Modern history

CHAPTER 17
 
 AS GOOD AS THE PEOPLE USING IT

During the summer of 1994, while Peter Gill and his colleagues at the Forensic Science Service were working to extract DNA from the Anastasia Manahan tissue slices which Gill had brought from Charlottesville, Maurice Philip Remy was still trying to acquire for himself some source of Anastasia Manahan’s DNA. The dismissal of the Russian Nobility Association’s suit against Martha Jefferson Hospital for lack of standing did not, in itself, prevent Remy from obtaining from the hospital a piece of tissue identical to the one taken by Gill. Indeed, Judge Swett’s dismissal of the case left Remy entirely free to apply to Ed Deets, the administrator of Manahan’s estate, for a tissue sample to send to Mary-Claire King in California. Remy was dubious, however, about Dr. King’s reliability. In deciding what to do next, he turned unexpectedly to his recent adversary, Richard Schweitzer. How did Schweitzer think he ought to handle King? Schweitzer tried to be helpful. “Mary-Claire King didn’t do the actual work on those materials,” he told Remy. “It was done by a man named Charles Ginther. He’s now persona non grata in her lab, but he continues in another lab out there, and I can give you his number.” Remy promptly called Ginther. Soon, he found himself in further difficulties.

Charles Ginther, a young DNA scientist working in Dr. King’s laboratory, had extracted mitochondrial DNA from the Ekaterinburg materials brought by William Maples and from the Xenia Sfiris and Princess Sophie blood samples supplied by Remy. Ginther, King explained to Richard Schweitzer, “has finished his report and turned it in, but I can’t release it. He’s a good scientist, but he’s not a good report writer. I’ve had to send it back to him to work on so that I feel that we can put it out as a regular report of this laboratory.” This may be true, but another circumstance also may have contributed to King’s failure to release this report: that is that the tests on the Ekaterinburg bones in King’s laboratory produced results which were the same as or inferior to those already announced by Dr. Gill. If this was the case—as another DNA scientist has pointed out—King would not want to say, “Here are our results. They are not as good as Gill’s results.” Probably, she felt it was better to say nothing.

In any case, as the Charlottesville lawsuit was coming to an end, King and Ginther had a disagreement, and Ginther moved across the hall, into the laboratory of Dr. George Sensabaugh. “Dr. King put their falling-out in the harshest terms to me,” said Richard Schweitzer. “I have never heard one scientist degrade another that way. She said, in essence, that she had to put Chuck Ginther out of her laboratory. For a scientist to say that to a layperson seemed to me extraordinary.” Ginther, junior to King at the same university, speaks of this relationship with circumspection: “Mary-Claire King is a very famous scientist. She is the right person, at the right time, working on the right disease [breast cancer]. She is a woman, working on a woman’s disease, at a famous university. And a lot of people very much want her to succeed. But she is very difficult to work for.”

It was in this context that Remy turned to Schweitzer. “Remy didn’t know how to go about writing a commitment letter from a lab,” Schweitzer recalled. “And he also had problems about how to get the Ekaterinburg specimens out of the hands of Mary-Claire King and transferred to Ginther across the hall. So I helped him. I drafted documents for him.” Why did Schweitzer, who had just concluded a grueling seven months’ battle with Remy in court, try to help his former antagonist make an arrangement with Ginther? “Because I wanted to get more testing done, comparing the Manahan tissue with the Hessian,” Schweitzer explained. “I knew that Charles Ginther was an excellent scientist and technician in that field. I had no objection to Remy being the person to get it done. My problem all along with Remy and his group was that they did not care what damage they did as long as they could get their way. They didn’t understand that they could get their way without doing a lot of damage. I told Remy that I thought that was his major flaw.”

In June, Remy—with Schweitzer’s help—asked Ginther to accept a commission so that he could make a proper request to get a tissue sample from Ed Deets. Except for the Manahan tissue, Ginther already had what he needed to go ahead. He had done Hessian and Romanov profiles in King’s laboratory; by that time he also had the same profiles published in Nature Genetics by Peter Gill. Had Ginther received tissue from Charlottesville, he could have smoothly completed Remy’s commission.

But Ginther (who was not being paid for his work) posed two preconditions: First, he wanted Mary-Claire King to state unequivocally in writing that she was not willing to accept the proposed commission from Remy and that she had no objection to his doing so. Also, Ginther asked that Remy arrange for King to release to him the comparative Romanov and Hessian materials in her lab. In an attempt to do this, Remy telephoned Dr. King. He had difficulty reaching her, and, when he did, he failed to persuade her.

