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‘The Woman Who Wasn’t There’ Tells The Shocking Story Of A 9/11 Survivor Who Wasn’t All She Seemed

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 ThereHead’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 Dearestthe 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.

Head’s Alleged Survival Story Sounds Harrowing

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.

She Was Actually In Barcelona On September 11, 2001

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.

She Was Heavily Involved With The World Trade Center Survivors’ Network

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.

Other Survivors Noticed Discrepancies In Her Story

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.

‘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.

She Deeply Hurt The Survivors She Befriended

Although Head’s ruse didn’t cost any money, it had a huge emotional impact on the people she built relationships with at the World Trade Center Survivor’s Network. Linda Gormley, one of Head’s closest friends, was particularly hurt. The two built a powerful, almost sister-like bond, the basis of which was their supposedly shared experience as 9/11 survivors.

For Gormley, learning her friend had been lying to her the whole time was devastating. Gormley also spent a lot of time consoling Head and worrying about her under the assumption that she was having a traumatic reaction.

Head’s other friends from the organization felt alienated, betrayed, and angry – but some also claimed to miss her afterwards; not the person who lied to them, but the friend they thought they knew.

Head Lied About More Than Just 9/11

While Head’s lies about her involvement in the events of 9/11 had the most far-reaching consequences, they weren’t the only things she fabricated. Elia, a woman Head met through the World Trade Center Survivor’s Network, recounted visiting Head’s house and hoping to see Elvis, the Golden Retriever Head claimed to own. Each time, she was told the dog was being walked. Eventually, feeling it was too much of a coincidence that the dog was always out, she realized Elvis probably didn’t exist.

What’s more, Head claimed she traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and to Thailand after the tsunami in 2004. The purpose of these alleged trips was to help with relief efforts. While these claims have not been proven or disproven, they do seem consistent with her affinity for falsely connecting herself to well-known disasters.

Tania Head Was Last Seen In 2011

After she was revealed as a fraud, Head disappeared from the public eye. In 2008, an unidentified Spanish email address sent a message to the World Trade Center Survivor’s Network’s account, which claimed Head had ended her life. This turned out to be more false information, however, as Head was spotted in New York City in September 2011.

Angelo Guglielmo Jr., a former friend who was in the process of making the documentary The Woman Who Wasn’t There about Head, claims he saw her on the street and confronted her. Guglielmo filmed the encounter, where he admonished Head for showing up so close to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and she requested that he leave her alone.

Of the encounter, Guglielmo said:

I took no pleasure in that encounter. That night, I replayed the video and cringed. I felt sad. And sorry. Did that mean I forgave her? Who the hell knows? I didn’t even know who she was.

She Wasn’t The Only Person To Lie About 9/11

Although Head’s ruse is probably the most extensive, it isn’t the only time someone has lied about being impacted by 9/11. Other people have given false accounts of their involvement in 9/11, including Steve Rannazzisi, a comedic actor known for his role on the The League.

Rannazzisi also claimed to be working for Merrill Lynch during the events of 9/11. According to his account, he escaped just in time to see the second tower crumble to the ground. His girlfriend was also supposed to be working in the towers, but was luckily on the subway at the time. Afterward, the two moved to Los Angeles, where Rannazzisi began to claim he was in New York when the towers fell.

Like with Head, The New York Times eventually discovered the truth. In 2015, the publication reported Rannazzisi was actually working miles away from the WTC when the planes hit. The actor then admitted that while he was in Manhattan on 9/11, he was nowhere near Ground Zero. Rannazzisi apologized, claiming not to know why he’d lied.