Knik River, Part 5: Lonesome Death, Far From Home

The picture of Robert Hansen scrambling in a panic does not comport with the image of a cool, calm, collected serial killer. In fact, a simple deviation from his plan — like a stray airplane flying overhead — seemed capable of disrupting his most carefully conceived objective. Troopers, meanwhile, were closing in on a match between what Hansen told them and what they already knew. Though hers was a lonesome death, this woman would not go unidentified.

Lonesome Death: Paula Goulding & second body
Grave Sites, Knik River (Alaska State Troopers; notation by Sgt. Glenn Flothe)

[Transcript lightly edited for clarity]

GF: I’m curious about one thing. This last girl that you talked about, where you had problems out there in the sandbar and the airplane flying over — that girl — what happened to her shirt or sweater or her garment? There was something unusual there that we saw, that we’re looking for an explanation for.

RH: Well she still had — all the way — I know the first — the last time I caught her ah, I caught her by the back of her shirt and I know it ripped at least part way off then ah, and then you know — when I — when I ripped it back down, she halfway stumbled down to her knee and then that’s when she seen I had the rifle again in my hand, and she kept going on about that, “you’re [gonna] shoot me, you’re going to kill me.”

And I said no, just — I’m not, you know. I’m sorry about your — I mentioned then to her something — I’m sorry that I tore your clothes. It was hanging half off her shoulders and so forth. Then she started struggling again some more there. I don’t know if it got ripped more off during the struggle or — I know I lost some buttons in the confrontation there ah, I know ah, but ah, I know her clothes were ripped on that, but they should have been on her.

GF: That’s what I was looking for. You answered my question.

RH: Okay.

LH: How many times was she shot?

RH: I remember the gun going off ah, how many times it went off I don’t know. Once, twice, three times. I don’t know. An automatic you know – as a matter of fact you know – I’m still – pushed her off and she come back again and I was holding the gun here because I was gonna – I think I even shot at her once with the rifle and this time things were going bad and ah, I think I just used it something like a pistol. I don’t know. I don’t know if I squeezed my hand once, twice, three times, whatever. I’m sorry I don’t know. Maybe I squeezed it more times than I hit her. I don’t know. Obviously I hit her at least once. If it was more than once I can’t tell you.

LH: Bob, did you try to pick the brass up?

RH: I don’t think so. You said you found some brass out there.

LH: Unh huh. Yeah, there was.

RH: Obviously I didn’t. If I had picked up some of it up, I would have picked it all up.

LH: Beings we’re on this subject, how did you meet her?

RH: I pretty sure I met her in – seems like that one was met in the Bush Company. I’m not sure on that but I’m pretty sure.

GF = Glenn Flothe; RH = Robert Hansen; LH = Lyle Haugsven

The woman Hansen was talking about was Paula Goulding, a Kona, Hawaii, native who’d worked as a secretary in Fairbanks before moving to Anchorage to try her hand at dancing. Her lonesome death, far from home, was underscored by that fact: she was new to the game and Robert Hansen took advantage of her inexperience.

Lonesome Death: Paula Goulding
Paula Goulding (Alaska State Troopers)

“Paula was reported missing in April 1983 by a friend, who told APD that she hadn’t been seen since the 24th of the month. The friend, a woman who was Paula’s roommate, told APD that Goulding was a Caucasian female, 30 years of age, about 5’7” tall, weighing about 125 pounds, with short, curly hair. She said that both of them were dancers at the Great Alaska Bush Company in Anchorage.

“Hunters found her decomposed remains buried in a very shallow grave on the sandy riverbank. When troopers investigated the site, they had seen exactly what Bob Hansen described. The murderer had been in great haste or had panicked. The body was still clothed. She was wearing unbuttoned and unzipped blue jeans, a striped sweater that had been cut in half in front, a bra that had also been cut in half, and tan boots. There was brass in her grave, brass that was recovered by Rollie Port.

Lonesome Death: evidence recovery
Evidence Recovery (courtesy Anchorage Times)

“At the autopsy conducted the next day, several facts were determined. The female victim had been in her late twenties or early thirties. She had been killed by a single small-caliber gunshot wound to the sternum. The bullet had passed through her heart.

“The state of decomposition was such that fingerprints could not be taken. They did have an intact jawbone, and they finally identified her by matching the jawbone to her dental charts.”