Remy thereupon hired the Los Angeles law firm of O’Melveny and Myers to intercede. The lawyers told him that when they called King, she said she would be happy to release the blood samples if she could find them … she didn’t know exactly where they were … this was just one of many projects in her laboratory. She also complained that she could not deal with Remy, who had ranted and raved on the telephone, telling her what to do. She was not going to waste her time on somebody like that, she said. Remy’s response was “I don’t know what she’s talking about.”

Ultimately, King did turn over the comparative samples to Ginther. Subsequently, however, Remy complained to Schweitzer that she gave Ginther very little material to work with. “She just threw most of it away,” Remy said, “the stuff we had worked so hard to get.” Whether, in fact, she had failed to save the blood samples or whether she wanted to keep some for future purposes, no one knew. Remy believed that her motive was spite. Schweitzer disagreed. “I just don’t think she gave a damn anymore. She was doing something else, and she just didn’t care.”

Ginther, like Remy, felt that Mary-Claire King did not permit him to take enough material by volume or weight from her laboratory. Gill, Ginther told Schweitzer, was working with a gram and a half of DNA material, whereas he had less than a gram. Nevertheless, Ginther started over. He already had done most of this work in King’s lab, but he wanted to do it over in order to avoid being accused of using her work. Once again, he derived mitochondrial DNA from the Hessian and Romanov materials. Once again, he extracted mtDNA from a blood sample, sent to him by Remy, taken from a woman named Margaret Ellerick. (Mrs. Ellerick was a niece of Franziska Schanzkowska, the Polish woman who disappeared in Berlin about the time that Fräulein Unbekannt was pulled from the canal.) Nevertheless, even as he did this work in July 1994, Ginther still had no material—no tissue, no blood, no bone or hair—from which to extract the DNA of the woman Remy had commissioned him to identify, Anastasia Manahan.

Remy, frustrated by his inability to get results from Mary-Claire King and by the time it was taking to meet Charles Ginther’s conditions to work, got busy elsewhere. He realized that, for all the words uttered in court regarding the benefits of parallel testing, any results Ginther obtained from testing Charlottesville tissue would provide only a duplicate of the tests already being done by Peter Gill. Coming in second in this race was not Remy’s objective. “I think by then Remy decided to circumvent the Gill sample by finding his own sample somewhere else,” said Ginther.

Remy and his assistants began searching in Germany, through hospitals, sanatoria, and doctors’ offices, for stored samples of Anna Anderson’s blood which might have resulted from medical examinations during her four or five decades of living in that country. One of his researchers located a trace of blood in a canule (a tube) used during a routine examination in the late 1950s and kept by her local physician as a curiosity. But nothing useful could be derived from this canule.

In July, Remy found Professor Stefan Sandkuhler, a former hematologist from Heidelberg University, who had examined Anna Anderson on June 6, 1951. She had been brought to him to be tested as a carrier of hemophilia, presumably to reinforce her claim to be a daughter of Empress Alexandra. After taking a blood sample, Sandkuhler had followed the usual procedure and smeared a drop of blood on a glass plate, where it dried and was preserved. The professor located the sample and gave it to Remy. Scratched into the glass was its only source of legitimacy, the patient’s name. Remy said he read there “Anastasia.” The result of the 1951 test for hemophilia carriership, Sandkuhler told Remy, had been inconclusive.

Remy divided the slide he had acquired from Sandkuhler into two pieces. One half was sent to Professor Bernd Herrmann, a specialist in short tandem repeat (STR) identification of nuclear DNA at the Anthropological Institute of Göttingen University. The other half of the slide went to Dr. Ginther in Berkeley. The only clue to identity was the name Anna Anderson (not “Anastasia,” as reported by Remy) etched in the glass. Ginther tried and failed to extract DNA from the dried blood. Subsequently, however, Herrmann managed to get DNA from his half of the slide. He sent this DNA material to Ginther to sequence and obtain a profile. Ginther found that this DNA did not match the Hessian profile (that is, the donor of the blood was not related to Empress Alexandra), nor did it match the Schanzkowska profile as derived from Margaret Ellerick. Because the blood on the slide did not match, as Ginther put it, “any of the characters of interest,” he wondered about the integrity and origin of the slide. “It was an open slide. It could have been contaminated. It didn’t even have a cover slip on it. Somebody had just smeared blood which dried,” he said.

