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The 17 Most Harrowing Feature Stories Of 2013

The tough truth is: Sometimes the most important stories published in a given year are some of the hardest to read. This, our first of four end-of-year roundups, includes the best stories on murders, rapes, conspiracies, and other atrocities.

1. The Serial Killer Has Second Thoughts: The Confessions of Thomas QuickGQ

Olaf Blecker for GQ

An absolutely insane piece about Sture Bergwall, aka Thomas Quick, by Chris Heath. Sweden's most infamous killer, Bergwall claims responsibility for 30 horrific murders. What if he didn't commit them? Read it at GQ.

2. After Newtown Shooting, Mourning Parents Enter into the Lonely QuietThe Washington Post

Linda Davidson for The Washington Post

Eli Saslow's heartbreaking look at the parents who lost 26 young children during the Sandy Hook massacre. As the public and town move on around them, they're left alone with an incomprehensible grief. Read it at The Washington Post.

3. A Death in ValdostaGrantland

Courtesy of Kenneth Johnson / Via Grantland

Jordan Conn travels to rural Georgia, where a promising athlete was found mysteriously dead in the corner of his high school's gym in what was decided to be an accident, and not investigated. This sweeping piece looks at the history over under-investigated and under-prosecuted crimes against African Americans in Valdosta. Read it at Grantland.

(Since this piece, a coroner has slammed authorities' handling of the case, now under investigation.)

4. Why Did Jodon Romero Kill Himself on Live Television? — BuzzFeed

John Gara for BuzzFeed

Jessica Testa was working the afternoon last September when Fox News, following a car chase, inadvertently broadcast a suicide live on air. She traveled to Arizona to find the real person behind the media spectacle. Read it at BuzzFeed.

5. Jahar's WorldRolling Stone

Handout / Reuters

The cover image got the attention. But despite the controversy, Janet Reitman's story was well worth reading. Based on dozens of interviews with friends, mentors, and members of Jahar's community, the story shows Reitman's search for an answer as to how this American-raised kid could commit such an atrocious crime. Read it at Rolling Stone.

6. The Ghost Rapes of BoliviaVICE

A haunting story: women and girls in a Bolivian Mennonite colony who repeatedly found themselves having been sexually abused in the night, against their knowledge. Jean Friedman-Rudovsky explains on how men and boys routinely ganged up to gas and rape the women among them, and how, even after being caught and condemned, some aren't stopping. Read it at VICE.

7. TakenThe New Yorker


Sarah Stillman reports on civil forfeiture, whereby, for example, cops can seize your possessions during a routine traffic stop — even if you haven't committed a crime. How have we gotten here and what can be done to change it? Read it at The New Yorker.

8. The Poorest Rich Kids in the WorldRolling Stone

Danielle Levitt for Rolling Stone

Sabrina Rubin Erdely brings the heartbreaking — and bizarre — story of the Inman Twins. Heirs of Doris Duke's fortune, they're some of the richest kids in the world — and yet have been horribly neglected and abused. Is their plight to be believed? Read it at Rolling Stone.

9. How A War Hero Became A Serial Bank Robber — BuzzFeed

Scott Johnson writes about Army medic Nicholas Walker, who returned home from Iraq after 250 combat missions, traumatized and broken. When family, friends, therapy, and heroin didn't help him, he turned to robbing banks. Read it at BuzzFeed.

10. Breaking Real BadSports Illustrated

Scott Halleran / Getty Images

After a 22-month investigation, Michael McKnight reconstructs the shocking story: Beloved NFL receiver Sam Hurd was caught trying to purchase an enormous amount of cocaine from undercover officials. Read it at Sports Illustrated.

(After this story was published, Hurd was sentenced to 15 years for drug trafficking.)

11. Oops, You Hired the Wrong HitmanGQ

Jonathon Kambouris for GQ

Jeanne Marie Laskas rides along with a hitman. But he's not actually a hitman — he's just an employee of the government, whose actual mark are those attempting to pay others to have someone eliminated. Read it at GQ.

12. Murder by CraigslistThe Atlantic

Pool / Reuters

Hanna Rosin reports on an Ohio serial killer and his accomplice, unusual not just because of their method of soliciting victims — a too good to be true Craigslist job listing — but who they chose: middle-aged white men. The recession and changing gender roles, she argues, have left this demographic newly vulnerable. Read it at The Atlantic.

13. What's Killing Poor White Women?The American Prospect

AP Images/Lars Halbauer / Via

A fascinating and tragic story by Monica Potts about an Arkansas woman who died suddenly and without apparent cause at 38. Her story speaks to a larger trend puzzling experts: a five-year decline in the life expectancies of poor, white women. Read it at The American Prospect.

14. Hana's StorySlate

Photo courtesy Remembrance of Hana Williams
Photo by Frank VargaSkagit Valley Herald

A sad but important story by Kathryn Joyce about an Ethiopian orphan who was adopted by a Christian Washington State family, who neglected and abused her until she died. What can be done to protect children like Hana from those who had once tried to save them? Read it at Slate.

15. The Ghosts of Jonesboro — BuzzFeed

Cohen/Commercial Appeal/Landov

Fifteen years ago, two children shot up an Arkansas middle school, killing five, wounding 10, and setting the benchmark for a horrifying trend in America. David Peisner goes there to discover the community has — and hasn't — healed. Read it at BuzzFeed.

16. The Dream BoatNew York Times

Photograph by Joel Van Houdt for The New York Times

Luke Mogelson rides along in a boat of Indonesian refugees on a perilous journey across the Indian Ocean. Their destination is Christmas Island — Australian territory — but in the event of foul weather, they'll join the estimated 3,000 asylum seekers who've drowned. Read it at The New York Times Magazine.

17. Danse Macabre: A Scandal at the Bolshoi BalletThe New Yorker

Bruno Vincent / Getty

David Remnick discusses with great depth and beauty the context surrounding a grisly crime: the creative director of Russia's most prominent ballet being threatened and attacked in the face with flesh-eating acid. Read it at The New Yorker.

(This week, three men were convicted and sentenced in connection with the attack, including star dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko.)

Read more of of our Best Of 2013 longform picks:

- The 15 Most Memorable Profiles Of 2013

- Our 24 Favorite BuzzFeed Feature Stories of 2013