In Episode 13 we finish our Romanovs Miniseries with:
- Hiding the Romanov bodies
- The Kremlin
- Finding the bodies
- Present day Romanovs
*Scroll through for photos!
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Hiding the Bodies
The murder of 11 people was complete. All that was left for Yakov Yurovksy and his men to do was take the bodies into Koptyaki Forest and get rid of them to a set of mine shafts 12 miles away from Ekaterinburg.
Around 6 in the morning, the soldiers threw the bodies down one of the mine shafts, but it wasn’t deep enough. Sulphuric acid was thrown over the bodies to break them down faster, and some grenades after that to destroy the shaft. But no luck. The bodies could still be found if someone went looking.
A few days later Yurovsky went back with more men to move the bodies to a location where they couldn’t be found. While moving the bodies the truck got stuck.
To save time, Yurovksy figured they’d bury them there. They dug two graves, one for Nicholas, Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia, Anna Demidova, Dr. Botkin, Alexei Trupp, Ivan Kharitonov, and one for Maria and Alexei.
The bodies were thrown into the larger grave, and then covered with sulphuric acid once more. The grave was then covered up. As for Maria and Alexei, their bodies were burned but only in part. Maria and Alexei were then thrown in their grave and buried as well.
July 19, 1918 was the last time the Romanovs and their servants were seen for about 61 years.
The White Army
When the White Army reached Ekaterinburg and took the city, the first thing they did was burst into Ipatiev House. They found it empty.
The White Army looked for the Romanovs but didn’t find a thing. Admiral Alexander Kolchak, the guy in charge of the White Government, had Nicholas Sokolov investigate.
He was pretty sure Nicholas was dead, but what happened to the others? When the snow melted in the spring, he went to Koptyaki forest to find out. He found the mine shafts the bodies were originally thrown down. Sydney Gibbes and Pierre Gilliard came to help.
In the mine shaft, they found remnants of the family. Through his hard work and tenacity, Sokolov was able to find out the truth: eleven people had been murdered. The entire Romanov family, gone. Their bodies disposed of.
Sokolov boxed up all the evidence he had found. When Sokolov left Russia in 1919, he took his evidence with him. Until the bodies were later found, most people thought the family and their servants had been burned to ash.
With the Romanovs dead, Lenin’s government began a game of back and forth with the foreign powers of Europe. Since Russia was no longer a war obstacle, Germany decided they could finally step in and try to get Alexandra and her family to safety.
With the family dead, the new Russian government was tight lipped about what happened. They didn’t want the world to know the entire family was dead.
Basically, the government was taking the line of since the White Army was getting close Nicholas was shot, but the rest of the family was fine.
On July 20 the newspapers Pravda (truth) and Izvestia (news) announced Nicholas’s death in Moscow and Petrograd (aka St. Petersburg).
The world started getting the news as well. Nicholas was dead, but the rest of the family was “safe.” This kickstarted the negotiation process for people Moscow knew were dead.
The Romanov’s relatives were trying to find out anything they could about the family. Nicholas was dead. But if the tsaritsa and the children were still alive, they had to get them out.
Save the Romanovs
Germany was unhappy with Nicholas’s death and wanted information about Alexandra and her kids. There was no way Moscow was going to blink first. Back and forth they went.
The Russian government was trying to put off any international outrage that might occur in regards to the murder of the empress and her five children.
When it came to the reactions of the British, the government wasn’t sure if they should make a public announcement. Because politics. The government eventually made an announcement, waiting just long enough to be sure Nicholas was dead.
On July 24, the British royal court went into official mourning. All members of the court were to wear mourning colors for four weeks. Little did they know they were also mourning Alexandra and the Russian royal children.
The British then set about trying to find out exactly what happened to the empress and her children, though a report had already come through that the entire family was dead. Since there was no proof either way, dead or alive, family members kept hoping for the best.
The Daily Express published an article in September 1918 stating that Alexandra and the Grand Duchesses had been murdered as well. A few months later a report was sent to Germany from Kiev. The entire family had been killed, not just Nicholas.
