Feature synopsis

A true story ripped from the real life headlines during the height of the Cold War!

The true story about the strange disappearance of a renowned Russian History Professor suspected as a counter spy, and his American lover an alleged U.S. Intelligence Agent who is accused of murdering him and sentenced to an asylum for the criminally insane. There she is later found dead of cyanide poisoning. This true case created utter pandemonium, chaos and conflict among top level U.S. politicians, the FBI and the CIA.

Inspired by the book by R. K. Price

At the break of dawn, in March 1971, the naked body of a woman is found dead in a cell in a Colorado State Mental Hospital. Was it suicide or murder? The coroner finds a lethal dose of cyanide poison in her system.

Her name is Galya Tannenbaum and she was the lover of the most renowned Russian History Professor working in America at the time who also happens to be a suspected Cold War Soviet spy.

His name is Professor Thomas

Thomas Riha, a Czech immigrant educated in Moscow, went mysteriously missing months before. Incredibly Galya was suspected in his murder, even though his body has never been found. Some speculate he fled to the USSR (aka Russia today). Others suspect he was recruited by the U.S. as a counter spy and murdered by the CIA to cover up a government conspiracy and conveniently place the blame on Galya.

After all, Galya was an enigma with a shady past of her own. She even spent earlier time in prison on forgery charges. She was an expert at calligraphy with a history as an artist painting portraits and still life paintings.  The day her lover Thomas Riha went missing he had scheduled a lecture at the University of Colorado where he taught but never showed up for class. When police later searched his house his kitchen table was set and a breakfast never touched, however he supposedly signed over the title to his car to Galya and left her a paid-off home filled with antiques and a massive, expensive book collection.

With no sign of Thomas Riha but evidence of his intimate connection to Galya, trumped up allegations are leveled against her and truth becomes stranger than fiction as she is accused of murdering him but charges are never filed. They had no body and scant hard evidence. Instead she is charged with forgery in a matter connected to Thomas. It turns out Galya hired a pilot and a private plane to take to two unknown passengers to Russia. The flight never happened, but Galya paid for it with a forged check. On that basis alone she is quickly found guilty of forgery and without trial committed to an indefinite term at the Colorado mental facility or as we knew them then, the insane asylum.
Sadly the day Galya is arrested she is torn from her three children and they become wards of the state, eventually given up for adoption. Galya swears her innocence but agrees to certain terms in hopes of reuniting with her beloved children.

It is only after her mysterious death
when her life story becomes an open book. With two failed marriages, the latter one filled with domestic violence, a mother does what a mother must do to feed her children. Is this what led to her making a living as a master forger and accomplished artist? Was it her first arrest and conviction for writing bad checks followed by a shortened prison sentence that led to her liaison Thomas Riha? Did she make a deal with the CIA or FBI which is also interested in Riha to seduce Thomas and obtain important information about the Soviets?

Galya succumbs to the trumped up charges and without a fair trial is committed to the State’s rundown and overcrowded Asylum for the Criminally Insane until the day she is found dead. The coroner rules her death as yet another routine suicide as there are no signs of struggle, although later it is determined she suffered months of emotional and physical abuse before she met her tragic end to cyanide poisoning. Even the coroner states, “She swallowed enough cyanide to kill a horse.” How does one person induce such a lethal dose all on her own? How did she obtain the poison in the first place?

Once the case breaks a plethora of numerous unanswered questions arise, slowly unfolding like that of a peeled back onion. The story becomes even more startling and truth becomes much more shocking and unbelievable than fiction.

Galya’s horrific and sudden death splashes across the nation’s newspaper headlines and news channels. However not everyone believes the coroner’s suicide conclusion, especially a local reporter and seasoned detective called to the asylum the day of Galya’s death. Colorado’s governor orders a formal investigation as lawmen and other’s continue to question the coroner. Pressure builds to find an answer and further evidence uncovers the truth that the lethal dose of cyanide that caused Galya’s death was not taken in one massive amount, but in small doses that ravaged her body, destroying her sight, her organs and finally shutting down her heart. Why would a devoted mother of three who struggled daily to reunite with her children slowly torture and eventually kill herself, and how would she even get her hands on such a deadly toxin. Someone had to have smuggled it in. But whom? As other reporters swarm over the region of Colorado where the Asylum is located it becomes apparent there might be a diabolical cover up to Galya’s death.

