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The Bizarre Death of the Russian Mystic Grigori Rasputin

Updated on July 15, 2017
Mark Caruthers profile image

BA University of Arkansas Fayetteville Geography & History

Rasputin's Strange Powers

Grigori Effimovich better known by his infamous alias Rasputin, would rise from the life of a peasant to the highest circles of Russian aristocracy. His story is one of the most extraordinary chapters in Russian history. Rasputin later known as the "Mad Monk" the man who would turn the world upside down for the Romanov dynasty. The Romanov's empire was so massive that as night fell along its western borders day was already breaking along its Pacific Coast. The sun literally never set on the Romanov empire. Under the Romanov's the Russian people would forge the world's largest contiguous empire, one-sixth of the earth's landmass would fall under their control. The name Rasputin timelessly flows through the Russian landscape much like the waters that drift along the River Volga.

Rasputin in 1914

Rasputin in 1914 when he lived in Moscow
Rasputin in 1914 when he lived in Moscow | Source

Rasputin's Influence on the Romanov's

On August 12, 1904, an event took place which would determine the future course of the Romanov dynasty, their only son and heir to the throne Alexis was born. It was soon discovered after Alexei's birth he had hemophilia, a secret that Tsar Nicolas went to great to great lengths to keep from his people. Tsar Nicolas would consult with the finest doctors in Europe but nothing seemed to help his son. He was forced to find more non-conventional methods to help save his son's life. It was for this reason that Rasputin was brought in to help control young Alexei's bleeding. From the first time Rasputin met the child his condition dramatically improved.

It was assumed that Rasputin used hypnosis to slow Alexei's bleeding. At a time when little was known about hypnosis Rasputin's knowledge of the science was revolutionary. His daughter Maria, claimed she witnessed Rasputin contract and dilate his pupils at will when they were together in the family apartment in Moscow. The common belief was that Rasputin used his extraordinary eyes to hypnotize the Tsar's son, then while the boy was in a hypnotic state Rasputin would suggest that the bleeding stop. The full expression of Rasputin's personality seemed concentrated in his eyes, when he was in a serious conversation his pupils seemed to radiate magnetism. Ann Vyrubova, who worshiped Rasputin, spoke of him having " a pale face, long hair, uncared for beard and the most extraordinary eyes large and unusually brilliant." Rasputin's eyes could blaze with a kind of phosphorescent flame. His gaze was at once piercing and caressing, naïve and cunning, far-off and intent. The common belief is that Rasputin used his extraordinary eyes to hypnotize the Tsar's son, and when the boy was in a hypnotic state then suggest that the bleeding stop. There is a strong opinion that hypnosis can play a part in controlling the bleeding of a hemophiliac. Rasputin didn't even have to be close, a true twentieth century sorcerer he used the telephone and the telegraph to contact the boy. There isn't the slightest doubt that Alexandra believed in Rasputin's power to stop her son's bleeding. It gave him an immense hold over and the Royal family and convinced her of his holiness. The most shocking fact about Rasputin was that he could not read or write but he was able to treat the Tsar's son's bleeding, something the best doctors in the world failed to achieve. As a matter of interest L. Ron Hubbard the founder of the Church of Scientology was also considered a master hypnotist. The Church states that Hubbard's experience with hypnosis led him to create Dianetics as an alternative method to solve man's problems.

Rasputin's Entourage

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Anna Vyrubova worshiped Rasputin and was close friends with the Royal Family. Note the handcuffs as she lead to her fate during the Russian Revolution.Rasputin surrounded by his family and friends his father is the man on his right. Note the telephone on the wall in the background.Rasputin's piercing gaze.Rasputin and his un-cared for beard.Rasputin with his Daughter Maria on the far right.
Anna Vyrubova worshiped Rasputin and was close friends with the Royal Family. Note the handcuffs as she lead to her fate during the Russian Revolution.
Anna Vyrubova worshiped Rasputin and was close friends with the Royal Family. Note the handcuffs as she lead to her fate during the Russian Revolution. | Source
Rasputin surrounded by his family and friends his father is the man on his right. Note the telephone on the wall in the background.
Rasputin surrounded by his family and friends his father is the man on his right. Note the telephone on the wall in the background. | Source
Rasputin's piercing gaze.
Rasputin's piercing gaze. | Source
Rasputin and his un-cared for beard.
Rasputin and his un-cared for beard. | Source
Rasputin with his Daughter Maria on the far right.
Rasputin with his Daughter Maria on the far right. | Source

