In 2012, Angelo J. Gugliemo, Jr. released a shocking documentary called The Woman Who Wasn’t There, based on his book with Robin Gaby Fisher. Have you ever watched a movie that just “stayed” with you? This documentary did exactly that for me. I watched it several times on my own, showed it to several of my friends and family, and was pretty bummed when it left Hulu.
The documentary follows the story of a woman named Tania Head, who survived the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. Angelo J. Gugliemo, Jr. knew Tania. He worked with her in the World Trade Center Survivor’s Network, an organization that she joined with other survivors. The sheer shock value of Tania’s story was enough to make her stand out, but it was her bravery that made her a spokeswoman for survivors.
Tania was in the south tower of the WTC on the morning of September 11, 2001. She worked for Merrill Lynch as an executive, and her husband, Dave, was in the north tower across from her.
Tania described, in charming detail, how she met her husband waiting for a taxi in New York City. It was a classic movie meet-cute. He did not survive the attack, and Tania memorialized him every year by putting a toy taxi on his name at ground zero. It was a beautiful, tragic love story.
When the second plane hit the south tower at 9:03 am, Tania was on the 78th floor. As the flames engulfed the second floor, Tania made her way down the stairs.
Her arm was badly injured, nearly severed near the elbow and badly burned. She described her harrowing descend as if she had been in a mental fog…likely shock. A young hero emerged and saved Tania’s life.
He wore a red bandana and guided her to safety before returning into the tower. His name was Welles Crowther, and you may have heard of him.
In September 2017, Man in Red Bandana, a documentary, told his incredible story. He saved the lives of at least ten people that day and lost his life when the tower collapsed.
Like so many others that survived, Tania battled guilt, depression, and flashbacks. She started to share her 9/11 story online with other survivors and found solace in the connections she made.
In 2003, Tania joined the WTC Survivor’s Network and quickly gained notoriety with her compelling story. She walked the perimeter of the memorial at Ground Zero with Mayor Bloomberg, told her story countless times, and became the celebrity face for survivor struggle awareness. She dedicated her life to helping other survivors and was dubbed a hero for it, which is what made the truth so much more shocking.
The New York Times Article
David Dunlap, a reporter for the New York Times, was the one to expose Tania. He was gathering information for an article on the anniversary of the attack. The Survivors’ Network was asked to recommend survivors to feature in the article, and naturally, Tania’s name came up. The controversy surfaced when Dunlap found inconsistencies in her story during background checks.
Tania was never married. The man she called her husband did exist, and he did die in the north tower on 9/11. However, he was never married to Tania Head. He had never even met her, or at least his family had never heard of her. She never met Welles Crowther either; according to his mother, her interaction with Tania was somewhat uncomfortable and not what she had expected.
The injury Tania claimed to sustain in the attack should have left a scar, right? According to Tania, she woke in a hospital burn unit with her arm, which had been burned and nearly severed, reattached.
Tania did have scars; we saw them in the documentary. She did not, however, get them from the attack. She got them when she was 18 from injuries she suffered in a terrible car accident.
Tania was not on the 78th floor of the south tower that day. She wasn’t in the tower at all. In fact, she wasn’t even in the city. She was in class at graduate school…in Barcelona.
Dunlap also found no record that she graduated from the ivy league schools she claimed to attend. He also noted that she never worked for Merrill Lynch. Much to everyone’s surprise, her name is not even Tania.
The Real Tania
Alicia Esteve Head was born into a wealthy Spanish family and had a history of compulsive lying. When she was younger, her father was convicted of embezzlement, and her family life began to crumble around her. According to friends, that’s when Alicia started to hide in worlds she created all her own.
You might be asking yourself, what did she get from doing this? I immediately thought that she must have somehow benefited financially from her involvement in the Survivor’s Network. In reality, she never took money from anyone; in fact, she gave money to the organization. For this reason, she never actually did anything illegal. Despite her lies, she did actually help some people.
However, that does not mean that she didn’t cause destruction. She formed deep, meaningful connections with other survivors over the course of several years. In the documentary, one very close friend described the emotional struggle she faced after learning the truth about Alicia. This woman had found strength in Head’s fantastical story of recovery. She was distraught to learn that it was all a lie.
After she was exposed, Alicia basically disappeared. None of the friends she made in the survivor circles heard from her once she realized she could no longer deny the truth. In the documentary, she was spotted in NYC years later around the anniversary of the attack. We see her run from the cameras before the film ends, and that was it.
Head never offered her own explanation, and although we can make some solid conclusions about her…attention seeker, pathological liar…her friends never got the closure they deserved.
For the Full, Detailed Story…
You can read the book, The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception, by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr.
You can also watch the documentary, The Woman Who Wasn’t There, on Apple TV, Youtube, and Amazon Prime.