Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Bob Talks Christmas

Robert Hansen was ultimately asked to make a statement as to his whereabouts on December 22nd, the night Beth van Zanten turned up missing. His statement was not expansive in any sense of the word. Instead, Hansen gave them the most consise statement possible. It was as if, somehow, the cops wanted him to pay for each and every syllable, then wrap it up like a Christmas present. He was detemined not to do that.

Went to work at 4:45 December 22, 1971. Got through work at 2:00 p.m. Went home to 327 Thomas Court. Spent the rest of the afternoon from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. with my wife and sister-in-law and daughter, then left to Larry Bivins’ on 6th St. for pizza supper. Left there about 10:30 went home with my wife and daughter. Went to bed about 11:00 p.m. Got up again about 4:30 dressed and arrived at work about 4:45 a.m. Thursday and worked until 2:00 p.m.

Hansen makes nine references to the time of day in his handwritten statement. Nine. Only once did he underline a time. 10:30 p.m.

It so happened that Beth disappeared from her house at approximately 9:00 p.m. in the midst of the Christmas season. Hansen is consciously stressing that he was somewhere else until after Beth went missing. He seems well aware of the timeframe when she disappeared. He has an alibi, dammit.


Sgt. Glenn Flothe on Hansen’s statement:

“We know now that Hansen would go days without sleep and finally crash for a couple of hours and go again. A good alibi is one close to the truth — he had plenty of time [to kidnap, rape and assault Beth van Zanten].”

Christmas
Sgt. Glenn Flothe


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: The Wire

Forensics, then as now, always play an important role in murder investigations. At a very high level, there are two parallel paths with forensic evidence: what you find and what you can to do with it. Troopers were struggling on both fronts.

Physical evidence was sparse. No foreign hair was found in any of the victim combings or her clothing. The sperm found in her womb could have been dispositive but, at the time, forensic scientists could only make blood, not DNA, matches. Her time of death was also uncertain: the forensic pathologist told them that the low temperatures and cause of death delayed rigor mortis. The only piece of physical evidence they really had was the wire used to tie Beth’s hands.

Troopers were also playing hell getting the wire identified. One of Gilmour’s investigators had been all over town, to every possible business that might handle such an object. The wire was a double-strand, black and white stereo wire, with indications it was made in Japan. While one trooper tried businesses, another contacted Interpol, asking if they could track down the manufacturer and identify an American outlet for that product. That too was proving impossible.

Wire

One hope stood out: the wire could have come from a G.I. who’d been in Asia. There was, after all, a war going on in Southeast Asia. Alaska was a major military transport point for Vietnam and other points east. And then there was this: one of Beth’s ex-boyfriend’s was in the military. And at one time, before he was sent to Vietnam, they were supposed to get married. Stationed at Fort Wainwright, the ex-boyfriend had in fact been in Fairbanks at the time of Beth’s disappearance.


INTERVIEW: William Frederick Smith, Beth van Zanten’s ex-boyfriend
December 22, 1971

  • Went to work and Sergeant Bennett gave me the day off at approximately 1:00 pm.
  • 2:00 pm: My brother and I got a Christmas tree.
  • 5:00 – 5:30 pm: I went to Fairbanks to pick up my sister and fiancé.
  • 8:00 pm: Met their Alaska Airlines plane in Fairbanks. The two women went shopping at Penney’s and I got gas.
  • 11:00 pm: Got home and stayed there.

There was more. Bill’s brother could account for his whereabouts since December 21st — the day before Beth went missing. As far as the wire — and everything else — was concerned, this was a dead end. Not only was Smith elsewhere during the time of Beth’s murder, he had moved on to another relationship.

And that wire Detective Rice spied at Robert Hansen’s house? Languishing.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Hansen Evasive

After towing his car, the cops brought Robert Hansen in to talk about Sandra Patterson. As was the case when they seized the Pontiac, both the Anchorage Police Department and Alaska State Troopers were present, in the persons of Detective Ron Rice and Sgt. Don Hughes, respectively. Hansen was characteristically evasive during the interview. So evasive that there were long pauses while Hansen collected his lies. So evasive that he continually claimed to remember nothing. Sgt. Hughes, who led the interview, found Hansen so evasive that he made note of it.

INTERVIEW
HANSEN, ROBERT C., address: 327 Thomas Circle, Anchorage, Alaska. MR. HANSEN was interviewed at the Anchorage Police Department by Detective Ron Rice and this investigator. The interview began at approximately 5:20 p.m. Prior to the interview, MR. HANSEN was advised of his rights, the Miranda Warning and the Waiver of Rights, which he replied that he understood and would talk to me. Present at this time was the defendant, Detective Ron Rice, and this investigator. Interview took place on 12/28/1971.