What About the Other Romanovs?
There were Romanovs were killed before the main Imperial Family. One of them was Grand Duke Nicholas Konstantinovich in February 1918. He wasn’t even living in Russia anymore.
Michael, Nicholas’s younger brother, was the second to be killed. After six months of imprisonment in a hotel, he and Brian Johnson, his British secretary, were taken into the countryside on July 13, 1918. Brian was shot in the head first, then Michael was shot three times while running toward Brian.
After the Imperial family was murdered, not even a full day went by before the Bolsheviks captured Grand Duchess Elizabeth, AKA Ella, Alexandra’s sister, Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, Prince John, Prince Constantine, and Prince Igor (the previous 3 were sons of Grand Duke Constantine), and Prince Vladimir Paley, son of Nicholas’s uncle Grand Duke Paul. The theory is that these six Romanovs were driven into the country, and shot in the head before falling down a mine shaft.
Grand Dukes Dmitri Konstantinovich, George (Georgiy Mikhailovich), Paul (Pavel Alexandrovich), and Nicholas (Nikolai Mikhailovich), were killed on January 28, 1919 by a firing squad at the Peter and Paul Fortress.
When all was over and done with, the people left standing were: the Dowager Empress Maria, 12 grand duchesses (there were 17), including Olga and Xenia, Nicholas’s sisters, and 8 grand dukes (out of 16), including Nicholas Nicholaevich and his brother Peter. That was it.
The Romanovs still alive hid until April 1919 when the HMS Marlborough, a British warship, showed up in Yalta, ready to give the Dowager Empress, the rest of the Romanovs, and any servants who wanted to come a lift out of Russia.
Maria went back to Denmark. Xenia, after living in Denmark with her mother for a time, moved to London where she lived without her husband in a house called Wilderness House. She lived there from 1936 until her death in 1960.
Olga waited until after WWII to move to Canada from Denmark, where she and her husband lived for the rest of their lives. As a widow she shared an apartment with a Russian couple in Toronto. Olga passed away in November of 1960, seven months after Xenia.
The Dowager Empress Maria died in 1928. Until her death, Maria refused to accept her beloved Nicky and his family were dead. In 2006, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorvna, wife of Alexander III and mother of Nicholas II returned to Russia, to be laid to rest with her husband at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.
Sokolov Tells All
Sokolov, the man who tried to figure out what happened to the Romanov family, left Russia with all his evidence. He wrote and published a book in 1924 in French, titled Enquête Judiciaire sur l’assassinat de la famille impériale – aka Judicial Enquiry into the Assassination of the Russian Imperial Family.
As a result of this book, the Soviet government finally had to tell the truth. In 1926 it did just that. It only took them 8 years. By this point, Joseph Stalin was the head honcho of Soviet Russia.
The Special House is a Museum
Ipatiev House went through quite a few different iterations: museum of the revolution, a meeting place for the Council of Atheists Society, the Regional Party Archive.
When it was a museum, there were posters all over praising Communism. It was propaganda, proof that the Soviet state was better off than it was under Nicholas. A room on the upper floor was like a clipping from Romanov family life. People came and ogled and left. But the cellar, where the family was murdered, was off limits.
In July 1977 the government had Ipatiev House destroyed.
Found, for the Very First Time
Alexander Avdonin, a native of Ekaterinburg, was interested in the Romanov family and their murder. Since it was Soviet Russia, it was dangerous to ask questions, and most people were too scared to share what they knew. But he forged ahead. Going to Ipatiev House. Talking to family members connected to that fateful night in 1918.
In 1977, Avdonin met Geli Ryabov, who was a famous filmmaker. He first arrived in Ekaterinburg in 1976 to present his ten-part series, The Birth of the Revolution. While in the city he visited Ipatiev House, more importantly the cellar, and was moved to tell the Romanov family’s story.
