Murder

The legends surrounding the death of Rasputin are perhaps even more mysterious and bizarre than his life. According to Greg King’s 1996 book The Man Who Killed Rasputin, a previous attempt on Rasputin’s life had failed: Rasputin was visiting his wife and children in Pokrovskoye, his hometown along the Tura River in Siberia. On June 29, 1914, after either just receiving a telegram or exiting church, he was attacked suddenly by Khionia Guseva, a former prostitute who had become a disciple of the monk Iliodor. Iliodor, who once was a friend of Rasputin but had grown disgusted with his behaviour and disrespectful talk about the royal family, had appealed to women who had been harmed by Rasputin to form a mutual support group. Guseva thrust a knife into Rasputin’s abdomen, and his entrails hung out of what seemed like a mortal wound. Convinced of her success, Guseva supposedly screamed, “I have killed the antichrist!”

After intensive surgery, however, Rasputin recovered. It was said of his survival that “the soul of this cursed muzhik was sewn on his body.” His daughter, Maria, observed in her memoirs that he was never the same man after that: he seemed to tire more easily and frequently took opium for pain relief.

The Moika Palace, along the Moika River, where Rasputin was supposedly lured and murdered. The murder of Rasputin has become a legend, some of it invented by the very men who killed him, which is why it has become difficult to discern the actual course of events. On December 16, 1916, having decided that Rasputin’s influence over the Tsaritsa had made him a threat to the empire, a group of nobles led by Prince Felix Yusupov and the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and the right-wing politician Vladimir Purishkevich apparently lured Rasputin to the Yusupovs’ Moika Palace by intimating that Yusupov’s wife, Princess Irina, would be present and receiving friends. (In point of fact, she was away in the Crimea.) The group led him down to the cellar, where they served him cakes and red wine laced with a massive amount of cyanide. According to legend, Rasputin was unaffected, although Vasily Maklakov had supplied enough poison to kill five men. Conversely, Maria’s account asserts that, if her father did eat or drink poison, it was not in the cakes or wine, because after the attack by Guseva he suffered from hyperacidity and avoided anything with sugar. In fact, she expresses doubt that he was poisoned at all. It has been suggested, on the other hand, that Rasputin had developed an immunity to poison due to Mithridatism.

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, ominously whispered in his ear, “you bad boy,” 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.

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Murder