The Montenegrin Princesses

Rasputin began his life in the capital with the endorsement of two ladies of the highest society, the Montenegrin sister princesses. Grand Duchess Militza and Grand Duchess Anastasia. From their mysterious homeland the Montenegrins brought an unshakable belief in the supernatural. Witches and sorcerers had always lived in the high mountains of Montenegro, some people there claimed they could talk with the dead and predict the fates of the living. The Montenegrin Princesses were known as "the crows" because of their dark hair and coloring. Anastasia was considered to be the nicer of the pair, quiet, inward-looking, with a strong religious sense. Militza was very different ambitious, full of envy, and very curious. She too was religious, but not in a very Orthodox way. She embraced spiritualism and every branch of the occult. They were both prominent practitioners of the pseudo-Oriental brand of mysticism then in vogue in many of Moscow's most elegant drawing rooms. The Montenegrin sisters were the only members of the Royal family to have the Tsar's trust and affection.

Princess Anastasia of Montenegro

Princess Anastasia of Montenegro had once been considered a great beauty of the court.
Princess Anastasia of Montenegro had once been considered a great beauty of the court. | Source

Rasputin Surrounded by Enemies

The power Rasputin gained from his closeness to the Royal family also would lead to his death, he would be tied to a leadership whose time was nearing its own bloody end. The Russian people wanted change and more freedom, they no longer wanted to be part of the Tsar's Russia. So ruthless was the campaign against Rasputin that he began amassing new enemies at an alarming rate all of whom had one goal in mind, the demise of Rasputin. He had become an embarrassment to himself and the Royal family, Rasputin's drinking had become suicidal and his womanizing even more obscene. Rasputin antagonized the Orthodox Church which resented his position as intimate spiritual adviser to the Royal family, a position they thought should be held by a senior churchman. Incredible rumors circulated about Rasputin. There was paranoid talk of a certain "black car" that Rasputin was said to drive through Moscow late at night, firing shots at random, killing and wounding for pleasure. Rasputin was such the hot topic of dinner party gossip that some hostesses put up signs in their dinning rooms that would read, "We don't talk about Rasputin here." Unrest stood over Russia like the black ominous clouds before an advancing storm. Tsar Nicholas tragically underestimated the extent of hostility to his dynasty. To further worsen the situation Nicholas involved Russia in a war with Germany in 1914. At the beginning of the war things went well for the Russian Army, but the tides of war began to flow against the Russians. After two years of war the Russian Army was in full retreat. The appearance of an insignificant German detachment led to panic and the flight of entire regiments, well over three million refugees began to flood the streets of Moscow.

Tsar Nicholas the Last Tsar of Russia

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
Tsar Nicholas II of Russia | Source
Tsar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra their engagement photo.
Tsar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra their engagement photo. | Source

Prince Felix Yusupov

One of Rasputin's greatest enemies was Prince Felix Yusupov born in 1887 to one of the most fabulously wealthy families of the world. The Prince's mother, Princesses Zinaida was stunningly beautiful, a matriarch of Russia's richest family. She was once one of Alexandra's closest friends but was banished from the palace because of her hatred for Rasputin. The Yusupov fortune included dozens of estates, some 125 miles of the Caspian Sea Coast, and one of the largest if not the largest jewelry collections in the world. Prince Felix accused Rasputin of being a member of the Khlysty, an underground religious cult that was outlawed in Russia. The Khlysty were organized into small secret groups known as "arks". The meetings would begin with singing and drumming around a bonfire, that ended in on mass orgy "using sin to drive out sin". The leader of the sect was a "vozhd" considered a reincarnation of Christ. It was claimed that when Rasputin would visit his home in Siberia he used a mysterious underground chapel. There was quite a good deal of mutual fascination between Rasputin and Prince Felix Yusupov.Prince Felix at the time was the richest man in Russia, his family had acquired their wealth through extensive land grants in Siberia from which they developed a string of profitable mines and fur trading posts. After his marriage to the Tsar's niece, Princess Irina, and the birth of their daughter in the spring of 1915,Prince Felix sought out Rasputin and became a regular visitor to his flat in the Moscow. Rasputin believed that Felix wanted him to counsel and help him control his perverse sexual desires. Prince Felix lived a flamboyant lifestyle he was a bisexual who liked to dress in woman's clothes and go out in public to the finest restaurants in Moscow. Prince Felix was nearly thirty and dissatisfied with everything about his life now he suddenly had a mission, murder Rasputin and free Russia from his dark influence.

