Have you ever heard rumors about Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna? They’ve died down since they were first started, but they became the inspiration for the animated movie Anastasia by 20th Century Fox. She was the last princess of the Russian Romanov dynasty. She was supposedly executed in 1918. However, for many years she was rumored to have escaped, though no one knew for sure. Due to the uncertainty, many people have masqueraded as the Grand Duchess over the years.

In 1922, Fräulein Unbekannt (Miss Unknown in German) claimed to be Anastasia. She later became known as Anna Anderson. Those who had known Anastasia personally said Miss Unknown was an imposter, but most people believed her. However, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, hired a private investigator in 1927 to find out who she really was. It turns out she was really Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish factory worker with a history of mental illness.

Another imposter was Eugenia Smith, aka Eugenia Drabek Smetisko, who appeared in Chicago in 1963. When she first came to the U.S., she said she was born in 1899 in Bukovina. Once she made her claim to be Anastasia, she said she was born in 1901 in St. Petersburg. This difference was already quite suspicious. Furthermore, she claimed she had married Marijan Smetisko and that he had given her permission to go to the U.S. But when someone interviewed Mr. Smetisko, he said he had never heard of his supposed wife, and he was already married to someone else. Long story short, Eugenia was definitely not Anastasia.

Fräulein Unbekannt and Eugenia Smith were the most famous ones. Some of the lesser known cases include Eleonora Kruger, Nadezhda Vasilyeva, and Natalya Bilikhodze. Kruger never actually claimed to be royalty, but many people theorized she was the missing duchess nonetheless. Nadezhda had written letters to King George V of the United Kingdom asking for help. She first claimed she was Anastasia, then a merchant’s daughter, and then went back to Anastasia. Her ridiculous claim led to her being institutionalized in a mental hospital in Kazan, where she eventually died. As for Bilikhodze, she came out as Anastasia in 2002 at a press conference after using the name since 1995. She gained a little bit of fame until it was revealed that Bilikhodze had actually died in 2000 and the press conference video had simply been recorded years prior. DNA confirmed that she was not even related to the royal family.

For a long time, these imposters fueled the hope and rumors that Anastasia was still alive, but here’s what really happened. Grand Duchess (Princess) Anastasia Nikolaevna was Tsar (King) Nicholas II and Tsarina (Queen) Alexandra Fyodorovna’s youngest daughter. Her elder sisters were Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, and Maria, and her younger brother was Tsarevich (Prince) Alexei Nikolaevich. They were all executed on July 17, 1918 by the Cheka (the Bolshevik secret police). During the following Communist rule, rumors circulated that she was still alive due to the fact that her burial location was unknown. However, in 1991, the Tsar, his wife and 3 of their daughters were found in the woods outside Yekaterinburg. This did not fully quench the rumors because one of the daughters had yet to be found - what if Anastasia were truly still alive? The question continued until 2007 when the other sister and the son, Alexei Nikolaevich, were found deceased and partially cremated. It was never verified if the sister found with Alexei was Maria or Anastasia, but all four daughters were found and proven by DNA testing to actually be part of the royal family. Nowadays, the entire family is buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral.