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The world’s spookiest unsolved mystery

Yesterday I had one of those “I feel like a real author” moments. It might surprise some of you to discover I rarely feel this way. Real authors are reviewed in major newspapers, have six-or-seven figure book deals, movie options, and hardbacks in all the big bookstores, after all. Their books are translated into every language, making the NYT list is a given, and each new release already has thousands of reviews.

Return to Dyatlov Pass will be available in German!

I’ve set myself up a bit, haven’t I? Nevertheless, I got to experience a little bit of the Real Author euphoria when I discovered the German edition of Return to Dyatlov Pass is available for preorder. This is the first time one of my novels has been translated, and the cover is awesome. I’m beyond thrilled. For those of you with German friends and family, I’d be honoured if you’d help spread the word.

Speaking of Dyatlov, the book appeared on another “best of” list, which I also discovered yesterday. Thanks to Brian Fatah Steele for including me with such esteemed company. It wasn’t that long ago (try 2017) since I was never included on such a list, so I’m always moved to tears when it happens.

Fans of the book will be happy to know that Nat, Dyatlov’s protagonist, is returning in my next Severed Press novel, Valley of the Sasquatch. I’m planning for a spring release. (Igor may be making a comeback as well.)

As discussed in a previous post, I’m starting a vlog this year, and it seems fitting that my first episode will tackle the Dyatlov Pass Incident, which is easily the creepiest, most disturbing, unsolved mystery of all time. Do you have any questions you’d like me to answer on the vlog? Any theories you’d like me to weigh in on? Please leave them in the comments.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, here is the story of what happened. It’s long, but it’s a fascinating tale, I promise.

So what happened to the ill-fated campers? There are tons of theories.

  • Avalanche: The problem with this popular theory is that there was no sign of an avalanche. Other than the damage done by the campers while they were escaping, the tent was still intact. The searchers could clearly see the campers’ footprints. And the area was not known for avalanches.
  • Infrasounds: A low-frequency sound that could have been caused by the wind going around the mountain. Infrasounds have apparently been known to drive people crazy, but since two of the campers built a successful fire, it doesn’t seem like they were completely mad. And wouldn’t the effects of the infrasound wear off before everyone died? It seems strange that it would have affected nine reportedly level-headed, capable people the same way.
  • Government cover-up/conspiracy: This happened during the Cold War, so the military involvement in the investigation raised some eyebrows. There is a lot of speculation that the campers stumbled upon something they shouldn’t have, or were killed accidentally during a weapons test, and the government then staged their deaths to look like an accident. By why such elaborate staging? Why not leave the bodies all in one place? And why tear out one woman’s tongue and the muscles inside her mouth? If they were trying to make the deaths look like a run-of-the-mill accident, I’d say they did a shitty job.
  • Yeti/Bigfoot: This theory really took off when a piece of paper was discovered in the tent. One of the campers had written, “From now on we know, that snowmen exist.” But there were no large prints at the site, nor the destruction of bodies we’d expect to see if there was an animal involved. The tent was cut open from the inside. And unless there were a team of Yetis, how did one creature take out nine people without leaving evidence of a struggle at the scene? Some believe the note was planted at the site, or made up later, or was a joke. There’s no evidence to believe it was serious.
  • UFOs: It’s pretty obvious how this theory caught on–the military involvement and the radiation on the clothing of some of the victims. Since the campers were students who worked in labs, some believe the radiation came from the university, but I call bullshit on that. I doubt they wore the same clothing camping that they did in a lab–usually protective clothes were in order when you’re working with radiation, even in the 1950s. When one of the police inspectors brought a Geiger counter to the scene, it reportedly went nuts, which could have been from military testing in the area. The same inspector also noticed the tops of some of the trees were burned. Others who were camping nearby reported seeing mysterious orange lights in the sky around the time the group died, and the last photo taken by the group shows huge, blurry lights.
  • Avalanche Paranoia: Some believe that the group could have heard rumbling on the mountain and fled their camp, thinking an avalanche was imminent. But wouldn’t they have eventually headed back? And would everyone have been struck with this paranoia simultaneously? By all reports, these were serious and experienced outdoors people who had gone on many similar excursions.
  • Mansi People: This theory purports that the local nomadic herders attacked the group for encroaching on their land. But not only did the Mansis not view the mountain as sacred–they called it “Dead Mountain” because of the lack of game. They’d also learned long before not to piss off the Russians, and were super cooperative with the police, even helping with the search to find the campers. They had no motive.
  • Wolves/Bears/Other animals: Again, no prints, and not enough destruction of the soft tissues of the bodies. Also, no sign that any of the bodies were dragged. Animals tend to be messy eaters. And they certainly wouldn’t have left the supplies in the tent untouched for months.

