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

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Vehicle Search

Physical evidence at the McHugh Creek murder scene was pathetic at best. With the warming temperatures of Christmas Day, the ability to capture tire or boot prints was hampered by the thaw. The search for Beth’s missing clothing turned up nothing. All they had was the wire that bound her wrists and the scraps of clothing she still wore. But this much they knew: Beth was brought to the scene in a vehicle. The search for that vehicle now assumed heightened importance.

Soon enough, troopers impounded Robert Hansen’s vehicle and brought him in for questioning. They needed to search the minutiae of his life. But they missed at least one potentially crucial piece of evidence.

Accompanying Sgt. Hughes to the Hansen residence, where they impounded the vehicle believed to have been used in Sandra Patterson’s kidnapping, was Anchorage Police Detective Ron Rice. It was Rice who spied a spool of wire in Hansen’s garage. Rice who mentioned it to Sgt. Hughes. Rice who was told that they couldn’t seize that wire, because they lacked a search warrant for the garage or items other than Hansen’s vehicle.

INFORMATION: On 12/28/71, along with a warrant for the arrest of the suspect, Mr. ROBERT C. HANSEN, a search warrant was obtained upon probable cause for his vehicle, a 1967 Pontiac, Alaska License Number 36042. This warrant was executed at Mr. HANSEN’s address, 327 Thomas Circle, at approximately 4:30 p.m. on 12/29/71 and the seized vehicle was towed by a wrecker to the Anchorage City Police garage, where it was placed under guard until 12/29/71, at which time it was searched.

Search

On 12/29/71 at approx. 8:30 a.m. at Anchorage Police Dept. Garage Warehouse a search warrant was served upon a ’67 Pontiac, license #AK 36042, for the purpose of obtaining numerous items which were listed upon the search warrant.

A complete examination of the vehicle was conducted by Lab Tech Suave, who removed numerous fingerprints from the outside and inside of the vehicle. Photographed the vehicle both inside and outside and the trunk area.

An examination of the inside interior of the vehicle revealed it to be moderately clean and free from debree [sic[. The front ashtray was full of coins and had the appearance of never being utilized by cigarettes. The back two ashtrays and the right rear contained the contents of numerous napkins and a Lark cigarette butt. The left rear ashtray contained the contents of a Marlboro cigarette butt.

Located in the glove compartment was miscellaneous personal papers and a folding pocket knife. On the floorboard of the front seat was a candy wrapper, Hershey. Located in the trunk of the vehicle were numerous items which would be utilized in hunting and camping. Among these items was a Buck hunting knife and one hammer. The latter two items were removed and confiscated as part of the search warrant. Also, among the items in the trunk was a brown Army blanket, which was photographed and vacuumed for contents. The following items were removed from the vehicle which had been listed on the search warrant:

    1. Vacuum sweepings.
    2. Ashtray contents.
    3. Folding knife.
    4. Vacuum sweepings.
    5. Vacuum sweepings.
    6. Ashtray contents.
    7. Buck hunting knife.
    8. Candy wrapper.
    9. One hammer.

Sgt. Hughes should have gone to a judge and amended the search warrant, so that it included items like the wire they saw in Hansen’s garage. Troopers already knew that Sandra Patterson had been bound. Was there something that prevented him from acting? Perhaps and this showed in the caution Hughes displayed.

Sandra had stipulated that she was bound with leather shoelaces, not the wire which was found on Beth van Zanten. That was enough difference to give a half-clever defense attorney plenty to work with. Still… There were enough other similarities between these two cases that a reasonable judge could probably have been convinced, if only because it was logical to presume that the evidence didn’t stop at the car.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Neighbors & Strangers

Since Beth’s purported destination was the Bi-Lo convenience store, troopers did their due diligence and checked to see whether Beth actually arrived there. That wasn’t all. There was a nearby gas station that also sold soda. Yes, check that one, and any others in the vicinity. And check the neighbors too.


Convenience Stores

Connie Mack Hahn; worked Bi-Lo December 22, 1971
“I did work on 12/22/71, but I did not see that girl in there that night. I have seen the girl before in the past, but not that night.”

Kelly Grant; worked Bi-Lo December 22, 1971
“I don’t know the girl and I do not believe I waited on the girl when she was in the store.”

Glen Smalley; worked Turnagain Union 76 December 22, 1971
“I know the girl that was murdered very well. I have known her for 18 years. I did not see her at all that night.” Asked about Greg Nicholas, Smalley said, “The only Natives we had, that were drunk, were three Native males and one very drunk female Native. They were driving a late model blue Ford car.”

Geraldine Richards; worked Husky Bottle Liquor Store December 22, 1971
“I don’t recognize the girl and she has not been in here that I know of.”

Gas Station Attendant; worked Macey’s Service Station December 22, 1971
“I went to work at 8:00 am Wednesday and got off at 10:00 pm that night. I know Beth’s brother Joe and have numerous times seen Beth. I did not see her that night as we were quite busy here at the service station.”

Neighbors & Other Strangers

J. Dice; neighbor
“I know Beth. I saw her on December 22nd at approximately 9:00 pm, headed south on Captain Cook Dr., toward Northern Lights Blvd. She stood under a lamp post. A car had stopped, headed south on Captain Cook and the door was open. She was talking to someone in the car. I did not see her get in. It was a dark colored car, make unknown.”

Neighbors
The Turnagain Heights neighborhood has changed considerably since 1971. New streets and new homes have come in. Businesses that were there at that time are now gone. Knik Avenue, Captain Cook Dr. and Northern Lights Blvd. are all there much as they were long ago. (Google Maps; illustration by Leland E. Hale)

Becky David; neighbor
“I did not know the van Zanten family or the daughter, but I have seen a pretty rough bunch hanging around the house. And also they hold some pretty loud parties.”

