On the night of July 17, 1918, the Russian Imperial family, consisting of Emperor Nicholai II; his wife, Empress Alexandra Fedorovna; his children, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia, and Tsesarevich Alexei; their doctor, Eugene Botkin; Alexandra’s maid, Anna Demidova; Nicholas’ Valet, Alexei Trupp; and Ivan Kharitinov, the cook. A total of eleven people were murdered in the basement storeroom of the Ipatiev House. The executioners, under the command of Yakov Yurovsky, had been ordered to shoot all prisoners and to destroy the evidence of what happened. On July 25, 1918, White Army troops entered Ekaterinburg. The investigation of the murder of the Imperial Family and servants commenced on July 30, 1918. Traces of the murder were found immediately, but the bodies were never found.
Two previous investigators searched for clues as to their whereabouts, but the last investigator, before the fall of Ekaterinburg to the Bolsheviks, Nikolai Sokolov, was able to thoroughly search the Open Mine shaft in the Four Brothers mine area where it was believed that the bodies, clothing and other belongings of the Family were allegedly destroyed. With the fall of Ekaterinburg to the Bolsheviks, in 1919, Sokolov left without having the opportunity to find the remains of the Romanovs or their retainers
The Soviet version of Sokolov’s book, Gibel’Tsarskoi Sem’i (Titled “The Last Days of Tsardom” in the West), was authorized in 1926. Re-written by Pavel M. Bykov, the new Chairman of the Ural Soviet admitted that Alexandra Fedorovna, with her son, the Tsesarevich Alexei and four daughters, had been murdered along with Nicholai Alexandrovich Romanov. Despite Sokolov’s description (Sokolov never found the remains), Bykov (p 99) added his own variation: “Much has been said about the missing corpses, despite the intensive search. …the remains of the corpses after being burned, were taken quite far away from the mines and buried in a swampy
place, in an area where the volunteers and investigators did not excavate. There the corpses remained and by now have rotted.” Bykov offered five clues: (1) the remains which had survived the fires; (2) the remains had been buried; (3) quite far away from the mines; (4) in a swampy place; and finally, (5) in an area where the volunteers and investigators did not excavate. In other words it was in an area no way near the Four Brothers site where Sokolov had originally searched.
Peter Ermakov, one of the Bolshevik assassins was interviewed in 1935 by the American journalist Richard Halliburton. Ermakov’s account of the destruction of the bodies partially buttressed (In his interview Ermakov stated that the ashes were “thrown to the wind” thus he could never have supported Sokolov’s description.) Sokolov’s assumptions, but while his words must be treated cautiously, Ermakov had stated that: “We built a funeral pyre of cut logs big enough to hold bodies two layers deep. We poured five tins of gasoline over the corpses and two buckets of sulfuric acid and set the logs afire…I stood by to see that not one fingernail or fragment of bone remained unconsumed…We had to keep the burning a long time to burn up the skulls.’ Ermakov concluded his account of the disposal of the remains by stating, “We didn’t leave the smallest pinch of ash on the ground…I put tins of ashes in the wagon again and ordered the driver to take me towards the high road…I pitched the ashes into the air—and the wind caught them like dust and carried them out across the woods and fields," According to Alexander Avdonin, the vehicle could only be used at Four Brothers Mine area and the high road was the Koptiaki Road where the truck got stuck.
In their 1976 book “The File on the Tsar”, Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold challenged Sokolov’s conclusion that, in two days, even with a plentiful supply of gasoline and sulfuric acid, the executioners had been able to destroy “more than half a ton of flesh and bone” and as Ermakov claimed, “pitch (ed) the ashes into the air.” Professor Francis Camps, a British Home Office forensic pathologist, explained how difficult it was to burn a human body. Fires char bodies, “and the charring itself prevents the rest of the body from being destroyed.” Professional cremation, performed in closed gas fired ovens at temperatures up to two thousand degrees Fahrenheit, can reduce a body to ashes. But this technique of disposal and the specialized equipment was not available in the Siberian forest in 1918. As for sulfuric acid, Dr. Edward Rich, an American expert from West Point, advised the authors Summers and Mangold, that with “eleven fully grown and partly-grown bodies …merely pouring acid on them would not do too much damage other than disfigure the surface.” The most glaring discrepancy in Sokolov’s findings, which both the Home Office and West Point had agreed, was the complete absence of human teeth at the scene, because teeth are virtually indestructible.