Excerpt From
Butcher, Baker
Walter Gilmour & Leland E. Hale

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Knik River, Part 4: When Things Went Bad

“When things went bad,” was Robert Hansen’s way of saying he killed someone. The phrase elides the fact that, in every way imaginable, his killings were intentional. Hansen created the situation, placed vulnerable young women in that situation and then, when the moment struck — when they acted out their most natural instinct to escape — Robert Hansen pulled the trigger. Not once. Multiple times.

Escape attempts, he reasoned, were betrayals. More than betrayals, though, they represented loss of control. That’s the one thing he had to have, the one thing he didn’t have. There was no control over his impulses — early on, when he stole a chainsaw, his psychiatrist said as much. So, if he couldn’t control himself, maybe he could control someone else. And when that failed, his anger knew no bounds. Things went bad.

[Transcript lightly edited for clarity]

RH: I laid both my pistol and the rifle up against this shack here and then walked back in to her in there and got her freed and got out you know. Up until that time you know, ah, even what’s — when that guy first flew over — you know, everything was just right. As a matter of fact the plane come over for the first time and I said, there comes a plane. I said let’s ah, let’s get out of sight and, boy you know, she just right away gonna – got over and got behind some bushes and ah, done everything she could to keep out of sight, because I said:

“You know if that son-of-a-bitch lands were going to have a problem. I don’t want a problem.”

Things Went Bad: Aerial View, Knik River
Alaska State Trooper plane, above the Knik (Alaska State Troopers)

RH: She done everything in her possible at that time to keep there from being a problem. And ah, at the airplane before when we took off you know, she was — boy, when it come time to get her into the airplane from the car, she just ran around the airplane to get in quiet. She even asked me “should I duck down.” I said it’s not important. I said just sit there and sit quiet. No problem. Just done everything she could to do exactly what I told her, so that there wouldn’t be a problem. I think I had her convinced of this.

Things Went Bad

But the problem was, I think that when she was there in the meat shack — maybe I shouldn’t have called it a meat shack to her, maybe that’s what maybe got her mind to thinking, I don’t know. I thought about it a lot of times but I don’t know the answer. I know when she — I come back there, just started walking out of there with her, she started, “You’re going to kill me aren’t you? You’re going to kill me.”

I said no I ain’t going to kill you. The problem is over with. The guy is gone.

“Oh no, no, you’re going to kill me.”

She just slapped at me and she started running, you know, she started running — the river’s out this way — and she started running this way. I caught up to her and ah, I got her stopped. I said now look, it’s over. There is no real problem, the guy is gone. It’s all cool now, you know. But she had got hysterical and I couldn’t get her calmed down. She just, ah, the more I tried to talk to her, maybe it was because I was getting excited, but she just got more and more hysterical and she broke away from me again and ah, started to run, you know.

Things Went Bad
Hansen’s .223 Rifle (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

I just reached back you know, the rifle was laying there and ah – or leaned up against the building — I grabbed — reached back — I took a couple steps back and grabbed that, I ran and caught — and I caught her again and I said now look — I said don’t make a bad thing worse. Don’t — stop — it’s okay. But then I had a gun in my hand and she said, “You’re going to kill me right now.”

Then she — it just went completely, things just went completely bad again. If that son-of-a-bitch hadn’t circled in there, it would have never happened, but that’s — as a matter of fact I’d never had one with me that tried as hard to keep it under wraps, you know. But being there I think when she was by herself there she just – confined in there – that’s when things went bad.

Things Went Bad: Frank Rothschild
Frank Rothschild, Anchorage Prosecuting Attorney

[FR = Frank Rothschild]

FR: Was it with the .223 that you shot her?

RH: Yes.

FR: Right in the woods there?

RH: Yes. By this time we was out closer to — we were still in the woods but we was almost out by the riverbar or river, where the gravel starts going towards the river. There’s still some trees there.

FR: Then what did you do?

RH: Well, the only thing I could do. I didn’t even have a shovel or nothing with me there, you know. I’d went back to the shack there and I got some boards off that and used them for a shovel and dug a hole out there as much as I could and ah, pulled her in and that was it.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Knik River, Part 3: Hidden In the Meat Shack

Remember this: if something goes wrong, it’s not Bob Hansen’s fault. No, it can’t be Bob Hansen’s fault. It wasn’t him who picked up this young woman at the Bush Company. It wasn’t him who handcuffed and kidnapped her. It surely wasn’t him who stuffed her into his Super Cub and flew her up to the Knik River meat shack so he could perform who-knows-what indignities.

