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Researchers: Anastasia and Alexei Mystery Continues

July 28, 1992 GMT

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) _ An American forensic scientist who helped identify the remains of the murdered Czar Nicholas II said Tuesday a 74-year-old mystery remains: What happened to the czar’s two youngest children, Anastasia and Alexei?

Their bodies were missing, he said, from the common grave containing the remains of the czar and the rest of the family.

The whereabouts of the pair have been the subject of legend and controversy since the Bolsheviks executed Russia’s last imperial family in 1918 and dumped the bodies in a pit near this Ural Mountains city.

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But hints of the possibility of survivors arose earlier this month with the publication of notes filed by the assassins that had been hidden in Soviet archives.

The bullets bounced off the Romanov girls and whizzed around the killers’ ears like hornets, they reported; the death squad found later that their corsets contained the hidden crown jewels - 18 pounds of diamonds that rendered their garments bulletproof.

Even the wounded 13-year-old Alexei showed a ″strange vitality,″ the chief assassin, Yakov Yurovsky, wrote in his notes, published this month in the book ″The Last Tsar″ by Soviet playwright and historian Edvard Radzinsky.

Dr. William Maples, director of the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory at the University of Florida-Gainesville, told a scientific conference examining the Romanov family remains that three of the skeletons belonged to Olga, Maria and Tatyana, the older children of Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra.

He also said the czar, his wife and the family doctor, Sergei Botkin, were buried in the grave, confirming identifications made by Russian scientists in June.

The remaining three skeletons were a middle-aged white female and two middle-aged white men, which appeared to correspond to three servants who also had been shot, Maples said. Anastasia was 17 in 1918.

″All the skeletons appear to be too tall to be Anastasia, and in the skeletal material we have looked at, there is nothing that could represent Alexei,″ Maples said.

″We’re still left with a mystery, and in some ways it’s going to be interesting for some time to come,″ he said.

Maples urged authorities to form an archaeological expedition to look for Anastasia and Alexei.

″I think the bodies are out there,″ he said.

The Russians have said they are continuing to search for the other two skeletons, and they plan to conduct genetic tests with British scientists on bones and hair from the site.

Alexander Avdonin, who led the group that found the mass grave, said searchers have expanded the area where they think Anastasia and Alexei might be. He said there is a chance they’ll be found if their burial place was preserved and the bones weren’t scattered in the woods.

Over the years, stories arose that somehow Nicholas’ youngest daughter, Anastasia, and possibly even the royal heir Alexei had survived the execution. A young woman who appeared in Berlin in 1920 claimed to be the czar’s daughter.

Russian scientists began studying the Romanovs’ remains last year after the skeletons of five females and four males were dug up on July 12, 1991, from the pit near Yekaterinburg, which was called Sverdlovsk during the Soviet era.

On July 17, 1918, Bolsheviks on orders of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin executed the czar and his family in the two-story house where they had been held prisoner in the center of the town.

The family had been sent to Siberia three months after Nicholas abdicated in March 1917, ending three centuries of Romanov rule.

The house later became a place of pilgrimage. But in 1977, the ornate building once owned by a wealthy pre-revolutionary businessman was razed while Boris Yeltsin was the city’s Communist Party boss.

Although the KGB knew where the bodies were buried, no effort was made to exhume them until the age of glasnost.

Russian scientists identified the czar and his wife by using a computer to match the skulls with photographs. They are using the same method on the remaining skeletons, along with examinations of teeth and bones.

The Russians allowed an American team of six forensic specialists to examine skulls, bones and dental work.