The Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Cousin Ronnie

Even as Robert Hansen made his initial appearance in this case through the person of Sandra Patterson, troopers would not — could not — dismiss Greg Nicholas as a subject of interest. That Greg was not alone the night Beth disappeared provided an intruiging possibility. Perhaps Greg’s cousin Ronnie could open a path that elevated Greg from subject to suspect.

Troopers immediately brought Ronnie in for an interview. Troopers first questioned him on 27 December, two days after Beth’s body was found.

They soon learned that it was Ronnie who had called Greg and asked him for a ride to the airport. In a very real sense, then, Greg’s December 22 adventure started there, initiated by that phone call from his cousin. Greg met Ronnie where he was then living, with the Stephens family at Thompson Manor, in the Mountain View area approximately 20-minutes away from the van Zanten’s.

Ronnie
Alternate Routes: Van Zanten residence to Stephens residence — Thompson Manor, Mountain View (Apple Maps; illustration Leland E. Hale)


Ronald James Broughton, December 27, 1971
“Greg and I smoked a joint after leaving the Stephens house (5:50 pm or so)… We went to Frieda’s apartment [Ronnie’s erstwhile girlfriend]. Frieda invited us in and I asked if she wanted to go to the airport and she said, “Yes.” She asked if we were drunk. We told her we smoked a joint. She gave me coffee and cookies…

“Later, after going to the airport to pick up Nikki [who was not on the plane], I asked Frieda if she wanted to go out. She said, ‘Yes,’ if she could find a babysitter. Greg said that his cousin Beth might babysit.”

This is a critical turning point in the narrative. One that pointed Greg toward Beth in, perhaps, an inalterable way. We know that Greg did, in fact, call Beth about babysitting. Some of her last words to her brother were that she was going to babysit for a friend of Greg’s and to have Greg wait for her if he showed up while she was at the store.

Ronnie Broughton (cont.)
“We went over to see Greg’s car; I think a kid by the name of Dave [Beth’s oldest brother] was fixing the car. After leaving the shop we could have went to Greg’s house to see if the girl would babysit. From there we went to the Montana Club.*

And then a little uncertainty: “Before or after we left the garage, Greg and I went downtown. I cannot remember if we went to Greg’s house before or after we were at Dave’s garage. I do know that Greg and I drove over to Greg’s house to see if Beth would babysit for Freda. We parked facing east in front of the house.”

“Frieda asked me to call at 9:00 or 9:30. I called her from the Montana Club. She said she didn’t know and wanted me to call her back again. I then left Greg and cashed an Alaska Scallop Fleet check at the Alley Cat and drank three Calvert’s and water. I made the [next] call to Freda at 10:00 or 10:30 pm.

Ronnie
Alley Cat, Anchorage: Bar Token

“I went back to the Montana and had two or three drinks. I then wandered around to the Elbow Room and Ole & Joe’s. I ended up at the Montana Club and went out to the Rabbit Hutch. I remember sleeping on the table. I was pretty drunk.”

Q: Was Greg with you all night?
A: Except two or three times when I left the Montana Club.
Q: How long were you gone?
A: Less than an hour. He was sitting with a girl from Kenai and a girl from Port Graham.
Q: Did you ever meet Beth van Zanten?
A: No. I waited in the car.

Ronnie had not exactly delivered a strike-out pitch. Assuming Ronnie was correct, Greg had about an hour to commit the crime. It was 11 minutes from the Montana Club to the van Zanten’s, plus whatever time it took to get Beth out of the house. That seemed doable. It was another 26 minutes from the van Zanten’s to McHugh Creek and another 20 or so minutes back to the Montana Club. By the time one accounted for Beth’s rape and escape, that’s more than an hour, easy. Not quite so doable.

Ronnie, of course, was drunk. In that scenario, time is more a notion than a reality. At the very least, troopers needed to get back to Greg. His initial chronology was not adding up.


