Over the weekend I have read a lot about Rasputin’s life. But the more and more I read, the more I become intrigued by the story of his death. With conflicting versions and interpretations of the event, it appears that the murder of Rasputin has been largely cloaked in myth since its occurrence in December 1916.
My initial research into the incident led me to the well-establised, accepted version of events which predominantly reflect the views of Prince Felix Yusupov, convicted guilty at the forefront of Rasputin’s murder.
The story is fascinating.
Enticing Rasputin to visit his palace on the invitation to meet his wife (Irina, niece of Tsar Nicholas II) with a certain innuendo of sexual liason, Yusupov and his co-conspirators, including Grand Duke Dimitri Palovich, Vladimir Purishkevich and Dr. Lazavert, had intentionally set up the basement of the palace as a dining room where Yusupov and Rasputin were to wait until Irina would come down stairs. At the supply of Dr. Lazovertm Yusupov had contaminated both pastries and wine with potassium-cyanide. The potassium-cyanide, administered at a lethal amount, was expected to have an immediate effect. However, Rasputin showed no sign of weakness, let alone dying from poisoning. Impatient with extreme panic, Yusupov shot Rasputin dead with a pistol.
After an hour of celebrations with the conspirators upstairs, Yusupov had an unfathomable desire to go and check on the body; shockingly, Rasputin’s body was warm and he was still alive. It is said that Rasputin crawled up the stairs yelling, then tried to escape as Purishkevich shot him twice with a revolver – first in the back and then in the head. The body was then dumped into the Malaya Nevka River near the Great Petrovsky Bridge where it was discovered three days later. Interestingly, the autopsy results showed that Rasputin was alive as he downed and that hypothermia was the cause of his death.
However, since Yusupov published his book in 1927, entitled Rasputin: His malignant influence and his assassination, many historians have questioned the reliability of this version of events because Yusupov had the opportunity to shape and fabricate it at his disposal.
It was from here that many other conflicting versions of events emerged. In my research, I came across the work of Andrew Cook. His book To Kill Rasputin, published in 2005, was a breakthrough as it revealed evidence from British intelligence reports that suggested the British were highly alarmed by Rasputin’s displacement of pro-British ministers in the Russian Duma and his apparent encouragement of Russian withdrawal from WWI. A re-evaluation of the autopsy sponsored by Cook, found that the third shot (that wounded Rasputin’s head) was fired by a different gun reponsible for the other prominent wounds. Majority of the weapond at the time used hard metal jacketed bullets, however this wound was made by a large, lead non-jacketed bullet of a Webley revolver – the type used by British officers. The only witness to the murder that had a Webley revolver was Lieutenant Oswald Rayner, a British Secret Service officer who had been assigned in St Petersburg. Rayner, upon his return to England, had not only confided to Rose Jones, his cousin, that he was present at the murder of Rasputin but also displayed a bullet from the murder scene. Whilst Cook’s findings are supported by apparent British concern and motive, conclusive evidence is unattainable as Rayner destroyed all of his paperwork before he passed away in 1961.
This all seems like a lot of information to digest. However, one thing is clear – there are ingredients here for an online documentary… This is a real life murder mystery! And I feel like the components of victim, culprit and the whole when/where/how and why could make for some sort of interactive whodunnit. Part entertainment, part educational. It could incorporate real life photographs, copies of letters, autopsies, evidence!
By taking the user on an interactive experience, the online documentary could be used to uncover two questions:
- Who is Rasputin? (his many facets, including rumours of his supernatural abilities and his involvement in the Romanov family and the Russian Duma)
- Who killed Rasputin? (the conspirators, including the different theories of responsibility and motives)