Here comes a couple of men tearing up the path as tight as they could foot it … One of these fellows was about seventy or upwards and had a bald head and very grey whiskers. He had an old battered-up slouch hat on, and a greasy blue woolen shirt, and ragged old blue jeans.… The other fellow was about thirty, and dressed about as ornery. After breakfast we all laid off and talked, and the first thing that comes out is that these chaps didn’t know one another.…
Nobody never said anything for awhile; then the young man hove a sigh and says, … “Ah, you would not believe me; the world never believes—let it pass—’tis no matter. The secret of my birth … Gentlemen,” says the young man, very solemn, “I will reveal it to you, for I feel I may have confidence in you. By rights I am a duke!”
Jim’s eyes bugged out when he heard that; and I reckon mine did, too.
“Yes, my great-grandfather, eldest son of the Duke of Bridgewater, fled to this country about the end of the last century, to breathe the pure air of freedom; married here and died, leaving a son, his own father dying about the same time. The second son of the late duke seized the titles and estates—the infant real duke was ignored. I am the lineal descendant of that infant—I am the rightful Duke of Bridgewater; and here I am, forlorn, torn from my high estate, hunted of men, despised by the cold world, ragged, worn, heartbroken, and degraded to the companionship of felons on a raft.”
Jim pitied him ever so much and so did I. We tried to comfort him.… He said we ought to bow when we spoke to him, and say “Your Grace,” or “My Lord,” or “Your Lordship.…” Well, that was easy so we done it.… But the old man got pretty silent by and by.… So, along in the afternoon, he says, “Looky here, Bilgewater.… I’m sorry for you, but you ain’t the only person that’s had troubles like that.”
“No, you ain’t the only person that’s had a secret of his birth.… Bilgewater, kin I trust you?… Bilgewater, I am the late Dauphin.… Yes, my friend, it is too true—your eyes is lookin’ at this very moment on the poor disappeared Dauphin, Looy the Seventeen, son of Looy the Sixteen and Marry Antonette.… Yes, gentlemen, you see before you, in blue jeans and misery, the wanderin’, exiled, trampled-on, and sufferin’ rightful King of France.”
… He said it often made him feel easier and better for awhile if people … got down on one knee to speak to him, and always called him “Your Majesty” and waited on him first at meals, and didn’t sit down in his presence till he asked them.… So Jim and me set to majestying him.… This done him heaps of good, and so he got cheerful and comfortable. But the duke kind of soured on him.…
Mark Twain, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
The mysterious disappearance of the Russian Imperial family in July 1918 created fertile soil for the sprouting of delusion, fabrication, sham, romance, burlesque, travesty, and humbug. Since then, a long, occasionally colorful, frequently pathetic line of claimants and impostors has glided and stumbled across the century. Their stories have a common beginning: among the executioners in Ekaterinburg there allegedly existed a man, or men, of compassion—even Yurovsky was assigned this role—who secretly helped one Romanov, or two, or perhaps the entire family to escape. A recurring motive in many of these impostures was the belief that Tsar Nicholas II left a fortune behind in a foreign bank. As for delusion, who would not choose being a grand duke to real life as a gulag prisoner, a horse trainer, or even a famous spy? And being treated as a grand duchess must be preferable to being a factory worker or a milliner. Public support, naturally, is essential to these masquerades. For many years, a charming fellow adorned the society of Scottsdale, Arizona, wearing the name of Alexis Nicholaevich Romanov. When a Phoenix newspaperman was asked whether people in Scottsdale really believed that the man sitting next to them at dinner was the tsarevich, the newspaperman replied, “They wanted to. They wanted to.”
These legends originated in and were nourished by the “disinformation” spoken, published, and broadcast by Lenin’s government: Nicholas had been killed, but his wife and children were safe; Alexis had been executed along with his father; the Kremlin did not know where the women were—they were missing in the chaos of the civil war; the Soviet foreign minister supposed that the daughters were in America. This stream of disinformation continued until, as Investigator Soloviev noted, the regime felt itself secure enough to boast that everyone, children included, had been simultaneously murdered. Given the constant alterations and amendments to its tales, few outside the Soviet Union believed anything the Soviet government said.
Sokolov’s investigation, not finding the bodies, further opened the door to doubt. Some accepted without question his belief that eleven people had been killed and their bodies totally destroyed. Others accepted his findings but had reservations. Still others rejected Sokolov absolutely. White Russian emigres and Western newspapers passed back and forth rumors that the murders had been a hoax. In 1920, the tsar was said to have been seen in the streets of London, his hair snow white. Another story placed him in Rome, hidden in the Vatican by the pope. The entire Imperial family was said to be aboard a ship cruising eternally through the waters of the White Sea, never touching land.