No, it was not going to be Bob Hansen’s fault. The blame lay elsewhere. Always. And so it was that Bob Hansen began with a warning to his abductee. If something goes wrong up here, he says, it’s gonna be your fault.

[Transcript lightly edited for clarity]

Great Alaskan Bush Company: Meat Shack

RH: [I told her] don’t say a goddamn word to him, I don’t want to have to — if you raise hell and he starts for me, I’m going to have to shoot the son-of-a-bitch and if I’ve got to shoot him, I’m going to shoot you and you don’t want to die do ya?

“Oh, no, no, no, no.”

I said all right let’s go in here. We went to the meat shack there and ah, there’s just a screen door on it where there was a nail in the stud there – or in the door jam, it was bent over to hold the door shut. I twisted that down. Got her inside and when I had taken off the — handcuffs are off here — I just put them either in my pants pocket or a jacket pocket. I can’t remember what I had on, most likely I had a jacket on.

Got her in [the meat shack] and ah, there’s two posts at either end and a big — or iron pipe running across the top of it where they could hang meat. I just backed her up against that. I said, hey I’m going to make sure the guy don’t land, or if he does land I’m going to make sure he don’t come up here. You stay here and keep [your] mouth shut, you know. We’re going to have no problems whatsoever.

So I just pushed her up against that there and ah I handcuffed her hands behind her, around the post that was in there — at the end of it — and I walked back out here ah, and walked to ah, out to my airplane.

Pioneer Peak: Meat Shack
Pioneer Peak

And this guy just made one more pass. That only took, my gosh ah, he made, well, about three and a half turns all total. They were quite big turns, you know, and ah, I got back out to the trees as he was coming around one more time and got halfway around and he was out there and he dipped his wings at me and I just waved at him, you know (1).

He waved a couple more times and leveled off and went that way — went back towards, ah, or down the river. That scared me a little bit there. I thought, Jesus Christ, if somebody landed, you know, at that time I didn’t even have — I had a pistol in my belt — but I had my .223 in my airplane.

I picked [my .223] out of the airplane and carried that back up here and I leaned that against the [meat] shack here and then went back to her.

(1) A “wing dip” (or wing wave) is the flight equivalent of waving a hand.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Knik River, Part 2: Unexpected Company

The Knik River is close enough to Anchorage that small aircraft frequent the area. It’s good flying country, the river on a meander, slashing across itself as it makes its way past Pioneer Peak and empties into the sea. In places like this, Robert Hansen’s worst nightmare was unexpected company. A skilled pilot, with fat tires, can land on the many gravel bars of the Knik and take in the sights up close.

Robert Hansen was such a pilot. But he wasn’t the only one. It was hard to tell, sometimes, if another plane was just on a flyover or had more serious intentions. For a man like Robert Hansen, up to no good in the first place, the best course was to think the worst. Unexpected company could end up getting people killed.

[Transcript lightly edited for clarity]

RH: I landed out there and ah, it was all fine, you know, right away I reached in and ah got her loose — we — awful hard for me in the first place to get her out of the airplane when she was still handcuffed up, you know. So each time, you know, I just reached in there and unhooked her, so she can grab the back of the seat and window supports in front, you know, then she can step on out and ah, I grabbed her after she stepped down.

Unexpected Company: Knik River
Knik River, Aerial View (Alaska State Troopers)

RH: The spot that you land out there is all gravel, then there’s some woods over here. And there’s a shack in here, it was — or — when they first — excuse me — it was a frame for a tent cabin, in other words the walls were only about so high, but now they added — the people that own it or claim it or whatever, they’ve added higher walls around it now and enclosed it. And then they have a meat shack out here, which it’s the same way, it’s only half walls around, but then with a roof on it, but screened in with a door on it so they can — there’s a bar through the middle of it so they can hang moose meat and stuff in it so it can cool down — flies don’t get to it and so forth.

