The Knik River valley is a preferred hunting ground for veteran trophy hunters. Just twenty-five miles from the city of Anchorage, the winding gorge—carved by prehistoric glacial ice—makes it a perfect place to find mountain goats, Dall sheep, black bears, and moose. On September 12, 1982, John Daily and Audi Holloway, two off-duty Anchorage police officers, spent an afternoon hunting along the Knik River.
According to Butcher Baker by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale, the two men had little luck and as darkness began to fall they decided to call it a day. The trek was not necessarily easy, but both men were familiar with the area and cut across a wide sandbar. However, as they progressed up the river, they noticed a boot sticking out of the sand. Normally a find like this would not be cause for concern, but for any police officer, curiosity denotes investigation. Upon closer inspection, the two men were taken aback. Sticking out of the sand was a partially decomposed bone joint. Once their minds registered what they were looking at, both men backed up from the scene. The last thing they wanted to do was disturb or contaminate any evidence. After making note of the location, both men made their way out of the gorge and back to their camp.
Gilmour and Hale wrote that Sergeant Rollie Port was assigned to cover the investigation. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Port was considered one of the top investigators on the force. He was meticulous with every crime scene and was known to spend hours going over the smallest area. Before disturbing the body, Port had photographs taken from every angle and carefully examined the body itself for trace evidence before having it bagged. Afterwards, he pulled out a large screen and began sifting through the sand around the body. It took several hours for him to finish sifting, but in the end it paid off. Lying on the screen before him was a single shell casing from a .223-caliber bullet. Port was familiar with this type of ammunition and knew that it was used in high-powered rifles like M-16s, Mini-14s, or AR-15s.
Back in Anchorage, a preliminary autopsy revealed that the victim was a female, of undetermined age, and had been dead for approximately six months. The cause of death was three gunshot wounds from .223-caliber bullets. Ace bandages were found mingled in with the remains, causing investigators to suspect that the victim had been blindfolded at the time of death. It took a little over two weeks to finally identify the body as that of 24-year-old Sherry Morrow, a dancer from the Wild Cherry Bar in downtown Anchorage. She was last seen on November 17, 1981. According to friends, she was going to see a man that had offered her $300 to pose for some pictures.
Anchorage police had a sneaking suspicion that Sherry Morrow's murder was not an isolated incident. Over the last two years, there was a sudden increase in the number of missing persons reports being filed, many of which were topless dancers and prostitutes. Prior to this latest discovery, the reports had not prompted much attention. Prostitutes tend to be loners and often travel from city to city, only to reappear years later. If there was a link, investigators did not want to tip the killer off. Any concerns they had were kept private.
When discussing Morrow's murder with The Anchorage Daily News, investigators said they doubted that it was related to the disappearance of at least three other women since 1980. "We don't believe we have a mass murderer out there, some psycho knocking off girls," said Anchorage police detective Maxine Farrell.
Alaska State Trooper sergeant Lyle Haugsven was assigned to determine whether or not Sherry Morrow's murder was an isolated incident. Working with the Anchorage Police Department, the two agencies began sharing files and comparing notes. According to Bernard DuClos in Fair Game, the first indication of a possible link appeared to be with two unsolved cases from 1980. In the first case, construction workers digging near Eklutna Road discovered the partial remains of a woman buried in a shallow grave. Animals had taken off with a majority of the remains and there was very little evidence at the scene. The victim had never been identified and was dubbed "Eklutna Annie" by police assigned to the case. Later that same year, another body was found in a nearby gravel pit. The victim was later identified as Joanne Messina, a local topless dancer. Unfortunately, her body was badly decomposed and, as with "Eklutna Annie", there was little evidence to be found. In the end, Haugsven had few leads to follow and very little evidence at his disposal.
As months passed, hope of catching the killer began to diminish. Then, on the night of June 13, 1983, everything seemed to turn around. Earlier that evening, a trucker was passing through town when he noticed a frantic young female waving her arms and calling out to him. The girl had a pair of handcuffs dangling from one of her wrists and her clothing was disheveled. She told the trucker that a man was after her and asked him to take her to the Big Timber Motel. Once inside, she had the front desk clerk place a call for her. As she waited outside for her pimp, the truck driver drove straight to the Anchorage Police Department and reported the incident.
When Anchorage Police Officer Gregg Baker arrived at the Big Timber Motel, he found the girl alone and still in handcuffs. Once he removed her cuffs, she began telling him an extraordinary story. According to reports she gave to investigators, she had been approached on the street by a 40ish, red-haired man, and offered $200 for oral sex. She agreed to the price, but midway through the act the man locked a handcuff around her wrist and pulled out a gun. He told her if she cooperated he would not kill her. He then drove to his house in Muldoon, an upper class area not far from town. Once inside, the man brutally raped her, bit her nipples, and at one point shoved a hammer into her vagina. After a brief rest, the man said that he was going to fly her to his cabin in the mountains and told her he would let her go if she cooperated. Upon their arrival at the airport, her kidnapper shoved her inside a small plane and began loading supplies. The young prostitute knew she was in serious trouble and that the man would probably kill her once they got to his cabin. Waiting until his back was turned, she shoved open the door and ran for her life. According to her, he chased after her at first, but then relented when he saw her wave down the truck driver.