The confusion over the death of the Imperial family, and the multitude of contradictory stories in the Soviet Union and the West, made almost inevitable what happened next. Over the years, dozens of claimants stepped forward, presenting themselves as this or that member of the Imperial family. Nicholas and Alexandra did not reappear (although in one version, they were reported to have escaped to Poland), but all of the five children appeared in different times and places. The Soviet Union (now Russia and other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States) produced the largest assemblage:
A young woman claiming to be Anastasia, whose documents named her as Nadezhda Ivanova Vasilyeva, appeared in Siberia in 1920, trying to make her way to China. She was arrested and shuttled between prisons in Nizhny Novgorod, Moscow, Leningrad, and, finally, an island gulag in the White Sea. In 1934, she was dispatched to a prison hospital in Kazan, from where she wrote letters in French and German to King George V (“Uncle George”) pleading for help. For a brief period in the hospital, she changed her story and said that she was the daughter of a Riga merchant. She died in an asylum in 1971, but, according to the head of the Kazan hospital, “except for her claim that she was Anastasia, she was completely sane.”
Not long ago, Edvard Radzinsky traveled “one day by train, one day by bus, one day by horse” to a remote village in the Urals which believed that it had given refuge in 1919 to the tsar’s two youngest daughters, Marie and Anastasia. The grand duchesses, Radzinsky was told, had lived together as nuns “in terrible poverty, afraid every day,” sheltered by the local priest, until they died, both in 1964. The villagers showed Radzinsky the tombstones inscribed “Marie Nicholaevna” and “Anastasia Nicholaevna.” Radzinsky himself gave some credence to a story he was told about a former gulag prisoner named Filipp Grigorievich Semyonov, who claimed to have been the Tsarevich Alexis. Described as “a rather tall man, somewhat stout, sloping shoulders, slightly round-shouldered … a long, pale face, blue or grey slightly bulging eyes, a high forehead,” Semyonov had served in the Red Army as a cavalryman, studied economics in Baku, and worked as an economist in Central Asia. In 1949, he turned up in a psychiatric hospital where he was classified as an “acute psychotic.” Questioned by Soviet doctors, the patient knew more about the names and titles of the Imperial family, the Imperial palaces, and court protocol and ceremonies than his interrogators. He also had a cryptorchidism (one undescended testicle), which the examining physician said he had been told was the case with the tsarevich. His hemophilia, apparently untroublesome during his years in the Red cavalry, “returned,” Radzinsky said, “two months before his death.”
The Semyonov story attracted the attention of Vladimir Soloviev and the Office of the Public Prosecutor. “Semyonov was a puzzling, very doubtful person,” Soloviev said. “He was arrested during the war. Men leaving for the front were given money, and he stole that money, one hundred thousand rubles. He was sentenced to death, and then he remembered that he was the tsarevich. They sent him to a mental hospital, and that is how he avoided the death penalty. He wound up as a worker in the morgue, the lowest position, carrying corpses.” Radzinsky possessed a photograph of Semyonov, which, in the playwright’s view, bore a similarity to the thirteen-year-old tsarevich. In the opinion of others, there was no resemblance.
Alexander Avdonin had several large files filled with letters and photographs sent by the “children” and then the “grandchildren” of Nicholas II. Turning through them, he said, “Here is Alexis and here is his daughter.… This is Marie Nicholaevna.… Here is the daughter of Olga Nicholaevna; she is one of two daughters of Olga.… There is Anastasia … there is the daughter of Anastasia … and there is the grandson of Anastasia.… Here is another Anastasia.” Avdonin did not mock these people; because they wrote to him mostly pitiable letters, he was sympathetic. “I wish that we could afford to do blood testing or DNA testing on all of them,” he said. “So that they would know who they are. And who they are not.”
In Europe, other claimants appeared. A woman named Marga Boodts, living in a villa on Lake Como in Italy, declared that she was the tsar’s oldest daughter, Grand Duchess Olga; the money supporting her was said to come from the pope and the former kaiser.
Another daughter, Grand Duchess Tatiana, was reported to have been rescued from Siberia by British agents in an airplane and flown to Vladivostok, then carried across the Pacific to Canada in a Japanese battleship, then escorted across Canada and across the Atlantic to England, arriving one month after the executions in Ekaterinburg. A different story depicts Tatiana as a belly dancer and prostitute in Constantinople, from which plight she was rescued by a British officer who married her. This woman, Larissa Feodorovna Tudor, died in 1927 and is buried in a graveyard in Kent.