Unexpected Company
Gravel Bar Landing, Knik River (Dan’s Aircraft Repair)

RH: I imagine that’s what this was put out here for, someone wanted to hunt moose out here. And ah, they was probably reaching here by riverboat or fourwheel drive truck. You can’t drive your — if you know the river at all, the river is real firm. I’ve seen tire tracks going through this, so I know people have been through there. I could never get my pickup through there but it’s possible, ‘cause I’ve seen the tire tracks. Anyway, although of course when I found this spot here, you know, I was going by tire tracks of planes out here. You can see where planes have been landing out here numerous times.
Unexpected Company
On the Gravel Bar (Dan’s Aircraft Repair)


RH: Anyway I landed here and pulled down here, and in a ways, and stopped my airplane. Ah, and got her out and so forth and got the handcuffs off and just took her by the arm. When you’re down there you can see the shack here. I said to her this is where we’re going to spend the day, you know, and ah, walked in here — just walking in here.

Just as we was walking in here, goddamn a damn plane come down the river — he came from up river, going down around and big circles over — he made a pass around. Oh shit — that son-of-a-bitch was going to stop.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Knik River, Part 1: The Super Cub Abduction Dance

Robert Hansen’s Super Cub held the promise of taking his victims deeper into the bush, to places no vehicle could reach. What he wanted — needed — more than anything were spots far from prying eyes. Rapes and murders were not acts for others to witness.

Having already had close calls with his vehicles — getting stuck in the bush was always a risk, as were rebellious victims — his switch to the airplane proved to have its own set of challenges (as Cindy Paulson’s escape ultimately proved). During his confession, he walked authorities through the ritual of getting his victims into the plane. More often than not, it worked.

[Transcript lightly edited for clarity]

Robert Hansen’s Confession: Into the Airplane (audio)

RH: I walked around her side of the car, opened her door and got her up and turned around out on the seat. [Then I took her] around behind the wing strut — and she’s still handcuffed behind, you know. I grab her by the arms and let her put her feet up on the step and walk her feet on in and then she sits down. Once she’s inside — again she’s pretty much confined, can’t move.

Cindy Paulson never got this far. She was lucky.

Then again there’s a period there where I have to go back out and get in my car and just move it fifteen feet. You know, I told her what I’m going to do, you know, that I’m going to be watching you, you start getting out of the airplane, please don’t do it because I don’t want a bunch of holes in the side of airplane, where I have to shoot you through the side of the airplane, you know. I said something to that effect to them always. And ah, she and the other two just sat there boy, didn’t even blink an eye…

The trick was to quickly get the Super Cub into the air, so the tower didn’t see Hansen’s tail number or identify his plane.

I would pick the airplane up, and you know, a hundred feet so, my gosh, I was — like if I took off — I took off on six going out, you know, or two-four… I’d be a thousand feet in the air by the time I reached the tower. I mean, I was way above it. If I want to pull it back, you know, I can break around and almost stand it on the nose, you know.

[Then] you swing around and go on north. I got out of there, you know.

Robert Hansen’s Super Cub (Anchorage Times)

GF: How in the world did you control them in the airplane? I would think you being up front, and them in the back, I’d be petrified they’d grab me by the neck of something?

RH: No, no, no, no, they were hand cuffed in the airplane, plus, once I get the damn thing off the ground, I don’t care if they screamed, yelled or fussed, what the hell could they do in the airplane, they are sitting in the back of the airplane, I don’t suppose any one of them can fly but there’s no controls in the back of the airplane anyway.

GF: You weren’t nervous they were behind you?

RH: Well, I, you know, I’m not saying I wasn’t concerned about it but I’m saying that that was, I thought, a hell of a lot safer than in the car.

VK: How did you get them not to scream when you went to Merill Field. You know there were a lot of airplanes there.

RH: It just never happened.

GF: You just had them under control.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Bob Hansen & Ted Bundy: A Tale of Two Killers

I lived in Seattle in the mid-70s, when young women started disappearing, when warnings were broadcast against hitchhiking, when every woman I knew moved in a bubble of fear. Reports soon emerged that a witness had seen a man on crutches, wearing a leg cast, struggling to carry a briefcase. Another reported the man had asked her to help him carry the briefcase toward his Volkswagen. Soon, a name emerged. “Ted.”

Several years later, in the late ’70s, I took a job at the Washington State Energy Office. It was a successor agency to the Department of Emergency Services (DES), where Ted Bundy worked in the mid-70s. Ted had been arrested in Florida by then and many of my colleagues had worked with him. They all thought him guilty. All but one: Carole Boone.

Carole Boone was the tall, whip-smart woman who resided on the other side of my cubicle. She was also in my car-pool for the one-hour commute from Seattle to Olympia. In everything she was articulate, rational and grounded. Except for her blind spot.

Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy, preparing for trial

Ted was seen by many as handsome, charismatic and well-spoken. He’d worked in Republican politics in Washington state — which partially explained his job at DES — and, based on recommendations from party figures, he was accepted into law school at the University of Washington. That Carole Boone could fall for him — they were married during his Florida homicide trial and she bore him a daughter — says volumes about Ted Bundy’s powers of persuasion, even as most of our DES colleagues rolled their eyes at her obsession with Ted’s innocence (1).

Ted Bundy: FBI Most Wanted photo

Bob Hansen was no Ted Bundy. He was homely, could barely speak without a stutter and charmed no one, expect perhaps his wife, Darla — and even that was dubious.

Hansen Lineup Photo
Robert Hansen Police Lineup Photo

What Hansen relied upon was the willingness of young women to perform sex acts for money, that being the only “charm” that Bob Hansen owned. Once he’d captured them, Hansen depended on fear to control them. For that, he had much in common with Ted Bundy.

As the following video and excerpt from Hansen’s 1984 confession reveal, Hansen’s attempts to induce fear in his victims was unrelenting. [FR = Frank Rothschild]

FR: So what’s the plan to get ‘em to the plane and get ‘em in the plane?

RH: Just scare the living shit out of ‘em — I mean that’s — boy I mean really bad you know — uh — just tell ‘em out and out — hey you know — if anything starts to go wrong I’m gonna probably have to shoot half the people in this damned town, you know.

FR: Did you threaten to throw ‘em out of the airplane if they caused problems — things like that too?

RH: No. I don’t think I ever said that. As a matter of fact they could see that would be virtually impossible, you know. How in the hell am I going to fly the airplane, turn around and get somebody out of the back that I — on account of my seat, I could hardly reach them. Of course I don’t know if they would know that. But anyway, no, I never said nothing like that to them. I would probably mention to them once I got them where I was going to go, ah, that, if things don’t go right boy this is where you’re going to stay, you know. Undoubtedly I probably said that to them. But that again was just more or less to make sure that things did go right. I was — the entire time I want to keep upon — pressing upon them that we wasn’t going to have any problems, I wasn’t, you know. I just didn’t want any goddamn problems…

(1) Boone was, understandably, devastated when Ted Bundy ultimately confessed to dozens of murders.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Hansen’s Victims: Bodies Near Sarah Palin’s Wasilla

Wasilla’s most famous personality is not Robert Hansen, though he spent many days in the vicinity, mostly hunting. The most prominent person in these parts, of course, is Sarah Palin, who grew up — and rose to prominence — in Wasilla.

Wasilla: Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin with Hunting Rifle (Scope Features)

Wasilla’s a place where — with Anchorage in the rear-view mirror, and the city finally gone — one starts to feel the distinct pull of the Alaska Bush.

Chugach Mountains from Wasilla

A few miles out and that’s exactly where you are. There’s hunting. And fishing. Kayaks and canoes. Dog sleds and snow machines. Miles and miles of untouched — or barely-touched — landscape. Did I mention hunting?

Chimo Gun Store, Wasilla (photo Brian Adams; Sarah Palin buys ammo here)

Although Robert Hansen’s “Alaskan Nightmare” usually took him a little bit east of Wasilla, and south of Palmer, along the Knik River, he did leave at least two suspicious marks on his map, north of these two towns. The topic of those marks did, of course, come up during the map-reading portion of his confession:

Robert Hansen: Okay. Could we go ah (pause). The last one’s here, ah…
Frank Rothschild (Prosecutor): Over towards Susitna?
Robert Hansen: Yeah. East of here, ah, the Susitna River, but you know, in… in between there and Anchorage. (pause) These up here don’t mean nothing [#18 and #19]. Did… there’s nothing there. There’s two down here though (#9 and #11).
Glenn Flothe (AST): Out in northwest of Anchorage [ED. NOTE: across Knik Arm, among the Mat-Su lakes].

In Hansen speak, the Wasilla marks do not signify victim burial sites. Based on his overall facility with the maps, however, the cops and prosecutors overseeing his confession came away with another impression. After an involved back-and-forth about assuring the safety of Hansen’s family — and intermittent progress identifying victims on the maps — the officers took a break and Hansen left the room. They didn’t realize the tape was still rolling.

