10. History’s Toughest Assassination in the form of a mystic with the Tsarina’s ear
Grigory Rasputin (1872 – 1916) was an illiterate Siberian peasant, lecher, mystic, and charlatan faith healer, whose ability to soothe the suffering of the young hemophiliac heir to the Russian throne won him the favor of his parents, the Russian Tsar and Tsarina. That favor made him an incongruously powerful and influential figure in the Russian Empire’s final years.
Rasputin was introduced to Tsarina Alexandria, whose son suffered from hemophilia, and was inexplicably able to soothe the child’s suffering. That earned him the mother’s fierce loyalty. She convinced herself that Rasputin was guided by God, and started soliciting his advice on matters of state and government. Soon, high officials were being appointed and dismissed based on Rasputin’s opinion. Those seeking advancement flocked to offer him lavish bribes, or sent their wives and daughters to seduce him into putting in a good word for them with the Tsar and Tsarina.
That scandalous state of affairs made the Tsarist government a laughingstock and brought it into low repute, but the Tsarina remained fiercely protective of Rasputin. So a group of aristocrats, led by a Prince Feliks Yusupov, decided to assassinate Rasputin in order to rid Russia of his malign influence. His death was to prove as dramatic as his life had been.
Rasputin was lured to Yusupov’s palace on the night of December 30th, 1916, on the pretext of meeting Yusupov’s wife, who was interested in “knowing” him. While waiting for Yusupov’s wife to “freshen up”, Rasputin was offered cakes and tea laced with cyanide. He ate and drank with no ill effects. He was then offered wine, also poisoned. He quaffed it down without a problem, asked for another glass, then one more after that, again, with no ill effects. Exasperated, Yusupov retrieved a pistol and shot Rasputin in the chest.
Believing him dead, the conspirators went about covering their tracks, only for Rasputin to rise hours later and attack Yusupov, who managed to free himself and flee up the stairs. Rasputin then left via the palace court yard, where the panicked conspirators caught up with him and shot him again. They then wrapped his body in a rug, cut a hole in a frozen river’s surface, and shoved beneath the ice. When his body was eventually recovered, it was reported that it had not been the bullets or poison that had killed him, but drowning – he was presumably still alive when thrown into the river.