The tsar’s third daughter, Marie, is said to have escaped to Rumania, where she married and bore a child named Olga-Beata. Olga-Beata, in turn, had a son, who lived in Madrid as Prince Alexis d’Anjou de Bourbon-Condé Romanov-Dolgoruky. In 1994, the prince proclaimed himself “His Imperial and Royal Highness, Hereditary Grand Duke and Tsarevich of Russia, King of Ukraine, and Grand Duke of Kiev.” In 1971, the Dolgoruky family and the Association of Descendants of the Russian Nobility of Belgium brought an action in a Belgian court against “Prince Alexis,” charging that he was in fact a Belgian citizen named Alex Brimeyer. The court sentenced Brimeyer-Dolgoruky-Romanov to eighteen months in jail. In 1995, he died in Spain.
After the Second World War, a Tsarevich Alexis appeared in Ulm, Germany. This claimant had served as a major in the Red Air Force, biding his time, he said, to escape from the Soviet Union. Once in Ulm, he worked for many years as a plant technician, not revealing his true identity until his final years.
Other tsareviches sprang up in North America. Mrs. Sandra Romanov of Vancouver, British Columbia, believes that her husband, Alexei Tammet-Romanov, who died of leukemia in 1977, was the son of the tsar. She is willing to have his body exhumed so that a DNA test can be performed.
There was the robust Prince Alexis Romanov, who lived his last thirty years in Scottsdale, Arizona, and died in 1986. This entrepreneurial tsarevich operated a perfume and jewelry store and marketed a brand of vodka called Alexis. According to the label, it was “a special distillation to the specification of Prince Alexis Romanov, who is a direct descendant of Tsar Nicholas Romanov, Tsar of All the Russias.” Prince Alexis lived colorfully, dating movie stars, marrying five times, and earning a reputation as a polo player. Polo is a violent sport; he admitted that, over forty years, he had suffered eleven broken bones. His fifth and final wife fell in love with him when she first saw him on horseback. “He was the most elegant rider I have ever seen,” she said. “He looked like part of the horse. When he rode in the lot next to the Hilton, traffic would be tied up from people stopping to watch.”
Recently, a son of another Tsarevich Alexis, who says that his father was assassinated in Chicago by the KGB, appeared in Washington, D.C. He says that he had secret meetings with Vice President Dan Quayle and Secretary of State James A. Baker III and that they told him, “We know who you are. Hold yourself in readiness.”
In the early 1960s, two claimants appeared in the United States who managed to attract the attention of national newspapers and publishing houses. Ultimately, they met. One was an Alexis, the other an Anastasia.
On April 1, 1958, the American ambassador in Bern, Switzerland, received an anonymous letter written in German, postmarked in Zurich. The author, describing himself as a senior official in a Soviet Bloc national intelligence service, offered his services to the U.S. government and asked that his letter be forwarded to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. For twenty-four months, this agent, using the code name Heckenschuetze (German for sharpshooter or sniper), passed more than two thousand microfilm documents to the Central Intelligence Agency. Unwilling to reveal his name or country of origin, this spy exposed a number of KGB moles planted inside Western governments and intelligence agencies; these agents included Stig Wennerström, George Blake, Gordon Lonsdale, Israel Beer, Heinz Felfe, and John Vassal.
The mystery as to the agent’s identity seemed to have ended in December 1960, when a man speaking English telephoned the U.S. Consulate in West Berlin and announced that he was Heckenschuetze. Saying that his life was threatened, he declared that he was coming over. On Christmas Day, Heckenschuetze crossed into West Berlin. He turned out to be a husky, dark-haired man with blue eyes, a protruding lower lip, and a flourishing guardsman’s mustache. The defector presented his name and identity papers. He was, apparently, Lt. Col. Michael Goleniewski, a senior officer of Polish Army Military Intelligence. Later, Goleniewski elaborated: “From 1957 to 1960, I was the head of the Technical and Scientific Department of the Polish Secret Service. This function led me to foreign travel, which was very important for my clandestine activities. I had close ties with influential people in the KGB without ever having belonged to it.” An American intelligence official explained, “Goleniewski was in Polish Military Intelligence. But at the same time he was employed by the Russians to keep tabs on all Polish intelligence services and personalities in Poland and in the West.”
