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Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

An Investigation Going Nowhere

When Cindy Paulson escaped the clutches of Robert Hansen on Sunday, June 13, 1983, it initially seemed like an isolated incident in a series of missing dancer investigations that were going nowhere. By the time Cindy was kidnapped, police already had the names of fifteen men with whom prostitutes and dancers reported having strange encounters.

And, realistically, the Paulson kidnapping and rape, serious as it was, had not edged into murder. In those days, Alaska had lots of murders to deal with, including the Sherry Morrow homicide. As always, homicides sucked up lots of resources.


So when the Sherry Morrow case was assigned to Trooper Sgt. Lyle Haugsven that June in 1983, it came as a package — he was also assigned the Cindy Paulson case. It was a twofer. It was a shit sandwich.

“This was no stroke of luck for [Haugsven]. His fellow troopers regarded the Morrow case as a hopeless one and the Paulson case would prove no less difficult to put together. Despite these odds, Haugsven was determined to see them through…

“[But] because the Morrow case entailed a lot of work, the Cindy Paulson case seemed like a nuisance. It was true that there was talk of Hansen as a possible suspect in the Morrow homicide — because of his actions in the Paulson case — but he was merely one of many suspects in a case that was going nowhere. Nevertheless, Haugsven decided to take a closer look at Hansen, on the off chance there was a link to the Morrow investigation.”

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


It’s the reality of police work that investigators are rarely assigned a single case. The ’80s were a busy time for homicides in Alaska. That Haugsven had two cases added to his workload was not unusual. Even if — especially if — these cases were going nowhere fast. One of Haugsven’s genius moves was to have Hansen’s flights tracked, on the notion that an airplane provided the best access to the remote Knik River location where Morrow’s body was found.

But when another body was found on the Knik River on September 2, 1983. Sgt. Haugsven happened to be on leave for two weeks. Troopers scrambled to fill the gap.

nowhere
Troopers at Knik River gravesite

First up was Sgt. Edward Stauber, who’d been promoted to sergeant only a year earlier, [1]. Stauber’s biggest challenge was just getting to the scene. It was increasingly evident that their killer was using the Alaska bush as his ultimate weapon. Significantly, Stauber was a temporary fill-in until Haugsven returned from leave — and was himself scheduled to take leave for a major charity run. It was not the best staff scheduling; the revolving door was now fully operational.


[1] After retiring in 1997, Sgt. Stauber suffered a tragic accident. On Saturday, December 8, 2001, he was on his way back to Anchorage from his daughter’s wedding in Talkeetna; his 25 year-old son was in the passenger seat, while his wife Nancy followed in the car behind them.

At about 7 p.m., near Mile 74 Parks Hwy. in Willow, Stauber apparently hit an icy patch and swerved sideways, crossing into the northbound lane. The Hogan family of Palmer was in the other vehicle, a 1996 Ford Pickup traveling north. The family told troopers that Stauber seemed to be trying to avoid the accident by tapping on his brakes and swerving to the right. The pickup hit the passenger side of Stauber’s Ford Explorer. The Hogan’s suffered minor injuries. Both Ed Stauber and his son were killed.

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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Autopsy And… A Tale of Two Cities

In this installment of Walter J. Gilmour’s original drafts, we explore the aftermath of the Knik River investigation. An autopsy is conducted and a victim ID is made. Troopers start to wonder if this murder is connected to another series of Alaska homicides.


Walter J. Gilmour

“The autopsy of the mystery body was conducted by Dr. George Lindholm. Lindholm made a dental comparison and determined that the body was that of Sherry Morrow, who had been reported missing nearly a year before. The cause of death was a gunshot wound. Dr. Lindholm found pieces of copper jacketed bullet fragments in the victim’s chest cavity.

autopsy
Sherry Morrow

“The case of the missing dancers had suddenly taken on a new importance. So much so that Lt. Patrick Kasnick was assigned to the case to provide much needed assistance to an already overworked crew of investigators.

autopsy
Lt. Pat Kasnick, AST

“At the same time that dancers were disappearing in Anchorage, evidently to meet the same fate as Sherry Morrow, other women were being killed in Fairbanks. It was natural to take a look at those cases to see if there was any connection. The attempt to establish a link between the Fairbanks and Anchorage serial murders was both extensive and expensive, with our investigation relying on some of the most sophisticated computer systems available at the time.

“In our look for a link in the cases, a database inquiry was conducted; it cost $300,000 just to feed in all the information. We also used the services of an FBI psychiatrist who specialized in serial murder cases.

“In the Fairbanks serial murders, the killer tied the victim’s hands behind their backs and we thought that was a key similarity to the Anchorage murders. A high caliber weapon was also used and the Fairbanks killer blew the women’s heads off in an attempt to destroy their faces. The bodies were left close to the road, moreover, with no effort to hide them.

