In 1991, news that the remains of the Russian Imperial family had been found in the forest outside Ekaterinburg was heard around the world. I was given a newspaper article reporting that a team of American scientists, headed by Dr. William Maples, Director of the C.A. Pound Human ID Laboratory, University of Florida at Gainesville, was going to Russia to help identify the Imperial remains. I called Dr. Maples at his home and spoke to his wife Margaret. Margaret, later, told me that she was intrigued by my family's connection to the original investigation and decided to tell her husband about me, setting into motion our future alliance.
Nine skeletons were unearthed by Dr Alexander Avdonin’s team in July 1991 from a shallow grave in a meadow near Ekaterinburg. Two skeletons – Tsesarevich Alexei and one of his sisters were absent. In August 1991, Dr Nikitin determined that the № 4 skeletal remains were those of His Majesty the Emperor, but his conclusion diverged from the conclusions of other experts, who believed that skeleton № 1 belonged to Nikolai II. Later, Dr Sergey Abramov according to results following the examination of the skulls and from photographs, confirmed Dr Nikitin’s conclusion, however, Professor Victor Zvyagin – chief specialist of the Scientific Investigation Institute for Forensic Medicine of the Russian Health Care Ministry, continued to insist that skeleton № 1 belonged to Nikolai II …” Therefore, in 1992 Avdonin invited the American specialists.
Dr. Maples and his team were invited by the Sverdlovsk Regional government and the Obretenye Foundation, to help them identify the Imperial remains. The American team was comprised of Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist; Dr. Lowell Levine, a forensic dentist; Dr. William Hamilton, the local medical examiner from Gainesville and Cathryn Oakes, a hair and fiber specialist with the New York State Police. The Americans quickly determined that these remains were those of the Imperial family and that No.4 skeleton was Nicholas IIs. However, the team also determined that the bones claimed by the Russians to be those of 17 year old Anastasia, were actually those of a 19 year old female. Thus correlating that those bones would have to have belonged to her sister Maria. To date, the Russians maintain that they have the remains of Anastasia. In his book, "The Romanovs: The Final Chapter", author Robert K. Massie wrote, at p 67 "... Maples agreed absolutely with (Russian scientist) Abramov that these are the Romanovs. The nine skeletons fit the requirements of age, sex, height, and weight of nine of the prisoners in the Ipatiev House. "If you were to go out at random and try to assemble another group of people to fit exactly these historical and physical descriptions, you would have to do remarkable research and then go out and find and kill nine identical people," said Maples. He regards this as so unlikely as to be impossible."
In 1993, Dr. Maples introduced me to Dr. Alexander Avdonin and his wife Galina at the Boston convention of the American Academy of Forensic Science. I invited the Avdonins to my house in Nyack, NY to have the opportunity to get to know them better and to introduce them to the Russian-American community living in the Northeastern United States. I organized a meeting at the Russian Orthodox Church in Nyack where Avdonin would be given the opportunity to speak to the Russian American community and answer any of their questions. The speech given by Avdonin was extremely informative, but Avdonin was met with an element of distrust. At that time, many Russian-Americans were distrustful of anyone coming out of the former Soviet Union. On the other hand, Avdonin was a little apprehensive about giving speeches to the White Russian community, for he had been raised not to trust the White Russians. A similar type meeting was organized in Washington, DC where Avdonin was better received.
After Avdonin's speech in Nyack, NY, a Russian-American group, calling themselves The Russian Expert Commission Abroad, (RECA), asked me for a private meeting with Avdonin, where they proceeded to grill him; and accused him of lying about his findings; that he was a Communist; and more... The RECA group comprised an engineer and two history professors, failed to believe Dr. Avdonin's story as to how he had met Geli Ryabov; an MVD filmmaker, who had conducted the initial searches. Ryabov had taken three skulls from the grave site, two of which were secretly taken to Moscow. RECA maintained that their secret could not have been kept without the KGB's knowledge and backing or controlling their project. RECA asserted that this was all a KGB hoax, perpetrated by the newly formed Russian democratic government that wanted to close this sordid chapter in their country's history and move on without punishing the evildoers without admitting to the Truth about the murders of the Russian Imperial Family. Avdonin held his ground against these so-called experts. To date the Russian Expert Commission Abroad group has opposed the findings of the Russian Commission and has worked to discredit the fact that the remains found on the Old Koptiaki Road are indeed those of the Romanovs and their loyal Servants.
In 1994, author Robert K. Massie and I traveled to Ekaterinburg to interview Dr. Avdonin and to examine the sites for ourselves. We were allowed to visit the morgue where the Romanov remains lay on stainless steel tables. I was allowed to film the Imperial remains and those of their faithful servants. Avdonin took us to the Four Brothers Mine Area and later to the Pig’s Meadow. We got to see the lay of the land and understand how the events here must have transpired. At the Four Brothers I sat on a round pile of dirt, covered with grass and small bushes. Four years later, I returned to that site and while sifting through that same pile found a 7.62 mm projectile bullet from a Nagan pistol and a clear “white” topaz stone which we knew had come from one of the Emperor’s daughter’s necklaces.