Using their research and powers of deduction, Avdonin and Ryabov located the grave in May 1979. On May 30, these two men were the first to lay eyes on the Romanovs and their household since their burial. They pulled out three skulls and then put the grave back the way they found it.
Ryabov took two of the skulls with him to Moscow. His goal was to secretly have forensic tests done on the skulls. No dice. After a year, he and Avdonin took all three skulls back out to Koptyaki forest in a wooden box and reburied them in the mass grave.
Because it was Soviet Russia, who knew what would be done to the remains, or Avdonin and Ryabov, if they went public. So they kept it a secret.
Truly Found at Last
When the Soviet Union fell, it was finally time to reveal the location of the Romanov family’s graves. Avdonin asked Ekaterinburg officials to finally open the grave. After getting the nod from Yeltsin, a large group set out for the gravesite.
The excavators first found the box with the skulls before finally coming upon the rest of the bones. The most surprising thing the team found was that only 9 bodies were in that grave, which meant there were still two bodies that needed to be found.
Chief medical examiner Dr. Vladislav Plaksin had to authenticate the bones. He sent Sergei Abramov, his best forensic anthropologist, to Ekaterinburg to put the family and household back together – about 700 bones in all.
This took three months, and there were still plenty of missing bones. Out went a team to the mass grave to find more bones. And they did, about 250 of them.
To identify the remains, Abramov had to get creative. They couldn’t do DNA testing because they couldn’t afford it. So they took videos of the skulls and tried to mix and match the skulls to the correct identity. The Grand Duchesses were the hardest.
They had similar features and weren’t that far apart in age. He was sure the missing Grand Duchess could only be Maria. And since the body of a young boy wasn’t found, that meant Alexei was the other missing Romanov.
Corroborating the Findings
On July 25, 1992 forensic anthropologist Dr. William Maples reached Ekaterinburg with his team. They stayed for a week to make sure everything was documented, but the man and his team were so skilled it took them a few hours to identify all the bodies and match their identities.
Their findings corroborated Dr. Abramov’s. All but one. Dr. Maples and his team believed that Olga, Tatiana, and Maria had been found, and Anastasia was still missing.
Dr. Abramov, on Maples’s recommendation, called in Professor Richard Helmer, president of the Craniofacial Identification Group of the International Association of Forensic Sciences. Professor Helmer came to the same conclusion as Dr. Abramov. Maria was missing.
Science, Science, Science!
With this all said and done, what was left to do? DNA testing. But Russia didn’t have the tech, money, or resources. So they had to outsource it to the British.
On September 15, 1992 Dr. Pavel Ivanov came to England with the imperial bones. Ivanov and Peter Gill then spent ten months confirming gender and whether there a dad, mom, and kids.
The next step was to truly identify them. For this they needed mitochondrial DNA. They had finally come to the point where they needed living relatives to chip in with their own DNA.
First up was Prince Phillip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband and the Duke of Edinburgh. He was also Alexandra’s grandnephew. His DNA was used to identify Alexandra and three of her girls.
Identifying Nicholas was a lot harder. It took them a while to find someone to match the DNA to. The genealogists took a deeper look at Nicholas’s closest female relatives and found someone. The great-great-granddaughter of Dowager Empress Maria would work wonderfully.
But, just in case, there was a second relative whose blood could match. His name was James George Alexander Bannerman Carnegie, third Duke of Fife, Earl Macduff, and Lord Carnegie. James was the great-great-grandson of Queen Alexandra of Britain, sister of Dowager Empress Maria, and a distant cousin of Nicholas II.
Xenia’s mitochondrial DNA was a 100% match when compared to James’s. But when compared to the tsar’s DNA, there was a mismatch of one letter.
So, of course, the scientists tested again and came back with a perfect match. How could that happen? Nicholas had two sets of mitochondrial DNA. This is a super rare condition, known as heteroplasmy.
On July 10, 1993, Gill and Ivanov gathered in London at a conference held by The Forensic Science Service to talk about their findings. They explained that they were 98.5% sure of Nicholas’s identity. The 1.5% gap had to do with the heteroplasmy and accounting for the chance that the double set of DNA found wasn’t a mutation but an error.