In May Avdonin and Ryabov found the Pig's Meadow.
KGB Chairman, Yuri Andropov convinced President Leonid Brezhnev that the Ipatiev House had become a site of pilgrimage for covert monarchists. An order was given to the first secretary of the Sverdlovsk Region, Boris Yeltsin, to destroy the Ipatiev House. On July 27, 1977 the building was leveled.
Alexander Nikolayevich Avdonin, a retired geologist from Sverdlovsk (Ekaterinburg), along with Geli Ryabov, a filmmaker for the MVD (Ministry of Interior Affairs), a fellow geologist Michael Kochurov, and their wives formed an investigation team that over a period of time led them to find nine skeletons in a shallow grave four and half miles from the Four Brothers mine shaft. Under very secretive conditions Avdonin searched the forest area while Ryabov searched for material from the Archives. One of the books acquired was Sokolov’s book. In it were pictures which provided the clue for their find, a bridge of fresh logs and railway ties laid over a muddy spot. Sokolov learned that on July 18, two days after the executions, a truck left Ekaterinburg and went down the Koptiaki Road. At 4:30 a.m., July 19, this truck got stuck in the mud. The railway guard at a small guard box where the road crossed the tracks said that men came to him, told him their truck was stuck, and asked for railroad ties to make a bridge across the mud. They made the bridge and the truck left; by 9:00 a.m., it was back in its garage in Ekaterinburg. According to Avdonin, from the woods where the truck got stuck, the garage was half an hour’s drive. The truck would have been there for a maximum of four hours.
Geli Ryabov located the son of Yakov Yurovsky, Alexander, a retired Soviet Vice-Admiral. A.Yurovsky gave Ryabov his father’s report originally submitted to the Soviet government describing the execution of the Romanovs and the disposal of their bodies. The report stated that after killing the Romanovs the town’s people very quickly found out where they were buried. Because of that fact, the executioners were then forced to move the corpses, which had only been dumped into a mine shaft in the Four Brothers mine area. “At about 4:30 a.m. on the morning of July 19th,” Yurovsky wrote, “the vehicle got permanently stuck, unable to drive to the mines; all we could do was either bury them or burn them. … We wanted to burn Alexei and Alexandra Fedorovna, but instead of the last with Alexei we burned the freilina (Demidova). We buried the remains right under the fire, then shoveled clay on the remains, and made another bonfire on the grave, and then scattered the ashes and the embers in order to cover up completely any trace of digging. Meanwhile, a common grave was dug for the rest. At about 7 in the morning, a pit six feet deep and 8 feet square was ready. The bodies put in the hole and all the bodies generally doused with sulfuric acid, both so they couldn’t be recognized and to prevent the stench from them rotting (the hole was not deep). We scattered them with lime, put boards on top, and drove over it several times – no traces remained. The secret was kept – the Whites never found it. ” At the end of his report, Yurovsky wrote the precise location of the grave. That location was the exact spot where Avdonin and Kochurov had bored into the old roadbed and found traces of wood beneath the surface.
On May 30, 1979, Avdonin’s team dug into the site. They saw human bones and removed three skulls. They knew that some tests needed to be done but what kind they didn’t know. The skulls were cleaned with water, they were gray and black; and in areas appeared etched with acid. The central facial bones of all the skulls were missing and some skulls had large round holes as if damaged by bullets. These three skulls were taken secretly to be tested in Moscow.
Avdonin and Ryabov reburied the three skulls back to the grave and decided to keep quiet about their find until “circumstances in our country had changed.”
Geli Ryabov, believing that the time had come to reveal this historical secret; he attempted to contact Gorbachev “to ask for his help on a government level so that all of this could be handled properly.”
Boris Yeltsin authorized the scientific opening of the burial site. “The pit had one dramatic revelation, which became apparent after three days of digging and preliminary assembling of the bones; these remains represented only nine skeletons, four male and five female. Two members of the Imperial Family were missing.” Despite this mystery, on July 17, Governor Edward Rossel (Chairman of the Sverdlovsk Region Executive Committee) announced to the press the discovery of the bones which “in great probability” belonged to Nicholas II, his family and servants.
