It’s perhaps one of the most dramatic royal events to ever happen in our lifetimes, but it doesn’t involve the British monarchy.
On a summer’s night in Nepal in 2001, a drunk Crown Prince Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah ambushed a royal family gathering, opening fire and killing nine people — including his father, the King — before later turning the gun on himself.
In a single night, Nepal’s royal family was almost entirely wiped out. Their killer lay in a hospital bed in a coma, having been proclaimed King the moment his father died.
The massacre reportedly followed an argument between Dipendra and his parents, who objected to his plans to marry local aristocrat Devyani Rana.
It is believed Dipendra was threatened with being disinherited if he continued with the match and this may have been what drove him to murder on June 1, 2001.
Other experts have suggested the King’s decision to move towards a constitutional monarchy after an uprising in the 1990s had angered his son, who felt he was giving too much power away and worried about inheriting a diminished role.
While we may never know his real intentions, Dipendra wasn’t a ruler for long. Hours after the massacre, he was declared brain dead and his uncle Gyanendra became Nepal’s third King in three days.
The events shocked the nation, prompting a grieving public to take to the streets and riot for several days.
Many were incredulous that the popular prince could be responsible for such violence.
It kicked off a turbulent period in Nepal that culminated in the end of the country’s monarchy seven years after the massacre.
Fiercely republican Maoist politicians rode a wave of public resentment for King Gyanendra, to take the majority in the constitutional assembly.
The country that believed their royals were living Hindu gods gave the surviving family members 15 days to get out of the palace.
A beloved prince with a ‘dual character’
Crown Prince Dipendra, the eldest child of King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, was beloved by the people of Nepal, who fondly nicknamed him Dippy.
But according to Lieutenant General Vivek Kumar Shah, an aide-de-camp at the royal palace for 26 years who knew the Crown Prince from when he was small, the Crown Prince had another side.
“From the beginning he probably didn’t get the love he should have as a child. That’s what my belief is,” he told The World on the 10th anniversary of the massacre.
Prince Dipendra was educated at Eton College, the venerated British institution that schools future kings and prime ministers.
It was during this time he reportedly met the love of his life, Ms Rana, who was also studying in England.
The daughter of a leading Nepalese politician who was the descendent of an Indian maharajah might seem like the perfect match for a prince.
But Queen Aishwarya was determined to break up the relationship, instead insisting her son marry a distant relative of the House of Shah.
Ms Rana’s family were also sceptical. While the marriage would have made her the future queen of Nepal, her mother warned her she would have to get used to a far less lavish lifestyle.
“Devyani had grown up accustomed to extreme comfort and wealth,” the Nepali Times reported after the massacre.
“She further said that Nepali royalty was relatively very poor and she had to think seriously about whether her daughter could survive if she married into a poor house.”
But Dipendra and Devyani continued to see each other in secret for years, while the Crown Prince begged his parents to let them wed.
By 2001, the relationship between the King and Queen and their first-born son was at breaking point.
Newspaper clippings at the time reveal the Prince’s decision to not marry as he reached his thirties was threatening his status as heir to the throne.
One article dated from May 27, 2001 suggested “people are asking why the Crown Prince is unmarried at this age, and whether his future as the heir to the throne is in danger”.
“It is high time His Royal Highness got married. The Nepali people wish to celebrate his marriage soon and in the grandest manner,” it concluded.
But no-one expected a dinner at the palace dining hall just days later would end with bloodshed.
How the night unfolded
According to a government report into the massacre, Prince Dipendra showed up to a dinner party at the palace drunk on whiskey and high after smoking ”a special kind of cigarette prepared with a mixture of hashish and another unnamed black substance”.
After picking a fight with another guest, Dipendra was escorted back to his chambers by his brother Nirajan and a cousin.
From his bedroom, he called Ms Rana three times. She told authorities he was slurring his speech, but said the Prince told her during their final conversation that he was going to bed.
Instead, he emerged from his bedroom dressed in army fatigues and carrying three guns, including an M16 assault rifle.
A palace aide spotted him at the top of the stairs, but reportedly didn’t think anything was amiss given the Prince was known for collecting guns.
The dinner party in the billiard room was a private event just for royals so no guards were present.
As the Prince opened fire on his father, palace aides said they tried to break through a glass door to rescue the other members of the royal family.
A witness told the New York Times after killing several people in the billiard room, the Prince went in search of his mother in the garden.
“Don’t do it, please. Kill me if you want,” his little brother Nirajan reportedly said while shielding the Queen.
Dipendra murdered them both.
Finally after killing nine of his own relatives, including his parents and younger siblings, the prince’s uncle stepped forward.
“You have done enough damage, hand over the gun now,” he told his nephew.
Instead, Prince Dipendra shot and wounded him before turning the gun on himself.
20 years later, we still don’t know what really happened
The timing of the shootings and the immediate shut down of communications within the palace meant reporters were left scrambling for information in the hours afterwards.
Official reports of what happened were scarce. And many were left wondering who was in charge.
The event itself seemed almost impossible, like something that could have been lifted out of a Shakespearean tragedy. A family feud over a forbidden romance had escalated into violence and death in a matter of hours.
But once the shock had worn off, questions and doubts began to emerge.
How could the Crown Prince turn on his family in such a violent way? Were other forces behind the attack? And why did the investigation into the night only last for a week?
The rumours weren’t helped by the Prime Minister’s insistence early on that it was an accident.
“According to the information we have, the incident happened by an accidental firing of an automatic weapon, seriously injuring the king, the queen, the crown prince and members of the royal family,” prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala said.
It was dubbed Nepal’s “Kennedy assassination”. Reports suggested June 1, 2001 would become one of those events where people would be “forever diagramming the scene on pieces of paper, graphing the trajectory of bullets, speculating about other gunmen”.
After the massacre, an article by Baburam Bhattarai, an underground Maoist leader, suggested the royal murders were a result of a “political conspiracy”.
Two directors of Nepal’s biggest newspaper, Kantipur, were arrested for treason after it was published. The government later dropped the charges after intense backlash.
Other conspiracies concentrated closer to home. Suspicion soon fell on Prince Dipendra’s unpopular uncle and successor, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, who was not at the palace on the night of the massacre.
Wild rumours spread that Gyanendra colluded with his son Paras to carry out the murders and frame Dipendra so they could claim the throne for themselves.
Both men have vigorously denied involvement.
A former Nepalese foreign minister also claimed, without evidence, that India and the US were part of a joint plot to remove the royal family.
But for others, the massacre at the palace was simply destiny.
A prophecy fulfilled?
There is an old legend in Nepal dating back to 1769 when Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the three kingdoms and declared himself monarch.
The King was marching into the Kathmandu Valley when he came across a sage, or mystic, and offered him some yoghurt. The holy man tasted it, and returned the rest, declaring it blessed.
Unwilling to eat the yoghurt that had already been tasted by the sage, the King threw it on the ground.
The sage chastised the King for his pride and said if he’d eaten the yoghurt, every one of his wishes would have been fulfilled.
Instead, the yoghurt had splashed across the King’s 10 toes, ensuring his dynasty would fall after 10 generations.
For many Nepalese people, the death of King Birendra, the 11th ruler of the Shah dynasty, was written in the stars.
But two decades after the massacre, some are calling for the monarchy to be reinstated.
Earlier this year, thousands of people gathered in Kathmandu, seeking an end to democracy and a return of King Gyanendra.
“King, please come back and save our country,” they chanted.
“We want the monarchy back, abolish the republic.”