“The FBI psychiatrist told us there was something ritualistic about the killings, but no apparent connection between the serial murders in Fairbanks and Anchorage. The minicomputer analysis also told us “No,” there was no concrete link between the killings in the two cities. Even the autopsy results pointed in different directions.


In 1982, the Fairbanks killer was identified. His name was Thomas Richard Bunday. By grim coincidence, Sgt. Glenn Flothe, who would later play a crucial role in the Hansen investigation, was one of the initial investigators when Glinda Sodemann — a trooper’s daughter — was found in Fairbanks, shot in the face with a .357. Bunday would commit suicide before he could be brought to justice: he rammed his motorcycle into a tractor-trailer while a fugitive in Texas.

autopsy
Thomas Richard Bunday

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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On the Knik River with Rollie Port

The scene investigation at the Knik River gravesite would be directed by the AST Palmer post. The macabre discovery was, after all, within that post’s immediate jurisdiction. What our killer had not counted on, though, was the man from the Palmer post who would guide that exhumation: Sgt. Rollie Port.


Walter J. Gilmour

“Rollie Port is a trooper that criminals fear. It is not that he is mean — he’s probably one of the gentlest troopers I know. On meeting him, in fact, one is struck by how small his voice is compared to his body. No, criminals fear Port because once he’s on your case, chances are good he’ll make it. To prove that, Port has made a higher percentage of cases than any other trooper presently active in the organization [Ed. note: Gilmour draft from 1984].

“The secret to Port’s success is a thoroughness and determination that every cop would do well to emulate.

Rollie
Rollie Port (2015, North Dakota)

“When Port arrived on the Knik River scene and started to direct the exhumation, he did so with his characteristic penchant for detail. As the body was unearthed from the shallow grave, he noted that the victim was fully clothed, and wearing blue jeans; a baby-blue ski jacket, with dark blue trim on the shoulders; a sweater; panties and bra.

Rollie

Rollie

“The victim was shoeless, although a pair of moon boots would eventually be found in the grave. An Ace bandage had been wrapped around the woman’s head like a blindfold; extending from forehead to nose, it was secured with metal clips. More important, as the body was removed from its disrespectful resting place, Rollie Port made a key discovery.

“He found a single .223 caliber cartridge case.”


As some of you will recall, I have written about Rollie Port before. It’s a piece worth re-reading. The key thing in both pieces is this: when Rollie Port found that .223 caliber cartridge case, he helped nudge the investigation toward a single man. Robert C. Hansen. Hansen not only owned a .223 rifle, it was his favored weapon. Increasingly, that weapon looked like a pair of handcuffs.

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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A Troubling Pattern Emerges

Maxine Farrell was right. Dancers were going missing. And they weren’t coming back. By late November, 1981, a pattern had emerged with a vengeance. 


Walter J. Gilmour

“The first real breaks in the case of the missing dancers, as the case was coming to be known, were so small as to be almost unnoticeable. In fact, the breaks probably look better in retrospect than they did at the time. But a pattern was nevertheless beginning to emerge with greater and greater clarity.

“On November 23rd in 1981, Sherry Morrow, a topless dancer at the Wild Cherry Bar in Anchorage, was reported missing by her boyfriend. She had spent the night of November 16th at a girlfriend’s house and had disappeared the next day. Sherry had told her girlfriend that she had an appointment the following day at Alice’s 210 restaurant at noon — and that the man she was to meet had offered her $300 to let him take nude photos.

pattern
Sherry Morrow

“Six months later, we got an almost identical report. Sue Luna, a prostitute, met a man at the Good Times bar, one of many strip bars and topless clubs in downtown Anchorage. Like Sherry Morrow, Sue had agreed to meet an unidentified man at Alice’s 210, although Luna was to be paid $300 for an hour of sex, not photos. Her roommate eventually reported that Luna did not appear for work on May 26 and that she had not seen her since. Sue’s sister reported her missing.

pattern
Sue Luna

“Near the end of 1982 we got our first significant break. On September 12, 1982, two off-duty officers with the Anchorage Police Department had taken a riverboat about 25 miles north of Anchorage, to the Knik River, where they’d gone hunting. On the north shore of the river, on a gravel sandbar accessible only by a 4-wheeler, riverboat or small aircraft, they accidentally came across a gravesite as they made camp for the evening. At daylight the next day, they reported their find to the Palmer Trooper Detachment, the AST office nearest the Knik River.

“Now that pattern had a name. Homicide.”

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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APD: What Maxine Farrell Knew

While John Lucking and Chuck Miller were struggling with the Joanna Messina murder, a larger problem loomed on the horizon. The first person to notice was Maxine Farrell with the Anchorage Police Department (APD). Farrell was troubled. Deeply troubled.