Vic Krumm (DA): He’s not even half done.
Lyle Haugsven (AST): He does know where every one of them is at.
Vic Krumm: He’s not even half done.
Frank Rothschild (Prosecutor): No but he is a hell of a humanitarian for his family, isn’t he.
Lyle Haugsven (AST): Are we off the record or…
Frank Rothschild (Prosecutor): Yeah.

It’s worth repeating: “He does know where every one of them is at.” [Emphasis added]

Flothe’s Map, north of Wasilla-Palmer (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Hansen’s Map, north of Wasilla-Palmer (courtesy Alaska Public Defender)

  • #18 — Unknown (denied by Hansen; Palmer-Fishhook Road, near Little Susitna River)
  • #19 — Unknown (denied by Hansen; Wasilla-Fishhook Road, near Little Susitna River)

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Hansen’s Victims: Discrepancies South of Seward

The accounting for Hansen victims south of Anchorage, in Seward, takes us into the land of discrepancies. Sgt. Flothe’s version of Robert Hansen’s victim matrix lists four victims in the waters off Seward: three in “Seward Bay,” which technically does not exist, and a fourth in Resurrection Bay, which is the actual name of the bay from its entrance near Sunny Cove, all the way up to its headwaters.

Robert Hansen’s original map, however, shows only three victims in those same waters. And the body that Flothe’s victim matrix has as Resurrection Bay (#23) is shown on Flothe’s map as north of Seward, near Woodrow and Bear Lake. A close-up rendering of the Woodward mark on Hansen’s map puts that location in doubt — clearly the “mark,” if there is one, is quite faint compared to nearby marks, including #17, for Joanna Messina.

Indeed, the mark at Joanna Messina is the one mark both versions of the victim matrix hold in common, in terms of description and precise location. [We show Joanna Messina, a second time, to provide context]

What are we to make of these discrepancies? Robert Hansen’s map is authoritative here. Sgt. Flothe apparently mislabled his victim matrix, putting four victims in Resurrection Bay when clearly there are only three.

And the mark near Woodrow? That one is in the questionable column, if only because it is not clearly marked on Hansen’s original map. There is also the problem that this mark is inland, and not in Resurrection Bay, as indicated by Flothe’s victim matrix. (1)

Seward: Flothe's Map
Flothe’s Map, South to Seward showing FIVE marks (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Seward: south to Seward Bay
Hansen’s Map, South to Seward showing four unambiguous marks, NOT five (courtesy Alaska Public Defender)

Seward: Resurrection Bay
Seward & Resurrection Bay (Apple Maps)

Seward: Woodrow
Woodrow, Alaska (Apple Maps)

Known & Possible Victims

      • #17 — Joanna Messina (Gravel Pit, near the South Fork of the Snow River)

    Seward: Joanna Messina

      • #20 — Unknown, possible Megan Emerick (Resurrection Bay, on map, denied)

    Seward: Megan Emerick

      • #21 — Unknown, possible Mary Thill (Resurrection Bay, on map, denied)

    Seward: Mary Thill

      • #22 — Unknown (CORRECTED: Resurrection Bay, on map, denied)
      • #23 — Unknown (CORRECTED: Near Woodrow; faint mark on map? Possible victim? Questionable.)

    Seward: Woodrow

    Hansen’s Original Map Woodrow closeup; mark for Joanna Messina (#17) is due north (courtesy Alaska Public Defender)

(1) The source of the problem here is that, when “Butcher, Baker” was published, Hansen’s original map was not available to the authors. That map did not become available until 2012, courtesy of the Alaska Public Defender’s office. I did not notice the discrepancies until I started this blog entry. Mea Culpa.

CORRECTION: I wrote about this in 2012, when I was contacted by the Alaska Public Defender’s office and Bruce Day pointed out the discrepancy between the two maps.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Hansen’s Victims: Lakes of the Upper Kenai

Though he generally claimed otherwise, the Kenai Peninsula — especially toward Seward — was Robert Hansen’s other killing field. Indeed, this area corresponds to some of his earliest victims, stretching back to the early to mid-’70s. These were the days before Hansen owned an airplane, the days when he trekked his boat to Seward and went “fishing.”