There have been more than a handful of people in the world claiming to be a Romanov. Sometimes the entire family was seen, but mostly, it was people pretending to be one of the children.
There was a man in Scottsdale, Arizona claiming to be Alexei. There was a super isolated village in the Ural Mountains where the people swore up and down that Maria and Anastasia sought refuge there and became nuns, living the rest of their lives in constant fear.
There was a woman claiming to be Olga living in Italy off the kindness of the Pope and the ex-kaiser. Tatiana was supposedly shaking her hips in Constantinople before marrying a British officer.
And Maria, after escaping Ipatiev House, made her way to Romania where she got married and had a son who dubbed himself “His Imperial and Royal Highness, Hereditary Grand Duke and Tsarevich of Russia, King of Ukraine, and Grand Duke of Kiev.” This guy’s name was Alex Brimeyer. And that’s only a few of the many, many stories.
I’m Alexei, I Swear!
In the late 1950s, a man who claimed to be in the Soviet Bloc National Intelligence Service made contact with the FBI, wanting to help the U.S. government.
For two years he gave information to the CIA until he supposedly became compromised. His name was Lt. Col. Michael Goleniewski of the Polish Military Intelligence Division.
When he came to the U.S., he revealed his “true” identity. He was Alexei Romanov, and he was alive because Yurovsky helped him and his family escape.
There was a little problem concerning Michael’s age. Michael was 18 years younger than he should have been. Had Alexei lived, he would have been 57. Michael admitted he was born in 1922, making him 39. Not only was he too young, he wouldn’t have been alive when the family was murdered.
Michael was violent and had a temper. This only got worse when the imperial family, all the way down to Alexei, were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Only the dead can be canonized. So Michael threw a tantrum. After that, he disappeared.
Eugenia Smith, in the very beginning, didn’t say she was Anastasia. Instead, she told others she was Anastasia’s friend. But later on, she changed her tune and became Anastasia.
Apparently, after getting out of Ekaterinburg, she married a Croatian and had a kid, but the kid soon died. Then she went to America, on her own, and her marriage ended a few years after that. She moved in with a wealthy woman by the name of Mrs. William Emery in Chicago, who believed to the very core of her being that Eugenia was Anastasia.
Eugenia didn’t look anything like the grand duchess, but she knew things. When interviewed by a magazine before her book came out — we’re really not sure if this book was ever actually published — the polygraph expert was sure he was speaking with Anastasia.
But the real test was her family. Anastasia’s cousin, Princess Nina Georgievna Chavchavadze, met with Eugenia and said the woman was without a doubt an imposter.
The princess was a pretty solid expert since she’d known Anastasia well. And then Tatiana Botkin, the daughter of the murdered Dr. Eugene Botkin, read the book. There were a ton of things Eugenia got wrong. Tatiana wasn’t convinced. So was she Anastasia? Nope.
The One and Only Anna Anderson
A woman came on the scene back in 1920 after jumping off a bridge in Berlin. When she was taken to the hospital and they asked her who she was, she wouldn’t say a thing. She was taken to Dalldorf Mental Asylum under the name Fräulein Unbekannt, meaning Miss Unknown.
In 1921, she saw a picture of Anastasia in a magazine and said she was the grand duchess. She claimed she survived the massacre because a soldier and his brother took her home with them. They, including the soldier’s mother and sister, left Ekaterinburg.
After that, she married her savior and became Mrs. Tschaikovsky. No one has ever been able to track down this family. There is no record of them. Nor were any of the guards at Ipatiev known by this name.
In 1922, family members started coming around, trying to figure out if this was their Anastasia. Some believed her. Some didn’t. Of the immediate family, only Grand Duchess Olga, Nicky’s youngest sister, wanted to meet Mrs. Tschaikovsky. Dowager Empress Maria and Grand Duchess Xenia were adamantly against it.
