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For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II

In the summer of 1978, a group of geologists traveled into Siberia and discovered a family that had not had outside contact with anyone in four decades:

"In some respects, Peskov makes clear, the taiga did offer some abundance: 'Beside the dwelling ran a clear, cold stream. Stands of larch, spruce, pine and birch yielded all that anyone could take.… Bilberries and raspberries were close to hand, firewood as well, and pine nuts fell right on the roof.'

"Yet the Lykovs lived permanently on the edge of famine. It was not until the late 1950s, when Dmitry reached manhood, that they first trapped animals for their meat and skins. Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion. Dmitry built up astonishing endurance, and could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders. More often than not, though, there was no meat, and their diet gradually became more monotonous. Wild animals destroyed their crop of carrots, and Agafia recalled the late 1950s as 'the hungry years.'"
AUTHOR:Mike Dash
PUBLISHED: Jan. 29, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3447 words)

Quite Likely the Worst Job Ever

Inside 19th Century London's sewers with "toshers," who made a living by scouring for trash and waste to be resold:

"They were mostly celebrated, nonetheless, for the living that the sewers gave them, which was enough to support a tribe of around 200 men–each of them known only by his nickname: Lanky Bill, Long Tom, One-eyed George, Short-armed Jack. The toshers earned a decent living; according to Mayhew’s informants, an average of six shillings a day–an amount equivalent to about $50 today. It was sufficient to rank them among the aristocracy of the working class–and, as the astonished writer noted, 'at this rate, the property recovered from the sewers of London would have amounted to no less than £20,000 [today $3.3 million] per annum.'"
AUTHOR:Mike Dash
PUBLISHED: June 29, 2012
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3178 words)

The Ax Murderer Who Got Away

On June 10, 1912, a family was brutally murdered in a small Iowa town. The murders remain unsolved:

"The Moores were not discovered until several hours later, when a neighbor, worried by the absence of any sign of life in the normally boisterous household, telephoned Joe’s brother, Ross, and asked him to investigate. Ross found a key on his chain that opened the front door, but barely entered the house before he came rushing out again, calling for Villisca’s marshal, Hank Horton. That set in train a sequence of events that destroyed what little hope there may have been of gathering useful evidence from the crime scene. Horton brought along Drs. J. Clark Cooper and Edgar Hough and Wesley Ewing, the minister of the Moore’s Presbyterian congregation. They were followed by the county coroner, L.A. Linquist, a third doctor, F.S. Williams (who became the first to examine the bodies and estimate a time of death). When a shaken Dr Williams emerged, he cautioned members of the growing crowd outside: 'Don’t go in there, boys; you’ll regret it until the last day of your life.' Many ignored the advice; as many as 100 curious neighbors and townspeople tramped as they pleased through the house, scattering fingerprints, and in one case even removing fragments of Joe Moore’s skull as a macabre keepsake."
AUTHOR:Mike Dash
PUBLISHED: June 8, 2012
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3458 words)

The Epic Struggle to Tunnel Under the Thames

A brief history of the many attempts during the 19th Century to build a tunnel under the Thames River in London:

"Another bridge was out of the question—it would deny sailing ships access to the Pool of London—and ambitious men turned their thoughts to driving a tunnel beneath the Thames instead. This was not such an obvious idea as it might appear. Although demand for coal was growing fast as the industrial revolution hit high gear, working methods remained primitive. Tunnels were dug by men wielding picks in sputtering candlelight.

"No engineers had tunneled under a major river, and the Thames was an especially tricky river. To the north, London was built on a solid bed of clay, ideal tunneling material. To the south and east, however, lay deeper strata of water-bearing sand, gravel and oozing quicksand, all broken up by layers of gravel, silt, petrified trees and the debris of ancient oyster beds. The ground was semi-liquid, and at depth it became highly pressurized, threatening to burst into any construction site."
AUTHOR:Mike Dash
PUBLISHED: Jan. 3, 2012
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2399 words)

The Body on Somerton Beach

Most murders aren’t that difficult to solve. The husband did it. The wife did it. The boyfriend did it, or the ex-boyfriend did. The crimes fit a pattern, the motives are generally clear. Of course, there are always a handful of cases that don’t fit the template, where the killer is a stranger or the reason for the killing is bizarre. It’s fair to say, however, that nowadays the authorities usually have something to go on. Thanks in part to advances such as DNA technology, the police are seldom baffled anymore. They certainly were baffled, though, in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, in December 1948.
AUTHOR:Mike Dash
PUBLISHED: Aug. 12, 2011
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3650 words)