Over the summer of 1994, Peter Gill’s findings about the Charlottesville tissue were awaited anxiously in English palaces and German castles. The earlier report that Anastasia’s skeleton was missing from the Ekaterinburg grave had stirred uneasiness in dynastic families in both countries. Almost without exception, royal Britons and Germans had always firmly rejected Anna Anderson’s claim to be the daughter of the tsar. The British Royal family, following the lead of Prince Philip’s patriarchal uncle Lord Mountbatten, habitually referred to Mrs. Manahan as “the false Anastasia.” The Hessian cousins of Prince Philip used stronger language. Now, as Gill was about to give his report, a ghastly pit opened before these families. What if a morally appalling and politically embarrassing injustice had been committed against a helpless Royal cousin?

For several years, Maurice Remy had done his best to involve the Hessians—that is, the descendants of the family of Empress Alexandra and her brother, Grand Duke Ernest Louis—in the attempt to block the Schweitzers. Prince Philip’s elder sister, Princess Sophie of Hanover, now eighty-one, had given blood to Remy, which he sent for comparative purposes to Mary-Claire King. Remy also had approached Princess Margaret of Hesse, the eighty-two-year-old widow of Prince Louis of Hesse, whose father, Grand Duke Ernest, had been the claimant’s nemesis in the 1920s. Born Margaret Geddes in Scotland, Princess Margaret inherited Wolfsgarten, the Rhineland castle where Empress Alexandra spent her childhood. She also controlled the private Hesse family archives, which, for a while, she opened to Remy’s researchers. A third concerned Hessian was Prince Moritz, who would inherit Schloss Wolfsgarten after the death of the childless Princess Margaret.

Remy’s effort was thwarted primarily by Prince Philip and his private secretary, Sir Brian McGrath. The prince had no objection to his sister providing a blood sample—after all, he had given his own blood to Peter Gill to help verify the Ekaterinburg bones. But when Remy went further and tried to draw Sophie, Margaret, and Moritz into the Charlottesville litigation, McGrath, speaking for Prince Philip, sternly “advised” these German relatives to stay away. It was not that the British Royal household was seriously worried that the claimant might turn out to be Anastasia; in fact, they were unflappably convinced that she was not. Rather, their concern was that the controversy over Anastasia Manahan’s identity and the resulting lawsuits in Charlottesville might somehow compromise Queen Elizabeth II’s upcoming state visit to Russia. No one wanted this diplomatic event overshadowed by a pronouncement—especially while Elizabeth was actually in Russia—that Anna Anderson had been Tsar Nicholas II’s daughter. The queen’s advisers, therefore, favored a solution to the claimant’s identity before Her Majesty left for Moscow on October 17.

Early in September, Peter Gill told Richard Schweitzer that he was close to achieving results. Schweitzer and the Forensic Science Service mutually agreed on a date, October 5, on which Gill would announce his findings at a press conference in London. Simultaneously, Ed Deets would file the results in court and hold a press conference in Charlottesville. The FSS made it clear to Schweitzer that, as this was a private commission, he, not they, was responsible for arranging and presiding over the press conference.

Neither Gill nor Schweitzer sought exclusivity for Gill’s tests. On the contrary, said Schweitzer, “from the day Peter Gill came to Charlottesville to take the tissue, he insisted that the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology do another set of tests to verify what he is doing. Gill wanted this confirmation before he made his own public announcement. Actually, he hoped to have a joint news conference with these other scientists.” During this same period, Schweitzer—also with Gill’s encouragement—began arranging a third test of the Manahan tissue, with Dr. Mark Stoneking, a mitochondrial DNA specialist at Pennsylvania State University. An agreement with AFIP was finally worked out on September 21, only two weeks before the London press conference. Susan Barritt, an AFIP scientist, drove to Charlottesville and collected two sets of Anastasia Manahan tissue slices, one for AFIP and one for Dr. Stoneking. Thereafter, Dr. Gill did everything possible to help AFIP accelerate its testing. Rather than leave the U.S. government scientists to work only with his published results, he dispatched all his protocols and codes to Maryland; the same data went simultaneously to Dr. Stoneking. Schweitzer was enormously pleased by this exhibition of scientists working together and wholeheartedly approved Gill’s proposal of joint publication of the results of their mutual investigations.