But Olga couldn’t give up. She asked Pierre Gilliard to go and check, to see if her little one had come back to her. Olga eventually came to Berlin as well. At first she was sure. She had some of the same habits as Anastasia. But years later, Olga was much less positive.
Mrs. Tschaikovsky threw fits, ignored people, and was especially nasty to the people who were kind enough to lend a hand. She didn’t speak a lick of English or Russian, which was strange since Anastasia spoke both fluently. German was the only language this woman spoke.
When Mrs. Tschaikovsky moved to America, she first moved in with Princess Xenia, Anastasia’s cousin. But things grew tense and she was eventually moved into a hotel where Anna Anderson was born. When checking in, that’s the name she used.
At one point, her temper got the better of her and she went to the mental asylum by order of the court. Unfortunately, she got out after a year. In 1932 she left the country to go to Germany. When she arrived in Germany, she received an additional six months of treatment.
Anna lived in Europe until July 13, 1968, when she flew to the U.S. to stay with Dr. John Manahan. A few months later, those two crazy kids were married, heavy on the crazy.
Anna was locked away in November 1983. Her husband broke her out only days later. They were soon stopped by the cops and Anna was returned to the asylum. She died on February 12, 1984 under the legal name of Anastasia Anderson. Her husband died six years after her.
Was she or wasn’t she?
Was she Anastasia? Short answer: she most definitely was not. And the way they were able to prove that was through a test. Back in 1979, Anna had a portion of her intestine removed. The hospital where this procedure was performed, following protocol, held onto a tissue sample.
When the sample was discovered, people fought over who was going to perform the tests. The legal battle for this tissue didn’t end until 1994. The tissue sample was sent to England to be tested by Peter Gill.
He sent the samples to two other scientists to confirm his results. Susan Barrit from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and Dr. Mark Stoneking at Penn State.
In October 1994, Dr. Peter Gill and his colleague Dr. Kevin Sullivan explained how they reached their final conclusion. They compared the DNA from the tissue sample to the DNA extracted from Nicholas and Alexandra’s bones, and Prince Phillip’s DNA as well.
No match. No relation to the imperial family. Then Anna’s DNA was compared to that of a man named Karl Maucher, the grandnephew of Franziska Schanzkowska, who some believed Anna to be. A 100% match.
Franziska Schanzkowsk was a loner. She’d had enough of her small Polish town and left for Berlin, where she met a man and got engaged. Unfortunately, he died during WWI.
After that, due to her mistake, there was an accident at the weapons factory she worked at that resulted in her being injured and a man dying. She was in and out of the asylum several times before she fell off the map and took on the persona of Anastasia.
The House of Special Purpose Turned Holy
Even after Ipatiev House was destroyed, people kept coming. It was a memorial site for some to come to and remember what had been done, but other traditions had also been established. For instance, newlyweds would come to the site for photographs and to leave flowers.
But the space didn’t stay empty for long. The Ekaterinburg archbishop believed Ipatiev House was “the place where the suffering of the Russian people began.”
He wanted a cathedral built to purify Russia of the heinous acts done under the Soviets. The cathedral was eventually built and named as the archbishop had proposed: The Cathedral on Spilled Blood.
You Gotta Love Karma — Except If You’re A Murderer
The men involved in the murder of the Imperial Family did, for the most part, get what was coming to them. In 1918, Stepan Vaganov was murdered by peasants because of his involvement in the oppression of the people.
In 1919, Pavel Medvedev was caught and questioned by the White Army. He swore up and down he didn’t help kill the Russian royal family. He died of typhus while he was in prison.
Yakov Sverdlov died of the flu in 1919. He was the guy aiming to be the head honcho after Lenin. Petr Voikov was killed in July 1927 in Warsaw, Poland by a Russian monarchist.
Joseph Stalin had Filipp Goloshchekin shot in 1941. Then there was Yakov Yurovsky. Unfortunately, a stomach ulcer killed him before a bullet could, but we take comfort in the fact that Stalin was coming for him.
