The Gainesville campus of the University of Florida sprawls over several square miles of lush central Florida landscape. Divided into a grid of streets, it is so large that students sometimes need buses to travel from one class to the next. Some of these blocks are empty, others almost so. On one of these flat, mostly empty plots, a grove of tall bamboo trees breaks the horizon. A bumpy, rutted driveway turns off the concrete street, leads past an impromptu vegetable garden, and arrives at a high wire fence crowned with rolls of coiled barbed wire. Behind the fence, nestled under the bamboo trees, is a windowless, light green, all-metal building with a number of ventilator pipes on the roof. This is the C. A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory, the creation and workshop of Dr. William Maples.
The building is not large. The door opens on a small secretarial office; behind this is Dr. Maples’ office. There is a small conference room and a bathroom. And there is the laboratory which Dr. Maples himself designed on a Macintosh computer. No one enters this room without his permission. The door lock has pins coming from three directions, and neither the university police nor the university locksmith possesses one of its unique keys. There is no possibility of entry through the roof. The building has an elaborate, highly sensitive alarm system. In the four and a half years of the Pound Laboratory’s existence, the alarm has never gone off.
Few people would wish to enter this room. On the tops of work tables there are human skulls, skeletons, and parts of skeletons awaiting examination. Along the back wall are shelves filled with carefully labeled cardboard boxes containing numerous other human bones. There are computers, X-ray machines, X-ray drive processors, and a video camera; there is a workbench with a drill press, a small anvil, screwdrivers, wrenches, and diamond blade saws; there are refrigerators and freezers. Along one side wall, there are three large stainless-steel vats, each closed by a transparent plastic odor hood, which is connected to one of the ventilating shafts on the roof. In these vats, Dr. Maples and his assistants “macerate remains.”
“That’s a euphemism for ‘boil the meat off the bones.’ ”
Dr. Maples is a forensic anthropologist; he deals with bones. If the bones come to him still encased in flesh, he must remove the flesh before he can begin to work. He places the body in one of his vats, fills the vat with boiling water, and tends the contents until he has a skeleton. Actually, most of this work is done by his graduate and undergraduate students, who rotate observing the vats, switching every hour or two.
“It takes a lot of attention to make sure that the soft tissue comes off as quickly as it can,” Maples explained. “We have to make sure that the bone isn’t softened by being in the water too long and also that the water doesn’t boil dry and burn the bone. The hoods protect against splash—we worry about hepatitis B, AIDS, and tuberculosis—and, at least partially, against odor. Yes, it’s a very distasteful task, but I can only recall one or two students who have been unable to handle it.”
Maples’ office next door is a relatively cheerful place. It is true that there are eighteen human skulls on top of three large file cabinets, but the cabinets are painted a sprightly orange. Maples’ desk lies under an untidy mountain of documents, correspondence, photographs, and X rays. But William Maples himself, a balding man in a blue blazer, gray flannel trousers, and wire-rimmed glasses, is almost exaggeratedly neat. His voice is low, flat, and Texan, reflecting his childhood. His speech, like his methodology, is controlled and precise. Dr. Maples almost always knows exactly what his next word or act is going to be and why he is going to say or do it.
“All my life I have been curious about death,” he said. In college at the University of Texas, where he was majoring in English and anthropology, he paid for his education by riding in an ambulance owned by a funeral home. Night after night, he hurtled at 105 miles an hour toward accident scenes in order to be there first and get the business. He saw “terrible things,” but before he was twenty he had learned to eat a chili-and-cheese hamburger in an autopsy room after a watching an autopsy. At twenty-four, he and his wife began four years of trapping baboons in Kenya for research. When one old baboon bit deep into Maples’ arm, tearing an artery, Maples himself had a brush with death. In 1968, Maples arrived in Gainesville with his Ph.D. and became an assistant professor of anthropology. After six years, he moved out of active teaching to the Anthropology Department of the Florida Museum of Natural History.
