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The Full Story

Love, Spies, & Cyanide

It’s time for answers, for hard evidence, for truth, not only for our country but for other women who were judged and convicted unfairly. 

Love, Spies, and Cyanide presents the inside story of Colorado’s most notorious cold case. It’s a stranger than fiction account of the mysterious death of Galya Tannenbaum and the bizarre disappearance of her lover, University of Colorado Russian History Professor Thomas Riha. The baffling and tantalizing story caused shock waves across the country more than 50 years ago while America was in the height of the Cold War with Russia.


Today, the case remains unsolved.

At the center of the renowned Czech born alleged Soviet spy Thomas Riha's disappearance, was his mistress Galya Tannenbaum, a struggling single mother of four, who was immediately suspected as the main culprit. At the outset of the case, she was painted as a conniving gold-digging opportunist and possibly Riha’s killer. But was she the person who those in power portrayed her to be? Or merely a victim, a woman caught in the throes of male dominated authority needing a scapegoat with no voice. 

Galya Tannenbaum’s enigmatic life is shrouded in mystery and bold speculation. She was never convicted of anything related to Riha’s disappearance. Her life and those of her children were torn apart by quick-to-judge law enforcement, a vicious press, incompetent legal representation, and ambitious politicians.  All leading to an agonizing death by cyanide poisoning while unfairly confined to an insane asylum.


The real crime of others swept under the rug.


Marginalized at best, Galya’s true story was never revealed. Until now. Nothing more than a single mother in the 1960s struggling to support herself and her children. Or that monster displayed in the headlines at the time.  We do know Galya used her artistic gifts and her beautiful calligraphy to put food on the table and pay her bills. In her youth some believe Galya's immense talents and beauty were her tools to dwell in the ranks of Chicago mobsters or even spy for her country. Those same tools that led to her tragic death.

Galya's relationship with Thomas Riha is nebulous, but few doubt they were close companions, lovers and possibly comrades in arms. 


Speculation ran rampant that Thomas Riha, an Eastern European, Czech native, worked for the Russian KGB and later switched sides to work for the CIA. No doubt he was an outspoken supporter of Communism and Socialism which may have cost him his teaching position at the University of Chicago and prompted his move to Colorado. Galya was also rumored to be a supporter of these ideals, and she followed Riha from Chicago to Colorado. There she became friends with two like-minded people who also met with untimely deaths from cyanide poisoning.  Allegations swirled around Galya’s alleged involvement soon after their bodies were discovered.


She never could shed the dark cloak that suffocated her and her children.


Love, Spies, and Cyanide takes a frank and candid in-depth look into Galya's role in Riha's disappearance and explores the cold case through the eyes of her surviving family members, who for the first time shed new insight into their mother’s perplexing life.

Could it have simply been like so many women of her time, Galya falling victim to masculine authority she was powerless to fight? What did Gayla know? Did she take her own life or was she murdered to silence her? Or was Gayla a hardened criminal and cold-blooded murderer? Love, Spies, and Cyanide asks these provocative questions and reviews the evidence that may tell a different narrative than the one created by ambitious newsmen and politicians in power during that bygone era.  


This multi-segment documentary probes deeply into those questions but also asks why the U.S. government suddenly abandoned the case before the unfiltered truth could be exposed. The filmmakers further explore the stand-off between the FBI and CIA which independently investigated the case but refused to share their findings or even openly admit their involvement. This unprecedented high- level squabbling brought Congress into the fray convening the Senate Select Committee of Intelligence in special session to investigate Professor Riha’s disappearance and Galya’s death. At that point even J. Edgar Hoover barged in, but true to form at the time, stonewalled Congress and the American public.


The case eventually rose to international attention, widening the rift between both Agencies. Decades later this stand-off persisted to the point where many believe could have contributed to the tragic intelligence breakdown and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.



Thomas Riha


Galya Tannenbaum

There are many different opinions about Galya Tannenbaum.  

Some say she was a merely someone grasping for fame in a world at the time in utter turmoil. 

Galya was labeled everything from a grifter, a dreamer, an activist, a patriot fighting against social norms, a political anarchist, a woman scorned.  While others described her as a woman liberated during the dawn of the feminist revolution. 

She may have been nothing more than a single mom who became a scapegoat for men in power because she fell in love with the wrong man. 

Galya's path wasn't easy, and her struggle long. With two failed marriages, the latter filled with domestic violence, Galya raised four children on her own. To support her family, she tapped into her natural ability as an artist and calligraphist.

It was her innate artistic ability which caused many to speculate she worked with the Chicago mob to forge art and other documents. She spent a short time in an Illinois prison.

Law enforcement would later claim that Galya was an unscrupulous woman who associated with mobsters, criminals, and spies. Connected in so many ways to the Riha case she was accused of forging his name and committed to the asylum for the criminally insane. Trumped up charges without a fair trial.

As a single mother in the late 1960’s with no one to advocate for her, Galya may have been nothing more than a victim like so many other marginalized people of that time. Her death, which was quickly deemed a suicide seemed to many more like an assassination to silence Galya permanently.


Her insanity plea had sent her off to suffer even more and she died without a chance to clear her name and reclaim her children. While doing her time, her file revealed months of emotional and physical abuse.

Official cause of her death was cyanide poisoning.  Just another routine suicide the coroner said. No signs of struggle. However, no one bothered to find out how Galya got the killer poison, which raised further questions as to the cause of her death.  Yet shockingly the investigation was called off.  The coroner further maintained, “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? Was it suicide or was Galya silenced? Did Galya murder Riha out of a lover's passion or was it a kidnapping and killing ordered by a foreign government? Did she know something that made her a target? These questions and many more remain unanswered after more than half a century.

​Thomas Riha was Galya's lover and is suspected of having been murdered. Riha was a Russian History Professor born in Czechoslovakia and educated in Moscow. He came to United States in the late 1940s, where he attended the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a Bachelor’s degree as well as a Master’s Degree. He later went on to Harvard to earn his PhD in Russian History. After completing his PhD, Riha accepted a teaching position at the University of Chicago. In 1967, Riha moved to Colorado and become a professor at the University of Colorado.

A legendary Russian scholar and author Riha was a suspected Cold War Soviet Spy who may have been recruited by the U.S. as a counter spy. His disappearance is shrouded in mystery and to this day, his whereabouts is unknown. Some say he is still alive while others believe he was killed by foreign agents or even his famous mistress Galya Tannenbaum.

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