In February 1992, US Secretary of State, James A. Baker III visited Ekaterinburg and was asked by Governor Rossel to send help from the West in order to receive an endorsement of the skeletal remains by Western forensic experts. A team of forensic specialists under the direction of Dr. William Maples from the University of Florida went to Ekaterinburg in July of 1992 and quickly determined that indeed they were the remains of the Imperial Family. But confirmationary DNA analysis needed to be followed up to support that assessment. Russian scientists using computer modeling, by comparing old imperial photos, announced that they were successfully able to superimpose the sets of photographs, and thus were able to prove with certainty that the remains belonged to the Imperial Family and their retainers. Dr. Sergey Abramov claimed that the missing daughter was Grand Duchess Maria, and not Grand Duchess Anastasia.
DNA tests comparing the remains found in Ekaterinburg to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was one of the closest living relative, were performed by Dr Gill at the Forensic Science Services, at the Biology Research Science Laboratory in Aldermaston, England. Furthermore, in the United States, DNA profiles were performed by Dr. Mary-Claire King, from the University of California at Berkeley, and also at the U. S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, in Rockville, Maryland. The DNA analyses that were completed in the autumn of 1995 confirmed beyond any doubt that the skeletal remains were indeed the remains of the Imperial Family and those of their retainers. The whereabouts of the two missing children mystified the investigators and the Russian Commission. Avdonin informed the Commission, which was made up of government personnel, Russian Orthodox Church representatives and scientists, “if we could find these two bodies, then everything would be clear, everything would be concluded, the story would be complete." Only then could Russia turn over that page of this sad chapter in its history, and admit the error of its past.
S.E.A.R.C.H. was established to send a scientific expedition to Russia to account for the remains of the two missing Romanov children. A final chapter in Russian Imperial history needs to be written. After reading this web site, we hope that you will be favorably inclined to help us bring historical closure to one of the 20th century’s most appalling events.
Dr. Alexander Avdonin and the Obretenye Foundation as well as Dr. Sergey Nikitin and Captain Peter Sarandinaki, Director of the SEARCH Foundation, conducted the First Search of the Four Brother's Mine Area.
The remains of the Russian Imperial Family and their retainers were interred in the Romanov Family crypt in the St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral in July 1998, with dignity and much ceremony, on the 80th anniversary of their execution. In attendance were Romanov Family members, Boris Yeltsin and many other Russian and world dignitaries. Patriarch Alexis II, of the Russian Orthodox did not participate, as the Moscow Patriarchate refused to recognize the remains as those of the Romanovs, citing "doubts" as to their identification.
The Search continued at the Four Brothers Mine Area. Drs. Alexander Avdonin, Sergey Nikitin and Tatiana Panova (archeologist for the Kremlin) as well as Peter Sarandinaki, SEARCH FDN.conduct the Second Search for the remains of Tsarevich Alexis and his sister, the Grand Duchess Maria.
Dr. Sergey Nikitin and Captain Peter Sarandinaki conduct the first search at the Pig's Meadow.
In June 2007, at the initiative of A.E. Grigoriev, Deputy Director of the Regional Center for the Preservation of Monuments in the Sverdlovsk Region, V.V. Shitov, a historian and local lore expert and N.B. Neujmin, a member of the military historical club “Mountain Shield”, searched the Southern end of the Pig's Meadow and found the site of a bonfire that contained 44 pieces of charred bones and teeth belonging to possibly the Tsarevich Alexis and his sister, the Grand Duchess Maria.
2007 - 2008
SEARCH Foundation's director, Capt. Peter Sarandinaki, was tasked by the Russian Most Senior Investigator of the Romanov case, Colonel Vladimir Soloviev, to coordinate the DNA validation process for newly-discovered remains. (click on link in red).
DNA testing was done on a blood sample from Tsar Nicholas II, taken from the shirt that he wore when he was wounded in 1891 in Japan.
The remains found in both graves were tested for hemophelia. In the first grave it was found that Alexandra and Anastasia were carriers of the Christmas disease and just 70 meters away, in the 2nd grave, it was found that the Tsarevich Alexey had the very same disease.
On December 5, 2008 the Final DNA results were announced to the world.
Captain Peter Sarandinaki
Director, SEARCH Foundation