Prince Vladimirov was found dead the day after he closed the Imperial Marionette Theatre and transferred its building and assets to the ballet company that were run by his lover. The Okhrana opened up a special investigation to deal with the matter, since it seemed obvious that one of the marionette makers had been involved. Vladimirov had, after all, been found in his own dressing room, hung from the same horsehair ropes that were used in the elaborate puppetry masques of old.

But the staff were carefully accounted for in the investigation, with the orchestra playing at an engagement across the Neva and the major marionette players performing at a private engagement for Grand Duke Mikhail. Even vengeful old Sakharov, the theater’s owner, manager, and head puppetteer, had spent the previous day vainly attempting to secure a personal audience with the Czar or Czarina. The Okhrana determined their movements rather precisely, given their informants and the aristocratic circles in which the puppeteers and musicians tended to move.

In the end, those in the Prince’s inner circle privately suggested that he had used the marionette cord, which had been quite accessible to him after the theatre’s closure, for an unwise bout of autoerotic asphyxiation. Nevertheless, Sakharov was officially charged with the crime and exiled to Siberia–who, after all, would have wanted to tell the Czar that his second cousin had died in such a sinful way?

The Okhrana report tactfully omitted the tiny footprints found in the dust on the closet floor and on Vladimirov’s shirt.

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