After making a formal statement at police headquarters, investigators drove the young prostitute to Merrill Field, the airport where she had been taken. They were hoping she could identify her abductor's plane. As they drove through the small airport, she spotted a blue-and-white Piper Super Cub, tail number N3089Z and identified the plane. A check with the flight tower revealed that the plane belonged to Robert C. Hansen, who lived on Old Harbor Road.
Gilmour and Hale wrote that after dropping the woman off at the hospital, Baker and a group of fellow officers went directly to Hansen's house. Hansen became outraged when confronted with the young woman's charges. He claimed to have never met the girl and stated that she was probably trying to shake him down for money. To him, the entire story was absurd. "You can't rape a prostitute can you?" he said. Hansen went on to state that his wife and two children were vacationing in Europe and said that he had spent the entire evening with two friends. His alibi checked out and no formal charges were filed.
Just as things seemed to be calming down again, investigators were called to the scene of another grisly discovery. According to reports in The Anchorage Daily News on September 2, 1983, just 10 days shy of the one-year anniversary of discovering Sherry Morrow, another body was found along Knik River. The remains were partially decomposed and buried in a shallow grave. The victim, later identified as 17-year-old Paula Golding, was a topless dancer and prostitute from Anchorage. She'd gone missing some five months earlier. An autopsy revealed that she had been shot with a .223-caliber bullet.
Investigators were now convinced they had a serial killer on their hands and contacted the FBI for assistance. This was not the first time Alaska authorities had dealt with a serial killer, but their last attempt was not successful. Between 1979 and 1981, serial killer Thomas Richard Bunday murdered at least five Fairbanks-area women. When police finally discovered who their killer was, he was already on the run. Just one hour after his arrest warrant was issued, he committed suicide by plowing his motorcycle head-on into a truck.
The FBI was known for its dogged determination in serial murder investigations and everyone seemed to agree on asking for their assistance. In response to Anchorage's request for help, the FBI's Investigative Support Unit sent Special Agent John Douglas, a legendary figure in law enforcement, to help profile Alaska's latest serial killer. Many local investigators felt that Robert Hansen was still a viable suspect and were anxious to share their suspicions with Douglas.
In his 1996 book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, John Douglas describes his initial profile of Alaska's suspected serial murderer. According to Douglas, the perpetrator specifically chose prostitutes and topless dancers, because the majority were transients and usually went unnoticed. Upon the urging of local investigators, Douglas began looking into Robert Hansen's background. He took note of the fact that Hansen was of small stature, heavily pockmarked and suffered from a severe speech impediment. Due to Hansen's unsightly looks, Douglas surmised that he suffered from severe skin problems as an adolescent and was probably teased by his peers. In turn, he would have low self-esteem, which would have prompted him to live in an isolated area. Douglas considered the abuse of prostitutes a way for perpetrators to get back at women. If Hansen was the killer, he was probably using them as a way to get his revenge. Several investigators were familiar with Hansen and said that he was known around the area as a proficient hunter. He earned this reputation after taking down a wild Dall sheep with a crossbow. Perhaps, Douglas surmised, Robert Hansen tired of elk, bear and Dall sheep, and had instead turned his attention to more interesting prey. As the profile progressed, Douglas told investigators that if Hansen was the killer, he was probably a "saver" and would be keeping small souvenirs from his victims.
The only way to rule Hansen out as a suspect would be for investigators to find a hole in his alibi. Douglas suspected that his friends were lying for him and encouraged investigators to threaten them with charges if they were found to be lying. State Police sergeant Glenn Flothe decided to bring the men in for questioning. As it turned out, the strategy worked and both men confessed and said that they had not been with Robert Hansen on the night the young prostitute was abducted and brought to the airport. Investigators also learned from Hansen's friends that he was committing insurance fraud. Apparently, a burglary he reported to police in which several items were stolen from his home never occurred and Hansen was hiding the items in his basement. After learning of Hansen's deceit, Flothe went before Judge Victor Carlson with a 48-page affidavit and secured eight search warrants to be executed against Robert Hanson and his property.