Colonel Goleniewski was shocked and displeased by the reception party which greeted him. He had expected to be met by agents of the FBI. Through all his months of service, he had believed that he was dealing directly with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Although he knew that by law the CIA is responsible for espionage conducted by the United States outside American territory, Goleniewski had deliberately intended to bypass it in the belief that it had been infiltrated by Soviet agents. His mistake about the identity of his American handlers had been accepted and encouraged: all messages sent back to him had been signed “Hoover.” Nevertheless, the men waiting in Berlin to receive him were agents of the CIA. Colonel Goleniewski never met Hoover; the nearest he got was a tour of the FBI building in Washington, in which he was shown the Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde exhibits, a display on the crime laboratory and fingerprints, and a number of portraits and photographs of J. Edgar Hoover.
On January 12, 1961, Goleniewski arrived in the United States from Germany on a U.S. military plane. Given an employment contract and a stipend from the U.S. government, he worked for almost three years with CIA debriefing officers, describing Soviet intelligence techniques and operations and pinpointing the names of Communist agents in various Western countries. On September 30, 1961, he had a one-hour meeting with CIA director Allen Dulles. The agency had not yet moved into its quarters in Langley, Virginia, and the only detail the visitor remembered was Dulles’s concern that his new office would lack sufficient wall space to mount his extensive collection of pipes. The conversation, according to Goleniewski, was vague and noncommittal.
Because the Polish government, on learning of his defection, had sentenced him to death in absentia, the CIA placed him in a well-secured apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens. In order to give Goleniewski the protection of U.S. citizenship, the agency negotiated with the House and Senate committees on immigration and nationality. “The beneficiary, Michael Goleniewski, a native and citizen of Poland, was born August 16, 1922, in Nieswiez,” the CIA told the House Immigration Subcommittee. “He completed three years of law at the University of Poznan and, in 1956, received a master’s degree in political science from the University of Warsaw. He enlisted in the Polish Army in 1945 and was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in 1955.” On July 10, 1963, a private bill, H.R. 5507, was introduced. The bill declared, “The beneficiary is a 40-year-old native and citizen of Poland who has been admitted to the United States for permanent residence and is employed by the U.S. Government.… His services to the United States are rated as truly significant.” The bill passed both houses of Congress, and Michael Goleniewski became a citizen of the United States.
This, however, was not the conclusion to the case. At some point during his months with the CIA, Goleniewski told his debriefing officers another tale. Goleniewski, the defector informed them, was a cover name he had used while living in Poland and working in Polish intelligence. His true identity, he said, was Grand Duke Alexei Nicholaevich Romanov; he was, he announced, the Russian tsarevich presumed to have been killed in Ekaterinburg.
Instead of shooting the family in the cellar, according to Goleniewski, Yurovsky had helped them to escape. He shepherded them, disguised as poor refugees, out of Russia. After months of travel through Turkey, Greece, and Austria, they found their way to Warsaw. Why Warsaw? “My father thought it over very carefully,” Goleniewski said. “He chose Poland because there were a large number of Russians in the cities and on the farms. He thought we could blend into the background without attracting attention. He shaved off his beard and mustache, and nobody recognized him. In 1924, we moved from Warsaw to a country village near Poznan, close to the German border.”
That same year, he said, his mother, Empress Alexandra, died, and the tsar sent Anastasia to America to withdraw funds from a bank in Detroit. She never returned to Poland. Subsequently, Olga and Tatiana moved to Germany. Nicholas, Alexis, and his sister Marie remained near Poznan through the Second World War, and for a time the tsar served in the Polish Underground. Goleniewski grew up in Poznan. In 1945, after the war, friends arranged his admission into the Polish Army, and he began his career in intelligence. In 1952, at the age of eighty-four, Nicholas II died. At the time of his own defection, Goleniewski said, all four of his sisters were alive, and he was in contact with them.
Two questions arose: What was Goleniewski’s age? And what was the condition of his hemophilia? Goleniewski had told the CIA and the U.S. Congress that he was born in 1922, whereas the Tsarevich Alexis was born in 1904. A difference of eighteen years is difficult to hide, and Colonel Goleniewski’s age in 1961 appeared much closer to thirty-nine than to fifty-seven. Goleniewski explained. His hemophilia had been confirmed, he said, by Dr. Alexander S. Wiener of Brooklyn, a codiscoverer of the Rh factor in blood.*His youthful appearance he ascribed to a rare suspension of growth in childhood caused by his illness; hemophilia, he said, had meant that he was a child “twice over.”