Upper Kenai
Detail: Hansen’s Map — Kenai Peninsula (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Upper Kenai
Lakes on the Upper Kenai Peninsula (Google Maps; illustration Leland E. Hale)

Upper Kenai Peninsula Victims

Joanna Messina’s body was found near Kenai Lake, just south of Moose Pass. A dental assistant by training, she was broke and alone when Hansen tried to pick her up on the Seward docks. He imagined he would have a “normal” date with her and, indeed, she agreed to hang out with him. Joanna couldn’t stay in town, though, because she had a cannery job-call the following day and needed to get back to her campsite.

When she asked Hansen for money, things quickly went south. In Hansen’s mind, that made her a prostitute. He killed Joanna — hastily burying her in a gravel pit — and then he killed her dog.

Troopers became aware of this 1980 homicide when a bear started after Joanna’s body. Because of that, she was forever known as the “Bear Lady” among troopers. The first suspect in her death was a Seward vet for whom Joanna had briefly worked. He was married; they’d had an affair. When confronted by troopers, however, the vet denied knowing Joanna — which caused him to fail a polygraph test. That was a huge mistake; it immediately made him the prime suspect. The vet finally came clean; it was a contrite man who, in the company of his wife, admitted to his relationship with Joanna, using his infidelity as the rationale for his earlier lies.

For his part, Robert Hansen expressed some regret about Joanna’s murder during his confession:

“There was only one other time it went bad,” Hansen claimed (misleadingly) of Joanna Messina’s murder, “and that’s down by Seward. Maybe she was desperate. That one, I’ve had an awful lot of second thoughts about.”

Excerpt From: Walter Gilmour & Leland E. Hale. “Butcher, Baker.”

        • #12 — Unknown (Summit Lake, Kenai Peninsula)

      In his confession, Hansen says of this victim: “Ah, this girl here is black… She was buried right in a creek bank, or a creek bottom.”

      • #13 — Teresa Watson (Scenic Lake, body on ground)

    Upper Kenai: Teresa Watson

      • #17 — Joanna Messina (Gravel Pit, Seward)

    Upper Kenai: Joanna Messina

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Hansen’s Victims: Mat-Su Lakes

Not all of Robert Hansen’s victims were found along the Knik River. There were others, spread across the Mat-Su valley to the north and northwest of Anchorage (1). The first area we’re looking at is, as the crow flies, very close to Anchorage. Note especially the proximity to Merrill Field — it’s just a straight shot across Knik Arm.

Mat-Su Lakes
Detail — Hansen’s Map of the Mat-Su Peninsula & Eagle River (courtesy Alaska State Troopers

Hansen map
Lakes on the Mat-Su Peninsula & Sleepers Strip Airport (Google Maps; illustration Leland E. Hale)

The outlier in this case is victim #1 — found along Hiland Road, just south of Eagle River, very near the Glenn Highway (Alaska Route 1) — who was never identified. Given the proximity to a major highway, it is likely that Hansen drove — rather than flew — to this site (2).

Hiland Rd, Eagle River, Alaska
Hiland Road (misidentified as “Highland Rd” in Sgt. Flothe’s matrix) (Apple Maps; illustration Leland E. Hale)

Known Victims Mat-Su and Eagle Creek Areas

In this area we are unfortunately faced with more unknowns than knowns. I can, however, say a little bit about Angela Feddern, having met her mother and sister. Her mother was beyond consolation. Her sister, on the other hand, demonstrated a no-nonsense realism that got straight to the point and refused to be bullied or intimidated (3).

Angela’s sister knew all about her lifestyle and begged her to get off the streets. There was a feeling of helplessness, though, in the face of the drugs that drove Angela to turn tricks. Her sister’s biggest sadness was knowing that Angela promised she’d return to the Seattle area after one last trip to Anchorage. She never made it back.

    • #1 — Unknown (Hiland Road, Eagle River)
    • #9 — Unknown (Horseshoe Lake, lying atop ground)
    • #11 — Angela Feddern (Figure “8” Lake, body on ground)

Mat-Su Lakes: Angela Feddern

    • #24 — Unknown (Clunie Lake, denied by Hansen)

(1) Mat-Su is the local abbreviation for the Matanuska-Susitna valley, defined on the west by the Susitna River and on the east by the Matanuska River.
(2) Note that the numbers assigned to Hansen’s victims do NOT correspond to the order in which they were killed — or to the order in which they were found. Rather, they correspond to the order in which Hansen identified them during his confession.
(3) I appeared on the Sally Jesse Raphael show with Angela’s mother and sister. The stage manager tried to prod the sister into taking a vengeful attitude toward the police. It would have made good television. She refused to play along.

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