Evasive
Robert Hansen, Bowhunter

MR. HANSEN, for the first 45 minutes to an hour, maintained that he had no idea of what we were talking about. Several times during this interview, there were pauses to let MR. HANSEN collect his thoughts. He continued to maintain that he remembered nothing. He was shown a copy of the Registration card from Sunrise Inn on Seward Highway, which is shown to have been written by the person registering there on Sunday morning, 12/19/71. He looked at it and admitted it looked like his writing, but would not state definitely that he had written it. He was then asked if he had anything in his wallet that bore his handwriting.

He produced his wallet and emptied it on the table top and looked for something with his writing on it. It was at this time that he opened a triangular piece of white paper, and put it down, and I saw that written on this piece of paper was the name of “J. PATTERSON, 1321 P. Street, Anchorage, Alaska.” I asked him what the piece of paper was, and he professed complete ignorance of it, of the name, or how it got in his wallet. I then questioned him again about the girl he had met at the Nevada Cafe that morning, and he then began to give bits and pieces of thoughts concerning the girl.

He continued on, quote… “I think she was a prostitute. I think she said something about her price was $75.00.”

Then he asked no one in particular, “Did she have black hair?” I answered him, “Yes, she had black hair.”

Again, a question to no one in particular, “Does she have a little child?” Again, I answered him, “Yes, she has.”

After considerable pause, “Seems like the girl had marks on her arms, and that she took dope, that she needed to make some money… she didn’t have a place to stay.”

I then asked, “Did you give her any money?” MR. HANSEN answered, “Didn’t have any.”

After considerable pause and thought, MR. HANSEN continued, “Seems like her car was next to mine, and was running. She got into my car… seems like she was crying. I don’t remember. Said she just wanted to go… to get out of there… can’t remember.”

“Seems like she didn’t have the child any more… Seems like she was in trouble with the law.”

“Can’t remember…” Considerable pause. “I can remember her saying…” (pause)

Question by HANSEN, “What’s that motel here in town… can’t remember the name of it.”

Considerable pause…

“Fancy Moose.”

“Seems like she could stay all day the next day if I would pay the rent.”

Evasive
Robert Hansen in Court, 1972

I then asked MR. HANSEN if he took the girl to the Fancy Moose, and his reply was negative, then, “I can’t remember.”

I asked MR. HANSEN if he was driving his Pontiac that day, and he said very slowly, “I don’t think so,” then more emphatically, “No, I don’t think so.”

Another pause and thought by MR. HANSEN and he continued, “I think she was mad because she didn’t make any money that night.”

“I remember her saying, ‘I didn’t make a God damned dime tonight.'”

“Seems like she’d pay for the motel room,” then considerable pause and thought… “Half of it. Didn’t make much sense… I didn’t have $75.00.”

“Seems like I remember her saying she’d go with me, but I didn’t have any money.”

“She was very tired.”

“I’m not sure about that, or if it was just me that was tired.”

MR. HANSEN again paused and started to say that he had something on his mind, but then shook his head and said, “No… no.”

I told MR. HANSEN if he had something on his mind that was bothering him, to tell us what it was. He then continued. “Hypodermic syringe… she said she wanted more dope.”

“Seems like she had some needles.”

“I don’t even know if this is right.”

“Seems like I remember a girl with dark hair… she wanted some money… seems like she’d been in a fight… her arms were sore… her wrists and arms.”

“I can’t remember going down there… just doesn’t seem like I would just before Christmas.”

Detective Rice then asked MR. HANSEN what kind of hand gun he usually carried in his car if he were going hunting, and MR. HANSEN replied, “A Colt Woodsman .22 with a six-inch barrel.”

Evasive

At this point, we called a break, and asked MR. HANSEN if he wanted a Coke or water. He wanted Coke. He was left by himself for approximately twenty minutes. Upon our return, MR. HANSEN was again advised of his rights. He stated that he most wanted to talk to MR. GILMORE, his attorney, and his doctor. The interview was terminated immediately at approximately 7:10 p.m., and MR. HANSEN was taken to the State Jail and booked.


Robert Hansen’s evasive tactics ended with the ultimate evasion: he wanted to talk to his attorney. It was his right. He knew his rights. And, as it turned out, Sandra Patterson knew her guns.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

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