Maurice Remy continued to wish to play a dominant role in solving the Anastasia mystery. After Richard Schweitzer assisted him in June in working out an agreement with Charles Ginther, Remy and Schweitzer lost contact with each other. Nevertheless, Schweitzer and Gill heard rumors that Remy had commissioned further tests on the 1951 blood slide, and Remy picked up the news that Gill’s press conference was scheduled for October 5. Remy reacted to this in two ways: he began pressing Schweitzer to allow him to attend and participate in the press conference, and he readied plans to release new information apparently obtained by Dr. Herrmann from the 1951 blood slide.

Remy’s request to participate in the London press conference met with partial acceptance from Schweitzer, who, having paid for Gill’s testing, had the right to make this decision. “I told him I’d be happy for him to come,” Schweitzer said. “I told him that we fully intended to acknowledge that he was the original discoverer of the tissue at Martha Jefferson Hospital, and that we intended to speak of his many years of work. And I said that I would announce that he would be available afterward. But it was not to be a joint press conference.” However, a secondary role was not what Remy envisaged. Unless his demands were met, Remy warned, he might release his own findings before October 5. He mentioned that the London Sunday Times, which routinely pays thousands of pounds for exclusives on premium stories, was interested. Schweitzer and Gill were unwilling to make the arrangements Remy demanded.

On Sunday, October 2, the Sunday Times trumpeted its scoop: Anna Anderson had been “unmasked as the conwoman [sic] of the century,” said the newspaper. “Genetic tests have established beyond all doubt that Anna Anderson … was one of the biggest imposters the world has known.… The news came at the end of a global race to solve the mystery.… Yesterday’s results beat a British team led by Dr. Peter Gill who is to announce his findings on Wednesday.… The existence of the sample was discovered by Maurice Philip Remy, a German television producer who has spent five hundred thousand pounds to find the genetic keys that would unlock Anastasia’s past.” The Sunday Times reported that the test had been done by Professor Bernd Herrmann of the Anthropological Institute of Göttingen University; otherwise, there were no scientific details. Essentially the same story appeared that weekend in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

The rest of the London press ignored the Sunday Times and crowded into Dr. Gill’s press conference. Richard and Marina Schweitzer were on the dais with Dr. Gill and his colleague Dr. Kevin Sullivan. Facing them in the front row, Prince Rostislav Romanov, grandnephew of Nicholas II, sat next to his friend Michael Thornton, who had once had power of attorney for Anna Anderson in Britain. Next to Thornton sat Ian Lilburne, a supporter of the claimant who had attended every session of the grueling Hamburg court battles in the 1960s. Against a side wall sat a tall, white-faced, bespectacled man with slicked-down blond hair. He was Maurice Philip Remy.

Schweitzer introduced himself and his wife, and, before anything else, credited Remy with discovering the tissue samples at Martha Jefferson Hospital. Then, assisted by photographs and charts projected onto a screen behind him, Peter Gill described what he had done: he had extracted both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from the Charlottesville tissue (which, he always said carefully, was “said to have come from Anna Anderson”). He had compared the DNA profile of the Charlottesville tissue with DNA profiles of the presumed tsar and empress (obtained from the Ekaterinburg bones), with the blood sample donated by Prince Philip, and with a blood sample obtained from a German farmer named Karl Maucher, who was a grandnephew of Franziska Schanzkowska. Using the short tandem repeat technique on nuclear DNA, Gill said he determined that “if you accept that these samples came from Anna Anderson, then Anna Anderson could not be related to Tsar Nicholas or Empress Alexandra.” Gill then compared mitochondrial DNA from the tissue to the DNA sequence obtained from Prince Philip; if Anna Anderson was Grand Duchess Anastasia, her mitochondrial DNA sequence would match Philip’s. In this case, in one distinctively hypervariable area, there were six base pair differences. This was enough for Gill to conclude that “the sample said to have come from Anna Anderson could not be associated with a maternal relative of the empress or Prince Philip. That is definitive.” Finally, Gill compared the mitochondrial DNA profile of the Charlottesville tissue with that of Franziska Schanzkowska’s grandnephew, Karl Maucher. He achieved “a one hundred percent match, an absolute identity.” Again speaking cautiously, Gill said, “This suggests that Karl Maucher may be a relative of Anna Anderson.”

