Rasputin was born in Pokrovskoye, Siberia around 1869. Born Grigory Yefimovich Novykh, Григорий Ефимович Распутин he was given the name Rasputin, translated from Russian as "debauched one", for his tendency toward licentious behavior. After failing to become a monk, Rasputin became a wanderer and eventually entered the court of Czar Nicholas II because of his alleged healing powers.
The mysterious Grigory Efimovich Rasputin, a peasant who claimed powers of healing and prediction, had the ear of Russian Tsarina Aleksandra. The aristocracy could not stand a peasant in such a high position. Peasants could not stand the rumors that the tsarina was sleeping with such a scoundrel. Rasputin was seen as "the dark force" that was ruining Mother Russia.
To save the monarchy, several members of the aristocracy attempted to murder the holy man. On the night of December 16-17, 1916, they tried to kill Rasputin. The plan was simple. Yet on that fateful night, the conspirators found that Rasputin would be very difficult to kill.
Determined to finish the job, Prince Yusupov became anxious about the possibility that Rasputin might live until the morning, leaving the conspirators no time to conceal his body. Yusupov ran upstairs to consult the others and then came back down to shoot Rasputin through the back with a revolver. Rasputin fell, and the company left the palace for a while. Yusupov, who had left without a coat, decided to return to get one, and while at the palace, he went to check on the body. Suddenly, Rasputin opened his eyes and lunged at Yusupov. He grabbed Yusupov and attempted to strangle him. At that moment, however, the other conspirators arrived and fired at Rasputin. After being hit three times in the back, he fell once more. As they neared his body, the party found that, remarkably, he was still alive, struggling to get up. They clubbed him into submission. Some accounts say that his killers also severed his penis (subsequently resulting in urban legends and claims that certain third parties were in possession of the organ). After binding his body and wrapping him in a carpet, they threw him into the icy Neva River. He broke out of his bonds and the carpet wrapping him, but drowned in the river.
Three days later, Rasputin's body, poisoned, shot four times, badly beaten, and drowned, was recovered from the river. An autopsy established that the cause of death was drowning. It was found that he had indeed been poisoned, and that the poison alone should have been enough to kill him. There is a report that after his body was recovered, water was found in the lungs, supporting the idea that he was still alive before submersion into the partially frozen river.
Subsequently, the Tsarina Alexandra buried Rasputin's body in the grounds of Tsarskoye Selo, but after the February Revolution, a group of workers from Saint Petersburg uncovered the remains, carried them into the nearby woods, and burned them. As the body was being burned, Rasputin appeared to sit up in the fire. His apparent attempts to move and get up thoroughly horrified bystanders. The effect can probably be attributed to improper cremation since the body was in inexperienced hands, the tendons were probably not cut before burning. Consequently, when the body was heated, the tendons shrank, forcing the legs to bend and the body to bend at the waist, resulting in its appearing to sit up. This final happenstance only further fueled the legends and mysteries surrounding Rasputin, which continue to live on long after his death. The official report of his autopsy disappeared during the Joseph Stalin era, as did several research assistants who had seen it.
Post-mortem photograph of Rasputin showing the bullet wound in his forehead.
According to the unpublished 1916 autopsy report by Professor Kossorotov, as well as subsequent reviews by Dr. Vladimir Zharov in 1993 and Professor Derrick Pounder in 2004/05, no active poison was found in Rasputin's stomach. A possible explanation would be that the cyanide in the cakes had vaporized due to the high temperatures during the baking in the oven.
It could not be determined with certainty that he drowned, as the water found in his lungs is a common non-specific autopsy finding. All three sources agree that Rasputin had been systematically beaten and attacked with a bladed weapon; but, most importantly, there were discrepancies regarding the number and caliber of handguns used.
This discovery may significantly change the whole premise and account of Rasputin's death. British intelligence reports, sent between London and Saint Petersburg in 1916, indicate that the British were not only extremely concerned about Rasputin's displacement of pro-British ministers in the Russian government but, even more importantly, his apparent insistence on withdrawing Russian troops from World War I. This withdrawal would have allowed the Germans to transfer their Eastern Front troops to the Western Front, leading to a massive outnumbering of the Allies, and threatening their defeat. Whether this was actually Rasputin's intent or whether he was simply concerned about the huge number of casualties (as the Tsarina's letters indicate) is in dispute, but it is clear that the British perceived him as a real threat to the war effort.
Professor Pounder states that, of the four shots fired into Rasputin's body, the third (which entered his forehead) was instantly fatal. This third shot also provides some intriguing evidence. In Pounder's view, with which the Firearms Department of London's Imperial War Museum agrees, the third shot was fired from a different gun from those responsible for the other three wounds. The "size and prominence of the abraded margin" suggested a large lead non-jacketed bullet. At the time, the majority of weapons used hard metal-jacketed bullets, with Britain virtually alone in using lead unjacketed bullets in their officers' Webley revolvers. Pounder came to the conclusion that the bullet which caused the fatal shot was a Webley .455 inch unjacketed round, the best fit with the available forensic evidence.
There were two officers of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in St. Petersburg at the time. Witnesses stated that at the scene of the murder, the only man present with a Webley revolver was Lieutenant Oswald Rayner, a British officer attached to the SIS station in St. Petersburg. This account is further supported by an audience between the British Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, and Tsar Nicholas, when Nicholas stated that he suspected a young Englishman who had been an old school friend of Yusupov (Rayner certainly had known Yusupov at the University of Oxford). The second SIS officer in St. Petersburg at the time was Captain Stephen Alley, born in the Yusupov Palace in 1876. Both families had very strong ties, so it is difficult to come to any conclusion about whom to hold responsible.
Confirmation that Rayner met with Yusupov (along with another officer, Captain John Scale) in the weeks leading up to the killing can be found in the diary of their chauffeur, William Compton, who recorded all visits. The last entry was made on the night after the murder. Compton said that "it is a little-known fact that Rasputin was shot not by a Russian but by an Englishman" and indicated that the culprit was a lawyer from the same part of the country as Compton himself. There is little doubt that Rayner was born some ten miles from Compton's hometown and, throughout his life, described himself as a barrister-at-law, despite never having practised in that profession.
Evidence that the attempt had not gone quite according to plan is hinted at in a letter which Alley wrote to Scale eight days after the murder: "Although matters here have not proceeded entirely to plan, our objective has clearly been achieved. ... a few awkward questions have already been asked about wider involvement. Rayner is attending to loose ends and will no doubt brief you.
On his return to England, Oswald Rayner not only confided to his cousin, Rose Jones, that he had been present at Rasputin's murder but also showed family members a bullet which he claimed to have acquired at the murder scene. Conclusive evidence is unattainable, however, as Rayner burned all his papers before he died in 1961 and his only son also died four years later.
Rasputin's daughter, Maria Rasputin (Matryona Rasputina) (1898–1977), emigrated to France after the October Revolution, and then to the U.S. There she worked as a dancer and then a tiger-trainer in a circus. She left memoirs about her father, wherein she painted an almost saintly picture of him, insisting that most of the negative stories were based on slander and the misinterpretations of facts by his enemies.