While it's now considered history to younger students, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, are moments permanently etched in Americans' minds. Most everyone can tell you exactly what they were doing when they heard about the events, and many who lost loved ones can recall the day in excruciating detail. 2,753 people lost their lives at the World Trade Center alone, and tens of thousands of survivors still live with physical and psychological health problems. The idea that someone would pretend to be involved in such a horrifying event is both shocking and distasteful - but one woman did exactly that.
Alicia Esteve Head - known primarily by her alias, Tania Head - was a graduate student in Barcelona during the events of 9/11. Despite not even being in New York City at the time, she joined the World Trade Center Survivors' Network and told a dramatic story of being severely injured and losing her fiancé. Although this tale won her sympathy and friendship, those close to her - and reporters - started to sense something wasn't right. Her narrative wasn't always consistent, and after The New York Times opened up an investigation, people learned Tania Head's story was completely fabricated.
Her ruse was conveyed in the documentary The Woman Who Wasn't There. Head's then-friend Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr. directed and produced the movie, and he originally intended to showcase the lives of survivors. He had to change tactics when Head's true story came out.
Like the documentary Mommy Dead And Dearest, the movie delves into a web of intricate lies and speculates about the motivation behind such harmful deceit. Trauma - especially collective grief - can make people act out in a strange manner, and Tania Head appears to be no exception.
Tania Head's purported story of survival is a harrowing one. According to Head, she was working at Merrill Lynch on the 78th floor of the south tower on 9/11/01. This would have made her one of the 19 people located at or above the impact point. Head further claimed her fiancé, Dave, was in the north tower.
Head said she survived with serious harm to her person, the worst of which involved having her arm completely severed, save for a tiny flap of skin holding it together. At some point, she recalled a man gave her his wedding ring, which she reportedly returned to his widow later.
Head then claimed she was rescued by Welles Crowther, an actual participant in the events. Crowther is an equities trader and volunteer firefighter who helped several people during the event, but he didn't make it out himself. Head was reportedly hospitalized immediately after escaping the building.
This was the story Head told the members of the World Trade Center Survivors' Network, the press, and anyone else who would listen.
Not only was Head not actually involved in the events at the World Trade Center on 9/11/01, she wasn't even in the United States at the time. Instead, Head was in Barcelona, Spain, where she was a graduate student.
Head wasn't just staying in Barcelona; she was born and raised in Spain and lived under her true name, Alicia Esteve Head. She hailed from a wealthy family, though not a carefree one - her father and brother were involved in a 1992 financial scandal and served jail time.
Tania didn't even travel to the US for the first time until 2003, two years after 9/11.
The World Trade Center Survivors' Network is a group dedicated to serving the needs of survivors, paying tribute to the memories of those lost, and advocating for social services survivors might need. Head didn't simply join the group - she became one of its key members.
The extreme nature of Head's story, combined with her magnetic personality, made her a perfect candidate to represent the organization. She led tours of the World Trade Center and was photographed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former New York governor George Pataki.
She formed close bonds with other members, gave talks on the survivor experience, and eventually assumed a leadership position - ousting founder and president Gerry Bogacz from his position.
No one confronted Head about the veracity of her story until she was actually investigated - but that doesn't mean everyone trusted her. Brendan, a member of the World Trade Center Survivor's Network, said he found it suspicious that Head couldn't show any photographs from her life with her fiancé, Dave, and she didn't seem to have any connection with his family.
Brendan started to suspect Head wasn't telling the truth, so he attempted to confirm her story. When he looked up information about Dave, he found plenty on his family and friends, but nothing about his alleged fiancé. This set off some serious alarm bells.
Other members also became suspicious of Head, especially after her extreme reaction to The New York Times' attempts to investigate her story.