We all love a good mystery, and if it’s tied to an historic event then even better. From Roswell to JFK, the theorists have had a field day speculating on endless scenarios and supposed cover-ups.
Such momentous mysteries are few and far between, but there was one which over the decades generated as much fodder for conspiracy theorists as the Kennedy assassination or UFOs. It concerned the fate of Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter to Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra of Russia.
The story begins on July 17, 1918 when the Tsar and Tsarina, their son, the Tsarevich Crown Prince Alexei, his four sisters, and four servants were ruthlessly gunned down and bayoneted by Red Army soldiers in the cellar of Ipatiev House, in Yekaterinburg, just as opposing White Army forces were closing in.
It was a brutal act that stunned many in a time when brutality was the norm. The youth of the victims – the Tsarevich, Alexei, was just 13 years old – together with the allure of their royal pedigree and the ruthless nature of the executions made for a compelling reading.
Gathered together in that cellar, unaware of their fate until the last moment, the royal Romanovs were wiped out in a hail of gunfire. Some died instantly. Others took a little longer. The Empress’s maid, Anna Dermidova, was stabbed trying to defend herself with a cushion stuffed with jewels.
Alexei was shot twice in the head after the killers noticed that he had survived the first bullet.
Grand Duchess Maria is said to have been the last to die, protected as she was by diamonds sewn into her clothing. She cowered against the wall, covering her head in terror before being stabbed with a bayonet.
For years after this brutal event, however, rumours circulated that the youngest daughter, Anastasia, had actually survived the cellar atrocity. Over time, a number of women came forward claiming to be her, each one offering a story as to how she had survived the killings of the rest of the family.
Anna Anderson became the best known. She first appeared publicly between 1920 and 1922, asserting that she had feigned death amongst all the bodies in the cellar, and had managed to flee with the help of a compassionate guard.
Anderson was a stubborn (or just deluded) woman, and her legal battle for recognition lasted from 1938 up to 1970. It only ended with her being deemed having failed to provide sufficient proof that she was indeed the Grand Duchess.
She died in 1984 and her body was cremated. Ten years later, DNA tests compared a tissue sample from Anderson, located in a hospital, with that of the blood of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a great-nephew of Empress Alexandra. There was no match.
It had taken over 70 years to finally put the speculation to rest. The experts agreed that there never was a survivor from the Yekaterinburg executions.
But the experts were wrong…a flop-eared spaniel called Joy – the beloved pet of the Tsarevich Alexei – really had been there that day.
Two other dogs present in that cellar weren’t so lucky to escape the revolutionaries’ bullets, but Joy was somehow overlooked. According to The Siberian Times, a week after the royals were murdered, he was found by a soldier in the yard of Ipatiev House.
The malnourished dog was eventually homed with Colonel Pavel Rodzianko, a member of the British Expeditionary Force in Siberia, who took Joy back to England with him.
In his book Tattered Banners, Rodzianko wrote: ‘With heavy hearts we sailed away from Vladivostok. Joy, the little ill-named spaniel who had seen his master murdered, that fateful night, traveled with me. I have never seen Russia again.’
Joy lived out his days in a house on Clewer Hill Road in Windsor, in a happy, safe environment.
It was all a far cry from the horrors of those final moments in Yekaterinburg when he saw the Russian royal family shot and bayoneted before his eyes.
The little dog was eventually buried close to Windsor Castle, home to the Duke of Edinburgh – great-cousin to Joy’s beloved master, the murdered Tsarevich.
Whenever you hear of the Russian royals, remember Joy – the Crown Prince’s dog who survived a massacre… and lived to bark another day.