Interestingly enough, one theory that’s never mentioned is the human element (beyond the Mansis). If you delve into this case, you’ll see lots of claims that there were no signs of a struggle or defensive wounds on the bodies. But all of the bruising–especially on the hands and face–the fractures, the abrasions–could definitely be the result of a struggle. But what immense force crushed the bodies? Why did some live longer than others? Why did they decompose at different rates, and what on earth was going on with that radiation?

As frustrating as it is to contemplate, the Dyatlov Pass Incident is a mystery that will most likely never be solved. Many of the people involved in the original investigation are dead.

Yuri Yudin, 22, the only surviving member of the group, died in 2013. The day of the camping trip, he’d become ill and had to turn back before his friends trekked into the mountains. He wasn’t with them on that fateful night.

“If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be, ‘What really happened to my friends that night?’” he once said. Me too, Yuri.

What do you think happened at Dyatlov Pass? Let’s talk theories!

PS – For more unsolved mysteries and other creepy stories, plus free books, please sign up for my Hidden Library.

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40 Comments

  1. That cover looks amazing. Congrats on the German translation! The theories are really interesting. Maybe it was a combination of a few of them – a UFO landing by aliens who happen to look like Yetis which was then covered up by the government 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s it exactly! But how did you know?

      Reply
  2. Congratulations on the translation! That’s a cool thing to see, isn’t it? And the cover is amazing.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Alex. I was SO excited.

      Reply
  3. If the local nomads called this the ‘Dead Mountain’ because of the absence of game, this implies that other mountains in the area were inhabited by animals. Now I want to know: why did animals stay away from (or die on) this particular mountain?

    My second observation is that when disaster strikes, it’s usually for a combination of causes. There’s rarely one thing that goes wrong, but several factors combine: human error, betrayal, technical failure, extreme weather and more, one after the other, each making the situation worse.

    I imagine this was the case here, too. While no single theory explains everything, a combination of several, one after the other, can offer plausible explanation.

    What if infrasounds affected the sanity of of some group members – not enough to cause the bizarre behaviour, but to reduce their ability to judge a dangerous situation with calm competence? What if there was radiation from secret military experiments – not enough to kill the campers, and certainly not cause the bizarre behaviour and injuries, but explaining the subsequent cover-up? What if there were tensions in the group, and the passionate hatred escalated that night, causing a rift, with each faction blaming the other for the subsequent misfortunes, and preventing them from facing the problem as an effective team? What if one of the group was a sadist who until then had suppressed his urges and led a law-abiding life, but the situation unleased his gruesome instincts? And so on.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good point, Rayne. Thanks for the great comment! I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re not too far off from the truth.

      Reply
  4. Hurrah for all your success! I’m delighted to see how things are progressing for you.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Randee. You rock!

      Reply
  5. Herzliche Glückwünsche! So exciting that your book has been translated. Let the German book tour begin! 🙌
    Looking forward to seeing your vlogs, too.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lisa! Much appreciated. Danke dir.

      Reply
  6. Congratulations! And the cover? Chilling! 🙂

    Good luck with the first episode of the vlog!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Madeline. I appreciate the kind words.

      Reply
  7. Congrats on the translation and global reach with this novel. It really is a gripping tale to explore. We humans want answers, and it seems elusive at best for the doomed hikers. Perhaps the government was trying to cover something up? Did they all die at the same time? If the bodies decomposed at different rates, does that mean that they died on different dates, or did the temperature have something to do with it. The woman whose mouth was mangled is very disturbing.
    I’m excited to read your next book!!!!

    Reply
    • JH

      It appears that one group of hikers survived much longer than the others. No one is sure why.

      Thanks so much for the kind words and support, Mary. It means the world to me.