Having revealed his Imperial identity, Colonel Goleniewski was ready to collect his inheritance. “After the 1905 war with Japan,” he said, “my father started depositing money in Western countries.” In New York, he named the Chase Bank, Morgan Guaranty, J. P. Morgan & Co., Hanover, and Manufacturer’s Trust; in London, the Bank of England, Baring Brothers, Barclays Bank, and Lloyds Bank; in Paris, the Bank of France and Rothschild Bank; in Berlin, the Mendelssohn Bank. “The sum amounts to $400 million in the United States alone,” Goleniewski declared. “Up to twice that amount is deposited in other countries. I won’t demand every nickel, but I want a fair amount. If I can’t get it, I will go to court and a lot of important names will come out.”
Goleniewski’s claim that he was the tsarevich embarrassed the CIA. He insisted on being addressed as a grand duke. He had a violent temper. Director Dulles quickly washed his hands of the former agent. Asked by a reporter about Goleniewski’s claim, Dulles replied, “The story may all be true or it may not be. I do not care to discuss the subject further.” Eventually, a decision was made: whatever the value of Goleniewski’s services to the agency, the CIA could not be put in the position of supporting his claim to the tsar’s fortune. Late in 1964, the agency put Goleniewski on a pension and severed all connections with its former spy.
Looking back on the CIA’s relationship with Goleniewski, a former senior officer of the agency, now retired, remembered meeting the Polish agent twice. “I went up to see if I could pour oil on troubled waters. It was no use; he was around the bend. But I will say this: the material he provided us was very good indeed. There was no nonsense. It was not the product of a fevered imagination. It was the real stuff.” Was Goleniewski, as The New York Times had once described him, the most productive agent in the history of the CIA? “No, that’s terribly exaggerated. But he provided very clear, precise identification. It led to some serious arrests.”
During Goleniewski’s final year at the CIA, the press became involved. For three years, his story had been kept out of the newspapers, but when his private citizenship bill went up to Capitol Hill, the responsible congressional subcommittee wanted the CIA to produce the defector for interrogation. “I want to see a live body,” said the subcommittee chairman. The agency refused to allow Goleniewski to appear before the committee. The former spy became enraged and went to the press. He gained a willing ear in New York Journal-American reporter Guy Richards. Richards found Goleniewski “striding energetically back and forth in his apartment” and described him as “41, a husky, handsome, Polish-born agent, who resembles the Hollywood prototype of the suave spy.”
Meanwhile, Goleniewski was twice subpoenaed to appear before secret sessions of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. The appearances never took place. After several postponements, the subcommittee decided not to put Goleniewski in the witness chair. Instead, Jay Sourwine, the committee counsel, questioned witnesses from the State Department who testified to the invariable accuracy and importance of the intelligence information Goleniewski had supplied. Sourwine said that the reason Goleniewski had not been questioned directly was that he insisted on testifying first about his Romanov identity. The senators, he said, had decided that this would “not be appropriate.”
Depressed by the Senate’s refusal to hear his testimony, Goleniewski quickly became the center of another storm. On September 30, 1964, a few hours before the birth of their daughter, Tatiana, he married thirty-five-year-old Irmgard Kampf, a German Protestant with whom he had been living. On his wedding license and in the church marriage register, Goleniewski signed his name as Alexis Nicholaevich Romanov, son of Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov and Alexandra Feodorovna Romanov, née von Hesse. He listed his birthday as August 12, 1904, and his birthplace as Peterhof, Russia. Two middle-aged women, whom he described as his “sisters, Olga and Tatiana,” came from Germany for the wedding. The ceremony was performed in his apartment by the very reverend archpriest and protopresbyter of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Count George P. Grabbe, better known as Father George. (Father George was a nephew of Maj. Gen. Count Alexander Grabbe, commander of Tsar Nicholas II’s Cossack horse guards.) A photograph taken that day shows a bearded Grabbe seated next to the pregnant bride, the groom, and the two “sisters,” whose resemblance to the grand duchesses—even given the passage of many decades—is nonexistent.
The storm raged not so much around Goleniewski—whose claim to be the tsarevich had long since been dismissed as “absurd,” “outrageous,” and “a stupid Soviet fabrication” by the Russian emigre community in America—as around Father George. The priest was ferociously attacked in the Russian-American press. Grabbe’s ecclesiastical superiors forbade him to baptize little Tatiana. He was obliged to repeat over and over that the name Romanov was as common in Russia as Smith in America, that as a priest he could not refuse to marry a couple who were otherwise qualified, that Goleniewski could not possibly be that Alexis Nicholaevich Romanov, and that his performance of the wedding in no way signified church recognition of the groom’s claim to identity.
