In Ekaterinburg on the night of July 16, 1918 Tsar Nicholas II, his family and entourage were killed in the basement of their house of exile. When William Maples was eleven years old he read Seven Years Boots, written in 1935 by Richard Halliburton, which contained a tale of the execution of the Tsar and his family and thus begun Maples fascination with the Tsar and his family. The story in the book was an alleged account from one of the Tsar's assassins Peter Zacharovitch Ermakov. Ermakov claimed that there were only three assassins, himself, Vaganof, and Jacob Yurovsky and that they alone had murdered the entire family, along with the Tsarina's maid, Anna, Dr. Botkin, the cook, and the valet. Ermakov told the family they were being evacuated because the White Russian Army was moving in, so the family was gathered in the basement where they were read their death sentence and shot. Ermakov then claimed they loaded the bodies into a truck, took them to an abandoned mine and left them there to be burned the following evening after nightfall. Ermakov then built a pyre, stripped the bodies (which were wearing many jewels, as well as having jewels sewn into their clothing), poured sulfuric acid and gasoline onto the bodies and burnt them to ashes, which were scattered to the wind. Ermakov wanted to make sure no bodies were left, to be found by Tsar loyalist.
The White Army did advance on Ekaterinburg and when they learned of the Tsar's murder they searched for the abandoned mine shaft. They found the shaft and remnants of clothing, jewels, a severed finger, and Dr. Botkin's upper denture plate. No other body parts or remnants were found at the scene. Ermakov's story was proven to have many discrepancies in the 1980's when the new Soviet policy of "openness" declassified thousands of documents. A Soviet playwright, Edvard Radzinsky, had been researching the death of the Tsar for twenty-five years, and with the release of the documents he was able to piece together a more accurate story of what happened to the Tsar and his family.
As Ermakov had said, they were gunned down in their basement, but by twelve assassins, rather than three. Their bodies were taken to the abandoned mine jewels and clothing removed, and grenades were thrown into the mine to cover the bodies, which is how the severed finger was found nearby. But tales spread quickly by boasting assassins as to the whereabouts of the bodies, so Yurosky and his men returned to the mine to remove the bodies and bury them elsewhere. They loaded the bodies onto a truck and drove them to another locale. Yurosky tried to burn the bodies, but it took so long to burn two, Alexei and an unidentified middle-aged female he claimed was probably the nurse, that he decided to dig a pit and throw the remaining bodies in to be buried, he then poured sulfuric acid on the bodies so they would not be recognizable. And there the bodies remained until April of 1989 when Soviet mystery writer issued a statement in the Moscow News claiming that he and geologists Dr. Alexander Avdonin had located the skeletons of the Tsar and his family outside of Sverdlovsk in 1979 but had been afraid to come forward until then.
Maples, learning of the discovery in 1992 at the annual American Academy of Forensic Sciences convention, offered his help in the identification of the bodies. Maples had been fascinated with the Romanov's for over forty-four years, and now he was going to get a chance to study their actual bones. Maples organized a team of Dr. Lowell Levine; Dr. Michael Baden, Cathryn Oakes, a hair and fiber microscopists; his wife Margaret, a media specialists, Dr. William Goza; Dr. William Hamilton; and Dr. Alexander Melamud.
The team traveled to Ekaterinburg, Russia, where they began work on the bones. Maples was quickly able to determine the age and sex of all the skeletons, as well as make tentative identifications. Within on day of examination he had determined what had taken the Russian scientists months to come close to. This earned Maples extreme credibility with the Russians and allowed him access to whatever he needed. Maples determined the gunshot and bayonet wounds that likely killed each victim. He also concluded that Alexei's and Anastasia's bodies were not present among the ones found. Maples determined which daughters were present by the maturation of the pelvic bones and wisdom teeth presence. Anastasia was also shorter than her sisters, and none of the skeletons matched with her height. So where was Anastasia's body?
Maples had identified the three older sisters; the Tsar by his face shape, approximate age, height, and his pelvis which was deformed from many hours on horseback; Dr. Botkin by his denture plate; the maid Anna by her worn joints from doing laborious work, the cook by his brow shape; the footman by his height and age, and the Tsarina by her expensive platinum crowns. The missing skeletons of Alexei and Anastasia were to be explained by the two bodies Yurosky burned before burying the rest. Anastasia may have appeared to be a middle-aged woman because the bodies were badly bloated by the time they were moved, it was also summer so flies and maggots would have been present on the bodies, attracted to the gunshot wounds, and all ornament and decoration had been removed from the bodies, rendering the females indistinguishable from one another.
Once DNA tests were developed in 1993, it was proven with 98.5% certainty that the bones were who Maples said they were.Maples appeared in many documentary films about the Romanov family, but currently in production is a film about his life and his work in the field of forensic anthropology.