The illusion of freedom: Robert Hansen, the human hunter

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This story is part of the book
Disturbed
The insane stories of the worst serial killers of all time

As a Man Thinketh (audiobook)
As a Man Thinketh (audiobook)

Buy it on Amazon

At the turn of the 70s and 80s, the landscapes of Alaska were shaken by a serial killer whose modus operandi remains unique on the world scene. A method of action as sadistic as ruthless by a subject that for a decade sowed terror in the area towards the demise of young lives.

The Anchorage Murders

It all began on July 21, 1980, when the lifeless body of a young woman was discovered near Lake Eklutna. The girl was stabbed numerous times in the back. According to findings from the investigation the victim was aged between 16 and 25 years. It will not be possible to reconstruct her identity so she will be formally recognized as “Eklutna Annie”. Even the name of her killer is momentarily shrouded in mystery.

A few weeks pass when a body emerges in the vicinity of the Knik River. The victim will be identified this time. Her name is Joanna Messina, she is 24 and her body was placed in a gravel pit.

Two murders uncovered within a matter of days. The suspicion is that both episodes are somehow connected and that something sinister is going on in the area. A few months later this thesis will find confirmation.

September 1982. Two off-duty policemen find the body of a young woman, also near the Knik. The girl was shot in the head, her name was Sherry Morrow, 23 years old. Through the analysis of the crime scene, a bizarre detail emerges, it seems in fact that Sherry was stripped before she was killed and dressed up again by her killer the murder.

Investigators are now convinced that behind these three deaths there is only one hand behind, of a lethal and perverse killer who must be stopped as soon as possible.

Another year passes before a fourth body is discovered in September 1983. Paula Goulding, killed in the same area and in the same way as previous victim Sherry.

These murders are becoming a matter of  major concern to the point that the FBI is involved in the investigation. John Douglas, a famous expert in criminal profiling, also contributes to the investigation. He is the one who draws up a profile of the serial killer. According to Douglas, the murderer is about 40 years old and suffers from an inferiority complex due to a rejection he must have suffered in the past. He is a respected person within the community, nevertheless he may have a history of crime behind him. He is likely an experienced hunter and would have saved trophies from his victims.

This profile seems to be the perfect description of a subject watched by the team of investigators assigned to the case. A man who has aroused many suspicions following the testimony of a young woman.

The assault on Cindy Paulson

June 13, 1983. At the Anchorage Police Station a call comes from a truck driver reporting to have given a lift to the hotel to a girl that had stopped him on Sixth Avenue in evident state of agitation, partially undressed and handcuffed.

Following the instructions of the witness, the agents locate the young woman. Her name is Cindy Paulson, she is 17 and has a shocking story for the investigators. Cindy worked as a prostitute in the Anchorage area and that day she was approached by a man with a shy demeanour. The girl entered the car and was offered 200 dollars for an oral sex service.

They went to a secluded area and after the service, the subject suddenly pulled out a gun, forcing Cindy to follow him to his home. Once inside, she was raped and taken to the basement of the house she was chained to a beam and left to spend the night there.

A few hours later the kidnapper with the intention of showing his cabin to the girl let her out in order to take her to his plane at Merrill airport. They drove together and once arrived at the airport, the man exited the vehicle to prepare the necessary for the flight. Taking advantage of this moment, Cindy managed to get out of the car and run away, reaching the road and asking the truck driver for help.

Through a brief investigation, the agents managed to trace the name of the assailant who had held the girl hostage. Robert Hansen, owner of a bakery in Anchelor.

Questioned by the investigators, he provided an alibi for that day which will also be confirmed by some of his friends. The man proved to be cooperative accepting the searches in his house. The police found nothing that could blame him. At this point some inspectors began to doubt Cindy’s account and the matter was soon shelved.

However, Alaska State Troopers that investigated the unsolved murders in the area had always considered Hansen’s position particularly suspicious. Even when the profile drawn up by John Douglas seemed to support their hunch, they decided to search the man’s house.