Prince Felix Yusupov

Prince Felix Yusupov and his wife Irina Alexandrovna of Russia 1915.
Prince Felix Yusupov and his wife Irina Alexandrovna of Russia 1915. | Source
Felix and Irina in exile after the Revolution.
Felix and Irina in exile after the Revolution. | Source
Felix in his military uniform in 1914.
Felix in his military uniform in 1914. | Source

The Winter of 1916

The winter of 1916 was one of the harshest on record in Russia. Throughout the year signs of government failure accumulated, transportation was undependable, refugees filled the streets, inflation soared, and food shortages had become critical. The Russian Army had been brought to its knees by the lack of supplies, lack of food, lack of arms, and the lack of inspired leadership. The soldiers of the Russian Army were freezing to death in the trenches those with enough energy began to desert. Thousands of soldiers roamed the snowbound countryside looking for whatever food they could find some in half crazed bands terrorizing villages. Rasputin was in a state of desperation afraid for his own life as unrest and antagonism grew against Nicholas and Alexandra. As those days passed Rasputin didn't venture out to his old haunts, not even to hear the gypsy music which he loved so much. The only time he left his apartment was to see the Tsar and his wife who were basically under siege in their palace. However Rasputin did accept an invitation to drop by and see Prince Felix Yusupov at his Moika Palace in Moscow at midnight on December 29th 1916, to meet Princess Irina, Yusupov's alluring wife.

Rasputin's Apartment building in Moscow.
Rasputin's Apartment building in Moscow. | Source
Moika Palace Felix Yusupov's home in Moscow.
Moika Palace Felix Yusupov's home in Moscow. | Source

The Murder of Rasputin

The plot to murder Rasputin was sound but in the end it would prove to be grotesquely difficult. Yusupov planned to invite Rasputin to his palace late at night to meet his stunningly beautiful wife, whom the monk was very eager to meet but she was actually vacationing in the Crimea. Prince Felix would pick up Rasputin at his apartment with one of his accomplices, a Dr. Lazovert who would act as his chauffeur driving a hospital service car with the identifying legend removed. Once Rasputin was at the Prince's palace he would be served wine and cakes laced with enough cyanide to kill a dozen men. Once Rasputin was dead, Yusupov's friend the Grand Duke Dmitri Paulovich and a yound army Lieutenant Sukotin would stage Rasputin's return to his apartment. A fourth conspirator Vladimir Purishkevich would burn Rasputin's clothes. Then the assassins would drive the body to the Petrovski Bridge where they would dump it, weighted down it would sink to the bottom of the Vera River.

Few murders would stray further from its original plans. Not only did the doorman observe a young man drive up with his chauffeur and enter into Rasputin's apartment, Rasputin's oldest daughter recognized him as Prince Yusupov. After they arrived at the palace Rasputin would eat two of the poisoned cakes, and to Yusupov's horror Rasputin didn't suffer any ill effects from the poisoned cakes. After that failed a desperate Yusupov would hand Rasputin another glass of poisoned wine as they listened to Yankee Doodle Dandy on the phonograph. It became obvious that a second glass of poisoned wine merely just reduced Rasputin to a state of glassy eyed belligerence. A shocked Yusupov then excused himself saying that he would find his wife instead he returned with a Browning pistol hidden behind his back. Yusupov maneuvered Rasputin over a beautiful crucifix hanging on the wall, with Rasputin distracted he pulled out the revolver and shot him in the chest point blank. Rasputin collapsed to the floor, Yusupov then leaned over to examine the body to see if it had a pulse and to his shocked amazement Rasputin sprang to his feet and attacked Yusupov with a loud roar. Rasputin began to attempt to strangle Yusupov as foam and blood dripped from his mouth he repeated "Felix, Felix" again and again. Finally Yusupov would break free and run upstairs, Rasputin followed behind him on all fours like some kind of demon. Rasputin staggered out toward the courtyard door trying desperately to escape his assassins. Yusupov was too hysterical to do anything, but his friend Purishkevich would have the nerve to draw his own gun and fired several shots. Rasputin stumbled and fell to the ground in the courtyard no longer moving.