“My field is the human skeleton, its changes through life, its changes across many lifetimes, and its variations around the world,” Dr. Maples said. By examining the different bones of a skeleton, Maples usually can quickly tell the sex, the age, the height, and the weight of the owner of the skeleton in life. This special knowledge has made him enormously valuable as an expert consultant to local and state police trying determine the identity of a victim, what happened to the victim at the scene of a crime, and who was responsible. From 1972, when he began with a single case, his caseload has grown to two to three hundred a year. Among them was serial killer Ted Bundy, who murdered at least thirty-six young women before he was caught, tried, and executed—in Florida. Twice a year, Maples visits the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu to assist with difficult cases of military remains brought back from Vietnam.
For most of this consulting work, Dr. Maples’ fee is two hundred dollars an hour. He also receives a partial salary from the University of Florida. Together, this income still does not fully support the work of his laboratory, and he has turned for help to outside donors. The C. A. Pound Laboratory was paid for by Gainesville native Cicero Addison Pound, Jr., a man now in his seventies, who, as an early naval aviator, participated in the search for Amelia Earhart. Pound became wealthy in real estate and contributed money to build Maples’ laboratory. Maples also has a generous benefactor in retired Gainesville lawyer William Goza, whose Wentworth Foundation gives to the university and specifically to projects involving William Maples.
Goza’s financial support has made possible a number of Maples’ forensic investigations. These are historical cases, in which there is no client other than history and the primary motive is the sheer satisfaction of discovering truth and solving a mystery. (It is also true, of course, that success in these high-profile cases confers valuable prestige. It is extremely useful to a prosecutor when he can stand up before a jury and say to his expert witness, “Are you the same Dr. Maples who …?”) Maples has been involved in four of these historical cases. In 1984, he proved that mummified remains thought to be those of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador assassinated in Lima in 1541, and thereafter venerated for over four centuries in a magnificent marble and bronze sarcophagus in Lima Cathedral, actually belonged to someone else. Further, he proved that another set of ancient bones, buried beneath two layers of wooden planking in the cathedral crypt, were those of Pizarro. In 1988, Maples examined the skeleton of John Merrick, the nineteenth-century Elephant Man, restored to fame in our time by Broadway and Hollywood. (Just before Maples appeared, pop star Michael Jackson reportedly had offered to buy Merrick’s skeleton from the Royal London College of Medicine Museum for one million dollars.) Maples’ effort was to establish how much of the grotesquely abnormal growth that disfigured Merrick was the result of soft tissue tumors and how much was attributable to changes in the structure of his bones. He found that Merrick was afflictedby both. In 1991, he exhumed the skeleton of Zachary Taylor and proved that this former president of the United States had not been poisoned, as was often alleged, but had probably died of an intestinal infection. And, in 1992, Dr. Maples became involved with the Romanov bones.
William Maples first encountered the Russian Imperial family years ago by reading two books. As a boy in Dallas in the 1940s, he read Richard Halliburton’s Seven League Boots, which contained Halliburton’s “deathbed” interview with the executioner Ermakov. Much later, he read Nicholas and Alexandra. In February 1992, he was in New Orleans attending the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences when he read in a newspaper that Secretary of State Baker had been asked for American assistance in identifying a group of skeletal remains exhumed from a grave in Siberia. Maples walked over to Dr. Richard Froede, the armed forces medical examiner, and asked whether Baker had been in touch with Froede about providing help. Dr. Froede said no, he hadn’t heard anything. “I decided right then that we would make an attempt,” Maples said. “While the meeting was still going on, I organized what I think was an extremely powerful team. It consisted of Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist, Dr. Lowell Levine, a forensic dentist, Dr. William Hamilton, our local Gainesville medical examiner, and Cathryn Oakes, a hair and fiber specialist with the New York State Police. I was to serve as the forensic anthropologist and team leader.”