* The Montana Club, which closed in 1984, was a legendary joint on Anchorage’s infamous Fourth Avenue. In its heyday, it hosted country legends Johnny Horton (“North to Alaska”) and Carl Perkins (“Blue Suede Shoes”), as well as Tex Ritter, Merle Travis and Hank Thompson. By the time of its closing, those halcyon days were long gone and Fourth Avenue was known as the most crime-ridden area in Anchorage.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Life with Robert Hansen: There Seems to Be More

The “why” answer discussed in our previous post is a long one. And in all likelihood incomplete. Even Assistant D.A., after answering that question, had to say, “but there seems to be more.” Yes, there does seem to be more. There seems to be a lot more. Here we glide from cause to effect; once his killing spree started, Hansen seems to have created an elaborate and deadly set of reinforcing behaviors. One thrill begat the next one.

Seems
Trophies at Hansen’s house (Alaska State Troopers)

“This hunter who kept trophies on the wall had a world record.

Seems
Hansen with his World Record Dall’s Sheep

“Well, he now has trophies scattered throughout southcentral Alaska. He put his little notches on the map. And isn’t it interesting that two of his maps were found in his bedboard behind his bed. You can just see him when he has a moment to himself, pulling them out and looking at the little X’s on the map, of women he’d killed and buried.

Seems
Hansen Map (detail)

“He admits to there being at least 20 to 30 women where everything went okay and he dropped them back off on the streets. We fear there were many more; we don’t really believe for a minute that he’s told us the full story. He is a compulsive liar. He gives us what he knows he has to give up — give us [that] and no more.

“It’s a game you see, Your Honor, it’s a game with authority, it’s a game with police, it’s trying to outfox, it’s the big thrill.

“And his family? Well, from back in ’62 on [when he was arrested for arson in Iowa], he always talked about his family. Oh, I care so much for my family, I’m so worried about how this will affect them.

“That’s a fiction.

“His family was a prop so he could hide behind decency, to show I’m a family man. And he’s a baker and he makes money and it’s just all part of the game.”

“Now there are, Your Honor, 13 bodies still out there to find.”


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Robert Hansen’s Fantasies: Sunday Singles (Audio)

Listen to Robert Hansen at his most amoral. Hear him casually encourage his wife and kids to tour Europe for an entire summer, so that he can arrange “dates” through a singles service. Hear him confess to planning this more than a year in advance. This is Robert Hansen at his most manipulative.

He had somehow gotten the idea that he wanted to find someone for the summer. Someone he could be close to, someone who wasn’t a prostitute. If he could be with her at his home, he reasoned, maybe things wouldn’t go wrong — as they had so many times before, when he picked up women on the street. This would be different.

And then, after that, if things went well… who knows?

Four weeks before Darla left for Europe, Robert Hansen twice put an ad in the Anchorage Daily News, which at the time ran the singles column called “Sunday Singles.” Here’s Robert Hansen’s ad:

“Adventurous male, 42, 5-11, 165 pounds, looking for a lady proud to be a woman, to share sincere, honest attachment. Must like to dance and enjoy social life. Willing to put on jeans. Join me in finding what’s around the next bend, over the next hill. Enjoy flying own plane, beachcombing, fishing, camping. Life is much fuller if shared. Send recent photo.”

Audio: Robert Hansen talks about his Sunday Singles ad during his confession.

Singles

On June 8, 1983, one of the women who answered his ad came to his house. She was, it turned out, an employee of the Alaska State Troopers. He took her to the basement. Showed her the stuffed animals on the walls, the hunting trophies he was so proud of. He hoped to have sex with her on the bear rug. She turned him down. It was a first date. She wasn’t that kind of woman.

As Frank Rothschild recounted during Hansen’s sentencing, “It was five days later that he picked up [Cindy Paulson]. Five days later that he put her in handcuffs, took her down to the basement, chained her and put her on that same bear rug.”


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Last Gasp

Although there would be additional attempts to identify bodies, June 1984 marked the last gasp in the contemporaneous search for Hansen’s gravesites. Given that Hansen’s first known murders occurred in the early ’70’s, each passing year meant trace evidence grew thinner. Even spots where there was a match between Hansen’s aviation map and his on-site ID’s, the prospect loomed large that wild animals or humans had disturbed, or even removed, portions of those remains.

