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Tucked next to a hedge in a cemetery rests a simple headstone covered in grass clippings, a grave that poses a complex historical question.

The marker bears the double-headed eagle of the Russian Imperial Family. Below the flag is the name Romanov: His Imperial Highness Alexei Nicolaievich Czarevitch Sovereign Heir Grand Duke of Russia.

If the remains beneath the stone are those of that Alexei, he was son of Czar Nicholas II, heir to the Russian throne.

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Alexei was allegedly killed with his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918 following the Russian Revolution the previous year, but his remains have never been identified, creating another mystery around a family that has many.

The Burnaby grave belongs to Alexei Tammet-Romanov, who died June 26, 1977.

He was a secretive man, said his widow, Sandra Tammet-Romanov. Even as she agreed to marry him in 1957, she suspected there was more to Heino Tammet, as he was then known.

"It was all through that year that it came out," she said in an interview. "A dribble here, a dribble there."

Once they were dancing to music from the 1956 Ingrid Bergman film Anastasia, a movie about one of the lost grand duchesses. He began to cry.

Why? she asked.

" 'I had a sister once,"' he told her. "'Her name was Anastasia."

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Another time, she asked what happened to his family.

" 'They were all killed by the Communists,' " he told her. "That struck us as very strange."

Finally, she asked: "Who are you?"

He gave her a book. It was Prince Felix Yussupov's Lost Splendor, a tome about the lives of the Russian rulers. It contained pictures of the heir.

" 'I am the little boy in the book,' he said. He said he was Alexei."

When he died, Tammet-Romanov's death was noted in the Vancouver Sun on July 2, 1977. The obituary carried the double-headed eagle crest, calling the man His Imperial Highness Alexei Nicolaievich, Grand Duke of Russia.

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Vancouver journalist and period historian John Kendrick believes Tammet-Romanov was the czarevitch.

But not so, say the academics.

Michael Futrell, a retired University of British Columbia professor, firmly believes that Alexei Romanov died in 1918.

"There's been so many crooks and lunatics and swindlers involved in this thing for so many years," he said.

And he's got a friend of the Romanov Imperial family in his corner. Marvin Lyons, also a historian, said Tammet-Romanov's story is ridiculous.

"I've known about this man and his claims since the mid-1970s," said Mr. Lyons, who now lives in Richmond. "This is all make-believe."

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Ms. Tammet-Romanov said her husband expected that people would not believe his claims of nobility.

" 'I know who I am,' " she said he told her. " 'No one can say who I am or not.' "

She said he could not forgive the Communists for the executions.

" 'To kill father and myself [was acceptable given their positions] but to kill my mother and my beautiful sisters, I cannot forgive,' " she recounts him saying.

Mr. Kendrick readily acknowledges stories about pretenders to thrones often lack credibility.

But he said there are too many things about Tammet-Romanov he wants answers to.

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When the Duke of Windsor died in 1972, Tammet-Romanov sent a letter of condolence to the Queen, signing it with his royal title.

The RCMP arrived at Tammet-Romanov's home soon after.

He showed them a scar he said came from the butt of a rifle during the executions. He also showed them he had an undescended testicle, as did the czarevitch, his widow explains.

"You cannot have so much wound up in one person unless it is that person," she said.

It was Mr. Lyons who called the RCMP after the letter to the Queen.

He did so after being asked to look into Tammet-Romanov by Lord Louis Mountbatten, uncle to the Queen's husband, Prince Philip.

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"There are all kinds of these people around," Mr. Lyons said. ". . . They're just people who are unhappy about their role in life and are trying to create something that is more interesting."

A year later, when the Queen's daughter, Princess Anne, married Mark Phillips, Tammet-Romanov again sent a telegram.

A thank-you telegram came back addressed to Alexei Nicolaevich, Czarevitch, Grand Duke of Russia.

The same thing happened when King Carl Gustaf of Sweden married Queen Silvia in 1976. Mr. Kendrick asks why the crowned heads of Europe and their families would be responding to this man.

The imperial family was arrested and gunned down in a basement room of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinberg in Russia's Ural region.

After the shooting, the family's remains were thrown down a mineshaft. The remains were later reburied in the St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Two children, however, are missing from the tomb.

The case of Grand Duchess Anastasia remains unsolved, although many women claimed to be daughters of the last czar.

But, Mr. Kendrick says, while there have been many people who have claimed to be Alexei, the man lying in the Burnaby grave seems to carry the credentials of the last czar's son.

Of all those who have claimed to be Alexei, he's the only one that died of a blood disease, an imperial family trait.

He also has an undisputed connection: His foster mother was born on one of the imperial family's estates and she was a member of the Beckendorff family, whose name dots European royal history.

Tammet-Romanov fled to Estonia from Russia in 1921 with the woman's family and lived under the name Ernest Veermann. In 1937, he changed it to Heino Tammet.

Fleeing the advancing Red Army, Tammet-Romanov moved to Sweden in 1944 and to Canada eight years later.

Mr. Kendrick, however, remains mystified about one thing.

He said Tammet-Romanov's widow sent two of her husband's teeth for DNA analysis in England so the mystery could be solved, but the results have never been released.

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