Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Stone Cold Psychopath

His name was Gary Zieger. Kim Rich wrote about him in “Johnny’s Girl,” and how he turned her life inside out. Tom Brennan wrote about him in “Cold Crime,” describing the investigation that pegged him as a stone cold psychopath. One of my earlier blog entries has its own Zieger story.

And then there is what Walter Gilmour wrote about Gary Zieger. This account, taken from the earliest drafts of “Butcher, Baker,” has never been published before.

Gary Zieger, Psychopath

“With Beth van Zanten’s foster cousin cleared by the box, and Hansen with an alibi, things were looking bleak, although I had still not run out of suspects, even with a long dry spell where there were no leads worth investigating. In August of 1972, at about the time Robert Hansen was transferred to a halfway house, a young woman named ZeZe Mason was found dead in a gravel pit just outside Anchorage.

“She had been missing for several weeks and our investigation quickly identified Gary Zieger as the prime suspect. I knew Zieger was a killer because he had come to our attention in another case, although he had never been arrested for his involvement.

“In the summer of 1971, State Troopers found the body of a young Native Alaskan boy in a secluded area of the Anchorage International Airport. To the best of our information, the boy had been murdered about three months before we found him. He had been shot six or eight times by a .22, and it was evident he had been running for his life, because there was a trail of shell casings stretching for 60 to 70 yards from where he had fallen.

“Just after we found the body, a guy named Beatty came in with his girlfriend and confessed to the murder. He came in because his girlfriend wouldn’t marry him until he came clean. That was fine. We had a body and a confession. Now all we needed was the murder weapon. While we worked on getting a search warrant for Beatty’s house, we kept it under surveillance. One night, a man unknown to the police came to the house, entered and then left shortly afterwards. We asked his name. He identified himself as Gary Zieger.

“When we finally got the warrant and searched Beatty’s house for the murder weason, it was gone. Zieger was our number one suspect; he was the only person who had come or gone from the residence.

“Beatty had not implicated Zieger in his initial confession. As part of his sentence, however, he agreed to give us the details. He revealed that he and Zieger had kidnapped the Native Alaskan kid in Zieger’s truck, and then forced him to perform oral sex. When he was finished, they told him he’d better run for his life, and he did.

“Zieger, who was a powerfully built man at 5’8” and 185 pounds, ran alongside the boy and shot him with the .22 pistol. Since a .22 isn’t the most lethal weapon, it had taken quite a chase and a whole lot of shots to bring the boy down and finally kill him.

This act alone marked Gary Zieger as a psychopath. There would be more.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press.

True Crime: “What Happened in Craig” Available – Update

In the enthusiasm for my latest book, I got a little ahead of myself. I announced that the ebook was ready for pre-order, with delivery by September 1, 2018. As those who pre-ordered “What Happened in Craig” know, that option is no longer available. A cancellation notice has been sent in its place. My apologies.

So now comes the correction. Instead of the ebook, the print version will soon be shipping (September 18, 2018). And it is the print version that is now AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER. HERE TOO. Got that? Me too!

Best of all, “What Happened in Craig” will also be ready for purchase at your favorite LOCAL BOOKSTORE. Hooray!



UPCOMING Appearances: Alaska Book Week

I’ll be at Alaska Book Week to talk about true-crime and my latest book, “What Happened in Craig.” Hope to see you all there!

  • Anchorage Barnes & Noble, Wed. October 10, 5-8 pm
  • Alaska State Trooper Museum (FOAST), Anchorage, Thu. October 11, 5-7 pm
  • University of Alaska Anchorage Library, Fri. October 12, 4-6 pm

Scene of the Crime: “Craig Has Always Been Wild”

CROSS-POST In 1982, Craig, Alaska, was a village with minimal police presence and a rough reputation. As one long time resident told a visiting reporter, “Craig has always been wild. And there’s no getting over that.”

There were only two cops – and no jail. There was also one Alaska State trooper; he was conveniently stationed in Klawock, seven miles north of Craig along a narrow, one-track road. Sometimes called, “Little Chicago,” alcohol-driven fights were common in Craig. Sometimes they turned into brawls. Sometimes firearms were involved. Back in the day, murders were an inconvenience, more likely to be ignored than punished. MORE>>>

Craig from the Water

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Insights

Walter Gilmour was shaken by this murder more than any other he’d experienced. Beth’s disappearance and death were beyond mysterious. Investigators still desperately needed insights into her behavior and actions the night she went missing. Something. Anything. Troopers scoured the greater Anchorage area, interviewing anyone and everyone who knew Beth or claimed they’d been friends.

