, because they were wet. Soldiers loaded the bodies onto the truck and moved to another site. But the truck stalled and got stuck in mud near a level crossing. Yurovsky decided to bury the bodies there. He asked a farmer for wooden planks, ostensibly to help drive the truck out of the mud. With time running out, the soldiers dug a pit and hastily buried the bodies in the pit. Then they placed the planks on top. The truck driver drove over the planks, flattening them into the ground. Soldiers burnt two bodies nearby. Interestingly Yurovsky wrote the bodies were Alexei and the maid, Demidova.

Yorovsky also noted that he had seen a photograph of Solotov, the investigator in 1920, standing by the planks. He was surprised that Solotov who had dug all over the forest had not dug under the planks. Had Solotov dug, the mystery of the Romanovs may have been solved earlier.

Finding the Bodies

Armed with this information, in 1978 Riabov and Avdonin searched the area near the level crossing. They took earth samples. When they found evidence of sulphuric acid in the earth, they started to dig. They found skulls, bones and skeletons at a depth of about 80cm on the Old Kaptikovskaya Road. There were only nine bodies. They removed skulls for analysis and reburied the bodies. At the time, secrecy was paramount. Russia was still part of the Soviet Union.

Reporting the Find

The late 1980s in Russia, were the time of Gorbachev, Glasnost and Perestoika. The Communist Party was reforming. Government was keen on openness and transparency. Riabov thought it was time to make the find known, but Avdonin was concerned. When Riabov reported the find in the late 1980s and asked for an investigation, he was careful to place the burial location half a kilometer away from where it was. It was just as well. Diggers and trucks moved in. In 1991, Riabov raised finance to exhume the skeletons. In the search, they found only nine skulls, 2 skulls were still missing.

DNA Testing – 1991

In the meantime, DNA Testing was carried out on the skeletons. The Duke of Edinburgh provided a DNA sample because he was related to the Tsarina. The Tsar’s relatives also provided DNA. American and Russian experts analsyed the DNA of the bodies and were able to say that the bodies were the Tsar, Tsarina, the four servants and three of their daughters.

The scientists were able to identify the skulls of the daughters from the shapes of their heads. When the sisters had measles in 1917, they cut their hair and posed for a photograph with shaved heads. Scientists were able to identify the skulls by comparing the skull to the shape of the head in the photograph. The scientists agreed on the results except in one crucial respect. The Russians thought one skeleton was Anastasia; the Americans that she was Maria. If the Americans were right, Anastasia was still missing. Was Anna Anderson, Anastasia after all? Had she survived?

The sisters with their shaved heads in 1918
The Romanov Sisters with their shaved heads in 1917

Anna Anderson – Her DNA

There was one way to find out; to test Anna Anderson’s DNA. But she was now dead. However, after her intestine was removed, the Martha Jefferson Hospital kept some of the tissue. The DNA testers were able to test this and the lock of hair that Anna’s husband had kept. They also took DNA of a descendant of the Schanzkowska family. The DNA was a match. Anna Anderson was not Anastasia. She was the Polish munitions factory worker.

Burial of the Imperial Family Remains

On the seventieth anniversary of the death of the Tsar, the bones of five members of the Imperial Family were buried at Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. Footage of the Russian Orthodox ceremony beamed around the world. On 1 November 1981, the Imperial family was canonized as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church along with other Romanovs who had been killed in 1918.

Two sets of remains were still missing, and groups continued to look for the remains of Alexei and the missing Grand Duchess.

2007 – the mystery is solved.

In 2007, a few bone fragments were found about 70 meters away from the first grave. Careful excavation found 44 bone fragments and teeth. More DNA tests followed in Austria, the US and Russia. The scientists all agreed. The bones were from a boy and a girl. These were the bones and teeth of the Tsarevich Alexei and either Grand Duchess Marie or Grand Duchess Anastasia. it is widely accepted that they are Marie’s.

With all the DNA results, that should be the end of the story. Anastasia did not survive. She was murdered along with her family, but the story continues. To date, the Russian Orthodox Church has refused to bury the final two siblings, and is questioning the DNA evidence. This has fuelled the theories that the Tsarina and her children were not killed in the cellar, but evacuated from it.

Concluding Remarks

For almost ninety years, the world was fascinated by the mystery of whether Anna Anderson was Anastasia and how the mischievous, pretty Grand-Duchess had escaped the fate of her family. Writers wrote books, Film producers made films, and newspaper editors filled many columns with updates on Anna Anderson’s life. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for playing Anastasia in a film. Yet it was a difficult life for Anna, notwithstanding it was spent in castles and palaces until she shut herself away. Arguments will run and run as to whether she instigated the hoax, or whether once Clara identified her, she went along with it. Given the injuries she suffered prior to being found, she may well have believed she was Anastasia. But one thins is certain, she had registered at a boarding house in Berlin under the name, Franziska Schanzkowska, before she threw herself of the bridge. Maybe she knew more than she let on.

And as for Anastasia? She did not deserve the end she received, a botched horrific murder. While the first five skeletons of the Imperial Family were buried, the remaining two sets of bones remain in cold storage. Further DNA tests carried out in 2018, confirmed that the bones and skeletons are those of the Romanov Imperial Family. The argument about whether the last skeleton was Anastasia or Maria will continue. Even now, there is a mystery about the identification of Anastasia.

Further Reading:

For more information:

  1. Yurosvky’s 1922 and 1934 notes


2. Anastasia’s letters https://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/anastasiaexile.php


3. DNA Results


4. Interview with Summers and Mangold



Aberdeen Press and Journal Monday 22 July 1918.


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