Inside The Murder Of The Romanov Family And Their Chilling Final Moments

Published July 9, 2023
Updated February 27, 2024

In the midst of the Russian Revolution, the imperial family was killed by the Bolsheviks, a horrific execution that ended a 300-year dynasty.

In July 1918, Czar Nicholas II of Russia, his wife Alexandra, their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei, and their servants were brutally murdered by the revolutionary Bolsheviks at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. A gruesome incident, the execution of the imperial Romanov family and their associates would change Russian history forever.

For years, widespread resentment had been growing in the Russian Empire over the Romanov dynasty’s power, which had gone nearly unchecked for about three centuries. Nicholas II’s father, Alexander III, had been an especially strict leader and thought his son would follow in his footsteps. In reality, Nicholas II had no interest in ruling an empire, but he begrudgingly accepted his role and soon became the subject of public contempt.

But Nicholas II never expected to find himself in the midst of a historical event like the Russian Revolution, which would lead to the overthrow of the Romanov family’s power and, eventually, their bloody deaths.

This is the shocking true story of the execution of the Romanov family — and the decades-long cover-up in Russia that followed.

The Rise And Fall Of The Romanov Family

Romanov Execution

Wikimedia CommonsCzar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their five children.

Ever since 1613, the Romanov dynasty had ruled Russia. Originally founded by Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov, his descendants would reign over the empire for a little over three centuries. But by the time Nicholas II took the throne in 1896, many cracks had begun to form in the family’s power.

According to HISTORY, Nicholas II’s father, Alexander III, did a poor job in preparing his son to rule an empire, aside from encouraging him to rule with an iron fist. Since Nicholas II had no desire to reign, this opened the doors for a series of poor decisions, such as his involvement in the Russo-Japanese War from 1904 to 1905, which ended in Russia’s defeat.

Meanwhile, the Russian people had grown resentful of the power that the Romanovs held. They also became suspicious about the imperial family’s fascination with Grigori Rasputin, a mystic and “mad monk.” Eerily, Rasputin allegedly predicted the gruesome execution of the Romanovs shortly before his own brutal murder at the hands of a group of Russian noblemen in 1916.

And as Russia struggled mightily during World War I, the restlessness in the country only grew. By early 1917, the Russian Revolution had begun. Everyone from soldiers to ordinary workers joined the protest against the imperial family until Nicholas II was finally forced to abdicate the throne.

But this didn’t calm the unrest. Efforts to create a provisional government to replace the Romanov family didn’t make much of a difference either. Meanwhile, according to Britannica, the revolutionary Bolsheviks became notably popular in Russia after the February Revolution.

A wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, the Bolsheviks were led by Vladimir Lenin, a communist revolutionary who was inspired by the German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and hoped to bring major changes to Russia. There were other competing ideologies in the country, but Lenin’s simple promise of “peace, land, bread” was appealing to ordinary people who felt pummeled by war, poverty, and famine.

And by the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks had taken power in the country. But while many people were supportive of the new government, others refused to acknowledge it, which led to further unrest and, eventually, civil war.

In the midst of all this chaos, the Romanov family — Nicholas II, his wife, and his children — were all taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks.

The Imprisonment Of The Imperial Family

Imprisonment Of The Imperial Family

Wikimedia CommonsThe imprisonment of the Romanov family started out as a gilded house arrest, but their situation soon deteriorated.

Starting in late 1917, the Romanov family was essentially placed on house arrest by their Bolshevik captors. But Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei wouldn’t stay in the same house for long. Their captors moved them from place to place, as the family fervently hoped to be rescued by their dwindling supporters.

At one point, before the Bolsheviks had fully taken over the country, the provisional government had attempted to send the family to safety in England, as King George V happened to be a first cousin of Nicholas II.

But according to the British Library, George V decided not to welcome the Romanov family due to the unstable political situation in England at the time and his fear that the arrival of his cousin might cause additional unrest.

Still, the Romanov family didn’t give up on being saved, and they certainly didn’t expect to fall victim to a brutal execution. Even as the conditions of their lives in captivity became more restricted — many of their servants were dismissed, they were denied butter and coffee, and the homes where they were being held became less and less luxurious — they remained convinced that help was on the way almost until the very end.

Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks became increasingly concerned about anti-Bolshevik forces in the country, some of whom hoped to free the Romanov family from imprisonment. These forces always seemed to know exactly where the Romanovs were being held, and the last thing that Bolshevik leaders wanted was a chance of the imperial family being restored to power.

So, the family’s Bolshevik captors moved the Romanovs to what would be their final destination, a fortified mansion called Ipatiev House, for their execution. Chillingly, the Bolsheviks called it the “House of Special Purpose.”

The Execution Of The Romanov Family

Execution Of The Romanov Family

Wikimedia CommonsThe aftermath of the execution of the Romanov family, in the basement of the Ipatiev House.