Returning to Gainesville, Maples drafted a letter for the president of the University of Florida, John Lombardi, to sign and send to Alexander Avdonin in Ekaterinburg. The letter presented the credentials of Maples’ team and said that the members would be willing to travel at their own expense; in fact, the funds would come from Bill Goza’s foundation. Further, Lombardi declared that he intended to organize a scientific conference in America to discuss the findings. “It would be necessary for several members of your team to come to this conference,” he told Avdonin. “Funds raised by Dr. Maples would … provide the required transportation costs for your representatives.” April arrived, and Maples still had received no reply. Then, indirectly, he learned that Avdonin was waiting for him to telephone. Maples did so immediately, and the following day a faxed invitation arrived in Gainesville, signed jointly by Alexander Blokhin, deputy vice governor of the Sverdlovsk Region, and Avdonin. The Florida team was asked to come in mid-July, to spend several days examining the remains, and then to participate in an international conference on the subject of the bones.
Told that Dr. Froede and Dr. Rodriguez of the AFIP-FBI team continue to be upset about their sudden dismissal from the project, Maples said, “We learned only later that Secretary Baker had asked Dick Froede. I’m certain that when I spoke to Dick in New Orleans, he had not been contacted. After all, Baker was still in Russia. Anyway, when I asked Dick, he said no.” Maples admitted that, in America as in Russia, there is fierce competition among scientists. “I’m not a particularly competitive individual,” he said, “but if no one else was going to do something like this—something I was interested in for years—then I was eager to do it.” In Maples’ opinion the AFIP-FBI project was hampered by lack of funds and by the fact that a highly respected forensic anthropologist, Douglas Ubelaker of the Smithsonian Institution, dropped off the government team. The Russians, he felt, weighed the caliber of the two teams and chose his.
Dr. Maples did, indeed, have a powerful team. Dr. Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist, was a former chief medical examiner of New York City. He had been the chairman of the forensic panel established by the Congressional Select Committee on Assassinations to review the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was then codirector of the New York State Police Forensic Sciences Unit. Dr. Lowell Levine, his codirector with the New York State Police unit, had had an equally celebrated career. He too had worked with the congressional select committee on the Kennedy and King assassinations. At the request of the State Department, he had gone to Argentina and identified the remains of many of “the disappeared”—men and women who mysteriously vanished under the Argentine military dictatorship. A few years later in Brazil, Levine was instrumental in identifying the teeth and skull of Josef Mengele, the doctor from Auschwitz. Cathryn Oakes, one of the nation’s leading hair and fiber specialists, was also with the New York State Police Crime Laboratory.
On July 25, 1992, Maples and his team arrived in Ekaterinburg and checked into the Hotel October, formerly used only by high Communist officials. They paid a full rate in Western dollars; the local authorities provided them only with a car and a driver. Early the following morning, they arrived at the branch of the Ekaterinburg morgue where the Romanov bones were kept. They met Nikolai Nevolin, director of the morgue, Alexander Avdonin, Galina Avdonina, who speaks good English, and others. Nevolin told them, “Go down and do what you want.” The morgue, according to Maples, was similar in design to an American morgue in a city of comparable size: the autopsy rooms and body storage area on the first floor, offices on the second. And something else was familiar. “It was the odor,” Maples said, “a typical morgue odor.” On the second floor, at the end of a long hall, there was an iron gate. The gate opened into a small anteroom, and from there, opening another locked door, they walked into the room with the bones.
The room is eighteen by sixteen feet, about the size of an average American living room. It is a corner room and has two windows, both covered by drawn shades which permit light to enter. The walls are painted a glossy medium green. In the center of the room is a large table, which holds a computer and a microscope. Against the walls on all four sides of the room are metal tables. The bones are laid on these tables in skeletal form, that is, not connected but with the skull at the top, then the vertebrae forming the spinal column, the ribs on either side of the vertebrae, the arm bones outside the ribs, and the pelvic, leg, ankle, and foot bones at the bottom. Maples was horrified to see that some of the long bones of the thigh and arm had been cut in half; this could only make it more difficult for him to estimate height. When he arrived, the tables were not covered, so that anyone in the room could pick up a bone, as Secretary of State Baker had done five months before. Nor is there any temperature control in the room; when Maples and his team were there in midsummer, the room was warm, and they quickly removed their jackets.
