How did Rasputin really die?

Rasputin's Death

Rasputin with Russian military officials in 1910.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Prince Felix Yusupov invited Rasputin to his home on Dec. 29, 1916, it wasn't for pleasantries. Married to the niece of Czar Nicholas, Yusupov plotted with a group of nobles to murder Rasputin in an effort to save Russia from imminent collapse.

Since the details of the night rely on eyewitness testimony, disputes have arisen regarding what exactly happened. Generally, historians believe that the prince wooed Rasputin to his home with the prospect of meeting his attractive wife. Yusopov laced pastries and wine with enough cyanide to poison several men. However, after Rasputin arrived and began eating and drinking, the poison had no effect, and Yuspov panicked. Determined to end Rasputin's life, Yusupov pulled out a gun and shot Rasputin, striking him in the back [source: Yusupov].


After Rasputin fell to floor and was presumed dead, Yusupov and his friends celebrated upstairs. A little later, Yusupov checked on the body. The prince checked the pulse, feeling no sign of life and even shook Rasputin. Somehow still alive, Rasputin opened his eyes, which Yusopov described as the "green eyes of a viper" [source: Yusupov], and he attempted to escape. Yusopov and his co-conspirators chased Rasputin out into the yard, shooting him two more times and beating him with a rubber club. To ensure he didn't rouse again, the men tied Rasputin in a blanket and dumped his body into the Neva River.

Adding another layer of mystery to Rasputin's death, his body was found with his right arm outstretched, presumably to make the sign of the cross, indicating that he was still alive when he hit the water and managed to partially free himself [source: Wilson]. The autopsy report listed hypothermia from the freezing water as Rasputin's cause of death. However, the autopsy also revealed that he had been shot in the forehead, leading some to believe that he must have been dead before being dumped in the Neva River [source: Moynahan]. Interestingly, it showed no evidence of poison in the body.

The murder investigation was brief since Yusopov and his friends' involvement was well-known [source: Moynahan]. Additional factors about the specifics of Rasputin's death have floated around over the years, including whether he was castrated by his murderers.

Months later, the Romanov dynasty collapsed with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. A letter reportedly written by Rasputin that his secretary Simanovich recovered after the czarina's death prophesied his demise along with the royal family's. He wrote, "if it was one of your relations who have wrought my death, then no one in the family…none of your relations will remain alive for more than two years" [source: Wilson]. On July 16, 1918, Nicholas II, Alexandra and their five children were murdered by revolutionaries.

More recently, retired Scotland Yard detective Richard Cullen and historian Andrew Cook proposed a new theory behind Rasputin's death. In 2004, they claimed that his death stemmed from a British Secret Intelligence plot involving two officers, Oswald Rayner and John Scales. They based their conclusions on a connection between Yusupov and Rayner and information Scales had recorded on Rasputin [source: BBC].

Similarly, it was proposed in 2007 that a British conspiracy hatched by Prime Minister David Lloyd George led to Rasputin's murder [source: Blomfield]. Both theories are based on Russia's important role in World War I for Britain. With Russia fighting Germany from the East, it provided an important buffer for the Allies since the Germans could not use all of their strength for combat in the West [source: Blomfield].

While neither of the theories has gained much acceptance among historians, Rasputin's death remains one of the most fascinating. To learn more about Russian history, read the links on the next page.