More Insights
Diane Carlow: I have known Beth van Zanten for years. She was boy crazy, I suppose more than normal. I knew her boyfriend Ed… She also ran with a few of the Brothers motorcycle gang… She liked to walk. She walked everywhere. I don’t think she would accept rides from strangers. I don’t think she would scare easy, since she walked a lot by herself at night. I would classify her as an extrovert.”

Betty Haycox: “I would say Beth was quite shy, reserved.”

Mary McKinney: When Greg Nicholas asked Mary for a date, she asked Beth what she thought of him. “Don’t go out with him,” Beth told her. “I don’t trust him.” Asked her own opinion of Beth, Mary said, “I believe she was quite free with her body.”


Robert Michael Morgan (Friend of Greg Nicholas): “I went over to where Greg lived and met the girl who was killed. She was kind of fat.”

Bob Rettmar (ex-boyfriend): “She I guess was okay. Sort of quiet at times. Intelligent. Immature.”

McHugh Creek Falls, showing the upper parking area and the slope that Beth van Zanten descended as she tried to escape her captor. (photo: Jay Singer)

My own insights? I suppose some people are fully-formed at age 18; I know people for whom high school was, and will doubtless always be, the pinnacle. But jobs, travel, education, marriages and children are all sure-fire change agents. To say that Beth hardly knew herself at that age is an understatement.

There is a greater insight here, one that borders on cliche: as a species we hardly know anybody in a manner that approaches a true depth of understanding (though we keep trying). We are all pupae awaiting our next stage, be it butterfly, moth or mosquito. Or to blatantly mix metaphors, we are all blind men describing an elephant.

Not that any of this ever stopped someone like Walt Gilmour. The job of investigators is to sift through the rot and find the truth, no matter its name. At this point, they still had miles to go. And Gilmour would not sleep.

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.

Trophies at Hansen’s house (Alaska State Troopers)

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

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.

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 Plays A “Good Samaritan”

During his confession, Robert Hansen describes a rendezvous with a woman that overwhelmingly resembles Paula Goulding. The woman is scared. Wants to get out of the business. Doesn’t know what do to next. Finds an unlikely Good Samaritan. That was Paula’s story.

Born in Hawaii, new to Alaska, formerly employed as a secretary, this dancing in the clubs routine was more than Paula Goulding had bargained for. So much so that, at first, she only danced topless. But heeding the cries of “take it all off” meant she would make more money. Eventually, she did what they wanted. She took it all off — and, almost immediately, made an ill-advised date with Robert Hansen.

Good Samaritan: Paula Goulding
Paula Goulding (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Is it really Paula that Hansen describes? There are differences in the account, to be sure. The woman Hansen talks about was working at different clubs than the one Paula was known to be working, both before and after her encounter with the “Butcher, Baker.” And, Hansen claims, he didn’t ask her out a second time. Still…

Hansen mentions seeing this woman at the Wild Cherry which was, in fact, very close to the Bush Company — where Paula worked at the time of her disappearance. Given the sometimes fluid state of his memory — and the fluid state of women working the Anchorage strip — it is possible that he confused the two, both of which were on Anchorage’s infamous Fourth Avenue (1).

[Transcript lightly edited for clarity]

RH: This gal here was working at… Captaln Ahab. She was working there and I walked in and this one girl was sitting by herself at a table. And I walked up and she was sitting there all withdrawn and so forth and I sat down and talked to her and she was, I could tell she was very very upset, what you call scared stiff.

Then [saying] “I can’t believe I’m doing this, I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I said oh, gee whiz, what’s wrong, something I can help you with or whatever? And she says, she just came up and signed her contract or something to dance at the [club and] that she didn’t want to do it. She said she just couldn’t stand the thought of getting up on stage in front of a bunch of people and taking her clothes off. She says she just wanted to get away [from] there.

Good Samaritan: Kit Kat Club
Kit Kat Club, One of Anchorage’s Many Topless Clubs (Stephen Cysewski)

Well, I told her I’ll, of course, right away I guess I’m thinking, gee whiz, maybe this is one I can — my family was gone — maybe I can get her to come stay with me, you know. So I just out and out said, “Hey, you know, I have a home here in town, would you consider coming with me?” And she said, “Are you serious?” And I said, “Yes, I’m serious.” She just said, “Don’t go away.”

She just got up, walked in the dressing room and come out with a coat on and some stuff in a bag, which I found out later was her clothes. She still wore her costume and just walked up to my table and says, “Lets go.” And [we] left and got out and walked out and got in my car, she says, “I got some stuff that’s at The Sleeping Lady.”

And we drove down there and she said, “Park right there in the parking lot,” and she ran in the front door there and she was scared about going in there. I asked her two or three times do you want me to go with you. She said, oh no, that would cause [a] lot more problems. Just “no, no I can’t do that, just please stay here, please don’t leave, don’t leave.”

