“Until the Ekaterinburg remains are recognized, I will not go to church”, says Russian forensic expert

PHOTO: Sergei Alekseevich Nikitin reconstructed sculptural portraits of Emperor Nicholas II and his family

On the eve of the 103rd anniversary of the murders of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, the Ekaterinburg media outlet 66.RU published an interview with Sergei Alekseevich Nikitin, a highly respected Soviet and Russian expert of the Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination in Moscow.

Nikitin is a world-renowned forensic expert, known for his work on the reconstruction and identification of faces and heads of many historical figures, using plastic reconstruction according to the Gerasimov method. His projects have reconstructed the faces and skulls of Ilya Muromets, the mother of Ivan the Terrible Elina Glinskaya and Adolf Hitler.

He is perhaps best known, however, for the main work of his life with the remains exhumed in 1991 from the Porosenkov Log tract near Ekaterinburg. It was Nikitin who first identified the skull of Nicholas II, and then recreated the sculptural portraits of the Emperor and his family.

66.RU: How did it come to be that in 1991 you became involved in identifying the remains of the Imperial family?

SAN: Initially, this work was carried out by the Sverdlovsk forensic medical experts and the Research Institute of Forensic Medicine of the USSR Ministry of Health, but this ministry supported the Emergency Committee, and it was necessary to transfer the research to the Bureau of the Main Forensic Medical Expertise of the RSFSR Ministry of Health. I was included in the expert group as a specialist in the fields of both identification and anthropological reconstruction.

66.RU: Several years ago, in one of your interviews, you said that you immediately “identified” Nicholas II even before you began using the Gerasimov method, at the Verkh-Isetsky District Department of Internal Affairs in Ekaterinburg. Moreover, it turned out to be not skull number 1 at all, as everyone had thought at the time, but skull number 4 (and subsequent studies confirmed your guess). How did this happen?

SAN: There is nothing surprising in this: by August 1991, I already had 19 years of experience in recreating a sculptural portrait from a skull. It was not at first sight that I recognized the emperor, since skull No. 4 had endured some rather serious losses. It wasn’t until the third day that the imperial frontal tubercles on this skull provided me with a clue.

66.RU: Another proof of the authenticity of the remains of the emperor must be considered a scar made by a sabre – a during an assassination attempt on Nicholas II in his youth during a visit to Japan, when he was hit on the head with a sabre by a Japanese policeman. Where did you find this hole on the skull of Nicholas II? Where and when did you manage to examine the hat worn by the heir to the throne at the time of the assassination attempt?

SAN: It was in 2006, after I reviewed details of the wounds inflicted on the heir that I made the discovery. The description is very detailed, with measurements of both the damage to the skull and the distance between the marks. Then I took a profile photograph of the skull No. 4 (I had already photographed it in 1994 with a scale ruler), superimposed it on the profile photograph of the emperor, and it turned out that the “fronto-parietal” wound exactly coincided with the through-damage to the skull! It was from this wound that on 12th May 1891, doctors removed a fragment of the outer bone plate, exposing the spongy layer. It was here that sulfuric acid administered by the killers, which subsequently “ate” through the skull.

It was in 2008, during an examination in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, that I was able to compare the tear on the bowler hat of Nicholas Alexandrovich to the damage to the skull. Any doubt to this mystery was thus solved!

66.RU: Do you, as an expert having handled the skulls of Nicholas II and members of his family, have any doubts about the authenticity of the Ekaterinburg remains?

SAN: Neither I nor other experts had any such doubts even back in August 1991.

66.RU: The renewed investigation of the ROC Investigative Committee has been going on for six years, experts have repeatedly presented their research and conclusions to the ROC commission, but the church is still in no hurry to recognize the tsar’s remains. What do you think of all this?

SAN: I think this is a classic example of absurdity.

66.RU: Why do you think the Russian Orthodox Church, despite the many examinations and the obviousness of the conclusions, does not recognize the Ekaterinburg remains? When do you think common sense will prevail?

SAN: One of the canons of the sanctity of the remains is their miraculous acquisition, which was not the case with the Ekaterinburg remains. We must not forget that at the time of their acquisition in 1979 (partial) and in 1991 (complete) they were not relics, since neither Nicholas II nor his family members were then canonized by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Common sense and faith are different concepts.

66.RU: Is it true that at some point you became disillusioned with the church and even stopped going to it?

SAN: I was not disillusioned, but I did make a vow to myself: that until the Ekaterinburg remains are recognized, I will not go to church!

NOTE: a final decision on the Ekaterinburg remains will be resolved by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), when they meet in November of this year.

© Paul Gilbert. 16 July 2021