It is hard to believe it was 20 years ago, when Al-Qaeda crashed two hijacked planes into New York’s Twin Towers – taking nearly 3000 lives and destroying countless more.
It is a tragedy which changed America and the world, forever.
Like JFK’s assassination, everyone remembers where they were on 9/11 – except, perhaps, for Tania Head.
Like a horror film
It was nearly two years after 9/11 and survivors were often ignored – overshadowed by the weight of the dead and of geopolitics.
They could not enter Ground Zero to find closure – instead they had to stand outside, next to tourists taking photos, and tasteless memorabilia stalls.
The World Trade Center Survivors' Network began as a small local group, which grew quickly – they soon heard of another support group led by Tania Head – a woman with an incredible story.
A Harvard and Stanford graduate, Tania was working for Merrill Lynch, when she had a meeting in the South Tower on 9/11.
She was on the 78th floor, when the plane hit – making her one of 19 people at or above the point of impact, who survived.
Her arm severed from her body (it had to be reattached in surgery), Tania crawled through a burning building, a scene “like a horror film”.
She met a dying man, who asked her to take his ring to his wife (which she later did), before a firefighter helped her to safety.
Tragically, Tania’s fiancé Dave died in the North Tower, that day.
The support groups merged, and Tania became integral Survivors’ Network member – pouring in time, energy, and money.
On meeting her, people saw first-hand, her scarred and malformed arm – evidence of her terrible ordeal – but were inspired by her drive and positivity.
Over the next six months, Tania helped The Network gain official status and funding, and arranged trauma therapy sessions.
9/11’s most famous victim
In 2004, Tania secured an official Ground Zero visit – the momentous healing experience survivors had been denied for so long.
She was fast becoming 9/11’s most famous victim, but Network members were confused – Tania had sometimes called Dave her fiancé, sometimes her husband.
No one liked to question her, though, after everything she had been through – she was still highly emotional.
Tania led the first 9/11 Memorial tour in 2005, where she was photographed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor George Pataki and former Mayor, Rudy Giuliani.
Around this time, the figure of Welles Crowther entered her account for the first time.
A 24-year-old equities’ trader and volunteer fire fighter, Welles would have survived 9/11, if he hadn’t gone back in – he rescued up to 18 people.
During her Ground Zero tours, Tania revealed, for the first time, that this legendary 9/11 hero, known by his red bandana, had helped to save her too.
She later met Welles’ parents and was due to speak at his 2006 memorial service, but become too emotional, leaving a friend to read her speech.
Tania was elected President of the World Trade Center Survivor’s Network in October 2006, but beneath the surface all was not well.
Some members found her arrogant or intimidating – others were disturbed by her willingness to share gruesome details of the catastrophe, which were retraumatising for fellow survivors.
The following year, the New York Times was running a 9/11 anniversary piece and journalists did some basic fact-checking on 9/11’s most famous victim.
Neither Harvard nor Stanford had any record of her – nor did Merrill Lynch, which didn’t have offices in the Twin Towers in September 2001.
Tania shut down from reporters, refusing to even confirm her fiancé Dave’s surname – a detail she had previously shared with others.
Journalists discovered “Big Dave” as he was known, had indeed died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, but his family had never even heard of Tania.
After the New York Times exposed Tania Head as a fraud, Spanish newspaper, La Vanguardia went one better – she was not in New York on 9/11 – and her name was not Tania.
The lost honour of Alicia Esteve Head
On 21st September 2001, 10 days after 9/11, Alicia Esteve Head was enrolling at Barcelona business school, ESADE.
No one recalled her mentioning 9/11 and she had no visible sign of injury, besides her badly disfigured arm – a remnant from a terrible car accident in her teens.
Born in 1973, Alicia came from a wealthy Spanish family – the only daughter, she was the centre of attention, but things were not always easy for her.
She was bullied for being overweight and known, from an early age, for telling tale tales about her mystery boyfriends and her luxury lifestyle.
When she was 18, her father and brother were convicted of a high-profile PONZI scheme, which brought shame on the family.
Months later, a horrific car crash really did sever her arm from her body, as she claimed the impact of the plane had done on 9/11.
Enamoured with American culture, Alicia talked of moving to New York, during her time at ESADE (though she had never been there) and in 2003 she did just that.
Alongside her new Manhattan apartment, she acquired a new name – Tania.
The woman who wasn’t there
When the truth came out, the Survivors’ Network immediately stripped Tania of her Presidency and she vanished.
In February 2008, an anonymous email sent to Network members, claimed she had died by suicide.
Alicia/Tania was spotted alive and well, in New York, around 9/11’s 10-year anniversary – a year later, she was fired from her job in Barcelona, when her employers heard of her deception.
Head never benefited financially from her lies – what she did gain was attention, sympathy, and admiration.
Is this what drove her?
It has been suggested she could have a histrionic personality disorder (extreme attention seeking), a delusional disorder (she believes her lies), or even ‘pseudologia fantastica’ (pathological lying).
Her former friend, filmmaker Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr., who made a documentary about her, The Woman Who Wasn’t There, wondered whether Head was still traumatised by her car accident.
Alicia Esteve Head has now vanished from public life.
While she caused unimaginable pain to the genuine survivors who trusted her, she was, in a sense, swallowed by her own lies.