Robert Hansen is playing the Good Samaritan

She went inside, then before long there was another girl I could see, running to a window in there and looked out and looked at me. And then she left and then both the girl that I’ve taken with me, and the other girl that looked, come down to the door and they had two or three sacks full of clothing and stuff. And they, she put the stuff in my car and we left and I drove to my home and we got home and so forth and we sat and talked for a little while. She was just saying that she was just petrified, scared that she didn’t want to go back and dance there any more.

Then, you know, I got in there and I asked her, you know, we were talking for a little while, I asked her right out, would you care to go to bed now, and she sat there for awhile and she just, she [shed a] few tears, cried a little bit. She said no, she [was] just sorry, she didn’t mean to be a party pooper and so forth, she said she couldn’t do that and that she was just too scared to go back.

I said well, gee whiz, I hate to be callous about it and so forth but, you know, my understanding was that you were gonna stay with me if you was gonna stay here. Gee whiz, you know, is there someplace else you want to go? I’ll take you. She said she didn’t have any place to go. Well, I said I didn’t know what to do with her either.

Turns out the “Good Samaritan” wants something in return

I went and called up on the phone, I don’t know the right name for it, there is a shelter here in town for abused and battered women, and all of this jazz like this here. And I called them up and explained I had a lady here that didn’t have a home, she didn’t know where to go, she’s scared. I don’t believe I told that she was a dancer or anything else. I could have, maybe I did. Anyway. They give me the address where to take her down in a home in South Mountain View, or in Fairview. I drove her down there and spoke very very briefly with the lady that was running the place.

Good Samaritan: Mountain View
Mountain View, Alaska (Stephen Cysewski)

I left, but then I was up town sometime later. I can’t, maybe it was a few, maybe it was a week or two later. The girl was back dancing again in one of the places. It seemed like it was a different place, so maybe the Wild Cherry across the street, someplace. But I was very very surprised. As a matter of fact, I think I walked up to her and asked her. “Gee whiz you change your mind about dancing?” She just kind of looked at me and [said] something to the effect, yes, I had to, or I changed my mind, or something or other.

FR: Did you try taking her out after that?

RH: No. This one here girl didn’t proposition me. I mean, she was in there, she was scared, she, I felt she didn’t even belong there. And I wouldn’t — if she hadn’t had a place to stay, she would have ended up staying at my place, whether there was anything between us or not, until she found another place. All the girls that are working, you know, they are not prostitutes. Some of them just don’t have another means of making a living. I don’t like what they do, really, but it’s a situation that that’s where they are at and that’s where they are making a living.

Good Samaritan: Topless Club Anchorage
Topless Club, Anchorage

If they just want to dance, why, well, to hell with them. A lot of other girls throughout the world are dancing for a living, whether topless or bottomless bar or on a stage or wherever. They may not be morally right but for what they are doing [sic], but I can understand it and that’s never just, well anyway.

RH = Robert Hansen; FR = Frank Rothschild

(1) My personal view is that Hansen was talking about Paula Goulding. There are too many similarities for this to be mere coincidence.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Robert Hansen Meets MOE

Most of us know this, but it’s worth a refresher on how criminal investigations are conducted — and how that is influenced by what the criminal justice system needs to prove. One of the oldest “truisms” of criminal investigations turns on an aphorism colloquially known as “MOE.” MOE is the acronym for “Motive, Opportunity & Evidence.” Investigators focus on this three-legged stool because each leg constitutes an important element in a successful criminal prosecution.

Let’s consider each in turn, using the Robert Hansen case as an example.

Robert Hansen Leaves Courtroom, Covers Face (Hansen is 4th from left; courtesy Anchorage Times)

