Fresh probe into 1918 killing of Russian royal family

SAINT PETERSBURG • Russian investigators exhumed the remains of the country's last emperor Nicholas II and empress Alexandra as part of a new probe into the notorious 1918 slaying of the Romanov family.

A leading investigator involved in the probe, Mr Vladimir Solovyov, told the Echo of Moscow radio station on Wednesday that they had taken "samples from Nicholas II, from the empress, and from the uniform of emperor Alexander II", the last czar's grandfather, who was himself assassinated in 1881.

"We have decided to start again from the very beginning and carry out renewed examinations," said Mr Solovyov. The remains will be subject to genetic testing, he added.

The powerful Investigative Committee confirmed that some of the family's remains were being re-examined.

The czar, his wife, their five children and their servants were shot by the Bolsheviks and thrown into a mineshaft in 1918 before being burned and hastily buried.

Russia first looked into the murder of the family after a mass grave was discovered in 1991 near Yekaterinburg in the Urals, where the royals were exiled and shot.

Scientists said that DNA evidence was sufficient to conclude that the grave contained the remains of the czar and empress, along with three of their daughters, and the government officially identified them in 1998. The remains were then re-buried in the erstwhile imperial capital Saint Petersburg.

In 2007, a second grave was discovered containing two more bodies, believed to be those of the czar's heir Alexei and daughter Maria. But their remains have since been stored at the Russian State Archives, amid doubts over their identities.

While Russian criminal investigators ruled in 2008 that the remains of Alexei and Maria were authentic after DNA testing, their identities have not been accepted by the Russian Orthodox Church and some Romanov descendants.

The question of the authenticity of the remains has taken on fresh urgency ahead of the looming centenary of the murder, as Russia wants to bury all seven family members together.

The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia for some 300 years before Nicholas II abdicated in 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution. He was canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2015, with the headline 'Fresh probe into 1918 killing of Russian royal family'. Print Edition | Subscribe