Maples opened his camera bag and took out one of his cameras. “Nyet,” said one of the Russians with them in the room. “You cannot take any photographs.” Stolidly, Maples put his camera away and, with Baden, Levine, and Oakes, spent three hours examining the bones. To Maples, the identities of the skeletons were quickly obvious. “That is Demidova,” he said. “That is Botkin. That is one of the daughters, probably Olga. That is another daughter, probably Tatiana. That’s the third daughter, probably Marie. That is Nicholas. That is Alexandra. And these two are the male servants.”
At midday, Maples and his team packed their bags and walked down the hall to Nevolin’s office. “We’re finished and we’re leaving now,” Maples said. “You’re going to lunch?” Nevolin asked. “No,” said Maples, “we’re finished. We’ve done as much as we can, and we’re going home.” Nevolin was shocked. “But you can’t go,” he protested. Maples explained, “We have to document what we do, and unless we are allowed to do this, we cannot do any more. I’ve never done a forensic case where I’ve been unable to document what needed to be done. And unless you give permission for us to photo-document this case, we’re finished. I’ve reached my conclusions.” Maples’ voice was flat, but he was clearly angry. “You were so angry you were shaking,” Galina Avdonina told him later.
Nevolin needed time. “Go to lunch, and when you return, we’ll discuss this and have some answers for you,” he said. The American team went back to the hotel, had a long Russian lunch, then returned to the morgue. Nevolin greeted them by saying, “Take all the pictures you want.” (“Obviously,” Maples said later, “he called Blokhin and Blokhin said, ‘Let them do what they want.’ So we stayed for the rest of the week and documented everything. But in the first two or three hours we had the findings. We knew that we were dealing with the remains of the Imperial family, and we knew which one was which.”)
The nine skeletons lying on the morgue tables were labeled only by number. Maples—who at this point had no knowledge of Dr. Abramov’s previous findings—continued to use this labeling system. Five of the skeletons were female, four male. All of the males were mature; there was no adolescent boy. Of the five females, three were young women, only recently grown to maturity. All of the faces had been badly fractured. All of the female skeletons had dental work. One of the males apparently had used an upper plate.
The easiest body to identify—labeled by the Russians as Body No. 7—was that of a middle-aged woman whose ribs showed possible signs of damage from bayonet thrusts. What immediately caught the eye and the attention of Dr. Levine was the elaborate and beautiful dental work in this skull. Two crowns in the lower jaw were made of platinum. Elsewhere in this mouth, there were elegant porcelain crowns and finely wrought gold fillings. On display was a kind of dentistry developed in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century and subsequently practiced in Germany, Alexandra’s homeland. Seeing this work, Levine and Maples pronounced this skull and these remains as belonging to the Empress Alexandra.
Identifying Nicholas II also was not difficult. The remains labeled Body No. 4 belonged to a fairly short, middle-aged man. The hip bones showed the signs of wear and deformation produced by years riding on horseback, a characteristic activity of Russian tsars. The skull had the wide, sloping forehead, jutting brow, and broad, flat palate possessed by Nicholas. The teeth were extraordinarily bad. The lower jaw showed the devastating inroads of periodontal disease, and there were no fillings in any of the remaining teeth. In the skull, there was no middle to the face; everything below the eye sockets and above the jaw had been obliterated.
Holding Nicholas II’s skull in his hands, Maples had an eerie experience: “We were passing the skull around among ourselves, when we heard something rattling dully inside the braincase. Training a flashlight on the base of the skull, peering in through the aperture where the spinal column would have been anchored, we descried a small, shrunken object about the size of a small pear, rolling to and fro. It was the desiccated brain of Tsar Nicholas II.”
The American team had little difficulty with the other four adults. Body No. 1 was identified by its pelvis as a fully mature female. The skull held a basically prefabricated gold bridge of poor workmanship on the lower left jaw; this was identified as belonging to the maid, Demidova.
