In the early morning hours of July 17, 1918, Czar Nicholas II—the last monarch of the Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia for 304 years—was reportedly executed along with his wife, Alexandra, and their five children by their Bolshevik captors in the basement of a house in Yekaterinburg. No bodies were immediately found, however, and rumors flew fast and furious that one or more of the Romanovs had survived. In 1921 a mysterious woman showed up in a German mental hospital claiming to be Grand Duchess Anastasia, the czar’s youngest daughter. Supporters of the woman—known as Anna Anderson—waged a 30-year legal battle to win recognition for “Anastasia” (not to mention a cut of the Romanov fortune), but a German court rejected her suit in 1970. Anderson died in 1984, and DNA testing done in the 1990s proved conclusively that she was unrelated to the Romanov family, and was most likely a troubled Polish woman named Franziska Schanzkowska.
Russian scientists uncovered the remains of Nicholas, Alexandra and three of their daughters in 1976, but they kept it a secret until the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse in 1991. Two bodies were still missing, however: those of 13-year-old Crown Prince Alexei and one of his sisters. Finally, in 2007 investigators followed clues left by one of the family’s assassins to a separate grave, which scientists later confirmed contained the remains of Alexei and his 19-year-old sister Maria. Even with the mystery apparently solved, the Russian Orthodox Church expressed lingering doubts resisted calls that the remains be interred with the rest of the czar’s family in a Saint Petersburg cathedral.