Ninety years after the Bolsheviks executed the last czar and his family, Russian investigators said DNA analysis confirmed that remains found in a pit last year in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg were those of the czar's children Crown Prince Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria.
With that announcement, the remains of all of Nicholas II's family have been accounted for. The myth, reinforced down the years in films and false claims, that one of czar's offspring had survived has been formally put to rest.
As revolution swept Russia in 1917, Nicholas II abdicated. He and his family were imprisoned in a number of locations before they were taken to a merchant's home in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles east of Moscow. It was there on July 17, 1918, that the entire family – Nicholas, his wife, Empress Alexandra, and their five children – was summarily executed in the basement, on the orders of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. Also shot were the family doctor and three servants.
The murders shocked even the war-weary world of 1918. The bodies were burned, doused with acid and buried and reburied in secret to prevent any gravesite becoming a place of pilgrimage.
On Thursday, tens of thousands of Russians marked the 90th anniversary of the slayings with a religious procession, starting out before dawn from the site where the family members were killed.
“For me, the feeling is sadness for what happened and nostalgia for what we lost,” one pilgrim, Georgy Nekrasov, said on state-run Rossiya television. Its news anchor described the killings as “one of the most terrible crimes in the history of our fatherland.”
Within months of the murders, the first of dozens of people surfaced who claimed to be a surviving child of the czar. The most famous of these pretenders was Anna Anderson, who declared that she was the czar's youngest daughter, Anastasia. DNA disproved her claim after her death in the U.S. in 1984.
In 1991, word spread that a mass grave had been discovered in Yekaterinburg. DNA analysis confirmed the grave contained Nicholas, three of his children and his retinue – but it was missing son Alexei and daughter Maria.
The royal family was reburied with full honors in the imperial crypt in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg in 1998. But the absence of two family members continued to confound historians. The Russian Orthodox Church and some Romanovs questioned the authenticity of the identification of the family because of the two missing members.
The Associated Press contributed.