Body No. 2 was the skeleton of a large, mature man with a distinctive flat, sloping forehead. Unique among the remains, this body still had a portion of the torso intact, held together by adipocere, a grayish white, waxy substance that forms when fatty tissue combines with water after death. From this mass, the Russians had recovered one bullet from the pelvic area and one from a vertebra. The skull had a gunshot wound from a bullet that had entered the left forehead. There were a few teeth in the lower jaw, no teeth at all in the upper jaw. Knowing that Dr. Botkin’s dental plate had been found over seventy years before by Sokolov at the Four Brothers helped Maples and Levine to identify these remains as his.
Body No. 8 and Body No. 9 were identified as the remains of, respectively, Kharitonov, the forty-eight-year-old cook, and Trupp, the sixty-one-year-old valet. The skeleton of Kharitonov was the most fragmentary of all the nine; having been the first to be flung to the bottom of the pit, his body had lain deepest in the pool of acid. The body of Trupp had rested directly beneath that of the tsar. As decomposition proceeded, some of the bones became commingled. Today, Maples believes, short of performing a DNA test on each fragment, it will be impossible to determine whether certain of these bones belonged to the tsar or to his valet.
The remaining three skeletons, Bodies No. 3, No. 5, and No. 6, were those of three young adult or near-adult females, all of whom shared with one another and with Body No. 7 (Empress Alexandra) an uncommon protruding bone structure in the back of the head. This feature, called wormian bones and found in only 5 or 6 percent of the population, strongly suggested a sibling relationship between the three younger women, and a mother-daughter relationship between the three of them and Body No. 7. The three young women also all had numerous fillings and similar dental work, suggesting that they were treated by the same dentist.
The oldest of these young women, Body No. 3, was in her early twenties when she died. Although half of her middle face and her lower jaw were missing, the shape of the head, with its unusually prominent forehead, was similar to that of Grand Duchess Olga. This woman was fully grown; Olga had been twenty-two years and eight months old when she was killed. The leg bones had been cut, but by extrapolating from the lengths of her arm bones, Maples estimated her height at just under five feet, five inches. Dr. Levine found fully developed roots to the third molars or wisdom teeth, further supporting Maples’ opinion that she was a mature adult. Gunshot wounds showed that a bullet had entered under her left jaw and exited through the front of her skull. “Such a trajectory,” Maples observed, “could come from a gun placed under the chin and fired up, or from firing at a body already on the floor.”
The next of the daughters—-the remains labeled Body No. 5—had been a woman “in her late teens or early twenties,” Maples decided. “Dr. Levine and I agreed that she was the youngest of the five women whose skeletons lay before us.” They concluded this from the fact that the root tips of her third molars were not completely developed. “Her sacrum, in the back of her pelvis, was not completely developed. Her limb bones showed that growth had only recently ended. Her back showed evidence of immaturity, but it was nevertheless the back of a woman at least eighteen years old. We estimated her height at five feet, seven and a half inches.” Although half of the middle face was missing, Maples concluded that this skeleton belonged to Grand Duchess Marie, whose nineteenth birthday had occurred five weeks before she died.
The third of these young females, whose remains were labeled Body No. 6, had been shot in the back of the head, the bullet entering her skull from the left rear and exiting from her right temple. She had been fully grown, and her dental and skeletal development placed her in age between Bodies No. 3 and No. 5. The root tips of her molars were still incomplete, which was consistent with a woman of age nineteen to twenty-one, but not a woman of seventeen. Maples put her height at just over five feet, five and a half inches; he found no evidence of recent continuing growth. Her sacrum and pelvic rim were mature, which made her at least eighteen. Her collarbone was mature, making her at least twenty. Grand Duchess Tatiana had been twenty-one years and two months old at the time of the executions. Maples therefore assigned Body No. 3 to Olga, Body No. 5 to Marie, and Body No. 6 to Tatiana.
Dr. Maples was convinced that none of these three skeletons was young enough to have belonged to Anastasia, who had been seventeen years and one month old on the night of the murders. One reason was height. Numerous photographs of Anastasia standing next to her sisters taken up until a year before her death showed that she was shorter than Olga and much shorter than Tatiana and Marie. In September 1917, ten months before the murders, Empress Alexandra wrote in her diary: “Anastasia is very fat, like Marie used to be—big, thick-waisted, tiny feet—I hope she grows more.” Could Anastasia have undergone a growth spurt of more than two inches during her final year? It is possible, says Maples, but highly unlikely.
