Alaska's serial killer: Hunting strippers in the bush

Posted: Friday, April 11, 2008

Anchorage's Robert Hansen was a big game hunter who got tired of hunting until he came upon the novel idea of kidnapping, releasing and then hunting strippers in the Alaska bush.

From 1971 to 1983, Hansen killed around 26 women. Authorities only started wondering what was going on after hunters came across the nude body of one of his victims half buried in a sand bar on the Knik River in 1982.

The Hansen murders are unique to the United States for two reasons: It was the only documented case of female victims flown into the wilderness, released and hunted down. And it was the first time a psychological profile was used as the basis for a search warrant, in this case of Hanson's residence.

A baker by trade, Hansen was short with a pockmarked face, buck teeth, and black horn rimmed glasses. He was into hunting, becoming the subject of an article on his prowess with a crossbow in a national hunting magazine. His living room had become an exhibit of mounted animals.

He had a simple method of operation. When his wife and kids went visiting relatives in Iowa, he would cruise the strip clubs of Anchorage at night. Ordering a lap dance, he would then offer a woman $300 to meet him outside in his pickup truck for sexual favors. Once in his vehicle, he would pull a pistol on them, tie them up and drive off. If they were driven out to an isolated cabin just off Old Glenn Highway, it was to be raped and then released. He admitted committing 30 rapes in an old shack off in the brush.

But with others he drove out to Merrill Field, forced them into his Piper Cub and flew off to a remote location in the Bush. Landing by dawn, he would stripped them of clothing, give them a head start, and then track them until he had his kill.

Like most serial killers, Hansen was methodical. He told authorities that not only did he kill one woman in 1980, but also killed her dog so it would not lead anyone to her grave.

His place of business was a bakery he owned at the intersection of Ninth and Ingra near downtown Anchorage. There in the morning he would serve donuts to police officers while listening to them talk now about all the reports of missing strippers.

When the local news picked up on the disappearances, his assistant baker, now living in Girdwood, recalled how he muttered something like "there can't be a conviction until they find a body."

Authorities got a break when Hansen kidnapped an underage stripper. He first took her to the basement of his home. There he hung her by the arms from a meat hook he had hammered into his ceiling. Horrified, the girl screamed until he rammed a sock into her mouth. He then took a nap. A few hours later, he put her in his pick up driving out to Merrill Field. As he was rotating off the runway during take off, the girl managed to get loose leaping from the plane.

She ran crying to the nearest police car telling her story. The Anchorage police brought Hansen in for questioning, but he had two friends willing to swear he had been with them all evening. Frustrated and believing Hansen to be their man, detectives went to a local judge for a search warrant with only a psychological profile in hand.

On Oct. 27, 1983, now granted a search warrant, Anchorage police searched Hansen's home. There in a hidden spot in his attic were found a .223 caliber Mini-14 rifle, a Remington 552 rifle, a Thompson 7mm single shot pistol, ID cards for several of the missing women as well as jewelry from the women he had kept as trophies, including a custom made fish necklace from victim Andrea Altiery.

And there was an aviation map with 26 locations marked with an "X," turning out to be grave sites for the victims.

Hansen was officially charged with four murders. Through a plea bargain, he led authorities to the bodies of 11 of the victims.

On Feb. 27, 1984, Hansen was sentenced to 461 years, plus life, which he serving out in the Spring Creek Correctional Center at Seward.

Books on the Hansen murders included "Butcher Baker," "Fair Game," "Mass Murder" and "Overkill: Mass Murder and Serial Killing Exposed."

• Mike Coppock was an Alaska newspaper editor turned freelancer. His work has appeared in such national magazines as The History Channel, American History, Wild West, Sea Classics, Native Peoples and Trailer Life. He can be reached at coppockrv@peoplepc.com.



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