More information on the disappearance of Galya’s lover Professor Riha surfaces and soon more truths are uncovered. Clear evidence is revealed that he was involved in some sinister and strange activities including his Czech wife, who is also fluent in Russian, whom he brought over to the U.S., and the known tryst he had with both her and Galya. Galya’s prison psychiatrists eventually break their silence and Galya’s shady past, including her past marriages, physical and mental abuse, plus shadowy ties to Government agencies which may have helped hone her skills as a forger. But that’s not all. It’s only the beginning.

It is also determined her missing lover, an accomplished expert on Russian history teaching at the Colorado University, secretly abhorred America prompting his fame among secret fellow U.S. Communists to flourish. Was this the reason he firmly implanted himself in American society as a respected scholar?

The stories continue to unfold about both Galya and Riha’s pasts and the tales only get more fantastic. Was their relationship that of a great love meant to happen serendipitously like those you read about in romantic novels, or was it carefully orchestrated by the U.S. government in exchange for leniency after Galya’s previous jail sentence years before she met Riha? Sordid details of the tumultuous relationship surface too, including numerous domestic disturbances reported to the local police. Galya’s name is later dragged through the mud as both a home wrecker and supposed American spy in her own right.

No one can untangle this web but an inquisitive U.S. Congress finally steps in and wants answers!

The Senate Select Committee of Intelligence, chaired by wannabe Presidential candidate Senator Frank Church and senior ranking majority member Senator Gary Hart (who later aspired to run for President until the married Hart’s own tryst with a mistress on a board a Florida yacht was uncovered by the press) convene a special session to investigate Professor Riha’s disappearance and Galya’s death. CIA director Richard Helms is called on the carpet to explain, but his answers are muddled and vague. Hart and Church are furious; calling it a Republican cover up until J. Edgar Hoover enters the fray with his own take on the missing professor, but he will not share his information with the public or the CIA for that matter. He might be the one person who knows where the professor is and why Galya died. The quagmire only deepens, the real life story becoming even more intriguing.

Back in Colorado the case grows cold as the nation is dealing with the Nixon regime and trying to end the war in Viet Nam. Galya’s children are placed in foster care, two of the three are too young to really comprehend what happened to their beloved mother and the elder one too broken to try and find answers as she quickly descends into full denial. Her mother now lost forever.

Was Professor Riha a pawn for the Soviet Union/Russia…or maybe America or both? Did he carry out yet another one of then President Richard Nixon’s clandestine missions against the hated Russian bear? Some believe that to be the case. Will we ever know?

Since the recent publication of Price’s book, LOVES, SPIES AND CYANIDE while working with Galya’s now middle-aged son James Norton, even more government documents have been found adding even more layers to this incredible true story.

One known fact is this case created an acrimonious rift between the CIA, and under Hoover’s edict, the FBI was banned from turning over its files on Professor Riha to the Senate Committee and the CIA. In retaliation the CIA refused to cooperate with the Congress and the FBI. This stand-off between them all fueled an era of mistrust between the Agencies and members of Congress that continued for decades hence.

Many believe the catastrophic outcome of September 11, 2001 could have been avoided if these had Agencies cooperated and shared intelligence information. It took 45 years and the force of the Patriot Act to bridge that gap, which clearly existed from the time Professor Thomas Riha and Galya Tannenbaum were with us.

This story not only lends itself to epic storytelling in either a major motion picture, but also has so much story telling it could fill years of episodic television in a similar vein of THE AMERICANS or HOMELAND with not a thread of made up fiction.

In an age where the U.S. press are being victimized and accused of “fake news” and a public often disillusioned by its government and starving for honesty and diversity in an international society, “LOVE, SPIES & CYANIDE” is timely entertainment for all.

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