At the time, Father George’s explanations failed to convince his accusers, especially when it became known—by way of a three-column ad in the Journal-American, supposedly paid for by Colonel Goleniewski—that, before he agreed to perform the ceremony, he had visited Goleniewski five times in his Queens apartment. As a result of his action, Grabbe was asked to resign from all Russian emigre organizations; for a while, no one would speak to him.
Thirty years later, Father George, now called Bishop Gregory and retired, explained why he had done what he did. On September 30, 1964, he received a call from Goleniewski at five o’clock in the morning, saying that his wife was about to give birth and that he possessed a marriage license. Father George went to Goleniewski’s apartment, where he found the expectant couple and a publisher named Robert Speller waiting. Goleniewski handed the priest a marriage license made out in the name of Alexis Nicholaevich Romanov and a court decree showing that he had changed his name from Michael Goleniewski to Alexis Romanov. “I could have walked out,” admitted Bishop Gregory. “Perhaps I should have. But, given the circumstances, I felt I had no choice. When a child is about to be born out of wedlock, a priest has a responsibility. The wife went directly to Manhasset Hospital and gave birth.” Many years later, the child born that day wrote to Bishop Gregory, asking the bishop to help her find her father. “I didn’t answer,” said Bishop Gregory. “I didn’t want to be mixed up with him anymore.”
Goleniewski’s temper and mental stability worsened. He severed his relationships with every American he had known, declaring, “You are dismissed!” He accused Guy Richards of “criminal libel.” He continued to live in Queens on a U.S. government pension, which he complained was only five hundred dollars a month, the equivalent of a Polish colonel’s pension. In 1966, he began writing open letters to the director of the CIA, to Attorney General Ramsey Clark, to the U.S. Civil Liberties Union, and to the International Red Cross. “I am no longer able to pay the monthly rent for my apartment arranged by the CIA,” he complained. “I have been deprived of necessary and expensive medical help. I have been deprived of any possibilities to express my opinions through the free press.” He demanded fifty thousand dollars in arrears salary payment and one hundred thousand dollars in reimbursement for loss of property in Poland.
During the 1970s, Colonel Goleniewski published from his home a monthly bulletin titled Double Eagle, “dedicated to the national independence and security of the United States and the survival of Christian Civilization.” In it, he titled himself “His Imperial Highness, the Heir to the Ail-Russian Imperial Throne, Tsarevich and Grand Duke Alexis Nicholaevich Romanoff of Russia, the August Ataman and Head of the Russian Imperial House of Romanoff, etc., Knight of the OSA, OSG, OSJ, etc. and of SOS, FLH, etc.” The bulletin was a twenty-page, densely typed, unparagraphed cataract of abuse against “Jewish bankers from London,” “aristocratic thieves,” “embezzlers,” “ganglords and transcontinental racketeers,” and “cannibalistic usurers.” Colonel Goleniewski declared that the Rockefellers were the “biggest crooks who ever existed” and that on his list of Soviet agents passed to the CIA in 1961 had been a university professor named Henry Kissinger.
In 1981, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad canonized all the immediate members of the last Russian Imperial family, including the Tsarevich Alexis. This ceremony, possible only because the church considered all of the family to have been martyred in death, provoked an outburst from Colonel Goleniewski. He declared the Church Abroad—a fiercely anti-Communist institution—to have been “thoroughly penetrated by the KGB” in order to carry out this plot against his rightful inheritance. Thereafter, Goleniewski became less visible. In August 1993, a former Polish intelligence officer wrote in a Polish newspaper that his onetime colleague Michael Goleniewski had died in New York on July 12, 1993. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency does not know what became of its former agent Heckenschuetze.
On October 18, 1963, the cover of Life, the nation’s most prominent and widely read weekly magazine, displayed a picture of Nicholas II’s five children. The headline was “THE CASE OF A NEW ANASTASIA: IS A LADY FROM CHICAGO THE TSAR’S DAUGHTER?” Inside, across ten pages, Life excerpted a new book, Anastasia, the Autobiography of the Grand Duchess of Russia, and summarized the life of its author, a woman who called herself Eugenia Smith. For forty years this woman had lived in Illinois, the final seventeen as the permanent guest of a wealthy woman, Mrs. William Emery, whose family owned the Chicago Rawhide Company. Mrs. Emery believed that her house-guest was Grand Duchess Anastasia. She took Mrs. Smith on trips to Europe and always solemnly celebrated her birthday on June 18, Anastasia’s birthday. Mrs. Smith lived with Mrs. Emery from 1945 until June 1963, when, having inherited money from her benefactress, she moved to New York City to help with the publication of her book.
