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I’ve left for the first leg of my journey to join the expedition to Perm, Russia and our search for the Grand Duke Mikhail and his secretary Brian. I’m currently in Wales dealing with people who drive on the “wrong side” of the road while learning to drive with the steering wheel on the right side and a left-handed stick shift. You might want to pray for the other drivers. The history here is humbling … yesterday visited St. Giles parish church, which was started in the 11th century and finished in the 13th, and today onto Conwy castle built for the English king Edward I in the late 13th century.
Although somewhat closer in time to 2015, our expedition to Russia to find the clandestine grave of the Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich Romanov and his British secretary Brian Johnson, is also a step back into a significant historical era–the Russian revolution and civil war. Unlike his brother, Tsar Nicholas II, who was an autocratic and absolute ruler and for a variety of reasons failed to see that the status quo was taking his country into chaos and his own assassination (along with the rest of his family), Mikhail was reform minded.
A cavalry officer during World War I, Mikhail warned his brother than changes needed to be made in what was a backward country with a huge disparity between the few wealthy and the vast majority of impoverished citizens. Most Americans are largely ignorant of the forces that led to the Russian revolution and how the struggle for power played out between those who wanted a democratic form of government (even if it was socialist in nature) and the Bolsheviks who would eventually win and establish the Communist Party and the Soviet Union. But after Nicholas was forced to abdicate and placed under house arrest, he appointed Mikhail to succeed him. So in a way, Mikhail was the last tsar of Russia.
“I am deeply concerned and worried by what is happening around us. There has been a shocking alteration in the mood of the most loyal people … which fills me with a most serious apprehension not only for you and for the fate of our family, but even for the integrity of the state order. The public hatred for certain people who allegedly are close to you and who are forming part of the present government has, to my amazement, brought together the right, the left and the moderate; and this hatred, along with the demands for changes are already openly expressed.”–Letter from Mikhail to his brother Tsar Nicholas II prior to the revolution.
However, Mikhail knew that such an appointment would be meaningless unless ratified by the hodgepodge of political parties that were vying for power and trying to establish the form of government that would supplant the monarchy. There for a brief moment there existed the possibility that a government would be formed with a constitutional monarchy with Mikhail as tsar, placating the old guard monarchists, and a parliament, much like the English version. However, Mikhail’s ascension to the Romanov throne lasted only a day and was never ratified, and the chance to avert the horrible civil war that ensued was lost.
The Bolsheviks knew that as long as a Romanov remained, they would be a rallying point for the monarchists in the White Army (which was made up of a number of groups including Social Democrats and socialists who objected to the Bolsheviks). In June 1918, several Bolsheviks in Perm took it upon themselves to handle the issue of Mikhail, a popular member of the royal family including within the army. With his beloved Natalie sent abroad for her safety, Mikhail and Brian were living in a hotel, even allowed to wander the parks, though not allowed to leave Perm. Then one night the Bolshevik conspirators arrived and told the two friends that the White Army was approaching and they were to be taken to a railway station and transported away. Instead, they were taken from the city and murdered.
The question is what happened to the bodies. For many years, the Bolsheviks and their successors the Communist Party denied the assassinations, even claiming they’d been captured by the White Army. However, documents, including the diaries of the killers and others, claim that the bodies were buried in a shallow grave about six kilometers from Perm near “Red Hill.” But the Bolsheviks were known to lie regarding just about everything (including keeping alive the rumor that Anastasia had survived the slaughter of her family a month after the murder of Mikhail).
In 2013 and 2014, the expedition including members of NecroSearch International–dog-handler Mick Swindells, forensic computer expert Brook Schaub, geophysicist Clark Davenport, and myself (a member since February 2015)–team leader Peter Sarandinaki, the founder of the Scientific Expedition to Account for the Romanov Children (SEARCH) foundation, as well as Russian members of the team, searched the meadow below Red Hill. For my part in 2013, I helped Mick Swindells poked 6800-plus holes in the meadow so that his cadaver dog–trained to locate human remains–could sniff each and give his opinion. We didn’t find the remains, nor was the team successful in 2014.
However, we’re hoping that this third attempt will be a charm, and there’s new information that has come to light. Here’s an email I received from Peter this morning:
- There is a cave located very near the chapel on Red Hill.
- Kids were playing inside the cave maze
- Near the entrance of the cave they discovered two skeletons
- One kid got lost in the cave and never came out
- The mother called the police- a red –haired police officer came and took the skull of one of the skeletons
- We found that the red haired policeman is alive and already know where he lives
It may just be a Russian version of an urban myth, though an old chapel on Red Hill was said to have been built close to the remains though kept a secret from the Soviets. But we’ll find out, and if not the cave, then somewhere in the heart of Russia, the remains of two men connected to a fascinating time in history await discovery.