A policeman on patrol heard the shots and hurried to the palace to investigate. Yusupov quickly dismissed the policeman by assuring him that nothing was wrong. The prince returned to check Rasputin's body and to his dismay it had changed position. Yusupov instructed his servants to carry Rasputin's body back into the palace and set him down in front of a spiral staircase in the front hall, where the prince pummeled the body with a blackjack and castrated him believing he was possessed by demons. By this time Pavlovich, Sukhotin, and Lazovert had returned to the palace, they stripped and tied up Rasputin's body, and drove to the Petrovski Bridge to dump his body into the river. Overwhelmed by all the mix-ups that had occurred the conspirators began to panic, they didn't weigh down Rasputin's body, increasing the possibility of it surfacing downstream. In the morning two fisherman found a boot on the ice covered Neva River, next to the boot was a hole, and nearby patches of ice stained with blood. Two days later police discovered Rasputin's badly bruised corpse, naked, and bound with rope, floating against the river bank a mile downstream from the bridge. Accounts differ about what happened next as the murder investigation began to unfold. The most commonly accepted version was the police found tire tracks near the Petrovski Bridge leading them to the Yusupov's palace. Rasputin's daughter Maria would identify the body, his face was smashed in at the temple, clots of dried blood matted his beard and hair creating a most gruesome scene. The most bizarre fact of all, is that with the severity of all his injuries the police examiner found water in Rasputin's lungs common to all drowning deaths. It appeared that the legend is true about Rasputin, he died after entering the water.

Rasputin with the Royal Court

Rasputin with Alexandra and all of her children, Alexie is to the left of Rasputin.
Rasputin with Alexandra and all of her children, Alexie is to the left of Rasputin. | Source

Rasputin Overview

Lieutenant Oswald Rayner

Now over seventy years later, evidence suggest another conspirator was at the palace the night of Rasputin's murder a young lieutenant Oswald Rayner form the British Secret Intelligence Service who attended the University of Oxford with Yusupov. As Rasputin lay motionless in the courtyard lieutenant Rayner walked up to a motionless Rasputin and shot him in the forehead delivering the fatal blow. Some historians now believe that Rasputin was executed by Rayner to keep Russian in the war with Germany. And that Rasputin was never poisoned at all also that the fatal shot to Rasputin's forehead was all it took to rid Russia of his dark influence. But there is no evidence to prove whether or not Rayner was in that courtyard that fateful night on December 17, 1916. Rayner never admitted to being in that courtyard on the night Rasputin was murdered and the secret died with him. It is a fact that Rayner was in Moscow at the time of Rasputin's murder. But Rasputin's body was badly beaten, so it's difficult to believe that Yusupov wasn't involved in the murder to a certain extent and he seemed like the kind of guy who would like to get out from a murder charge. So Rayner would be a perfect patsy for the crime leaving some doubt as to he actually murdered Rasputin.

The Last Picture of the Last Tsar of Russia

Tsar Nicholas II in 1917 soon after the February Revolution.
Tsar Nicholas II in 1917 soon after the February Revolution. | Source

The End for the Last Tsar

Soon after Rasputin's death the Tsar's days on the throne would soon come to a bitter end. The February Revolution took place and the entire Imperial family would be murdered their bodies buried at some secret location still disputed to this day. To add another bizarre twist to the Rasputin legend, after the revolution an unruly mob of drunken soldiers broke into Rasputin's grave and dragged the body unceremoniously into the woods. They built a fire and placed Rasputin's body into the flames, suddenly Rasputin's body began to move to the horror of his bystanders. Then the mob danced wildly in a ring around Rasputin's burning corpse. Later some women form a nearby village joined in on the celebration which ended in an orgy of sex. Perhaps a fitting memorial service for someone of Rasputin's over active carnal past history.

The Shadow of Rasputin


DeJonge, Alex. The Life and Times of Grigorii Rasputin. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, New York. 1982

Elson, Robert T. Prelude to War. Time Life Books. Alexandria Virginia 1977.

Massie K. Robert. Nicholas and Alexandra. Atheneum Books, New York 1967.

Fulop-Miller, Rene. Rasputin the Holy Devil. The Viking Press. New York 1928.

Purishkevich, V.M. The Murder of Rasputin. Ardis Publishers. Ann Arbor Michigan 1985.

Radzinsky, Edward. The Last Tsar. Doubleday. New York 1967.


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    • emge profile image

      Madan 2 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      A great article on history. Rasputin was a dark influence, but I wonder whether he really had super powers ?

    • profile image

      Kevin Goodwin 2 years ago

      A well done job on the history of a troubling time in Russian history. I must commend you on your hub and how well it was written. Keep it up.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Great work. Fascinating history. Voted up and shared.