Russian Heir, 32, Mysteriously Commits Suicide

Among the long list of small, paid obituaries that ran in The New York Times on Sunday was a recognizable name: Romanoff.

Theodore Romanoff, the grandson of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailvich, the cousin and brother-in-law of Emperor Nicholas II, died, according to the announcement, as a result of a "terrible accident" on Aug. 25, 2007.

Little information was provided in the mysterious death notice; indeed, it had all the secrecy so characteristic of Russia's former first family. Was it some sort of odd scam? And if the deceased was really a relative of the legendary czars, how did he end up as a footnote in the death notices?

Upon further investigation, Romanoff's cause of death was suicide, according to the Broward County Police Department, which told that he was found dead outside his home in Pompano Beach, Fla., by a neighborhood window washer.

The 32-year-old suffered multiple blunt trauma wounds to his head, according to the medical examiner's office, which said it believed that Romanoff jumped from his house. The office didn't suspect that foul play had contributed to his death.

Toxicology reports, which will determine whether Romanoff was using drugs or alcohol when he committed suicide, will not be completed for another few weeks.

His mother, Janet Romanoff, was unavailable for comment regarding her son's death.

The Romanoff Family Legacy

Theodore's suicide is the latest tragedy for a family that has experienced centuries of violence and upheaval.

A notoriously private family, the Romanoffs have a history in Russia that spans more than 400 years. Emperor Nicholas II abdicated the throne to the Bolsheviks' communist regime in 1917. After Nicholas gave up the throne, his children were executed.

The few members of the extended Romanoff family who were not brutally killed by the Bolsheviks fled Russia in the early 20th century. Theodore's father, Nikita, eventually came to the United States, settling in New York City and marrying Theodore's mother — now the only remaining immediate family member — Janet Romanoff.

After suffering a stroke, Nikita died in May 2007. The obituary noted that Theodore had spent much of his time caring for his sick father.

"I would always see Theo carrying his father in his arms around the courtyard," said a doorman at the family's New York City apartment building, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

So what, exactly, provoked the young Romanoff whose own obituary described him as gentle, loving and kind to commit suicide remains a mystery? The answers are elusive.

A Fallen Heir

"They were a very, very private family," said Dianne Johnston, who for 35 years has lived next door to the Romanoffs' Florida home where Theodore killed himself. "Theodore has always been a little different. He wasn't a regular teenager like my kids; he was very intellectual."

Theodore studied classics and Egyptian and ancient languages at Columbia and Brown universities, where he received a master's with honors.

Angela Hussein, one of his classmates at Brown, said that everyone around campus knew Theodore, and that despite his obviously famous last name, Theodore never really talked about his Russian background.

"[Brown] tended to be everyone talking about international traveling or their diplomatic parents, but Theodore tended to be in his own world," said Hussein. "He never drank or did drugs; he was very health conscious. He was a vegan and had reasons behind it: He wanted to be very pacific and didn't want to hurt animals."

When asked whether she ever saw Theodore dating, Hussein responded that she never saw him with a girlfriend or a boyfriend and that she never heard him speak about a significant other.

And as for the fabulous Romanoff fortune, most, if not all, would have been left in banks in Russia and later stolen by the Bolsheviks, according to Peter Sarandinaki, president and founder of SEARCH, an organization that investigates the remaining Romanoff heirs.

The apartment Theodore shared with his parents in New York — the same one his mother resides in today — is a rent-controlled two-bedroom in a modest building constructed in the 1950s, according to the doorman, who has known the Romanoff family for more than 25 years.

Was lineage part of their destiny or was the Romanoffs' most recent fall from grace simply the struggles of an ordinary family? Russian historians believe the family had no delusions of grandeur.

"The chances of a restoration in Russia are virtually nonexistent," said Harvard University historian Richard Pipes. "[The Romanoffs] are essentially regular people, refugees."