The search led to the discovery of a map with 24 different areas marked with a cross. The investigators realized that 4 crosses corresponded exactly to the places where the bodies of the killed women had been found. Continuing the inspection, a series of firearms hidden inside the house were found, one of which matched the one described by Cindy.

Robert Hansen was immediately arrested.

Robert Hansen

Born in Estheville, Iowa, on February 15, 1939, from Danish parents; his father owns a bakery. The youth of Robert is quite complicated as suffers from stuttering and a heavy form of acne that marks his face. He is often the victim of bullying attacks and constantly rejected by girls.

The continuous abuses and disappointments push him to take shelter more and more in solitude to seek some peace. It is in this period that he finds the passion about open air hunting, an activity that distracts him from daily problems.

In 1957 he enlists in the army and after his military service he finds work in the city of Pocahontas, where he meet his first wife. Initially, everything seems to be going well but soon appear the first signs of Robert’s tendency towards crime.

In the winter of 1960 he is arrested for setting fire to a school bus, an act for which he is sentenced to three years in prison. During his detention he will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder alternating with schizophrenic episodes. Eventually he will serve 20 months in prison, during which his wife files for divorce successfully.

In the following years he becomes the protagonist of some thefts that will cost him the return to jail for a short period of time.

In 1963 he meets Darla, a teacher, that will become his second wife. The couple moves to Anchorage and will have two children. Hansen’s life seems to have taken a serene and normal turn, however he will continue to display some worrying inclinations. In December 1971 he is arrested for the rape of a prostitute and for the kidnapping and attempted assault of a housewife. He is be sentenced to 5 years in prison, but ultimately serves only six months, after which he is be sent to an institution for the rehabilitation of criminals.

At the end of this period the situation does not improve; in 1976 he is imprisoned once again after stealing a chainsaw from a department store. He is be sentenced to 5 years in prison, reduced to one due to his bipolar disorder.

After serving his his sentence, he attempts to clean up his image. Initially he seems able to find some stability in his life opening a bakery shop inside an Anchorage mall, thus continuing his father’s working tradition. Within the community he is recognized as a quiet, kind, helpful man with a great passion for hunting that has accompanied him for many years of his existence.

But behind this appearance Robert hides a secret. A bloody activity that he has been carrying out for many years.

Hansen had never been able to overcome the ghosts of his adolescence that had caused such a profound laceration in his soul. He had long contemplated about a revenge against the entire female gender, considered the reason of all his problems.

He studied his plan in great detail and starting in 1971 began targeting prostitutes and nightclub dancers in the area. First he selected the victim, then kidnapped and take her to his private plane, through which they reached his cabin, located in the remote wilderness of Alaska.

In this place the unfortunate women were raped and, if they showed no resistance, once the act was consummated they were brought back. On the other hand, if the woman tried to react, Hansen would put his insane plan into play.

Initially he let them free to escape through the dense vegetation of the areas near the cabin. Once granted some time of advantage to his “prey”, the serial killer started a real hunt, armed with a rifle and a knife, in search of his victim.

The women who found themselves in this situation spent hours in terror, trying to escape and hide from the mad human hunter, until they were located and killed by gunshot or by stabbing.

The sentence

As soon as he was arrested, Hansen tried to deny any involvement in the crimes, but the evidence gathered against him was so solid that he could not but admit his guilt. Finally he will confess to the murder of 17 women and the sexual assault of another 30.

On February 27, 1984 he is sentenced to 461 years in prison. He will spend the rest of his life in prison, until August 21, 2014, when he dies of natural causes at the age of 75.

To date, the suspicion is that the number of Robert Hansen’s victims is greater than those confessed. He may have killed more than 20 women.

His way of acting has reached the highest levels of sadism and dehumanization of the victims, considered by the murderer as animals to be hunted. A sick and highly organized mind in its deplorable criminal activity, acting for over ten years in the shadows and author of a series of terrible murders.

The events of his story remained remarkably present in the common imagination and inspired a film in 2013, The Frozen Ground, directed by Scott Walker and starring John Cusack and Nicholas Cage.

This story is part of the book
Disturbed
The insane stories of the worst serial killers of all time

Buy it on Amazon