A Tale of Survival?
In December 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Communist Party are in their infancy. The First World War is still raging and America is not interested in the political situation in Russia. In England King George V, anxious about his throne and the future of England, publicly states that he will not grant asylum to his first cousins - the Tsar and Tsarina as well as the children of the Imperial Family of Russia - who are imprisoned in Siberia. Some time later and weeks before their deaths, Nicholas and his family are moved to Ekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains. Upon arrival they are placed in the Ipatiev House where they live out their last days. In the middle of the night on July 16/17, 1918, there is a knock at the door of their quarters. On a pretext Nicholas, Alexandra, the children and their attenders are herded down to the basement where a firing squad massacres them. Or so the story goes...
Sunday Times (UK)
Date line: London
3 June 2001
Bones of contention
By John Crossland
THE PLOTS TO RESCUE THE TSAR:
The Truth behind the Disappearance of the Romanovs
by Shay McNeal
On a humid July night in 1918, the former imperial family of Russia, together
with their servants, were ushered into a basement room of a mansion in
Siberia. The door burst open to reveal 11 assassins, one for each victim.
Their commander, Yacov Yurovsky, read out the death sentence and a stunned
tsar had time only to plead, "Why, oh why?" before a shell from Yurovsky's
Colt spun him off his feet, split seconds before the assassins' fusillade
turned his family into bloody, broken marionettes.
Such has been the generally accepted version of the end of the Romanovs,
popularised by the film Nicholas and Alexandra, and enshrined in the Russian
official inquiry into the putative Imperial remains found in a Siberian
forest in 1979, secretly reburied and unearthed again in 1991.
Doubts, however, have always remained about the massacre. When the Bolsheviks
first proclaimed, within days of the alleged shootings, that they had
executed Nicholas II, the announcement was greeted by a wave of scepticism -
not least because the tsar's wife and children were specifically excluded
from the death notices. Investigations in the 1970s by two BBC journalists,
Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold, asked further questions, in particular of
the Sokolov Report, the White Russians' forensic exercise in 1919 which has
formed the basis for the massacre theory. Their powerful case, argued in The
File on the Tsar (1976), found much of the evidence implausible.
But Summers and Mangold received a setback with the publication of the
Yeltsin Commission's findings in 1991 and with the unmasking of Anna
Anderson, the Anastasia claimant, as a fake.
Now Shay McNeal provides a further twist to this inscrutable tale. An
American former political consultant turned archival researcher, McNeal was
not satisfied with the 1991 commission's verdict, and believed that Yeltsin
had merely wished to close a sordid chapter in Russian history, ensuring the
DNA and forensic evidence fitted a politically correct solution. Reopening
the Summers and Mangold line of inquiry, McNeal has drawn on newly
declassified files in American and Russian archives in an attempt to prove
the existence of a plot (or plots) to rescue the imperial family.
To do that, she needed to discredit the critical scientific tests that were
the cornerstone of the 1991 commission's argument for closing the case on the
Romanovs. McNeal cites an American expert who claims that the clinching
evidence, the mtDNA match of the Duke of Edinburgh with the tsarina Alexandra
and her children, could not be accepted as proof of identity. It is a claim,
incidentally, that Home Office forensic scientists vigorously deny, although
they do concede that DNA is never taken as conclusive evidence by itself, but
in conjunction with other tests on the bones, preferably soon after
exhumation. These, McNeal asserts, were not done and a question persists
about the Russians' handling of the material.
So, a reasonable doubt remains over whether there was a massacre. What case
does McNeal make, then, for the family's survival? Her trawl of American
Secret Service documents has revealed a string of incidents and relationships
between shadowy individuals, apparently innocuous in themselves but which
taken together point to an international plot to save the tsar and dish
Her important new lead on the Romanov mystery has come from the Hudson Bay
Company records, which show a strange obsession among Allied intelligence
operatives with building a luxurious house in Murmansk for seven (the
family's number). In June 1918 a company trouble-shooter also working for
MI6, and Jonas Lied, a Norwegian Arctic shipping merchant, set up a rescue
bid on orders from "C" (Britain's Secret Service head), aimed at spiriting
the family up the Siberian river system, then to Murmansk and finally to
England in a motor torpedo boat. That rescue attempt apparently misfired
because the "snatch" by their Russian confederates was anticipated by the
Meanwhile, says McNeal, Sidney Reilly, "the Ace of Spies", was busy arranging
a £500,000 ransom to Lenin for the family - bidding against the Kaiser. The
most incredible claim ever made for the tsar's escape was in a book, Rescuing
the Czar, published in a limited edition in San Francisco in 1920 and
withdrawn from circulation almost immediately due to "pressure from on high"
(the British Library has a copy). Although it has hitherto been dismissed as
pure fantasy (with its claim that the Romanovs were smuggled out of their
prison, via a secret tunnel, to the British consulate across the street, and
thence to Shanghai, via Tibet, ending up with assumed identities in Ceylon)
McNeal has applied some lateral thinking to the thesis and discovered that
there was more to it than anyone has realised. She says, "it mirrors many
events that we now know had really taken place but which in 1920 could only
have been known of by someone who was on the ground at the time".
But does her fascinating search, which includes mysterious Tibetan lamas,
disappearing Yangtze gunboats and secret missions by George V's cousin to
Japan, lead us to the tsar? Unfortunately the trail peters out in Ceylon. For
all her hard work (including proving that the "execution" Colt revolver was,
according to its serial number, at a Kentucky army barracks at the time),
McNeal gets no closer to a definitive answer than anyone else. Perhaps Yacov
Yurovsky was right when he claimed that "the world will never know what we
did with them!"
The greatest mystery of the 20th century remains unsolved.