During this visit, I also served as Massie’s interpreter. After helping him complete the necessary interviews in Russia, Robert Massie returned the United States to write "The Romanovs- The Final Chapter", which was published by Random House the following year in 1995.
After coming back from Russia, I called Dr. Maples, to tell him about my trip. Maples wanted to continue searching for the missing remains of two Romanov children, the Tsesarevich Alexis and those of his sister the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Unfortunately, he developed a brain tumor and could not carry on with his search. However, seeing that I was very interested in continuing, he introduced me to anthropologists at the U.S. Army Central Identification Lab in Hawaii (CILHI). Maples had told me that the CILHI team had talented personnel, money and excellent equipment suitable to the task I had in mind.
In 1995, my ship, “Sea-Land Discovery”, and I were transferred to a new route to Hawaii. This change gave me the opportunity to meet with CILHI’s top anthropologists, Dr. Thomas Holland and Dr. Thomas Mann. As a result of that meeting a joint American-Russian and Ekaterinburg search was proposed. Dr. Avdonin, aware of my project, had sent a letter from the Governor of the Ural region, inviting the U.S. Army team to come to Russia to help search for the two missing skeletal remains. Regretfully in the end, the U.S. Army declined my proposal, (even after the State Department gave its approval for the US Army to participate in a case that had high international resonance). At that time North Korea and Red China had just opened their doors to the US Army CILHI team to come in and search for missing in action (M.I.A.) U. S.military personnel. The US Army had as its primary mission to recover US service personnel's remains that were lost in military service. It was considered that, sending part of this team to Russia would have taken valuable resources away from the U. S. government’s No.1 priority, and therefore the U.S. Army was forced to renege on its initial support. In 1997, Dr. Anthony Falsetti, who replaced Dr. Maples as the Director of the CA Pound Human Identification Laboratory, introduced me to Dr. Diane France, the Director of the Human Identification Laboratory at Colorado State University. Dr. France introduced me to her group called NecroSearch in Fort Collins, Colorado. NecroSearch is made up of approximately 30 scientists, who represent 15 different scientific disciplines. They have state-of-the-art equipment and even had cadaver dogs specifically trained to search for human remains. A new investigative team was formed between both Universities and I was chosen to act as the Principal Investigator. Even though NecroSearch does its work pro bono (free of charge) I had to raise $100,000 dollars to pay for the transportation and hotel costs for this specialist group. Unfortunately, I only managed to raise $10,000 dollars. This amount nevertheless allowed me to bring in three scientists to Russia in February 1998.
Our team consisted of two forensic anthropologists, Dr's. Anthony Falsetti and Diane France, a forensic geologist and computer expert, Jim Reed and myself, Peter Sarandinaki, a sea captain. After our arrival in Ekaterinburg, we were first taken to visit Pig’s Meadow (under a foot of snow) and then followed by a visit to the morgue. Dr's. Falsetti and France were allowed ample time to examine each set of remains. I had asked Dr. Falsetti to examine each vertebra (neck bone) belonging to Emperor Nicholai II to identify if there was any observable damage caused by a cutting instrument, i.e. I was referring to the allegation that the Emperor’s head had been severed. (This allegation was found in Deterikhs’ Report Ubiistvo Tsarskoi Sem’i i Chlenov Doma Romanovikh na Urale @ p 206; where he described that the heads of all the Imperial Family and their servants were severed, placed into “spirit” inside metallic barrels, then packed into wooden crates and taken by Isaac Goleshekin to Yankel Sverdlov in Moscow). There were no markings or any other indications found by Dr Falsetti supporting that allegation.
The scientists also thoroughly examined “Anastasia’s” remains and determined that these were not the bones of a seventeen year old girl. These bones, they contended, belonged to a girl at least nineteen years of age, and thus agreeing with Dr. William Maples’ original assessment, but not in agreement with the Russian findings who believed they had identified the bones as belonging to Anastasia.
On the second day of our stay in Ekaterinburg we met with the Russian scientists who were going to work with our team. This became an exciting meeting, as each group detailed what they were going to do and how the job was going to be done. My job as Principal Investigator for the American team was to facilitate their work with the Russians. That afternoon we met with Alexander Avdonin and the personnel of the Obretenye Foundation. The purpose of this meeting was to write up a “Protocol of Intent”. Alexander Avdonin wanted to write that we were searching for the remains of the Tsesarevich Alexei and those of his sister Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna. I told Avdonin that we could not sign such a Protocol because Drs. Falsetti and France were not convinced that those remains belonged to Grand Duchess Anastasia. Sadly, an argument ensued over the wording of the Protocol. The Russians could not afford to have another controversy as the burial of the Imperial Family in St. Petersburg was imminent.
The American team was not in Ekaterinburg at that stage to identify the remains as such, but only to plan for next summer's search for the two missing skeletal remains of the Imperial children. Finally, after three hours of heated discussions we signed a “Protocol of Intent” stating that we were searching for Tsesarevich Alexei and one of his sisters. Because this case was still under investigation, we (Falsetti, France and I) decided to keep our disagreement quiet and felt that when we had found the two missing children’s remains, we could, then, resolve the argument. The American team was did not go back to Ekaterinburg. Due to the lack of funds, I unfortunately was not able to bring this terrific team back to Russia. Drs. Falsetti and France would later present their paper on the identity of Anastasia at the Reno Convention of the American Academy of Forensic Science in January, 2000.
