Grigori Rasputin, found murdered on December 29th 1916, was reputed to have a great influence over the Tsar and his family, who ruled Russia. This made him an enemy to many groups of people who opposed change, or whom believed that Rasputin’s influence over the Tsar meant that he was gradually plotting treason against Russia. This has led to much speculation over who finally decided to kill him.
The most accepted version of Rasputin’s death states he was poisoned, shot and finally drowned in the River Neva by five or more dissatisfied aristocrats, led chiefly by Prince Youssoupoff. To better understand this theory it is useful to analyse the newspaper article concerning Prince Youssoupoff’s trial and alleged confession in 1934. The Chicago Daily Tribune, on March 1st 1934, states the prince insisted he planned to murder Rasputin ‘to save Russia’. He claims Rasputin admitted to being on German pay and was planning on seizing the Russian throne. Subsequently, this led to the prince and his accomplishes deciding they had to kill him. The prince allegedly fired the first shot, which wounded Rasputin, but did not kill him. Youssoupoff claims ‘the killing shot’ was fired by Vladimir Purishkevitch, duma leader and foe of the czar, who fired four shots towards Rasputin (two of them that hit). However, later in the trial when the prince is being asked if he kept beating the body after Rasputin was dead, the prince replied that he in fact did, but it might have been before he was completely dead, and that the beating might have been the final blow in the killing of Rasputin.
However, though widely accepted, this was never proved, and so the mystery remains. There is a continued question of grandeur in this mystery: if the murderer wasn’t Prince Yousoupoff, could it have been a group of Dukes? The Washington Post, on the 17th of October 1917, reported that Rasputin’s demise was brought about by a group of ‘Grand Dukes who saw their own influences of Czar destroyed’. Herman Bernstein, author of the article in question, uses evidence from witnesses and the crime scene itself to piece together his idea of what might have happened the night Rasputin was killed. His evidence presents the idea that ‘pretty women [were] used as bait to lure [the] monk to [an] early morning party, where trying to flee, he was twice shot and thrown alive into a hole in the ice covering the River Neva’, which in turn presents a new conspiracy theory. The group of Dukes, Bernstein reports, hoped for to forestall a revolt among the people of Russia and believed that murdering Rasputin (thus obliterating the ever-present distraction to the Tsar and Tsarina) would do this, setting Russia on the track towards a stable government once more. The article does however mention that Rasputin, ‘evil genius’, anticipated the attack upon arrival to the party and was mauled by Prince Yousoupoff’s dog as he attempted to escape those conspiring against him, which does link back to the earlier theory of Prince Yousoupoff being prime suspect. If he was in fact at the party, in wait for Rasputin, it can be reasoned that the Prince, as part of the Grand Duke scheme, was indeed a killer in whatever circumstance.
Interestingly, historians over the years have questioned Prince Yousoupoff’s version of events and until recently failed to engage any credible alternative theories. In 2004 The Telegraph reported “British spy fired the shot ‘that finished off Rasputin’”. The article stated that an investigation into his death concluded it was not dissatisfied Russian nobles who murdered Rasputin but Oswald Rayner, a member of the Secret Intelligence Bureau. Retired Scotland Yard commander, Richard Cullen who stated he was “99.9 per cent certain” came to this conclusion as a result of a new forensic analysis. But why would a British SIB want to kill a Russian monk? Rasputin was allegedly hoping to distinguish peace between Russia and Germany which according to Cullen would have seen 350,000 German troops free to fight on the Western Front. The article illustrated three main pieces of new evidence; firstly the post-mortem photographs of Rasputin which showed a third bullet wound at his forehead. Secondly, the bullet holes were all different sizes; demonstrating the bullets were fired from different guns (thus suggesting that all other version of events were fabricated). Cullen surmises that the third gunman was Oswald Rayner due to its close range and precise positioning of the fatal shot. And finally, a memo sent between Rayners superiors, John Scale and Stephen Alley, stated ‘our objective has clearly been achieved. Reaction to the demise of ‘Dark Forces’ [a codename for Rasputin] has been well received by all… Rayner is attending to loose ends and will no doubt brief you on your return.’ This could perhaps be an indication that Rayner was involved in the murder of Rasputin in 1916.
However, despite the efforts of many to close the book on Rasputin’s murder, the open case still remains almost a century later, with little solid evidence to be telling enough to find the true culprit. One thing we can be certain of, however, is that it was not Colonel Mustard in the cellar with a rope.
Sources used: Chicago Tribune (last accessed via Nora, 30.03.2014) http://tiny.cc/CTribuneArticle, Blogspot http://tiny.cc/PrinceYousoupoff, The Washington Post http://tiny.cc/WPostArticle (last accessed via Nora, 30.03.2014), The Telegraph http://tiny.cc/TelegraphRasputin, Birmingham Post http://tiny.cc/OswaldRayner, Blogspot http://tiny.cc/ColonelMustard