Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Unraveling Russia's Last Royal Mystery



~from the New York Times about the final resting places of the Czar and his family.

Eleven people were said to have been killed that day in July 1918 on Lenin’s orders. Just nine sets of remains were dug up here and then authenticated using DNA. The remains of the czar’s son, Aleksei, and one daughter, whose identity is still not absolutely clear, were missing. Did their bones lie elsewhere, or could it actually be that they had escaped execution, as rumor had it for so long?

Only in the past few months have these questions dating from the Russian revolution apparently been resolved here, and only by a group of amateur sleuths who spent their weekends plumbing the case. In fact, it appears that the clues to what happened to the two children were always there, waiting to be found. All that was needed was to listen closely to the boastful voices of the killers.

Their accounts are in secret reports in Soviet-era archives, one of which offered the most tantalizing hint: a single phrase in the recollection of the chief killer that seemed to suggest where the two bodies might have been deposited.

“All of them wanted to leave a trace in history, for they considered that this was a kind of heroic deed,” said Vitaly Shitov, who lives in the area and undertook a review of the testimony to hunt for the remains. “They wanted to promote their roles.”

Following that wisp of a clue this summer, Mr. Shitov and other amateur investigators went to where the other remains had been found — and they kept walking. Away from the road, about 70 yards from the first burial ground, is a slightly elevated area among the trees.

It is there that the bodies of Aleksei, 13, and his sister were apparently consigned.

The amateurs found the bones, many of them charred by fire, scattered among bullets and pieces of jars that held acid used to disfigure the bodies. These fragments appeared similar to those from the first grave.

So it seems that for all the years since the first discovery, even as people made pilgrimages to the site and wondered what had happened to Aleksei and his sister, their remains were only a short stroll away.

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