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Robert Hansen
A Serial Killer in Alaska

by Murray Lundberg

Originally published on February 11, 2000
To big game hunter Robert Hansen, Alaska was paradise. But for his victims, it was a terrifying wilderness where no one could hear their screams.

    The cover summary of Bernard DuClos' book on Hansen, Fair Game, is much more than just sensationalism. It's a pretty accurate summary of the period from 1971 to 1983, when Hansen stalked the sleazy parts of Anchorage looking for victims. He is known to have killed at least 17 young women, although only 12 bodies were ever found. A recent television report, though, says the number was 37, and an FBI spokesman commented that Hansen could actually be one of the country's worst killers. He also admitted to about 30 rapes in the same period, yet never showed any sign of remorse for any of his crimes.

    This case is significant for two reasons. It is the only known killing spree in which many of the women were apparently flown into the wilderness, released and then hunted down. It also set a legal precedent in 1983 when psychological profiling was used as the main basis for issuing search warrants on Hansen's property.

    The information in this article has been extracted from DuClos' 284-page book, Fair Game. Now out of print, it does an excellent job of identifying and removing stereotypes, portraying prostitutes, police officers, judges and priests as people who sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes do what is right even when they put themselves at risk.

    DuClos tells an important story that needs to kept in mind whenever you're tempted to say about another person "Oh, he's actually a pretty good guy", when evidence is to the contrary. Bob Hansen's killing spree continued for at least 12 years because, instead of people admitting that he was a dangerous sociopath, he was time and time again labelled as an upstanding family man.

    Robert Christian Hansen was born on February 15, 1939, in Estherville, Iowa, to a Danish immigrant baker and his wife. His childhood was not easy, as his father was very strict, and Robert worked long hours in their bakery. As well as being of slight build, Robert had acne so bad that he almost never socialized, and is remembered as a "loner". Although he was left-handed, Robert was forced to use his right hand, and he says the resulting stress made a stuttering problem even worse.

    On December 7, 1960, the first major event occurred that would fit Hansen into the psychological profile of a developing serial killer. As retribution for perceived abuses by the people of Pocahantas, Iowa, he forced a 16-year-old employee at the bakery to help him burn down the school bus garage. Unfortunately, the teen had morals, though, and turned himself and Hansen in. Hansen was sentenced to 3 years in prison, and his wife of only 6 months divorced him. He served only 20 months of that sentence - he was paroled despite being assessed as having an "infantile personality" which made him obsess about getting even with people.

    Within a few months of being released, Hansen was married again. He also started stealing just for the thrill of doing it. Although he was caught stealing several times, no charges were ever laid. In 1967, the Hansens decided it was time for a new start, and left for Alaska.

    In the mountains around Anchorage, Hansen honed his skills as a hunter, and in 1969, 1970 and 1971, had 4 animals entered into the Pope and Young record book. In about 1971, though, he discovered that another type of hunting satisfied him more.

    Anchorage at the time had an extremely rough "tenderloin" district. Largely run by Seattle crime boss Frank Colacurcio, it was a wide-open district centered on Fourth Avenue, where anything went. Young women were lured there by promises of making huge wages 'dancing' in clubs with names like Wild Cherry, Arctic Fox, Booby Trap and the Great Alaskan Bush Company (which is still in operation, though in a different location). As the population and disposable income skyrocketed in Anchorage during the oil boom, the bigger clubs were skimming off $50-100,000 a month in cash. Between the clubs were peep shows, and magazine stands featuring the worst kind of child pornography. Also part of that world was violence - from beatings and armed robberies to firebombs and murders, police were kept busy. Between 1979 and 1983, police responded 207 times to disturbances at the Booby Trap alone.

    In this world, Bob Hansen found all the victims he could want - women who, for $300, would go anywhere with him. From his looks, women apparently felt they had no reason to fear him; as one rape victim reported, "He sort of looked like the perfect dork." Once they got in his truck or car, though, the psychopath appeared, and the number of victims accumulated rapidly over the years. Most of the rapes were never reported, and even when Hansen was positively identified, his respectable facade always won over the prostitute's version of the story. In the vastness of Alaska, there were never any witnesses to the murders. In 1980, he shot the dog of a woman he had murdered, so that the dog wouldn't lead anybody to her shallow grave.

    In 1977, the courts blew a chance to get Hansen off the street for a few years. He had stolen a chain saw, and although psychiatric reports made it clear that he was a danger to society, he served only 1 year of a 5-year sentence. He was ordered to stay on a lithium program to control mood swings from a diagnosed bipolar affective disorder, but that order was never enforced, either in prison or after his release. Just a few weeks after his early release, he killed again.