In May, 1998 I sent a new proposal to Alexander Avdonin for a team from the "University of Florida to go to Ekaterinburg to conduct a systematic archeological survey of the Four Brother's Mine area in conjunction with Russian experts. University of Florida Foundation would fund this team. The archeological survey would be under the direction of Dr. William Keegan, Assistant Director for Research and Collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History. Dr. Keegan would coordinate his efforts with Russian Experts in the fields of Geology, Geophysics, and Archeology. Supporting Dr. Keegan were to be Drs. Falsetti, Goza, Warren, Rout, and Doctoral Candidate, Corbett Torrence." Alexander Avdonin declined this new proposal because he had to put all his efforts into the July burial of the Imperial remains and did not have the time to organize such a search in the same month. At this time, the Russians opted to go at it alone.
In September 1998, after the official internment of the Romanovs in St. Petersburg had already taken place, I, alone, was invited by Alexander Avdonin to participate in my first search for the Romanov children’s remains. When we arrived at the Four Brothers Mine Area I found that approximately an area of 200 meters square was divided and marked off every 5 meters. Electromagnetic and seismic profiling studies were being conducted to find sub terrain anomaly spots. We found one of the bon fires that the White Russian General Diterikhs had mentioned in his book. Working with us was a team of local archeologists and their students. We found the exact place where Sokolov had worked in 1919, and we now continued his work. After digging down 10 centimeters we were back in 1918. I found the projectile from a bullet of a Nagan Pistol. Later, I also found a white topaz stone from a necklace which was known to have belonged to one of the Emperor’s daughters. Sokolov found fourteen such stones, and I was able to find the fifteenth. We checked the anomalies in the forest surrounding the Four Brothers mine area that had been produced from electromagnetic and seismic profiling, but unfortunately no remains were found.
My communications and friendship with Drs. Falsetti and France continues to this day. I must confess, that prior to going to Russia, in June, I had spoken to Dr. William Goza, President of the University of Florida Foundation about Drs. France and Falsetti presenting their paper on their findings at the Ekaterinburg morgue and the Russian the misidentification of the remains. We both felt that it would be great to have the Russians, present at the convention, who concluded that Anastasia was one of the remains that was found, and thereby rebutting these two Americans.
In June, 1999, I returned to Ekaterinburg with new hope that our second search this time would be successful. I worked with Dr. Alexander Avdonin, Dr. Sergey Nikitin, the Medical Examiner from Moscow. Sergey is my age and we soon became good friends. During a lunch at the Avdonin’s, I stated the following, "I now have three American forensic anthropologists, Drs. Maples, Falsetti and France, who claim that you have made a mistake on the identification of Anastasia. They claim that you have Grand Duchess Maria and that Grand Duchess Anastasia is missing. Who decided that you found Anastasia?"… they all pointed at Nikitin. “It was me” he said, “Didn’t you know?” “NO” I responded, "I never knew until now!". I further stated that Drs. France and Falsetti would present a paper on to the Russian's misidentification of the remains they claim to be Anastasia at the February 2000 Convention of the American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS). Dr. Avdonin suggested that perhaps Sergey should go to America and deliver a Russian rebuttal.
The June 1999 search, proved to be successful in that we were able to re-trace Sokolov's work and continue his work. While at the Four Brothers, Alexander Avdonin and his Obretenye team continued searching even after I had left for the United States.
In January, 2000, Dr. Sergey Nikitin came to the Reno, Nevada, AAFS convention, to present his paper on his identification of Anastasia. It was Nikitin who in August 1991, just one month after the Imperial remains were unearthed, first determined the identity of found remains. He determined that skull No.4 – belonged to Nicholai II, that skull No.5 belonged to Tatiana and skull No.6 belonged to Anastasia. Nikitin stated that at that time there was a big mix up with the identity of these remains and this controversy continues to this date among a number of anthropologists. Nikitin was extremely well received by the American Academy. There was standing room only during his presentation. He presented the Academy a reconstruction model of Anastasia’s skull that he made from her fragmented skull.
Nikitin and I felt that it was necessary to continue with our ongoing search and would do so in the near future. Sadly, Alexander Avdonin suffered a stroke, but managed to write and publish a book, "Ganina Yama" (Ganin's Pit) about our searches in the Koptiaki Forest. One of the projects that I will undertake in the future is to have this book translated and published in English.
In July 2007 charred bones where found in a shallow grave just 70 meters from the grave found by Alexander Avdonin in 1991. Forty-Four pieces of bones excavated from the new site. DNA studies on this new set of remains proved that they were brother and sister and when compared to the new DNA studies conducted on the 1991 remains, proved that the remains found in 2007 were related to the remains found in the large grave excavated in 1991
On December 5th, 2008 results of the DNA studies were announced to the world. See Final DNA.