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July 15, 2014

The Creepiest Part of My Research --- Guest Post by Candace Fleming, Author of THE FAMILY ROMANOV


One of the coolest things about writing nonfiction is all of the research you get to do. By the time the book is finished, you live and breathe your subject --- you know their favorite foods,  their darkest secrets and their greatest strengths. But sometimes, you find out something you didn't necessarily want to know --- something gross, bizarre or plain old creepy.

In this blog post, Candace Fleming tells us the creepiest story she encountered when writing THE FAMILY ROMANOV: Murder, Rebellion and The Fall of Imperial Russia, her new book that follows the incredible story of the last Tsar's family and the eventual uprising of Russian peasants. 

Believe it or not, the creepiest story I uncovered during my research for THE FAMILY ROMANOV never made it into the book.  Why not?  Because it was too creepy!  Besides, I was focused on the living Romanovs.  This story, however, is about dead ones.

After and their four servants, the murderers drove the bodies to the remote, swampy Koptyaki Forest.  There, they stripped the corpses (discovering 18 pounds of diamonds alone in the Romanovs’ clothing) before dumping them into an abandoned mineshaft.  Yakov Yurovsky, the man who’d planned the execution, believed it was the perfect hiding place.  And it might have been if some of the murderers hadn’t returned to town and bragged about their evil deed. 

Yurovsky worried.  Officials had charged him with the responsibility of making the family disappear.  But now it seemed half of Ekaterinburg knew where the imperial family lay.  He would have to start over with what he called his “troublesome corpses.”

The next evening, he returned to the forest with a different group of men.  One of them climbed down into the mineshaft’s waist-high water.  Groping around in the darkness, he untangled the naked corpses.  One-by-one they were hauled up by rope --- Nicholas, Alexandra, the four grand duchesses, Alexei and the four servants.  It was a slow, grueling job.  But finally they all lay on the wet grass.  It must have been a grisly sight.  Recalled one of the men, “there was no beauty to see in the dead.”  Wrapping the bodies in a tarpaulin cover, they tossed them into the back of a truck and set out for a different, even deeper mine pit.

But the forest ground was muddy, and the truck kept getting stuck.  Over and over, the men pushed the vehicle out of the deep ruts.  Hours went by.  The sky lightened with the coming dawn.  And Yurovksy fretted. What would happen if they were caught with the Romanovs’ mangled corpses?  The other mineshaft was still miles away.  Yurovsky made a decision.  The bodies had to be buried… right here and right now.

In a place called Porosenkov Log (Pig’s Meadow) he ordered the men to dig a shallow, six-by-eight foot grave.  Then, with the sun rising, they heaved the bodies of the servants, as well as five of the royals into it. 

As for the other two Romanov corpses --- the two smallest, belonging to Alexei and either Marie or Anastasia --- Yurovksy separated them.  He hoped to confuse anyone who might stumble across the mass grave by putting only nine remains in it.  Dragging the little bodies about fifty feet away he attempted to burn them.  But it takes almost fifty hours to burn a human body in the open air.  He didn’t have that sort of time.  Frustrated and desperate, the men finally used their shovels to smash the partially burned bodies into fragments.  Then they shoved them into a hole, kicked around the ashes, and covered the site with some railroad ties. 

It was a sloppy, hasty job.  Yet incredibly, those two, pitiful graves containing the last imperial family of Russia would go undetected for more than 60 years.

That’s creepy.       

CANDACE FLEMING is the prolific and highly acclaimed author of numerous books for young adults and children, including the nonfiction titles THE LINCOLNS: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, winner of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Nonfiction; AMELIA LOST: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book of the Year; and THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum, an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults. She lives in Oak Park, Illinois. Visit her at