Anna Anderson is the most widely-known Romanov imposter. Pulled soaking wet from a Berlin Canal in 1920, she was brought to a city asylum for medical and psychological care. Not long after she'd settled in, she noticed some fellow inmates looking at a magazine that featured a story and photos of the last Russian tsar and his family, who were murdered in 1918. Anderson pointed to one of the tsar's daughters and quietly claimed she was the girl in the photo.
That moment marked the beginning of a more than 60-year career as a Romanov claimant. After considering two of the tsar's daughters, Anderson settled on Anastasia Nikolaievna, the youngest daughter of the Romanov family.
Anderson looked nothing like the lost Grand Duchess, but she had two highly successful advantages in her pursuit of imperial glory. First, millions of people around the world wanted to believe that someone, anyone, had survived the massacre in a Central Russian basement. The murders were considered exceptionally vile because the entire family, including the five children, were violently killed together with the intended target, Tsar Nicholas II. The family - particularly the children - was well-known by the public thanks to the sale of numerous postcards bearing their enchanting likenesses.
While the general public felt devastated by the cruel murders, other Romanovs and their extended family and close friends in Russia, and all over Eastern and Western Europe, were also easy marks for someone such as Anderson. They, too, longed to find a survivor.
Anderson's second advantage was her ability to convince and persuade. Over nearly half a century, she was taken under the wing of one grieving family member or friend after another, all of them eager to believe. All the while, Anderson listened, watched, and learned.
During the first decade of her imposture alone, she learned a great many details about Anastasia and the life she lived with her family, including the clothing she wore, the people she knew, the places she visited, and the palaces she lived in. Anderson had a remarkable memory and used it to her advantage. Once she made her claim, she was never without at least one wealthy, ardent supporter who was desperate to believe a Romanov child survived.
Her final touch of creative genius included a thorough back story, in which she explained how she had escaped, who had helped her, and how she came to be suicidal and threw herself into the Berlin canal.
Part of that back story included an explanation as to why she could speak no Russian. She claimed that due to the rough language used by the guards during her imprisonment and the terrible night of July 16, 1918, she had "blocked" or "lost" the ability to recall, speak, or understand Russian.
Bear in mind that while she convinced most, she did not convince all. Certain Romanov relations investigated Anderson, and their investigation concluded that she was actually a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska.
Despite her detractors, her great luck in convincing others continued. She became so well known that she was featured in Life magazine. A film, titled Anastasia, was based on her story. 1950s crooner Pat Boone even recorded a song with the same title. More than a dozen best-selling books detailing her story and claims were published in her lifetime. The TV documentary series In Search Of featured the Romanov story and an interview with Anderson. Around ten years after Anderson's 1984 death, a popular animated movie titled Anastasia premiered. It was loosely based on the Anna Anderson tale. She and her story of improbable survival and escape are practically cultural icons.
And yet... sometimes the truth prevails. When Anderson was in her late seventies, she was hospitalized for an obstructed colon. Surgery and a biopsy were performed at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a piece of Anderson's intestine was preserved as a tissue sample.
Fast forward to 1991, when remains of the missing Romanovs were discovered outside Ekaterinburg, the Russian city where they were murdered. DNA science was still in its infancy, but the technique was developed to the extent that usable samples were extracted from the discovered remains. Then the DNA was compared with known living Romanov relatives, including Prince Philip of the United Kingdom. The samples matched. At long last the world knew the true fate of the last imperial family.
Of course, it didn't take too long for someone to remember that, while Anderson was already dead and cremated, her DNA was indeed preserved in the Charlottesville hospital lab. The test was performed, but there was zero match. Subsequent tests have revealed the same results. The most determined, most convincing Romanov imposter was at last exposed.
Additional tests were performed using Anderson's sample with samples from Schanzkowska's close relatives. Those tests demonstrated a "unique relationship" between the two samples, and most historians and scientists support the argument that Anderson was indeed the Polish factory worker, Schanzkowska.