It’s telling that the last entry in Sgt. Flothe’s memorialization waivered between positive and negative. Even with the help of a dog, his search for remains at Hansen gravesite #7 were initially written up as “negative.” And then the “negative” was mysteriously crossed out. In other words, it read exactly like a last gasp entry:

Last Gasp

Last Gasp
Trooper Cadet Ray Jennings Searches Along the Knik 1984 (courtesy Anchorage Times)

For the record, Flothe’s detailed matrix ultimately identified Gravesite #7, “adjacent to Goulding grave,” with a blank entry denoting negative results.

Last Gasp
Sgt. Flothe’s Victim Matrix (excerpt)


Thirty years later, authorities would exhume the body of an unidentified victim, hoping that new science would unpack her identity. Some speculated this victim, who was nicknamed “Horseshoe Harriet” because her body was found near Horseshoe Lake, was actually Andrea Altiery.

In 1984, however, Sgt. Flothe had identified this woman differently, saying it was “Tentative Delynn Frey.” Frey, whose dancing name was “Sugar,” was 20 at the time of her disappearance in March 1983. Angela Feddern had disappeared in February 1983 and was found near Figure 8 Lake, just due west of Horseshoe Lake. That seemed to link them in time as well as space, which appeared to make DeLynn Frey the more likely answer.

At this writing, however, the identity of Horseshoe Harriet is still unconfirmed.

Last Gasp
DeLynn Frey (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Last Gasp
Horseshoe Lake (Google Maps, illustration by Leland E. Hale)


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Fish Necklace

Andrea Altiery was originally from Hawaii, the daughter of a prominent local family. She made her way to Anchorage in the early eighties, seeking the elusive fortune of exotic dancing. Maybe she had Rock Fever, that sometimes disorienting disease borne of being stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At any rate, after moving to Alaska one thing led to another. Somehow, she got entangled with Bob Hansen, likely on another “photo session” that promised hundreds of dollars. That Hansen killed her was certain. Her fish necklace was found among the mementoes in his attic.

There was no mistaking that necklace. It was gold and custom-made. It was one of Andrea’s prized possessions. No way would she have voluntarily gifted it to Bob Hansen.

Fish Necklace
Andrea Altiery’s Fish Necklace (photo courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

No. Bob Hansen stole that necklace after he killed Andrea Altiery. Stole it and hid it in his attic, among his other mementoes. Neither Mona Altiery nor her semi-famous father would ever learn more about their daughter.


NOTE: 10-21 = Call by Phone

Fish Necklace


Fish Necklace
Andrea “Andra” Altiery (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Resurrection Bay

There is no special consideration for Bob Hansen’s “most despicable” crimes. They were all variations of bad to worst. That’s how it rolls when you’re dealing with a serial killer. But the name “Resurrection Bay” always looms as a cruel reminder that even irony went missing with Robert Chris Hansen.

Resurrection Bay brings us Mary Thill and Megan Emerick, whose probable murders stand out as particularly callous deeds in a career defined by callousness.

As Sgt. Flothe had learned, Robert Hansen was loathe to confess to any murders that didn’t involve prostitutes. In Hansen’s world, prostitutes were “lower” than him and ready-made victims. But Hansen claimed that a woman who was not a prostitute was someone he “put on a pedestal.” Denying that he killed Mary and Megan seemed to be the only way Hansen could deal with the cognitive dissonance erupting from his murder of innocents. For Megan and Mary, that meant that theirs would always be a watery grave, deep in Davy Jones’ locker, with no hope of recovery (1).


NOTE: 10-21 = Call by Phone

Handwritten

Resurrection
Mary Thill (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Resurrection
Megan Emerick (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)


(1) I was contacted by a TV producer some years ago who wanted to mount a sniffer dog search for Mary and Megan. Maybe I’m missing something in the imagination department, but that was one of the most far-fetched things I’ve ever heard. I dunno. Give ’em credit. Maybe they had super-underwater-dogs from outer space.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Bring in the Cat

5/14/84
As May moved along, the ground started to yield and the days grew longer. It was then that troopers brought in heavy equipment to assist in the search for bodies. It represented a kind of desperation: there is nothing particularly delicate about a Cat, although a skilled operator with a deft touch can come awfully close to turning a Cat excavator into a precision tool.

