Robert Hansen Dies at 75

Serial killer Robert Hansen died Thursday, August 21, at an Anchorage hospital. He was 75. His death appears to be from natural causes. According to the Alaska Department of Corrections, Hansen’s health had been declining for the past year.

The Anchorage Dispatch News quotes retired Alaska Trooper Glenn Flothe on Hansen’s death. Fittingly, it is Flothe who gets the last word.

“On this day we should only remember his many victims and all of their families, and my heart goes out to all of them,” wrote Glenn Flothe, a retired Alaska state trooper who was instrumental in Hansen’s 1984 capture.

“As far as Hansen is concerned, this world is better without him.” Flothe wrote.

Glenn Flothe in 1982, shortly after Robert Hansen’s arrest.

Flothe

The Anchorage Dispatch has additional coverage of Hansen’s transfer to the Anchorage Correctional Complex, prior to his death. According to troopers, Hansen had “Do Not Resuscitate” paperwork on file with the Department of Corrections. He got his wish.

Robert Hansen’s Flight Map

First off, thanks to the wonderful students at the University of Alaska – Anchorage who met with the Butcher, Baker authors on 7 November 2013. Your questions, your curiosity and your passion are remarkable.

One of the things I discovered during our interaction was how interested you were in the victim map that Robert Hansen kept, using a flight map as a starting point. The map is gruesome documentation of Hansen’s savagery and cruelty — and the single best image of the scope of his crimes. Each colored circle represents a possible victim burial place. There are 24 circles in all.

Robert Hansen’s Flight Map (annotated by AST Glenn Flothe)

Hansen's flight map

Legend:

  • Blue Circle = Hansen admits victim
  • Yellow Circle = Hansen denies victim

Frozen Ground: The Distribution Game, Part II

That the film industry is one in transition is oft-discussed. In North America, movies are increasingly watched at home — hence the success of Netflix. Globally, it’s a somewhat different story, as this piece from PWC notes:

China will become the fastest-growing filmed entertainment market in the world, expanding by a CAGR of 14.7% from 2012 to 2017, followed in the Asia Pacific region by Thailand (10.5%) and India (9.9%). Other markets with double-digit CAGR are Venezuela, Russia, and Argentina. The larger traditional markets in North America and Europe are comparatively stagnant, with 1 to 3% growth in general.

Now consider this in the context of The Frozen Ground release schedule. The Argentina release, for example, has moved to December 12, 2013 (where it will be known as [correction] Cazador de mujeres – Hunter of Women). But countries across Europe and Asia have already seen the film’s debut, the one exception being the all-important China market (which should be on track for a 2014 release; the film has already appeared in the Taiwan market).

As noted in our previous blog post, distribution decisions restricted the North American theatrical release — but reflect the changing dynamics of the North American film industry toward the home market and away from the theatrical market, where it seems only blockbusters survive.

Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.

Frozen Ground: The Distribution Game

I missed this detail in my earlier posts, but the Anchorage Daily News has a great story explaining why The Frozen Ground movie has not enjoyed a wide theatrical release. Dunham quotes Ron Holmstrom, who played Hansen’s lawyer and is an Anchorage-based board member of the Seattle Local of the Screen Actors Guild. Holmstrom explains why the movie did not premiere in Anchorage, where much of it was filmed.

“The reason that Anchorage is being skipped… has to do with a fight among theater chains, producers and distributors that involves, among other things, the video on demand (VOD, home pay-per-view) release of ‘Frozen Ground’ on the same day that it opens in American theaters.”

It wasn’t just Anchorage that was affected. Few cities saw “The Frozen Ground” reach theaters.

Holmstrom adds: “I spoke with both Lionsgate, the theatrical distributor, and Grindstone, the VOD distributor. They assured me that because of the VOD release, the big cinema chains refused to do a wide release.”

This is, of course, a business decision. The principals behind “The Frozen Ground” are Emmett/Furla Productions (they drove the film from its inception). Emmett/Furla are in tight with Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment Group, after signing a 10 film deal in 2012. From the PR piece announcing the deal:

The Grindstone collaboration with Emmett/Furla and Cheetah Vision has generated a string of successful features starring notable A list actors, including: the thriller SET UP, starring Bruce Willis, Ryan Phillippe and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson; the crime drama FREELANCERS, starring Robert DeNiro and Forrest Whitaker; the high octane FIRE WITH FIRE, starring Willis, Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson and Vincent D’Onofrio; and the serial killer thriller THE FROZEN GROUND, starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack. The next film slated for release from Grindstone’s partnership with Emmett/Furla is the crime thriller EMPIRE STATE, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, THE HUNGER GAMES’ Liam Hemsworth and Emma Roberts.

So if you happen to live in New York, Dallas, Phildelphia or… Wasilla, Alaska (pop. 8,456)… You were lucky… Otherwise, it’s VOD (If you have Redbox in your area, you might be able to get it there, too).

Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.

Saw “Frozen Ground” the movie: Three 1/2 Stars

I just saw “The Frozen Ground,” the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker. It’s available through October as an On Demand movie (check your local listings).