Walter J. Gilmour

“While all this was taking place, Maxine Farrell of the Anchorage Police Department noticed what looked like a strange, new development. She was used to dancers being reported missing, only to turn up later, but now topless dancers in the Anchorage area seemed to be turning up missing with increasing frequency. And not very many of them were turning up again. The press picked up on the story and headlined the disappearances with some alarm. When some of the “missing” dancers eventually turned up in other cities, however, the newspapers lost interest in the story. Maxine Farrell never lost interest.

“In fact, as 1980 stretched into 1981 and 1982, it was evident to everyone in law enforcement that something was amiss.

“And yet, while Maxine Farrell was the most suspicious, even her suspicions were difficult to document. The lifestyle of these women made it almost impossible to determine if there were a large number of missing dancers. Several factors were important in this.

farrell

“The fact that a prime source of information in these cases was women who worked the streets was the first obstacle. These women have very little trust in the police, which is understandable given the fact that most of the time we’re adversaries. As a result, most were reluctant to talk.

“The second obstacle was the constant movement of these women. In a year’s time, one of these women might work in a club, then out on the street, then in a massage parlor. She might also work the circuit and move city to city; in those days, one of those circuits tracked from Seattle to Anchorage to Honolulu. And after all that upheaval, this same woman might get sick of the routine and quit without giving notice. Later she would be reported missing — but wasn’t missing at all. It was often difficult to determine whether a woman who seemed missing was actually missing.

“A third obstacle was the fact that many of these women used stage names. Investigators would talk to a woman on the street or in a club, who’d tell them she had worked with a woman named ‘Tania’ a few months before — and hadn’t seen her in a while. In checking out the lead, investigators would go to some of the other clubs in the Anchorage area. At ten different clubs, they’d find 15 different ‘Tania’s.’ So which Tania was that, anyway?

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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Solved: Joanna Messina aka “The Bear Lady”

Blame it on the bear. Because of John Lucking, and the beast he encountered at her hasty gravesite, Joanna Messina was forever known to troopers as “The Bear Lady.” There were dark undertones to that moniker, having mostly to do with the bear’s eating habits as it concerned Joanna’s body. But the lighter side of trooper lore focused on the hapless Lucking, who took heat for killing the bear which, unlike Joanna Messina, was a protected species.

It would be two years before the troopers got a break in Joanna’s homicide. And in retrospect, the clown circus with the veterinarian was nothing more than a slight, diversionary side-show. All the paths leading from the murder scene in Kenai were deadends and distractions. The real culprit lived a hundred miles north.


Though her body was found in the summer of 1980, it wasn’t until Robert Hansen’s arrest in late 1982 that the lights started going off. Maybe… Maybe the “Butcher, Baker,” Bob Hansen, was responsible for her murder.

The tell was something troopers found during their search warrant scrape through Hansen’s house on Old Harbor Road in Muldoon. Actually, they’d found two things, nearly identical in their details. Flight maps. Robert Hansen’s flight maps.

It wasn’t unusual for Bob to have them. He was a pilot. He owned an airplane.

bear
Robert Hansen’s Supercub

But these maps were different. They had little asterisks on them. Marks. Handwritten marks.

“[To Sgt. Glenn Flothe] the maps initially represented nothing more than documents Hansen used for hunting. Yet while examining the maps, he saw twenty-four X marks. Were these favorite hunting spots—or something else?

“The answer that suddenly dawned on him was almost too grotesque to believe. ‘Oh my God,’ Flothe said, a chill coming over him. ‘What has this man done?’ At that moment he realized that each X marked a body.

“Back at his office the next day, Flothe started to pull some case files. The first was on Joanna Messina, one of the many cases that graced the huge chart taped to the wall of Flothe’s office. A quick review of the case showed the body had been found on the Kenai Peninsula. Hansen’s map had several Xs marked on the Kenai Peninsula. Flothe called in Chuck Miller, the man who had investigated the Messina case.bear

“’Chuck, why don’t you show me where Joanna Messina was buried?’ Flothe said, giving him one of the maps for reference.

“Miller walked over and scrutinized the map closely. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Now here’s Seward. And here’s the railroad tracks. And up here—oh, you’ve already got it marked, Glenn. There’s an X right there.’

“’I didn’t mark that, Chuck,’ Flothe told him. ‘Robert Hansen did. You see, that’s his map that we got out of his house.’”

 

 

 

 

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

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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Talk, Talk, Talking to the Veterinarian

With a new lead pointing to a local veterinarian as a promising suspect, it came down to one thing. Interview the vet. Let him tell his story. Get to the details. 


Walter J. Gilmour

“We questioned the veterinarian at length. Throughout it all, he stuck to his story. He did not deny knowing her or helping her out.  But, he insisted, that’s as far as it went.