And yet, even with the heavy lifters, the Knik refused to give up all its secrets.

Cat


Cat
Detail: Hansen’s Map – Knik River Sites (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Clustered Graves in the Killing Fields

That Robert Hansen would go back to the same spots along the Knik River, and leave bodies clustered there, says something about him, though I’m not entirely sure what. Was he lazy? Panicked? Careless? Or did the clustered bodies speak instead to his ritual obsessions, so that it was easier for him to revisit the gravesites and re-live the murders at his leisure? Certainly the clustered gravesites made it easier on the cops when it came time to recover them, but that likely was the last thing on Bob Hansen’s mind.

Meanwhile, the contents of a paper bag found near the clustered remains revealed the intimate details of someone who would otherwise remain unidentified. She’d been wearing a dress jacket, Levi’s and nylon stockings; even her shoes were in that improvised tote bag. She had also carried a purse with makeup and an injection kit: Bic lighter, spoon and hypodermic needle. The injection kit told troopers she was cooking drugs. That was the sign of a junkie.

And the Buck hunting knife? Possibly a contributing factor in her death. Had she flashed it at Hansen, he surely would have killed her. Not that it mattered much either way. He probably killed her anyway.


Handwritten


Clustered


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: When Human Rituals Go Missing

Humans have developed elaborate rituals surrounding the key turning points of our all-too-brief lives. The “baby shower” for the mother-to-be. The “christening,” and the “bris,” for the newborn. The First Communion and the Bar-Bat Mitzvah for coming of age. The “Wedding,” yes, that one too, for it brings the expectation of a new human (maybe more). And, of course, the funeral, the final rites, the easing of the once living into the next orbit. There are many ways to do them, but each ritual is rooted in the same need.

At each of these rituals, we are joined to the great arc of our forbearers, our family, our community. These are joining’s, not leaving’s; even at the ultimate moment, when our lives are memorialized in the funeral ritual, we are remembered through the presence of those who will go on living, until they too meet this day.

These rituals are what people refer to when they speak of “closure.” The rings cannot be closed without them. At death we want the rituals.

Not this:

“Body located w/ head in northerly direction in the embankment under six inches of leaves and soil and under a log, on its back.”


Handwritten

Rituals
Lisa Futrell

NOTE: Beginning in May of 1984, when troopers began searching Hansen’s grave sites in earnest, Sgt. Flothe abandoned his typed diary and started making handwritten entries. The first of these is presented here.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: A Grieving Stepfather

I met Tamara Pederson’s stepfather on the set of the Sally Jessy Raphael show in November, 1991. He seethed with anger that the Troopers had not solved the Hansen murders sooner. He had a point. If they’d taken Hansen in the early ’70’s there was a chance that Tammy, as she was known, would still be alive. A chance.

In a telling exchange, an audience member asked Pederson how he could blame the police, because “you knew she was in a dangerous profession.” Tamara’s stepfather glared, but had no answer.


4/29/84: AL MOREAU, off duty Palmer Police Officer discovers bone and material protruding from ground near gravesite #6 across river from MORROW gravesite. Reports discovery to AST. Sergeant STOGSDILL and Lieutenant KASNICK removed body from grave. Body taken to Forest Lawn Mortuary.

4/30/84: Doctor ROGERS performed autopsy on found body. Subject shot twice with large calibre copper jacket recovered.

The weapon that Hansen likely used here was his Thompson Contender, a large calibre pistol that was as deadly as it looked.

Stepfather
Thompson Center Arms Contender (7mm, single shot)

5/1/84: Positive ID found body #6 from grave site #6 as TAMARA PEDERSON from dental X-rays. ID performed by Doctor Rogers.

Stepfather
Tamara Pederson (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

5/2/84: Met with VIGORENS and later Mr. PEDERSON reference TAMARA PEDERSON.

5/3/84: Met with Mr. PEDERSON, TAMARA’s adopted stepfather. Transported him to TAMARA’s grave site per his request. Also used Alyeska’s infared heat detecting video camera to help locate bodies at grave sites #1 and #3 with negative results.


Purchase Butcher, Baker