On October 27, 1983, investigators followed Hansen to work and asked him to come with them to the police station for questioning. Hansen never bothered to ask why they wanted to talk to him and agreed to go along. Simultaneously, two groups of investigators served warrants on Hansen's house and plane. According to the book Hunting Humans by Michael Newton, investigators found weapons throughout the house, but nothing to implicate Hansen in any of the murders. Then, just as they were about to call it a day, one of the officers discovered a hidden space tucked away in the attic rafters. Within it, they discovered a Remington 552 rifle; a Thompson contender 7-mm single-shot pistol; an aviation map, with specific locations marked off; various pieces of jewelry; newspaper clippings; a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun; a driver's license, and various ID cards, some of which belonged to the dead women. As incriminating as these items were, the most important piece of evidence was found last -- a .223-caliber Mini-14 rifle.
Robert Christian Hansen was born on February 15, 1939, in Esterville, Iowa to Christian Hansen, a Danish immigrant baker and his wife Edna. DuClos wrote that Hansen had a difficult upbringing. His father was very strict and insisted that his son work long hours in the family's bakery. Adding to this ever-present strain, he was always considered small for his age and his face bore severe acne sores all throughout his adolescence. In later years, he would recall his face as "one big pimple." Although he was naturally left-handed, his parents forced him to use his right hand. In later years, he would claim that the resulting stress made his slight stuttering problem even worse. He had very few friends in school and those he did have never got close to him. In 1957, Hansen graduated high school and shortly thereafter enlisted in the Army Reserves. Following basic training, he was required to devote one weekend a month to the military. He spent the rest of his time working in his father's bakery and sometimes volunteering as a Pocahontas Junior Police drill instructor. During 1960, he fell in love with and married a local girl.
The first major event in Robert Hansen's life occurred on December 7, 1960. As retribution for perceived abuses by the people of Pocahantas, Iowa, he burned down the school bus garage. Unfortunately for Hansen, a friend turned him in and he was sentenced to three years in prison. His wife was ashamed of her husband's actions and immediately filed for divorce. After serving only 20 months, Hansen was paroled, despite being assessed as having an "infantile personality."
Shortly after his release, he met a young woman. The two hit it off and were wed in the fall of 1963. For the next few years, Hansen bounced from job to job and was arrested several times for petty thefts. In 1967, he decided it was time for a new start and left for Alaska.
Anchorage appeared to be the perfect getaway for Robert Hansen. Gilmour and Hale wrote that he was treated well by the residents and soon earned a reputation as a great outdoorsman and hunter. He would stalk Dahl sheep, wolves, and bear with a rifle or bow and arrow. In 1969, 1970 and 1971, he had four animals entered into Pope & Young's trophy hunting world-record books. Hansen's den was soon loaded with animal mounts.
Nonetheless, all his good fortune was short lived. In 1977 he was arrested for stealing a chainsaw and sentenced to five years in prison. After a customary mental evaluation, a prison psychiatrist concluded that Hansen suffered from "bipolar-effective disorder" and requested that the courts order him to take lithium to control his mood swings. Regardless, the order was never enforced and Hansen was released after serving just one year.
During the early 1980s Hansen reported a burglary to his home, which in the end netted him $13,000 from the insurance company. Shortly after receiving his settlement, Hansen opened his own bakery at the corner of 9th and Ingra. By this time, Hansen and his wife had two children and his problems with the law were all but forgotten. His business prospered and he was considered a successful and respected member of the community.
Back at State Police Headquarters, Hansen denied any involvement in the murders. After a brief game of cat and mouse, he grew tired of the allegations and requested an attorney. Hansen was then placed under arrest and charged with assault, kidnapping, weapons offenses, theft and insurance fraud.
On November 3, 1983, an Anchorage grand jury returned four indictments against Hansen: first-degree assault and kidnapping, five counts of misconduct in possession of a handgun, theft in the second-degree, and theft by deception in insurance fraud. Investigators were still awaiting the ballistic test results on Hansen's rifle, so the state decided to hold off on charging him with murder. Hansen pleaded not guilty to all charges. Bail was set at a half-million dollars.
Newton wrote that the ballistic test results finally came in on November 20, 1983. The FBI crime lab in Washington, D.C., determined that the shell casings found at the gravesites had all been fired from Hansen's rifle. The firing pin and the extractor markings were identical.
Given the mass of evidence building against him, Hansen realized that the chances of him winning in court were slim. So, on February 22, 1984, Hansen had his defense attorney, Fred Dewey, arranged a meeting with Anchorage D. A. Victor Krumm. During the meeting, Krumm offered Hansen a deal. In exchange for a full confession, the D.A. guaranteed him that he would only be charged with the four cases that they knew of, and he would be able to serve his time in a federal facility, rather than a maximum-security institution. Hansen reluctantly agreed to the conditions.