For part of Yurovsky’s life, he was treated like a leper. He died proud of what he had done. To the very end, he remained loyal to the Bolshevik cause.
Where are the Romanovs now?
For the past 75 years, we’ve had a bunch of crazy people running around declaring themselves the rightful rulers of Russia. Except there is no Imperial Russia anymore, so they don’t actually have anything to rule over.
The Romanov family divided into five branches: the Mikhailovichi, the Vladimirovichi, the Pavlovichi, the Constantinovichi, and the Nicholaevichi.
The Mikhailovichi are the closest relation to Nicholas II. This branch is made up of Nicholas’s sisters and their children and their children’s children, and so on.
The Vladimirovichi were the second closest relatives to Nicholas II. This branch of the family was made up of Nicholas’s cousins — his first cousins, specifically.
The Nicholaevichi were based around Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaevich. Not as closely related, but Nicholas Nicholaevich was a good man, and he wanted nothing to do with the imperial throne, nonexistent or otherwise. He always had the Dowager Empress in mind. Remember, she was in extreme denial about Nicholas’s death.
And everyone who was left made up the other two branches. None of our research really made it clear who made up these subclans. Sorry, guys.
What’s super important to note about these branches is how much infighting there was. One branch didn’t like another branch so they wouldn’t attend the same event or something as equally absurd. It’s absolutely ridiculous. One guy, usually from the Vladimirovichi subclan, was trying to set himself above the others.
Many of these family members were more than willing to step away and live a quiet life with zero crowns and jewels. And then here come their kids who demand that they are princes and princesses. But no. It doesn’t work that way.
104 years had passed since a Tsar had been buried. Alexander III was buried in 1894. It wasn’t until July 17, 1998 that the Imperial family was finally laid to rest.
This ceremony also marked 80 years since the family was massacred. Dr. Euegen Botkin, Alexei Trupp, Ivan Kharitonov, and Anna Demidova were buried with the family at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul.
As mentioned before, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad canonized the Imperial family years ago. As martyred saints. Now it was the Orthodox Church’s turn — sainthood or no sainthood? Two years passed before the family was granted their sainthood in 2000: Passion Bearers, which is the lowest level of sainthood.
Unfortunately, Trupp, Botkin, Demidova, and Kharitnov were not declared saints. They didn’t do anything special in the eyes of the Orthodox Church in Russia. But the Orthodox Church Outside of Russia did canonize them with the rest of the family.
But Alexei and Maria were still missing. In July 2007, Sergei Plotnikov happened upon the gravesite of the missing children. It wasn’t strange for him to spend his spare time looking for them in Koptyaki forest since he wanted to reunite the children with their family.
Not far from where the rest of the family was found, Plotnikov uncovered bone fragments. After some more digging and DNA tests, it was confirmed that Alexei and Maria had been found.
They have yet to be buried. But it’s been 12 years since Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Maria Nikolaevna were found. They should be resting with their family.
Instead, the Russian Orthodox Church refuses to bury. All the tests that have been done to prove the identity of Maria and Alexei, but the Church wants to be sure. So when will they finally be laid to rest with their family? We don’t know.
- Visit Nicholas and Alexandra to check out books and other fun things that will give you a deeper look at the Imperial Family.
- Take a tour of the Alexander Palace where the Imperial family made their home for 23 years!
- Or – take a virtual tour of Ipatiev House.
- Check out these photos from Anna Vyrubova’s collection of the Imperial Family!
- The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
- The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport
- The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport
- Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert K. Massie
- The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie
- The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore
- The Race to Save the Romanovs: The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue the Russian Imperial Family by Helen Rappaport
Recommended TV, Movies, and Shows!
Photos: Photos of the Kremlin, King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and King Alfonso XIII taken from the Library of Congress photo archives. All other photos used in this post are taken from Wikimedia Commons and are in the Public Domain. To learn more, click here.
*Music: Initial classical piece that’s a part of the intro is Concerto for 2 Oboes in F Major Op9 no3, 3 Allegro by Advent Chamber Orchestra under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.*
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