:British spy 'fired the shot that finished off Rasputin'
By Karyn Miller
Rasputin, the Russian monk who became the confidant of Alexandra, the Tsarina, and her husband, Tsar Nicholas II, was killed by a British agent, according to a documentary to be broadcast next month.
An investigation into his death in 1916 has concluded that he was murdered not as had been supposed by disaffected Russian aristocrats but by Oswald Rayner, a member of the Secret Intelligence Bureau who was working at the Russian court in St Petersburg.
Richard Cullen, a retired Scotland Yard commander who has been studying the case with Andrew Cook, an intelligence historian, says that a new forensic analysis and an examination of official records helped him to reach his conclusion.
"I am 99.9 per cent certain of this," said Mr Cullen, whose findings will be broadcast in the BBC2 Timewatch programme on October 1. "There is a fair weight of evidence to show that Rayner was the man. We have conclusive proof that the previously accepted versions of events are fabrications."
Rasputin claimed to have "mystical powers", which gained him the confidences of first the Tsarina, Alexandra - who thought that he could cure her haemophiliac son - and Tsar Nicholas. But he was highly unpopular among courtiers and his killers evaded trial, publishing memoirs that described the murder in detail.
Now it is claimed that the SIB wanted to kill Rasputin, who was hoping to broker peace between Russia and Germany, because of his influence over the Tsar. The fear, according to Mr Cullen, was that if such a deal had been agreed in 1916, 350,000 German troops would have been freed to fight the Allies on the Western Front.
According to Timewatch Rayner was known to be in St Petersburg in December 1916 when Rasputin died. A close friend from university was Prince Felix Yusupov, at whose sumptuous palace the murder took place.
Yusupov claimed a prominent role in the death. In his account, until now the accepted version of events, he lured Rasputin to his palace and fed him cyanide-laced cakes. When these did not take effect, he got a gun from the study where his co-conspirators waited, and fired at the monk's heart.
He returned to the murder scene an hour later and was horrified to discover that Rasputin was still alive. The monk leapt to his feet, attacked Yusupov, then fled into the courtyard where he was gunned down by another conspirator, Vladimir Purishkevich.
Yusupov wrote that the next day he dined with Rayner, who "knew of our conspiracy and had come in search of news".
The BBC documentary says that modern forensic evidence contradicts this account. Post-mortem photographs of Rasputin show a mysterious third bullet wound in the centre of his forehead. The precise positioning of this, the fatal shot, suggests that it was the work of a professional killer. It was also fired at close range, yet Purishkevich shot Rasputin from behind, at a distance.
The three bullet holes are of different sizes, and forensic scientists have now determined that the bullets were fired from three different guns.
Mr Cullen concludes that there was a third gunman, and that this was Rayner, who knew about the plot, was at the palace and wanted Rasputin dead.
Photographs of the palace taken after the body was discovered show a long, straight line of blood across the courtyard, ending in a pool of blood near a gate where a car was waiting.
Mr Cullen surmises that after being shot by both Yusupov and Purishkevich, Rasputin was carried across the courtyard but that before they reached the car, which was to have disposed of the body, he showed faint signs of life. Rayner promptly dispatched him with a bullet to the head.
Rayner's involvement was kept secret by his superiors and by the Russian conspirators, who were eager to gain the glory themselves. Further weight to this new version of events is a copy of a memo sent between Rayner's two superiors in St Petersburg, John Scale and Stephen Alley, who were away at the time of the murder. The memo reads: "Although matters have not proceeded entirely to plan, our objective has clearly been achieved. Reaction to the demise of 'Dark Forces' [a codename for Rasputin] has been well received by all, although a few awkward questions have already been asked about wider involvement. Rayner is attending to loose ends and will no doubt brief you on your return."
If Rayner was the killer he never spoke about what he had done. He burnt all his papers and took the secret to his grave in 1961. He left Russia before the end of the war and in 1920 worked for The Daily Telegraph as Finnish correspondent.
He spent his final years in the village of Botley, Oxfordshire, where he was a fund-raiser for his local church. His only son, John Felix Rayner, named after his friend Yusupov, died in 1965.