A second reason was the development of the third molars of the three daughters whose remains are present. Dr. Levine, who examined the teeth in every skull, firmly supports Maples’ findings. “He did it anthropologically, I did it dentally; then, independently, we wrote down our estimates of the ages,” said Levine. “We came up with the same numbers.”
Finally, and for Maples most significantly, there was the condition of the vertebrae of the three youngest skeletons in Ekaterinburg. In his opinion, none displayed the characteristics of a seventeen-year-old female. Later, in his laboratory, Maples explained that human beings grow when their bones lengthen at the ends. Soft, cartilagelike material forms at these ends and gradually hardens into bone, making the overall bone—and the human being—larger or taller. In the vertebrae—the column of roundish bones making up the spine—the bones grow larger (and the human being taller) when cartilage forms and hardens on the edges of the upper and lower rims. “In an older person,” Maples explained, “or in portions of the back of a younger person, we have a completed ring around the top and bottom edge of the vertebrae. But when this person still is incomplete in this part of the vertebrae, it gives me a clue that we’re dealing with a young individual.”
Death, of course, arrests the process which transforms cartilage into bone, and in the skeletal bones of young people, the cartilage turns to a yellowish, waxy substance which tends to crumble and flake off. In his laboratory, Maples has several skeletons of adolescents; he used them to make his point: “This person’s vertebrae have the ring, but you see it is in the process of uniting and has flaked off here.… It is almost complete here, but you see is still open there.… Here, this one has virtually flaked off all around.… On this, it is present on the base, completely united with just a little scar on front, but the sides still show the opening.” Maples applied this knowledge and experience to the vertebrae he saw in Ekaterinburg: “Females age more quickly than males in the same age-group,” he said. “In a seventeen-year-old female, you expect to see incomplete vertebrae like this. None of the three skeletons in Ekaterinburg had any incomplete or even partially complete rings. This condition simply is not seen with a seventeen-year-old woman. I’ve never seen it. Since that time, I had a graduate student do a master’s thesis on it, and not in one seventeen-year-old female did we find any complete vertebrae in the back.”
Dr. Maples was well aware of the contradiction between his findings and those of Dr. Abramov. “I believe that Anastasia is missing, and he believes that the missing daughter is Marie,” he said. “I won’t change my mind and he won’t change his.” Why was Maples so certain that Abramov was wrong? His answers were blunt: he faulted Abramov’s technique in attempting to reconstruct with glue the damaged faces in Ekaterinburg. This job was done so poorly, he continued, that any effort to superimpose photographs and skulls could not possibly produce accurate knowledge. Reconstructing damaged faces from fragments of bone can be done, Maples said, but it has to be done with exquisite care. “I frequently reconstruct faces by gluing pieces of bone together,” he declared. “And for this reason I know that even when all the pieces of bone are there, a slight variation in the angle at which two pieces are glued together may result in several millimeters or even half a centimeter difference in where the bone is set. Then, when you try to piece another fragment in, it doesn’t fit. You’ve got a gap. It’s a half a centimeter too big or too small for the next fragment. You can’t get any of the rest to fit, all because one little angle was wrong earlier in the process.
“In the case of the Romanovs, whole portions of the face—the whole of the right or left side of the face in some of the daughters—were missing.” When Maples at one point discussed this with Abramov and asked the Russian scientist, “What happens if you have landmarks that are missing?” Abramov’s answer was “We estimate.” This was unacceptable to Maples. “The Russians had labored manfully over Body No. 6, attempting to restore its facial bones with generous dollops of glue stretched over wide gaps,” he said. “They were forced to estimate over and over again while assembling these fragments, almost none of which was touching another. It was a remarkable and ingenious exercise, but it was too fanciful for me to buy. Seeing what they had done reinforced my conviction that Anastasia was not in that room.”