      Reply
  8. Congratulations on the translation, such exciting news.
    I can’t wait to hear your theories about the mystery!
    Debbie

    Reply
  9. As mean as it sounds to say, anytime something horrible happens I assume humans are involved. I often wonder if it could have been someone native to the area and familiar enough with it to commit serial murders? Maybe someone that the researchers felt compelled to trust and therefore didn’t put up much of a fight? Humans are always trying to create “monsters” (like Yeti/Bigfoot) to explain the atrocities that are almost always committed by the real monsters, humans. So, I tend to lean towards the reasonable explanations, but another part of me does like to occasionally entertain the idea of something more inexplicable and fascinating. I can’t put too much thought in to a lot of unsolved mysteries because they drive me crazy and I might end up in my basement with maps, papers, photographs, thumbtacks and strings babbling to myself. =) Ha! I am so excited that there will be another story with Nat! I always love your female characters and they are always people I could see myself being friends with. =) Well, except for Megan, because the world has too many of her kind. Haha!!

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks Nikki.

      And I tend to agree with you. I do think humans are behind this as well, though something definitely didn’t go according to plan. There’s too many bizarre aspects to this case.

      Reply
  10. Seeing your book translated, that is so awesome, JH! Next up, the six-figure book deal, right? 🙂 The cover is spectacular as well. I didn’t know that covers changed when books are translated. I’ll let my German friends know about it! They are the kind of people who don’t buy online, though, and support their local businesses.

    I like Rayne’s theory about what might have happened at the pass. The ripped out tongue remains a mystery to me. If there was a sadist among the group, who killed him?

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Liesbet. I appreciate the kind words. If there are bookstores your friends prefer, they can request my book from them. Any bookseller should be able to order it.

      And yes, usually foreign versions have different covers. I’m glad this one turned out so well.

      Reply
  11. That’s wonderful your book was translated. You’re reach a whole new audience with your book. Plus you’ll get them to wonder about the real case it follows.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Diane. Some reviewers have commented that reading “Return to Dyatlov Pass” made them look into the Dyatlov Pass Incident, while others picked up my book because they were already interested in the mystery.

      Reply
  12. Congrats on the translation. That is a great cover. Wishing you huge success.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Juneta!

      Reply
  13. Congratulations on your book and all the deserved recognition! You have earned it for sure! i have not read enough about this mystery but I can’t help but think the Communist government was at work here. This was during the cold war, the race for space, rockets etc… The girl with her tongue taken out…I have a feeling she was screaming and they had to shut her up and did it in a violent way because you are dealing with very ruthless people. If the government was secretly working there with bombs, space crafts to the moon etc…, it would explain the radiation and the lack of animals there. Some of them were trying to hide away which is why some were probably killed later and their bodies were decomposing at a different rate from others. it is quite intriguing to say the least and very, very sad.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the kind words, Birgit. Very sweet of you to say.

      I also believe the government was behind this in some way, but I don’t think it was as simple as some make it out to be. It’s simply too bizarre, and the Soviets couldn’t have brought more attention on themselves if they’d tried.

      Reply
  14. Have read a lot about this mystery down the years and have concluded that the hard bit is to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. I do feel that there has been a bit of “manipulation” of the bodies in respect of the autopsies and this is a smokescreen set up by the authorities to cover their tracks. I reckon this group stumbled into an area where military things were going on. Things that they weren’t meant to see. Simple as that. All it took was for an imaginative Soviet high-up to decide to cloak their murder by constructing a mystery. The key is the autopsies – how independent were the findings? Not very, I’d suggest. It’s still an interesting story, for sure, but with a more mundane truth than the media make out….

    Reply
    • JH

      Perhaps, Steve. It’s definitely a good theory, but if the military wanted to cover up this incident, why did they make it so bizarre? There are many ways they could have made it look like a simple accident, or just had the bodies disappear.

      Reply
  15. You deserve more than one moment of that euphoria. That is really great news about your book. I have every confidence this is only the beginning.

    As to the unsolved mystery, that is one puzzle and a horrifying one. The way they died was brutal and must have involved several people. So nothing was left behind by whoever did these murders?

    Reply
    • JH

      Nothing conclusive, Lee. What I laid out in the original blog post is pretty much all there is.

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Reply
  16. Congrats on the translation! I’m looking forward to reading your take on this bizarre story.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Patricia. I think so too.

      Reply
  17. The cover is amazing ! What a terrible story and I hate to say it but seems only other humans could have done this… So very sad. They were all so young.

    Reply
    • JH

      It is very sad. I have to agree with you, Lisa. I think humans are behind this too, somehow.

      Reply
  18. Woot woot! Grats on the translation! That is awesome! Man, so many theories about about that mystery.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Loni! Always good to see you here.

      Reply
  19. Congrats!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anna.

      Reply

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