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.
'The New York Times' Began To Unravel Head's Story
The New York Times wanted to write about Head's story - not because they found it suspicious, but because it seemed like an inspiring tale of survival. They began to fact-check the details of her account, something investigative journalists do as a matter of course. That's when they began to uncover discrepensies.
Merrill Lynch, the company Head said she worked for, had no record of her employment. Similarly, Harvard and Stanford, the two universities she claimed to have attended, had no record of her.
Head's reaction to the Times' attempts to interview her was intense. She panicked and cried, and the WTC Survivor's Network felt the need to protect her from the journalists in question. Some, however, expressed confusion and frustration as to why she couldn't simply verify her story.
Dave Was Real - But His Relationship With Head Was Not
One truly unsettling aspect of Head's story is her alleged relationship with Dave. According to Head, the two met after fighting over a cab. He gave her his card, and she threw it away angrily. They wound up meeting again through work, however, and formed a relationship. The couple began living together on the East Side of New York with Elvis, their Golden Retriever.
Just before 9/11, they had a commitment ceremony in Hawaii, and they planned to have a legally binding wedding in October 2001. To honor his passing and commemorate how they met, Head left a toy taxicab at the memorial site.
As it turns out, Dave did exist, but he wasn't Head's fiancé. In fact, it's unlikely the two ever met. Head seemingly found his name while researching 9/11 victims, and used the memory of Dave to bolster her story.
She Did Come To Harm, But Not During 9/11
One of the things that made Head's story so convincing was she actually did have scars and burns on her arm. These were not acquired during the events of 9/11, though; they were the result of a car accident that occurred when she was taking a trip with her friends in Barcelona.
Head was the only person to sustain serious harm; she claimed her arm was severed and flew out the window, but she located it and had it reattached.
According to Head's childhood friend Sonia, the pain of the accident - combined with the stress of her family's financial scandal - caused her to "live in two different worlds." One can only guess as to Head's true motivation for transposing her ordeal onto the dramatic backdrop of 9/11, but it certainly made her story more believable.
There Was No Financial Incentive For Her To Lie
No one knows why Head put so much effort into deceiving others, but one thing is certain - her motivation was not monetary gain. She didn't earn any money from her endeavor. In fact, she actually gave money to the World Trade Center Survivor's Network.
Some people use tragedies like 9/11 to collect donations, appearance fees, and other benefits, but there are no records suggesting Head made any money from her charade. Whatever she gained, it was social and emotional, not financial.