Led by Yakov Yurovsky, a group of Bolshevik captors methodically planned out the execution of the Romanov family in advance. And in July 1918, they decided the time was right to murder the imperial family.

An excruciating ordeal that lasted from the night of July 16th to the morning of July 17th, the imperial family was awakened from their sleep and told that they were making yet another move. But before they left, they were ordered to take a photograph in the basement of Ipatiev House, supposedly to stop rumors that they had escaped the clutches of the Bolsheviks.

Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei, and their last remaining servants obeyed their captors’ commands and lined up for the photo. According to HISTORY, it was only at the last moment that the Romanov family was told about their execution.

Without warning, Yakov Yurovsky and his armed men stormed in and informed Nicholas II that he had been sentenced to death. The disgraced czar was reportedly stunned: “What? What?” But there was nowhere for him to run as the gunfire began, and the Bolsheviks soon began shooting at not only Nicholas II but the rest of his terrified family members and servants.

To the Bolsheviks’ dismay, not all of the victims died immediately after being shot, and the armed men soon turned to bayonets, knives, the butts of their guns, and brute force to finish killing off the children. It took about 20 minutes for all of them to die. The youngest of the Romanov children, Alexei, was just 13 years old at the time. According to Russia Beyond, young Alexei also suffered from the bleeding disorder hemophilia throughout his short life, meaning that his death may have been particularly agonizing.

As chaotic as the execution of the Romanov family was, the burials were even more frenzied. After Yurovsky and his comrades stripped the dead bodies of all their clothing and jewelry, they covered the corpses in acid and attempted to bury them in a nearby mine. But they were unable to dig a grave that was deep enough to conceal the bodies, so they searched for another location to hide them, abusing the corpses all the while.

Finally, they found a new gravesite that they found to be suitable. To confuse anyone who happened upon the remains, they decided to bury two of the children separately, burning the corpses and smashing their bones.

The Aftermath Of The Romanov Family’s Murder

Romanov Family Burial

Wikimedia CommonsThe final resting place of most of the Romanov family’s remains in the St. Catherine Chapel.

After the execution of the Romanov family, the Bolsheviks freely admitted to the people of Russia that Nicholas II had been killed. The party’s newspaper justified the execution by saying that the czar was “the personification of the barbarian landowner, of this ignoramus, dimwit, and bloodthirsty savage.”

However, they kept the murders of the czar’s wife and children a secret, falsely claiming that they were being “cared for” in a secret location. Some people bought the official story, and others did not. But for many remaining relatives of the Romanovs, their friends, and their supporters, their days were numbered, as the Bolsheviks would go on a murderous rampage over the next few months, killing dozens of Romanov associates.

As the Soviet Union took shape, any remaining Romanov supporters kept their feelings about the imperial family secret to survive. Still, rumors persisted about what really happened to Nicholas II’s loved ones.

For decades, the Soviet Union kept the full story of the Romanov execution hidden. It was only after the communist regime fell that the truth began to come to light. In 1991, the remains of most of the Romanov family were dug up and officially identified using DNA samples, according to The Guardian.

It was later revealed that Yurovsky’s son had helped geologist Alexander Avdonin uncover the remains back in the 1970s, but it was far too risky then for anyone to request a formal investigation. Meanwhile, the missing remains of two of the children — 19-year-old Maria and 13-year-old Alexei — sparked rumors that they had somehow escaped the Romanov execution.

But in 2007, an amateur historian named Sergei Plotnikov uncovered their bone fragments. And it was soon confirmed that they had met the same brutal fate as their family. As Plotnikov put it: “It was clear they didn’t die peacefully.” Years later, additional DNA tests further confirmed the findings.

And in recent years, the public has learned vivid details of just how horrific the deaths were, thanks to historians like Helen Rappaport, who published The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg in 2008 and The Race to Save the Romanovs: The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue the Russian Imperial Family in 2018. Texts like these have revealed many of the intimate and tragic details about the Romanovs’ final moments.

The remains of Nicholas II, Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia have been laid to rest in the St. Catherine Chapel at St. Petersburg’s St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. But curiously, the remains of Maria and Alexei have yet to join the remains of the rest of their relatives — even with multiple confirmations of their authenticity — and they remain in a Russian state archive to this day.

After reading about the execution of the Romanov family, go inside the historic Russian Revolution in pictures. Then, learn about the excruciating death of Grigori Rasputin, the mystic who charmed the Romanovs.

Lisa Hornung
Lisa Hornung is a freelance writer and editor based in Louisville, Ky., with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Georgia (go Dawgs!) and a master's degree in history from Eastern Kentucky University (go Colonels!).
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
Cite This Article
Hornung, Lisa. "Inside The Murder Of The Romanov Family And Their Chilling Final Moments.", July 9, 2023, Accessed April 20, 2024.