During her years in Illinois, Mrs. Smith received only slight attention from the press and public. She had no support from a local Romanov, but here the fault was her own. When stories appeared, announcing that Grand Duchess Anastasia was living in Elmhurst, Prince Rostislav of Russia, Nicholas II’s nephew, also happened to be living in Chicago. His first wife, Alexandra, had divorced him and married Lawrence Armour, a banker. Mrs. Armour heard that one of her former husband’s relatives was living nearby in Elmhurst, so she phoned and invited Mrs. Smith to lunch. The party, she said, would also include her ex-husband, because Prince Rostislav was eager to see his cousin Anastasia, who had been a childhood playmate. Three times Mrs. Armour issued this invitation; each time Mrs. Smith developed a headache and declined to go, explaining that she was too nervous to see her cousin.
When Eugenia Smith first brought her manuscript to her publisher, Robert Speller & Sons in New York, she did not claim to be Grand Duchess Anastasia. Instead, she said that she had been a friend of the grand duchess, who, before she died in 1920, had entrusted her with personal notes. Soon afterward, Mrs. Smith amended her tale: now she became the grand duchess. She said that she had escaped from Ekaterinburg and Russia to Rumania. In October 1918—three months after the Ekaterinburg massacre—she married a Croatian Catholic, Marijan Smetisko. One child, a daughter, had died in infancy. In 1922, she received her husband’s permission to come to America; her immigration papers that year listed her as Eugenia Smetisko. She landed in New York, stopped briefly in Detroit, and then went to Chicago. Her marriage dissolved a few years later, and she became a salesgirl, a model, a milliner, a lecturer, and a seller of perfume. During World War II, she became a U.S. citizen and worked in a defense plant. After the war, she moved in with Mrs. Emery.
Life presented the story as a mystery, still unsolved, and offered evidence for and against its subject. A polygraph expert, hired by the magazine, questioned Mrs. Smith for thirty hours and then declared that he was virtually positive his subject was Anastasia. Two anthropologists, comparing photographs of Anastasia and Mrs. Smith, declared that they could not possibly be pictures of the same woman. A graphologist, studying handwriting samples, agreed with the anthropologists. Princess Nina Chavchavzdze, a cousin who had played with Anastasia in Russia until both were thirteen, met Mrs. Smith and also concluded that she was bogus. Tatiana Botkin, daughter of the tsar’s doctor, killed with the family, read Mrs. Smith’s book and compiled a twenty-page list of specific errors; she also pointed out a number of remarkable similarities between passages in her own book about the Imperial family and passages in Mrs. Smith’s book. Life located a Croatian named Marijan Smetisko through the address listed in Mrs. Smith’s immigration papers; he said that he had never known any woman named Eugenia and had never been married to anyone other than his current wife.
Two months after the Life article was published, Colonel Goleniewski appeared on Eugenia Smith’s doorstep. At that time, Goleniewski was still under wraps at the CIA, and no one in America outside the intelligence agency and the FBI had heard of him. On December 28, 1963, he phoned Mrs. Smith’s publisher and asked for an appointment to see her. He did not use the name Goleniewski; instead, he called himself Mr. Borg. Mrs. Smith agreed, and a meeting between the two pretenders, supposedly brother and sister, took place on December 31. Goleniewski said that he had been trying for two years to get the CIA to help him find his sister in America. He told her briefly about his life and brought her up to date on their family: “Your sister Marie is in Warsaw … Mother died in Warsaw.… In 1952, I buried our father with my own hands. He was a very good Russian man.… I was two times a child because of my sickness.”
Mrs. Smith listened for a while and then burst out passionately, “He knows. He knows. He is my brother Alexis. My darling. My darling.”
This emotional meeting was followed by three more during the next several weeks, during which time Mrs. Smith called Goleniewski “my brother, Alexis.” But an awkward fact intruded on their relationship: in her book, Mrs. Smith had said that she was the only Romanov to survive Ekaterinburg. Her publisher pointed out that public recognition of the man as her brother would require Mrs. Smith to admit that she had not told the truth. Mrs. Smith refused to change her story, and, inevitably, the relationship between the “siblings” began to deteriorate.