At the press conference, Peter Gill never flatly said that Anna Anderson was not Grand Duchess Anastasia and that she was Franziska Schanzkowska. He explained that he had used his own database of three hundred Caucasian sequences along with additional DNA sequences supplied by AFIP and Mark Stoneking. He said that while he had found the Maucher and Anderson DNA profiles to be identical, he had found no similar profiles in his own database. Therefore, he said, the odds that Anna Anderson was not a member of the Schanzkowska family were three hundred to one, perhaps more.*

The journalists had other questions. Gill was asked how certain he was that the tissue he tested had come from Anna Anderson. He answered carefully. “I can’t really speak for procedures at Martha Jefferson Hospital,” he said. “But when I was there, they showed me pretty good documentation; the numbers on the wax blocks tied up perfectly with numbers on the case notes.” He was asked whether he thought that DNA profiling was infallible. “A technique always is only as good as the people using it,” he said. “But providing you always put your findings into the correct context, then, yes, it should be infallible.” He was asked to compare his work with the studies done in Germany. “When I compared our results with their results, they were”—Gill paused—“different. And from that I concluded that the sample which I analyzed and the sample they analyzed almost certainly came from different people.”

This was a surprise. Immediately, Michael Thornton stood up and stared at Maurice Remy across the room. Thornton was a friend of Richard Schweitzer and had not appreciated Remy’s attempt to overshadow Dr. Gill’s research and press conference. Gill’s revelation that the DNA extracted from Remy’s blood sample did not match the DNA extracted from the Charlottesville tissue left them, Thornton declared, “with the fact that the blood sample used for Der Spiegel and the Sunday Times is false. It is not from Anna Anderson.”

Remy, his face coloring, rose to defend his tests and his blood sample. Apparently, he had known before he flew to London that the DNA profile his scientist had obtained differed from that achieved by Peter Gill. “I don’t want to bore you with some problems whether the sample is right or not right,” he told the audience. “We’ve done our work properly. I think the best way now is it should be solved by the scientists. While leaving Germany yesterday, my scientists told me that there are ten reasons the DNA might be different. One might be the provenance [chain of custody] of the sample and nine other possibilities could lie in the examining of the samples. I am an intermediary between scientists and we will work it out. But to me there is no doubt of the provenance of the blood sample we used.”

Thornton persisted. “Then why do you have a different DNA?” he asked.

“I’m not a scientist, so I’m maybe not the right one to answer this question,” Remy said, “but we’ll try to work it out. Anyway, the results are the same.”

“No,” said Thornton implacably, “they are not the same. The DNA is different.”

“The DNA is not so different. And I don’t want to bore you.”

“The DNA is different,” Thornton repeated. He turned to Peter Gill. “Will you confirm that it is entirely different DNA, Dr. Gill?”

“They looked pretty different to me,” Gill admitted.

“So the DNA is different and the blood sample is false,” Thornton said.

Remy tried again: “Let’s leave it to the scientists and not start a war between an intestine and a blood sample.”

“There is no war,” said Thornton. “It’s a question of the truth.”

Remy, badly flustered, wanted Thornton to leave him alone. “We’ll find out at the end,” he said hurriedly. “We’ll hand it over to the scientists. We have nothing to hide. We will show all of our results at the end. They will be published. Then we’ll see.”

“We look forward to that,” Thornton said coolly and sat down.

When the press conference concluded, many journalists remained, interviewing principals. Schweitzer told one group that while he accepted the science of Dr. Gill’s findings, it was “contrary to the rational experience of all the people who knew Anna Anderson, talked to her, and stayed with her, to believe that she was a Polish peasant.” Remy moved through the room handing out a five-page press release claiming that he and his German scientist had achieved “the breakthrough … a result of almost 100% significance. Not one of the four DNA particles obtained from the cell nucleus … tallied with the DNA of the Tsar and his wife.” On another side of the room, Thornton continued his criticism of Remy: “He tried to undermine Dr. Gill’s announcement with a scoop of his own, which has failed to stand scrutiny. It is also the worst kind of bad manners to come to someone else’s press conference and distribute his own self-glorifying press release, which, incidentally, is riddled with factual errors.”

* The language of scientists, cautious and replete with qualifiers, often moves backward toward its goal. Thus, in this case, Gill actually said, “The chance of finding matching profiles if Anna Anderson and Karl Maucher are unrelated is less than one in three hundred.” Later, in his published report, Gill was more direct: “This finding supports the hypothesis that Anna Anderson and Franziska Schanzkowska were the same person.”

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