On October 15, 2009, the nation could not take its eyes off the non-stop news coverage of a homemade silver helium-filled balloon that looked like a UFO floating around the Colorado skies. After releasing it from Fort Collins, Richard and Mayumi Heene called emergency services to report that their six-year-old son Falcon was trapped aboard. National Guard helicopters and local police followed the blimp, which topped out at 7,000 feet, for 90 minutes and 80 kilometres until it landed 24 kilometres from the Denver airport. Falcon was not inside, but as some had seen something fall from the balloon, a land search ensued. That too turned up nothing. Several hours later he came out from hiding in the attic at home. When interviewed on air by Wolf Blitzer, the kid slipped and said his father had told him they were doing it to get a reality show. The first responders didn’t like their time or money wasted and the Heenes were arrested for the hoax. According to CNN, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department tallied the cost to be at least US$47,000. In addition, the FAA imposed an US$11,000 fine because airport traffic was delayed because the balloon had flown and landed close to it. The case’s judge decided it was “clearly a planned event done for the purpose of making money” and that it was “exploitation of the children, exploitation of the media, exploitation of the emotions of the people.” Both parents were sentenced to jail, four years probation, and more than 100 hours of community service and agreed to pay restitution of US$36,016. On the five-year anniversary, USA Today found the family living in Florida and the sons had started a heavy metal band. One of their CDs has a song called “Balloon Boy No Hoax.”
Russian royal or insane Polish factory worker?
The 1918 grisly basement execution of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children aged 13 to 22 in the dead of night by bullet and bayonets by Bolshevik revolutionaries is hardly the stuff of fairy tales. Which is likely why so many people wanted to desperately believe the rumours that the youngest daughter, Anastasia Romanov, had escaped. The mystery and hope were fuelled by the fact that no bodies had been found. Women popped up all over the world claiming to be her, the most believable of which was Anna Anderson, according to Refinery29. She had tried to kill herself by jumping off a Berlin bridge two years later and landed in an asylum for two years. She was the right age, had scars on her body, and a Russian accent. Some relatives and former Romanov friends and servants confirmed her identity while others denounced it. The murders had become common knowledge and Soviet counterintelligence did nothing to quell survival rumours. Her tale inspired multiple books, tabloid fodder, an Ingrid Bergman classic, an animated film, a stage musical, and an Amazon Prime TV series.
After leaving the hospital, Anderson bounced around Europe, staying with distant relatives and wealthy supporters, but she was usually uncooperative, even malicious, when people tried to prove or disprove her identity. She also knew things the late royal would have known, which is how the son of a doctor who was killed with the family became her most ardent defender. Together they hired an attorney to try to get legal recognition of her title and access to the Tsar’s estate. The case lasted 32 years, the longest in German history, and ended without any conclusions. During the investigation, her detractors posited that she was Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish worker who disappeared after being declared insane after being injured in a factory explosion shortly before the incident at the bridge. Anderson died in 1984. Seven years later, five skeletons were found in a forest near the town where the family was executed and DNA testing identified them as Romanovs. With two bodies still missing, people argued she had been telling the truth all along. But that did not last long, as they tested their DNA against an intestinal sample from a prior Anderson surgery. No match. In 2007, the final two bodies were found at a different gravesite.
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