Michael Goleniewski and Eugenia Smith did not see each other again, but he continued to assert that she was his sister Anastasia. Later, he reported that she had died in New York City in 1968. She was murdered, he said, after a visit by “very powerful men … two of them were Rockefellers.”*
The women who claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia were challenged by relatives who tested their memories, anthropologists who measured their faces, and graphologists who studied their handwriting. The men aspiring to be accepted as the Tsarevich Alexis faced a more difficult test. Nicholas II’s only son suffered from hemophilia. This is a hereditary, noncurable disease, transmitted by mothers to their sons. It meant that the tsarevich’s blood did not clot as does most people’s. A bump or bruise rupturing a tiny vessel beneath the skin could begin a slow seepage of blood into surrounding muscle and tissue. Instead of clotting quickly, the blood would have continued to flow, creating a swelling or hematoma, sometimes as big as an orange or a grapefruit. There were no transfusions of blood or blood fraction—as there are today—which could halt the bleeding. Eventually, when the skin was filled with blood, pressure on the torn vessel would slow the hemorrhage and allow a clot to form. Then, over weeks, the process of reabsorption would take place, turning the skin from a shiny purple to a mottled yellow-green. A simple scratch on a finger was not dangerous. Minor cuts and scratches anywhere on the surface of the body were treated with pressure and tight bandaging, which pinched off the blood and permitted the flesh to heal over. Exceptions were hemorrhages inside the mouth or nose, areas which could not be bandaged.
The permanent crippling effect of Alexis’s hemophilia came from bleeding into the joints. Blood entering the confined space of an elbow, a knee, or an ankle caused pressure on the nerves, which inflicted intense pain. Sometimes the cause of the injury was apparent, sometimes not. In either case, Alexis awakened in the morning and called out, “Mama, I cannot walk today” or “Mama, I cannot bend my elbow.” At first, as the limb flexed, leaving the largest possible area in the joint socket for the inflowing fluids, the pain was small. Then, as the space filled, it began to hurt. When the pain obliterated everything else from his consciousness, Alexis still was able to cry, “Mama, help me, help me!” Doctors were summoned, ice packs applied, prayers offered. Nothing helped. Then Gregory Rasputin, the Siberian peasant reported to have miraculous powers of faith healing, was brought to Alexandra.
Each bleeding episode added to the damage. Once inside a joint, blood had a corrosive effect, destroying bone, cartilage, and tissue. As bone formation changed, limbs locked in bent positions. There was no rehabilitation other than rest and waiting for the hematoma to be reabsorbed. The best therapy was constant exercise and massage, but this risked recommencing the hemorrhage. When Alexis reached age five, two sailors from the Imperial navy were assigned to protect him every minute. When he was sick, they carried him; many photographs and movies of Imperial ceremonies under Nicholas II depict the tsar and the empress walking along, nodding and bowing, followed by a large sailor carrying a handsome six-, eight-, or ten-year-old boy.
When the revolution came, this protection and care were stripped away. One of the two sailor-attendants deserted; the other eventually was taken and shot. Alexis was well during the first seven months of the family’s imprisonment in Tobolsk. Then, in April, seeking an outlet for his energy, he carried a sled to the top of an indoor staircase and rode it down. He fell and began to bleed into the groin. During the remaining four months of his life, he could not walk. When a troop of cavalry arrived in Tobolsk, sent by Moscow to bring the Imperial family to the capital, Alexis was too ill to travel and was left behind. Three weeks later, he joined his parents in Ekaterinburg. During the family’s final imprisonment in the Ipatiev House, Alexis remained most of the day in bed in his parents’ room. On the night of July 16, 1918, when Yurovsky came for the family, Nicholas carried his son down the stairs into the cellar.
It is inconceivable that a hemophiliac could survive the carnage in Ipatiev’s cellar. Nevertheless, if—somehow—Alexis had been saved and had been carried thousands of miles to political safety, his medical prospects still would have been dismal. Hemophiliacs born at the beginning of this century spent much of their lives in beds and wheelchairs, their limbs contorted by permanent joint damage. Many perished by the time they were twenty; most others were dead before thirty. Today, hemophilia can be treated, but it cannot be cured.
* Dr. Wiener died many years ago, and his files have vanished. One of his colleagues, Dr. Richard Rosenfield, said, “I’m not at all sure that Al Wiener was competent to make such a diagnosis. It was not his area of expertise at all. He tried to get by with everything in clinical medicine, but he was more or less incompetent except in the field of blood typing, and there, of course, he was exceptionally good.”
* In fact, in 1995, Eugenia Smith was still alive, living in Newport, R.I. Asked whether she wished to give blood so that her DNA profile could be compared to that of Empress Alexandra and the three Imperial daughters, she declined.