Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia - Murder

Murder

On 12 June 1918, the leader of the local secret police, Gavril Myasnikov, with the connivance of other local Bolsheviks, hatched a plan to murder Michael. Myasnikov assembled a team of four men, who all, like him, were former prisoners of the Tsarist regime: Vasily Ivanchenko, Ivan Kolpashchikov, Andrei Markov, and Nikolai Zhuzhgov. Using a forged order, the four men gained entry to Michael's hotel at 11.45 p.m. At first, Michael refused to accompany the men until he spoke with the local chairman of the secret police, Pavel Malkov, and then because he was ill. His protestations were futile, and he got dressed. Johnson insisted on accompanying him, and the four men plus their two prisoners climbed into two horse-drawn three-seater traps. They drove out of the town into the forest near Motovilikha. When Michael queried their destination, he was told they were going to a remote railway crossing to catch a train. By now it was the early hours of 13 June. They all alighted from the carriages in the middle of the wood, and both Michael and Johnson were fired at once each, but as the assassins were using home-made bullets, their guns jammed. Michael, whether wounded or not is unknown, moved towards the wounded Johnson with arms outstretched, when he was shot at point-blank range in the head. Both Zhuzhgov and Markov claimed to have fired the fatal shot. Johnson was shot dead by Ivanchenko. The bodies were stripped and buried. Anything of value was stolen, and the clothes were taken back to Perm. After they were shown to Myasnikov as proof of the murders, the clothes were burned. The Ural Regional Soviet, headed by Alexander Beloborodov, approved the execution, either retrospectively or beforehand, as did Lenin. Michael was the first of the Romanovs to be executed by the Bolsheviks, but he would not be the last. Neither Michael's nor Johnson's remains were ever found.

The Perm authorities distributed a concocted cover story that Michael was abducted by unidentified men and had disappeared. Chelyshev and Borunov were arrested. Shortly before his own arrest, Colonel Peter Znamerovsky, a former Imperial army officer also exiled to Perm, managed to send Natalia a brief telegram saying that Michael had disappeared. Znamerovsky, Chelyshev and Borunov were all killed by the Perm Bolsheviks. Soviet disinformation about Michael's disappearance led to unfounded rumours that he had escaped and was leading a successful counter-revolution. In the ultimately forlorn hope that Michael would ally with Germany, the Germans arranged for Natalia and her daughter to escape to Kiev in German-controlled Ukraine. On the collapse of the Germans in November 1918, Natalia fled to the coast, and she and her daughter were evacuated by the British Royal Navy.

On 8 June 2009, four days short of the 91st anniversary of their murders, both Michael and Johnson were officially rehabilitated. Russian State Prosecutors stated, "The analysis of the archive material shows that these individuals were subject to repression through arrest, exile and scrutiny ... without being charged of committing concrete class and social-related crimes."

Michael's son George, Count Brasov, died in a car crash shortly before his 21st birthday in 1931. Natalia died penniless in a Parisian charity hospital in 1952. His stepdaughter Natalia Mamontova married three times, and wrote a book about her life entitled Stepdaughter to Imperial Russia, published in 1940.

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