Aside from the usual complaints about what happens when movies try to condense the narrative that’s only possible in books, I have several observations:

  • Scene I missed the most: In the actual investigation, Holcombe (AST Sgt. Glenn Flothe) learns of Robert Hansen’s sordid past while standing next to AST Major Walter Gilmour as they’re peeing at the urinals.
  • AST Sgt. Holcombe’s (Cage) wife in Frozen Ground is largely unsympathetic. The real wife here, Cherry Flothe, interacted with Cindy Paulson on a regular (and always supportive) basis — usually by phone, when Glenn was unavailable. Cherry was an unswerving believer in Glenn, even when others had doubts. In this case, the real thing is much, much better than the fictional thing.
  • Nicholas Cage turns in a strained but credible performance as Glenn Flothe (Holcombe). My “Butcher, Baker” co-author, the inimitable Walter Gilmour, once joked that the first instinct was to put all the asshole cops on the dancer murders. They only succeeded when they put a nice cop (Flothe) on the case.
  • My biggest (positive) surprise was Vanessa Hudgens as Cindy Paulson. She deftly manages to communicate the edgy vulnerability of the real person. Kudos — if Hudgens fails, the movie fails, because the credibility of everything else depends on that performance.
  • The aerial shots of the Chugach Mountains, the Knik River and Anchorage were stunning at times. More than anything, the Hansen murders call up a sense of people and place — and the place is inseparable from how Hansen’s crimes were committed and how he got away with them for so long.
  • Strangest moment #1: Holcombe (Cage) describes Robert Hansen as a stutterer. Yet Hansen (Cusack) barely stutters. Probably a good acting decision. But still a WTF moment.
  • Strangest moment #2: Hansen’s entire interaction with the (white) pimp/enforcer. People, people, people… Robert Hansen was (justifiably) terrified that every human interaction was a route to the unraveling of his elaborate cover. He went to GREAT lengths to make sure no one ever saw him with any of the young women. And then went to great lengths to scare, secure and isolate them. To think that he would blithely order a “hit” on Cindy Paulson is magical thinking on the part of the filmmakers (yes, it adds drama; I would argue it’s gratuitous, that it just gives the actors some action sequences, but… Nevermind).
  • And, yes, there were jailhouse rumors about a hit on Cindy. Or more accurately, talk about how Hansen wanted her to just go away (as in pay her to leave town). Those are two different things. I say: consider the source. Yeah. The jailhouse.

Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.

Butcher, Baker; Frozen Ground; Fair Game

This too will pass… but indulge me for a moment while I eat sour grapes…

This should be a happy week. The movie version of the Robert Hansen serial murder case, called Frozen Ground, is enjoying a limited opening in theaters somewhere in America. But in the grand scheme of things, um… There’s not as much happiness as I would have liked…

My book, Butcher, Baker, is an afterthought in all of this. A coulda, woulda, shoulda. My gut sense is still that it shouldn’t have come to this, but life is complex and sometimes co-authors (and literary agents) don’t see eye-to-eye. I am trying to be diplomatic.

To add insult to injury, I just got a mail from Amazon, touting Fair Game, another book about Robert Hansen. Calling it “the Definitive Account of the Crimes of Alaska Serial Killer Robert Hansen.” For the record, I just want to say “bullshit.”

But you be the judge. Read both books. See the movie. Look at the arc of the story. Pay attention to how long it takes Cindy Paulson to appear in each version (and yes, it’s true, the publisher made us give her a pseudonym; think of her as the 17 year old who got away).

And Bernard, no hard feelings. Really. Congratulations. Fair Game, right?

Frozen Ground (The Movie): U.S. Premiere

Well, well, well, kiddies… The news of the world now reveals that… The movie inspired by “Butcher, Baker” — also known as the Frozen Ground — is now going to premiere in the U S of A.

You heard right. Premiering in the U.S.A. On 23 August 2013. Not sure where… Or how many screens. But… Here’s the link: Frozen Ground @IMDb. Congratulations everyone, especially Mr. Scott Walker, for whom this is a Hollywood directing debut.

BTW — why do I keep saying Frozen Ground “The Movie?” Because it wasn’t that long ago that a Google search of “Frozen Ground” brought up “Frozen Ground Beef” recipes… And yes, I posit here, now and forever… that “Frozen Ground” is a shitty name… Actually, an ab-so-lute-ly shitty name… Especially compared to the (ahem) original.

Them’s the breaks, kids. Them’s the breaks. Take no risks and nothing will happen either to you or for you. I’ll take my risks, thank you. I’ll put myself out there. Mindful that, as a friend reminds me, “the writer always gets screwed.”

No matter. You can still buy the original work on Amazon. Yes. And I don’t make a penny (that’s the way how it works; see above). “Butcher, Baker” is the real thing. No made up scenes. No gratuitous drama because, really, it isn’t necessary. This is true edge of your seat stuff. And, no, I haven’t seen the movie…

Frozen Ground (the movie): More Updates

In the past few months (my, I have been neglectful), I have gleaned new information about the Buenos Aires premiere of “Frozen Ground,” the movie inspired by my true-crime book, “Butcher, Baker.”