  • MOTIVE : As most of us know, motive defines “why” the accused committed the crime. In Robert Hansen’s case, his motive for murder was closely tied to his desire to continue his kidnappings and rapes. Dead women don’t talk. Over time, Hansen started killing them for the “thrill;” his motive having evolved to include the “sexual surge” he got from committing murder.
    • Why is this important? The defendant can — and will — argue that he had no reason to commit the crime for which he is accused. That argument is strengthened when the prosecution is unable to present a credible motive linking the defendant to the crime. Juries — human beings — prefer to believe that everything happens for a reason.
    • In some crimes, moreover, motive helps investigators identify accomplices; this is not trivial: depending on the motive, accomplices can go on to commit additional crimes.
  • OPPORTUNITYThis leg of the stool refers to the accused having access to the crime scene and/or victim, either physically or virtually. In Robert Hansen’s case, he owned a bakery that was close to the Anchorage “strip,” where dancers and prostitutes frequented. His work hours — early in the morning — put him in physical proximity to his victims, who worked similar hours.
    • Why is this important? If the accused can prove he was elsewhere when the crime occurred, then the prosecution has a problem. That problem is not absolute: the accused could have hired a hitman or committed a virtual crime through electronic means. In these cases, the prosecution needs to prove that the accused has the ability to “push those buttons.”
  • EVIDENCE: This refers to the forensic findings that link the accused to the crime: DNA, fingerprints, shell casing and weapon matches, etc. Most crime dramas emphasize this aspect of MOE — not only because the exposition is “sexy,” but because it is considered the most irrefutable. In Robert Hansen’s case, prosecutors found that his shell casings matched those found at crime scenes. They found mementoes belonging to victims in his attic. They matched his semen to samples found in Cindy Paulson. Speaking of Cindy Paulson, they also had eyewitnesses who could identify him as the person who kidnapped, raped and threatened them.
    • Why is this important? Evidence is what ultimately links the accused to the crime. If investigators find the DNA of the accused on a murder victim, the accused is positively linked to the criminal act. Same for fingerprints, shell casings or, for that matter, disguises found in the perpetrator’s possession that match witness descriptions or have been seen on surveillance cameras.

There are, of course, exceptions to the three-legged stool requirement. Circumstantial cases, for example, may lack the kind of explicit evidence that prosecutors prefer — but if the other two legs of the case are strong, they can be successfully prosecuted. Similarly, a case lacking an explicit motive can be successfully prosecuted if there are ample evidenciary findings and convincing proof of opportunity.

Failure to prove MOE points toward innocence instead of guilt

That said, a breakdown in any of these investigatory pillars can threaten the effectiveness of a criminal prosecution. Indeed, seen from the opposite perspective, failure to prove one or more of these three components can — and often does — point toward innocence instead of guilt. This is as it should be — the U.S. system operates on the presumption of innocence (well, it should; sometimes its seems that the public has grown weary of “innocent until proven guilty”).

(1) MOE was strong enough against Robert Hansen that, upon being confronted with it, he decided to plead guilty rather than go to trial.
(2) Some folks are downplaying the importance of motive in the Las Vegas massacre. Perhaps it will, in fact, prove unknowable. But, again, motive can point to accomplices. As such, it is not something investigators can or should casually discard.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Robert Hansen: The Banality of Evil

As I write, the Las Vegas massacre is fresh in mind. As people struggle to understand the killer’s motive, I am thrust back to thoughts about Robert Hansen. I cannot claim that these men were the “same.” One committed mass murder, a singularity of death and destruction; the other was a serial-killer whose crimes spanned decades. Criminologists don’t usually consider these two criminal acts as identical.

One — a mass murder — is seen as an explosive act of concentrated violence, in one place, at one time. The other — serial-murder — is associated with intricately planned violence over a longer span of time, involving multiple locations.

To some degree, these archetypes adhere in the present comparison. And yet… The Las Vegas killings were very much intricately planned. To the extent that they were, Robert Hansen’s serial killer psyche may provide some insights into the Las Vegas killer’s motive.

Reading — and hearing — Robert Hansen’s confession, one is immediately struck by the matter-of-factness of it all. His voice is flat and completely without affect. Even when talking about the most grotesque details of murder, Robert Hansen sounds no more emotional than he would in describing a shoe shine.

I’ll concede that he shows some sympathy — in the form of regret that things “went bad,” for example, in the case of Paula Goulding, who tried her damnedest to be cooperative. Except that… once that “spell” of “going along” was broken, Hansen went straight to murder, as though all previous accomodations were null and void. His bonds to common humanity were weak at best: these women were the Other, were “prostitutes” who were beneath him.

They did not matter. They could be sacrificed to his need for control.

This disconnectedness comes through unvarnished in Hansen’s confession and is reminescent of what Hannah Arendt said of Adolf Eichmann:

What he said was always the same, expressed in the same words. The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else.

Eichmann on Trial: The Banality of Evil (Hannah Arendt)

THIS NUDGES US toward the “Banality of Evil” that Arendt defines. The man before us, when we finally see him, is small and insignificant. Surely, we think, this cannot be the man who wreaked such malevolence and destruction.

We will never hear from the Las Vegas murderer in the same way we heard from Robert Hansen. But it is no stretch to think that, once stripped of his guns and cameras, he too would be small and insignificant.

He had no greatness in him, only the desire to destroy the greatness of others, as if by doing so he could rehabilitate himself.

Banality of Evil
Saddam Hussein, Post-Capture (AP/U.S. Military)

“Out of power, most tyrants and serial murderers seem pathetic or ordinary, harmless, or even pitiful, as Saddam Hussein did coming out of his rathole with an unkempt beard.”

Amos Elon, Introduction to Eichmann in Jerusalem (Hannah Arendt)

Purchase Butcher, Baker