King of the Hill

Andres Beckett dreamed of competing in a punishing rodeo event known as the Suicide Race. But more difficult than charging down its dangerously steep track was earning a spot at the starting line:

It’s not hard to see what makes the race so dangerous. There’s the hill itself, more than 200 feet of earth pitched at a harrowing angle—according to one race organizer’s measurement, it’s steeper than the Great Pyramid of Giza. Riders charge down the slope at full gallop, reaching speeds up to 30 miles per hour by the time they hit the river. Then there’s the lack of any hard-and-fast rules about how the race should be run. Horses aren’t lined up in an orderly fashion at the starting line. What happens on Suicide Hill is a free-for-all, with mounted jockeys jostling each other, fighting for a competitive spot. The aggression only escalates during the race. Riders violently whipping other jockeys in the face with their crops, attempting to throw them off balance or slow them down, is a common tactic, and often a successful one.

The best Suicide Race jockeys are adrenaline junkies, as athletic as they are knowledgeable of the event’s 1,260-foot-long course. They’ve meticulously mapped out the quarter-mile and know what to do when: Lean back before this point, lock your knees here, sit forward just after that section, pull back the reins there. Riders have incredible core and leg strength to help them stay in the saddle, and they know how far their bodies can tilt sideways if need be, to avoid injury or inflict it on a competitor.

Source: The Atavist
Published: Jul 29, 2022
Length: 38 minutes (9,627 words)

Follow the Leader

In the waning days of the Cold War, Rainer Sonntag helped fuel a neo-Nazi movement that still plagues Germany today. He was also a Communist spy—and he worked for Vladimir Putin:

Author Regine Igel, who has studied extremism in modern Germany, believes that the East German intelligence apparatus was engaged in “massive and long-term support and direction of German and international terrorism,” exploiting extremists on both right and left to destabilize the West. By Sonntag’s time, however, the authorities’ approach to the far right may have become more pragmatic, concerned with heading off neo-Nazi attacks against border installations and countering the spread of the ideology in East Germany. “Following the logic of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend,’ there was a basis for cooperation,” historian Bernhard Blumenau said. “This was realpolitik at its best.”

Unleashing Sonntag in West Germany was a gamble. He was a loner, with few personal relationships to ground him. There was a good chance that, once free, he would simply vanish. But he was about to surprise his handlers.

Source: The Atavist
Published: Jun 30, 2022
Length: 33 minutes (8,300 words)

The Fugitive Next Door

Tim Brown seemed like a typical Florida retiree—he loved doting on his wife, fishing with friends, and flying his plane. But his life was built on a secret:

For the previous 35 years, Tim Brown had been living a carefully constructed lie. He wasn’t just an aging retiree with a passion for aviation. In fact, he wasn’t Tim Brown at all. His real name was Howard Farley Jr., and law enforcement alleged that he’d been the leader of one of the largest drug-trafficking rings in Nebraska history.

As he was placed under arrest, a wry grin spread across his face. “I had mentally prepared myself for being caught,” he would later say. “When it happened, with men pointing guns at me, the only thing to do was smile.”

Source: The Atavist
Published: May 31, 2022
Length: 40 minutes (10,000 words)

A Crime Beyond Belief

A Harvard-trained lawyer was convicted of committing bizarre home invasions. Psychosis may have compelled him to do it. But in a case that became a public sensation, he wasn’t the only one who seemed to lose touch with reality:

As suddenly as the Peeping Tom incidents started, they stopped. “It was about the same time that the Vallejo kidnapping happened,” the Mustang owner told Carausu. Why does that ring a bell? she thought.

After the Dublin home invasion and Muller’s arrest, a colleague of Carausu’s had put out an alert asking area police departments for information about similar crimes. Vallejo didn’t respond. Online, Carausu found news stories about the kidnapping, which occurred three months earlier. She noted that one of the victims had blond hair. Then she remembered why the case had caught her attention: The Vallejo police had deemed it a hoax.

Source: The Atavist
Published: Apr 29, 2022
Length: 76 minutes (19,000 words)

The Caregivers

Kelly Loudenberg tells the poignant story of an imprisoned artist, the couple who saved his life, and the extraordinary gift he gave in return:

Janie called Danny on Christmas Eve, and the next day he left the Upper Peninsula. Janie asked him to stay for a few months, but it wasn’t long before Danny again made a choice: Buzz would be his reason for living, and this time Janie would be too. “I will stay,” Danny told Janie, “until the end.”

Source: The Atavist
Published: Mar 31, 2022
Length: 34 minutes (8,600 words)

The Shadow and The Ghost

“In interwar Brooklyn, a woman who called herself Reverend Mother claimed that she could perform miracles. The price was her followers’ adoration and obedience — and in some cases their lives.”

Source: The Atavist
Published: Jan 31, 2022
Length: 64 minutes (16,000 words)

‘We Wish to Be Able to Sing’

“For more than half a century, the people of Easter Island lived under an oppressive colonial regime. Then a schoolteacher sparked an unlikely revolution.”

Source: The Atavist
Published: Dec 30, 2021
Length: 64 minutes (16,000 words)

Searching for Mr. X

“For eight years, a man without a memory lived among strangers at a hospital in Mississippi. But was recovering his identity the happy ending he was looking for?”

Source: The Atavist
Published: Sep 30, 2021
Length: 36 minutes (9,232 words)

The Girl in the Picture

“A sketch artist and a grieving mother set out to solve a cold case. The more they dug, the more terrifying the truth became.”

Source: The Atavist
Published: Aug 31, 2021
Length: 34 minutes (8,600 words)

The Love Bomb

“For 50 years, Enthusiastic Sobriety programs have promised to help teenagers kick drug and alcohol addiction. But former followers say ES doesn’t save lives—it destroys them.”

Source: The Atavist
Published: Jul 30, 2021
Length: 78 minutes (19,700 words)