    As the body count climbed, his respectable look continued to build. In January 1981, he opened a bakery at 9th and Ingra, using $13,000 from the insurance settlement of a faked burglary of his home. When the fraud was discovered, he claimed that all the 'stolen' wildlife trophies were later mysteriously found in his back yard, and he had just forgotten to tell his insurance company.

    In January 1982, he bought Piper Super Cub N3089Z - although he never got a pilot's license, it became one of the main tools in his killing spree. He would pick up a woman on Fourth Avenue, handcuff her or tie her up at gunpoint, and fly her out to the Knik River. After landing on a remote sandbar, the details can only be guessed at, but when Hansen headed back to Merrill Field, he never had passengers.

    Like many serial killers, Hansen was very methodical. On his aviation chart, he marked many of the locations where he buried his victims. The Knik River was a favourite location - close to town yet remote, with hundreds of sandbars to land his plane on.

    Hansen was a "trophy collector", another common attribute of serial killers. His den was loaded with mounts from his legitimate hunts, while his basement was the storage space for the trophies from his human victims. It was largely this trophy collection that resulted in his successful conviction - among the significant items, he had kept a fish necklace that had been custom-made for victim Andrea Altiery.

    The turning point in the case occurred in September 1983 when one of Hansen's rape victims agreed to testify. The police hoped that by tying this case in with several others, they could put him away at least for a few years.

    The investigation of the disappearing women, which had now brought Bob Hansen into sharp focus, was hampered by attitude problems in both the Anchorage Police Department (APD), and in the DA's office. When an APD officer took his information on the case to the State Troopers, he was bawled out for it. When the Troopers were trying to draw up documents for searches of Hansen's property, they were told by the DA's office that they had no time to do it - a personal favour brought the Assistant DA from Fairbanks down to do it.

    On October 27, 1983, Hansen's cowardly life prowling the streets of Anchorage ended. Armed with several search warrants, police went through the Hansen family's house, cars and plane, vacuuming, photographing, sketching and seizing evidence. Robert Christian Hansen was arrested and charged with assault, kidnapping, weapons offenses, theft and insurance fraud. Bail was set at a half-million dollars.

    Over the next few months, enough evidence had been assembled to charge Hansen with 4 murders. As part of a plea bargain, Hansen agreed to show police where the graves of the murdered women were. Only 11 were located though (one more was found later).

    On February 27, 1984, Superior Court Judge Ralph E. Moody sentenced Hansen to 461 years plus life, without chance of parole. He was initially sent to the maximum security facility at Lewisburg, PA, but in 1988 he was returned to Alaska. He became one of the first prisoners in the new Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, where he remained until being moved to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage shortly before his death on August 21, 2014.

    Although the Pope and Young Club initially stated that Hansen's crimes did not invalidate his bowhunting records, they have since removed his name from their record books. Bob's wife and 2 children tried to remain in Alaska, but after 2 years of having the children harassed at school, Mrs. Hansen filed for divorce and they moved to the Lower 48.

Your Guide has a strong interest in socially deviant behaviour. I spent 2 years in the Northern Justice/Criminology division at Yukon College, then served for 4 years as an Auxiliary constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Whitehorse.

Related Links

Serial Killer Robert Hansen Dies in Anchorage
Hansen died at the age of 75 on August 21, 2014.

Serial Killer Robert Hansen Dies in Anchorage
This documentary explores the life and horrific crimes of Alaska's worst serial killer, who died in 2014 (49:00).

"Resurrection Bay"
April 2007, the rights to Wayne McDaniel’s revenge thriller script "Resurrection Bay", loosely based on the life and horrific serial killings of the notorious Robert Hansen, have been acquired by Oak Street Films.

Alaska Peace Officer Honor Roll
These officers died while working to make Alaska safe.

Spring Creek Correctional Center
The official site of Robert Hansen's permanent home.

Thomas Richard Bunday
A very brief description of Alaska's only other known serial killer.

References & Further Reading:

  • Bernard DuClos - Fair Game (New York: St. Martin's, 1993)
  • Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale - Butcher, Baker: A True Account of a Serial Murderer (New York: Onyx/Penguin, 1991)
  • Jack Levin and James Alan Fox - Mass Murder: America's Growing Menace (1985)
  • Jack Levin and James Alan Fox - Overkill: Mass Murder and Serial Killing Exposed (1996)