After both sides signed off on the agreement, Hansen began describing one of his typical abductions. The following transcript, which has been edited for space, was originally published in Gilmour and Hale's book: "I pull out the gun—I think the standard speech was, 'Look you're a professional. You don't get excited, you know there is some risk to what you've been doing. If you do exactly what I tell you you're not going to get hurt. You're just going to count this off as a bad experience and be a little more careful next time who you are gonna proposition or go out with,' you know. I tried to act as tough as I could, to get them as scared as possible. Give that right away, even before I started talking at all. Reach over, you know, and hold that head back and put a gun in her face and get 'em to feel helpless, scared, right there I'm sure--maybe it's not the same procedure for you--you always try to get control of the situation, so some things don't start going bad maybe I've seen some cop shows on TV, I don't know, OK?"
Whenever Hansen got a victim under his control, he would normally take her to his plane and fly them out to his remote cabin. According to Newton, he would brutally rape and torture the women. Afterwards, he would strip them naked, sometimes going so far as blindfolding them, and set them free in the woods. Hansen would give his victim a brief head start and then hunt them down with a hunting knife or a high-powered rifle. In describing his hunts to investigators, Hansen said that it was like "going after a trophy Dall sheep or a grizzly bear."
When investigators first heard Hansen's confession, they couldn't help but think of the popular fictional story "The Most Dangerous Game" by writer Richard Connell. The story is about a shipwrecked trio that find themselves stranded on an uncharted island, where they meet a Russian Count, known only as General Zaroff. The group is initially delighted to find someone else on the island, but their happiness turns to sorrow when they realize that the shipwreck was no accident and the good general had lured them there so he could hunt them down. Up until the early 1980s, Richard Connell's story was a work of fiction, the product of one man's imagination. Robert Hansen was conducting a real life version of "The Most Dangerous Game."
As the interview neared its end, Hansen was provided with a large aerial map of the region. He identified 15 gravesites, 12 of which were unknown to investigators. Since it would have been nearly impossible to locate any of the graves going by Hansen's checkmarks on the map, investigators decided to fly him to each location. The following day, Hansen accompanied the men to the Anchorage International Airport, where they boarded a large military helicopter. Their first stop was along the Knick River, not far from where Paula Goulding was found. Afterwards, they flew east to Jim Creek, and then west toward Susitna. Their final stops were due south, at Horseshoe Lake and Figure Eight Lake. At every stop, Hansen led investigators to the site, now heavily covered in snow, and they would mark the trees with orange paint. By the end of the day Hansen had revealed the gravesites of 12 unknown women.
According to articles published by The Anchorage Daily News, Robert Hansen pled guilty on February18, 1984, to four counts of first-degree murder in the cases of Paula Golding, Joanna Messina, Sherry Morrow, and "Eklutna Annie." One week later, on February 27, Superior Court Judge Ralph E. Moody sentenced Hansen to 461 years plus life, without chance of parole. He was then remanded to Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
By May 1984, investigators had found seven bodies at the gravesites Robert Hansen pointed out to them. No other bodies were ever recovered. The summary went as follows:
On April 24, Sue Luna - Knik River.
On April 24, Malai Larsen - parking area by old Knik bridge.
On April 25, DeLynn Frey - Horseshoe Lake.
On April 26, Teresa Watson - Kenai Peninsula.
On April 26, Angela Feddern - Figure Eight Lake.
On April 29, Tamara Pederson - one and a half miles from old Knik Bridge.
On May 9, Lisa Futrell's - south of old Knik Bridge.
In 1988, Hansen was returned to Alaska and became one of the first inmates in the new Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, where he remains today. Shortly after his conviction, the record keepers for Pope & Young removed Hansen's name from their record books. Hansen's wife and two children tried to remain in Alaska, but after two years of harassment, his second wife filed for divorce and left Alaska for good.
Conservationist Gareth Patterson recently published an article on his website entitled "The Killing Fields." In the piece, Patterson compared the similarities between trophy animal hunters and serial killers. "Certainly one could state that, like the serial killer, the trophy hunter plans his killing with considerable care and deliberation. Like the serial killer, he decides well in advance the type of victim--that is, which species he intends to target. Also like the serial killer, the trophy hunter plans with great care where and how the killing will take place--in what area, with what weapon. What the serial killer and trophy hunter also share is a compulsion to collect trophies or souvenirs of their killings. The serial killer retains certain body parts and/or other trophies for much the same reason as the big game hunter mounts the head and antlers taken from his prey...as trophies of the chase," he said.
On February 21, 2003, more than 20 years after her decomposed body was found, Alaska State Troopers asked for the public's help in identifying "Eklutna Annie." In an effort to help solve her identity, state police released information regarding her clothing and jewelry.
According to the report, which was published by Kenai Peninsula News, an Alaska newspaper, the victim was a white brunette in her 20s. When found, Annie was wearing knee-high, reddish-brown, high-heeled boots, jeans, a sleeveless knit top and a brown leather jacket. Troopers were also hoping that someone might recognize her jewelry; a silver cuff bracelet with polished stones, possibly handmade. Anyone with information should call investigator William Hughes at 907-269- 5058. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org