“Yes,” he said, “I did do some veterninary work on her dog free of charge — I repaired a torn paw.”

“No,” he said, he had not been having an affair with Joanna Messina.

“Lucking was nevertheless convinced that the informant was telling the truth and that Joanna Messina, moreover, had not lied about her affair with the vet. It appeared, then, that the doctor was violating the cardinal rule of homicide cases: he was lying to investigators, which meant he was likely guilty of Joanna Messina’s murder.

“The reason, we figured, was pretty simple: the vet had gotten tired of having his rent paid in sex and demanded that Joanna vacate the premises. The affair was over, finished. Joanna had only one choice, as far as the vet was concerned. Move out and move on.

“Joanna had other ideas. She didn’t want to live in a campground.

veterinarian
Campground on Kenai Lake

“Joanna says, ‘Wait a damn minute, doc. I’m gonna tell that wife of yours that you’ve been examining my body in a most unprofessional manner in exchange for my monthly room rent.’

“So the doctor figures why throw away my career for the sake of this woman? He takes her on a nice little vacation to the local gravel pit. Problem solved. And as a vet, he probably knew how to handle her dog. That helped solve the mystery of the missing dog, too. It was, in fact, a neat little package of explanations. Almost too good to be true.”

veterinarian
Coastal Classic train, near Kenai Lake (Joanna’s campsite was close to the railroad tracks)

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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Back to the Source: A New Lead Emerges

With the various threads of the story leading them into a morass of leads, it seemed logical to get back to the source. That meant interviewing the woman who had reported Joanna missing. She knew her well enough to be concerned about her disappearance. Maybe she knew something else too.


Walter J. Gilmour

“As things would have it, Joanna had stayed with the woman who’d reported her missing. Had, in fact, stayed with her just before making her move to the campground. This woman told us that she had essentially kicked Joanna out of her house. She was, in fact, a source who had a lot more to report.

“She informed us that, prior to staying at her house, Joanna had been booted out of the rooming house by the veterinarian. More intriguing, she told us that Joanna has been having an affair with the vet. The informant was fairly sure, moreover, that Joanna hadn’t merely been fantasizing, although the relationship seemed to have reached mythic proportions in her mind.

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Sled Dogs, Kenai Glacier near Seward, Alaska

“This is the kind of lead that is just too damned good to neglect. Lucking pursued it with vigor. One of his first contacts was the vet’s secretary. She laughed at the thought when Lucking suggested it.

“Wny do you laugh?” Lucking asked.

“It’s just absurd, that’s all,” she replied. “The doctor would never have an affair.”

“How do you know?” Lucking persisted.

“If you knew him, you’d see what I mean,” came the secretary’s reply.

source

“After several more interviews like this, Lucking decided it was best to reinterview the informant, who was the source of — and only support for — the allegation. No one but her seemed even remotely convinced that the vet was having an affair with the victim. On reinterview, however, she stuck to her story. She was able to convince Lucking. The vet became a prime suspect in the murder of Joanna Messina.

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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Joanna Messina Backstory: On the Road to Find Out

Once troopers identified Joanna Messina, they could begin to piece together her story. Like many people before her, Joanna had come to Alaska seeking something. Something new. Something different. Something bigger. Or maybe it was just an escape that she craved. An escape from the mundane details of an ordinary life.


Walter J. Gilmour

“Joanna Messina’s tale almost seemed to fit the ’60s and ’70s more than 1980. Trained as a nurse, Messina had left her husband in New York and wandered west, leaving her family behind without much of a goodbye. With her trusty German Shepherd, she had hitched her way to Alaska, ostensibly to find a job in a cannery.

“When she arrived, broke and hungry, Messina gravitated to a rooming house in Seward, which had recently been purchased by a veterinarian and his wife as a tax write-off. The vet was spectacularly naive about good business practices, and notably lax about collecting rents. Joanna apparently found conditions there to her liking. Upon interviewing some of the other residents of the rooming house, Lucking found that Joanna spent most of her time in her room reading books, confident in her belief that the world owed her a living.

messina
Historic Van Gilder Hotel, Seward, Alaska

“Residents of the rooming house also reported that Joanna had estranged a great number of her fellow boarders, both through her own behavior and that of her dog, who was portrayed as over-protective to a fault. Most of the people who had known her dog wondered how anyone would be able to kill her while the dog was in the vicinity — and the dog apparently never left her side.

“No dog was ever found near her body, however.

“In a case like this, where the victim had evidently managed to alienate a great number of people, possible suspects are everywhere. We learned, for instance, that Joanna had a running feud with the rooming house manager, who reportedly kept a cache of guns. To help us narrow down our search, we interviewed the woman who had reported Joanna missing.”

messina
Brown & Hawkins dry goods store, Seward, Alaska

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

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