In February, I received an email from a friend in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It concluded with the following message:

As far as “Frozen Ground”, the release date, here in Argentina, was confirmed as March 7, but they haven’t come up with a Spanish name for it yet.

Ok, not exactly propitious, right? No Spanish name for a movie that will premiere in a Spanish language country?

Then March 7 arrived. And with it, more news from Buenos Aires. [Update on the Buenos Aires Premiere.]

As far as “Frozen Ground”, the release date, here in Argentina, is now August 29th but I don’t know why they have changed it. I hope this is not a sign of trouble, an indication that they don’t have enough confidence in it. We’ll see.

Hey, I’m an optimist. But between you and me, I’m not holding my breath. I’m just wishing them the best. And hope that’s good enough.

No matter. You can still buy the original work on Amazon. Yes. “Butcher, Baker” is the real thing. No made up scenes. No gratuitous drama because, really, it isn’t necessary. This is true edge of your seat stuff. And you don’t have to go to Argentina to get it.

Frozen Ground: Argentina Update

Having just returned from Argentina (it was great, BTW), I now have another update on the release of “Frozen Ground.” Thanks to my friend Elisa, here’s a link to an Argentine web site (cinesargentinos.com) with the following update (Spanish):

Basada en una historia real, un policía del estado de Alaska se une a una joven mujer que ha escapado de un asesino serial, para encontrar al delicuente y llevarlo a la justicia.

TITULO ORIGINAL: Frozen Ground
ACTORES: Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hudgens, John Cusack.
GENERO (genre): Suspenso.
ORIGEN: Estados Unidos.
DURACION: No informada
CALIFICACION (rating): No disponible por el momento

ESTRENO EN BUENOS AIRES: 07 de Marzo de 2013

Rough translation: Based on a true story, an Alaska State Trooper meets a young woman who has escaped from a serial murderer, finds the offender and brings him to justice.

Remembering Robert Lescher

Robert Lescher, of the Lescher & Lescher Literary Agency, recently passed away at the age of 83. his post is my heartfelt remembrance of a man I knew for almost three decades.

In 1985, I was an absolutely unknown author, trying to sell a true-crime manuscript called “Butcher, Baker,” the story of a serial killer in Alaska. Walter Gilmour (my co-author) and I knew we needed a literary agent to get there. That agent turned out to be Robert Lescher. He told us his was a small, boutique agency which carefully selected its authors. He was our man. We just weren’t sure whether we belonged there, given that he represented heavy hitters like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Alice B. Toklas. We needn’t have worried.

Bob immediately started working his magic. Soon we were getting rejections from   Norton, Grove Press, Harper & Row… all the majors. About 16 rejections in all — each from editors who could, on their own word alone, make publication a reality. Then came the letter from Bob, dated January 5, 1987. It read in part:

… I have only now been able to turn to the revision. It was read here by someone else as well, and I have to say that neither of us has the enthusiasm for the work that we had hoped to have…

I’m afraid now I’m going to have to return the material to you in the hope you can find an editor yourself, or another agent, who might give you the help you want. I’m sorry I can’t be the one, but I know that you wouldn’t want me to represent your work if my feelings are as ambivalent as they seem.

There is was. We’d been fired by our literary agent. He’d taken a chance on us, and we’d let him down.

My co-author and I were in a quandary. Walter wanted to go forward with the manuscript as-is. I felt we had about $1million worth of great advice (those pesky rejection letters). That advice said: “start over, start fresh, do a complete rewrite.” Walter balked. I got him to give me a year and a half to turn the whole thing around. Then came the next discussion. To whom do we send the new version?

Walter’s abiding frame of reference for all things business is real estate, which meant we needed to give Bob Lescher the right of first refusal. I didn’t expect much, because at the time I put little stock in second chances (hey, I’d just been through a divorce). We hadn’t really identified any alternatives, however, so… Back to Bob. His response came on May 24, 1990:

The manuscript just came in and I can see at once that a considerable amount of new work went into it. I’m going to share the manuscript with [editor], as I promised… and I’ll get back to you when his response reaches me.

Wow. Re-hired by our literary agent. And successfully published soon thereafter. Amazing.

There are several  lessons here, but I’ll always remember this one: Bob gave us a second chance when none seemed possible. It was at that moment I realized how deeply he cared about authors and how much he respected the writing process. Equally important, he had that essential but elusive ability to change his mind, based on additional evidence. I was blown away. I still am.

Postscript: A decade later, I wrote a book called “Huck Finn Is Dead.” Though a flawed work, Bob saw its potential — and encouraged me to take a second stab at it, even after a disappointing round of rejections. Only recently was I able to take him up on that proposition.

Here’s to you, Bob… After reworking the manuscript like crazy — and belatedly adding an entirely new beginning — I recently published “Huck Finn Is Dead.” And yes. I thoroughly believe in second chances…