Nor did Dr. Maples accept Dr. Abramov’s technique of computerized superimposition. “I do video superimposition,” he said, “but in my video superimposition setup we put the photograph under one video camera, we put the skull under another video camera, and we superimpose the images on a single monitor. I can change the position of the skull, I can change the size of the skull, I can move a skull, I can change its overall size in relation to the photograph, I can change its position relative to the face, but I can’t change proportion. It’s not within the system for me to be able to manipulate data. I do this using only cameras. If you use cameras and add a computer into the system, the computer can manipulate data and make things fit. And, in fact, Abramov’s whole system is designed to start with the skull that he digitalizes in three dimensions by only a few points. Then he manipulates that skull by the computer until it fits the photograph.”
Actually, before coming to Ekaterinburg, Maples had planned to return bringing his own superimposition photographs and equipment. But “because of the damage to the faces, I decided during my first visit that there wasn’t any use doing superimposition even to establish that it was the Imperial family, let alone discriminating between the three sisters,” he continued. “And then I learned that Abramov was basing his identification of which of the four sisters was missing upon the reconstructed faces. When that disagreed totally with the age findings that I had made with the skeletons and Lowell had made with the teeth, I simply could not accept the presence of Anastasia.”
On the larger issue, Maples agreed absolutely with Abramov that these are the Romanovs. The nine skeletons fit the requirements of age, sex, height, and weight of nine of the prisoners in the Ipatiev House. “If you were to go out at random and try to assemble another group of people to fit exactly these historical and physical descriptions, you would have to do remarkable research and then go out and find and kill nine identical people,” said Maples. He regards this as so unlikely as to be impossible.
What happened to the two missing bodies? Maples’ long experience with violent death tells him that all eleven prisoners were killed. Given the ferocity of the attack on the family, he cannot believe that anyone was allowed to escape alive from the Ipatiev cellar. For further explanation, he looks to the Yurovsky account, which he accepts as truthful. Yurovsky described the burning of two bodies. One was the tsarevich, the other a female body which Yurovsky at first thought belonged to Alexandra, then decided must be that of Demidova. This female body, Maples believes, belonged to Anastasia. But how could Yurovsky have mistaken the body of a seventeen-year-old girl for that of a mature woman, whether forty-six like the empress, or forty like the chambermaid?
The answer, Maples believes, lies in the changes wrought in the appearance of human bodies by decomposition. The Imperial family was killed in mid-July, when the daily temperature averaged seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Their faces had been crushed by repeated blows from rifle butts. Their hair, soaked with blood, would have dried into a black, caked, impenetrable mass. As the corpses, stripped of clothing, lay on the ground, the sex of the victims would have been obvious, but beyond that the naked bodies would have bloated to unrecognizability. Maples sometimes sees the bodies of adolescent girls, which, a few days after death, have ballooned to resemble obese middle-aged women.
There is more to the process of decomposition. In the open air, flies easily find their way to recent death. They lay eggs in eyes, nostrils, and—as in these victims—in the bloody flesh of mutilated faces and mangled bodies. Within two days in these temperatures, the eggs would have hatched into maggots. No more need be said except that Maples understands why Yurovsky might not have been sure which female body he burned.
In April 1993, Dr. William Hamilton, the Gainesville medical examiner, accompanied Maples on Maples’ second trip to Ekaterinburg. Later I asked them, based on their experience, what occurs in the mind of an executioner who is shooting, bayoneting, and crushing the faces of helpless people. Hamilton was first to answer: “I think it’s fairly typical of this kind of assassination. You depersonalize the victim and make him or her into a symbol, something other than an individual human being. You are killing the regime, the tsar, getting rid of the whole hated past and creating a new world order. Serial killers do the same thing. Commonly, they compartmentalize and completely dehumanize their victims and then can commit atrocities impossible for an ordinary person to imagine.” Maples agreed. “Once the decision was made to kill, under the circumstances you had that night in the Ipatiev House, I suspect that most of the participants wanted to make sure that it was done completely,” he said. “People don’t die the way you would like them to when you shoot them with handguns. They continue to live, they continue to moan, they convulse. And so, after emptying your handguns, you tend to use other means. And the rifle butts and bayonets were close at hand. That’s why I’m certain there were no survivors.”