July 10, 2008

Solving One of The Great Mysteries Of The 20th Century

WASHINGTON, July 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On July 17, 1918, Bolshevik revolutionaries gunned down Russia's Tsar Nicholas II and his family in a Siberian home. But the events of that night have remained shrouded in mystery and controversy. Rumors persisted that some in the family might have escaped, including the tsar's youngest daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia, her sister Grand Duchess Maria and their brother Crown Prince Alexei, the 13-year-old heir to the throne. In 1991, the unearthing of remains in a remote forest grave suggested that the Romanovs were found -- most of them, at least. The bones of Alexei and one of the sisters were missing. Now, a recently uncovered second grave reveals the truth behind the royal family's final grisly chapter: None of them got out alive.

In conjunction with the 90th anniversary of the assassination, National Geographic Channel's (NGC) Explorer goes inside the investigation with exclusive access to the forensic investigation. Premiering Tuesday, July 22, 2008, at 10 PM ET/PT, Explorer: Finding Anastasia puts the mystery of the Romanov family's fate to rest. Working in collaboration with the Russian government, American investigator Dr. Anthony Falsetti, a veteran of the 9/11 investigation, travels to Russia to examine the remains. Garnering DNA, ballistics and the very latest forensic analysis, an international team of scientists, including Dr. Michael Coble, one of the world's leading forensic DNA experts, labors to find the truth.

In 1991, a media firestorm surrounded the discovery of the first set of Romanov bones and subsequent controversial findings. In the end, the Russian Orthodox Church rejected DNA evidence as tainted and refused to acknowledge that the remains were in fact the Romanovs. Dr. Falsetti was part of the original investigative team, and now, he hopes the second gravesite discovery, found just 70 yards from the first, will end all speculation on the Romanovs' fate.

The newly uncovered bones undergo intense 21st century forensic science scrutiny, but not without plenty of obstacles. First, Dr. Falsetti and Dr. Coble discover that the 44 bone fragments are severely broken, almost unrecognizable, and that they show evidence of burning. Confirming the unique royal genes in the fragments will be painstaking and require that the remains be carefully sent from Russia to the United States.

Separate from the DNA analysis, Dr. Falsetti reviews artifacts such as bullets recovered from the gravesite and combs through the archival accounts of the executioners to see if the history and bones tell a common story. The newly discovered bullets turn out to be nearly identical to those found in the first grave.

Then, Explorer: Finding Anastasia unfolds the gruesome story of why two bodies would be separated from the others, and in the process, finds that some of the greatest savagery by the Bolsheviks likely began when the shooting finished. Experts now believe that first, the bodies were thrown down a mine shaft -- only to be retrieved shortly after the burial location was leaked to the locals. The perpetrators then planned to switch locations and incinerate two of the corpses. Because of the lengthy burning process, they dismembered the corpses and covered them with acid to disfigure them beyond recognition. Running out of time before dawn, they threw the other nine bodies into another hole and covered them in acid.

Cuts and burn marks in the newly discovered bones corroborate a story of the executioners' barbaric acts. Falsetti is haunted by the story. "I am a scientist but I am also a father. And this is a horrible, terrible thing to have happened to very young people," he says.

Five months after first selecting the bone samples for analysis, Dr. Coble is now ready to share his findings on DNA. The evidence is overwhelming that the bone fragments belong to Crown Prince Alexei and one of his sisters. That sister was either Maria or Anastasia. But beyond that the DNA is silent. One thing is for sure: The entire Romanov family is accounted for. And despite the persistent claims, Anastasia, the youngest Romanov daughter, did not escape.

Explorer: Finding Anastasia is produced for the National Geographic Channel by National Geographic Television (NGT). For NGT senior producer is Robert Zakin, and executive producer is Jonathan Halperin. For NGC executive producer is Kathleen Cromley, senior vice president of production and development is Juliet Blake, and executive vice president of content is Steve Burns.

Based at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., the National Geographic Channel (NGC) is a joint venture between National Geographic Ventures (NGV) and Fox Cable Networks (FCN). Since launching in January 2001, NGC initially earned some of the fastest distribution growth in the history of cable and more recently the fastest ratings growth in television. The network celebrated its fifth anniversary January 2006 with the launch of NGC HD which provides the spectacular imagery that National Geographic is known for in stunning high-definition. NGC has carriage with all of the nation's major cable and satellite television providers, making it currently available to nearly 68 million homes. For more information, please visit http://www.natgeotv.com/.

National Geographic Channel

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