Other Strangers
Troopers interviewed a witness who saw Beth walking to Bi-Lo between 8:45 and 9:00 pm. A second witness saw Beth walking away from her house around 10:00 pm. Yet another witness claims to have seen Beth hitchhiking between 10:00 and 11:00 pm.

Several neighbors also claimed to have seen Beth hitchhiking, including one who said she had picked her up in the past. “That girl hitchhikes quite a bit. I guess she found what she was looking for.”


Purchase Butcher, Baker

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.”

Insights

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.”

Insights
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

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Family & Friends

Troopers had their hands full with what turned out to be a clusterf*k of witnesses. There were the people who knew Beth — family and friends who could speak to her character and her habits. There were those in the neighborhood who may have seen Beth on her way to — or at — nearby businesses. Finally, there were Greg Nicholas’ friends, who could either alibi him or not. In all of this, truth was a runaway child.

Family & Friends
The most haunting refrain from Beth’s family was the direct quote from her letters: “It’s not fun to date anymore.” It was a theme worth pursuing.

Troopers wasted no time contacting family friend, and Beth’s ex-boyfriend, Ed Tilbury. They ruled him out as a suspect — he was in Cold Bay, Alaska, a thousand miles away at the tip of the Aleutian chain — and had an airtight alibi for the night in question. Even so, Ed provided new insight into Beth’s psyche. “I would classify her as an extrovert,” he said, “even though she was quite naive.”

Family
Beth van Zanten

Fellow students at Anchorage Community College painted a similar picture.

ACC student Curtis Ebeling, focused on her naivete. “She had some beliefs that should not be allowed into the State of Alaska any newcomers. She had some wild idea about building a complex of lodges back in the bush, that would only be occupied by people of her choice.”

Another ACC student, David Crewsdon, told troopers that, “[Beth] was very friendly, had an extrovert personality… The impression I got from her was that she didn’t want to be involved with anyone and as far as I knew, she didn’t date anyone in particular… She would not hitchhike,” Crewsdon added. “And in fact I remember a conversation with another subject that she was lecturing to abolish hitchhiking.”

There was, in these impressions, the notion that while friendly toward family and people she trusted, Beth had a genuine loathing of strangers. The reality of her bound wrists reinforced the idea she had been taken against her will. Either that or… she was taken by someone she trusted.

School friends Andrea Taggart and Louise Hawkins added another dimension to that assessment. Taggart told troopers that, “I was in the Tiki Room [the night of December 22] at approximately 1:00 am.

The Tiki Room was in the Tropics Hotel on Spenard Rd. That was significant: It was across the street from the Fly-By-Night garage owned by Beth’s brother, David.

“I went to the bathroom and as I walked into the girl’s room, sitting on the counter, facing the door with her back to the mirror, was an individual I know as Beth van Zanten. I have known Beth for approximately ten years and have been in several classes at West High School with her. I noticed it was Beth and said, ‘Hi.'”

“She looked at me and smiled like if she should know me,” Taggart continued. “I went to the bathroom and came out and fixed my hair and tried to make conversation with her. I said, ‘How are you?’ and she said, ‘I am really blown away.’ I said okay and goodbye and left.

“Approximately 15-20 minutes later, she came out of the restroom and as I looked up I saw this tall person standing next to the bar. At that time I saw Beth walk up to him. He appeared to be getting some change and both walked into the lobby area. In a minute or two they returned and walked through the entire bar area and out the back door of the Tiki Room.

“Beth was wearing a green ski jacket and scarf… She looked like her hair was a mess, not combed or clean… She hung her head and looked droopy…

“Beth didn’t look good at all.”

“They were not drinking,” Taggart added. “The man was a white male, very tall, 6′ or 6’2″, rather skinny legs. I would say 180 pounds. He was wearing an OD-colored (olive drab) military type parka with a full hood and wolf appearance around it. Jeans, not bell bottoms. Black shoes. Clean hair, dark brown, 1″ or 2” below the ear. Not well-kempt. I’d say he was 22 or 24 years old — or younger. He had a large nose. I did not notice a beard or glasses.”

Hawkins told a similar story. “I saw Beth come through the front door with a man. She then went to the bathroom; while she was in the bathroom Andrea [Taggart] got up and went into the bathroom also. Pretty soon Andrea came back out and told me that was Beth van Zanten in the bathroom and she was stoned out of her mind. That she could barely talk to her…

“The man with Beth was young, early to mid-twenties. Thin, tall, 5’8′ to 6′, with long, dark brown hair. He may have been wearing light, horn-rimmed glasses and possibly a few days growth of beard on his face.”

Based on these conversations, troopers interviewed the bartender and waitress who were working that night. Neither remembered seeing Beth. They also questioned Greg’s cousin; Ronnie Broughton told them:

“When I was at [Dave’s] garage, I went to the bathroom by our car. I did not go into the Tropics [Hotel] bar or bathroom that evening. I have never met or seen Beth van Zanten to my knowledge.”

Soon, troopers sent out a bulletin putting folks on the lookout for the young man Andrea and Louise had seen during the early morning hours of December 23rd.

A slender, long-haired young man believed to have been with Beth the night she disappeared is being sought. Troopers are also looking for the clothes Beth van Zanten had been wearing and ask any person finding a pair of blue jeans, a green down-filled parka or a pair of smooth, rubber-soled green hiking boots to notify authorities. 


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Greg’s Second Take

Troopers called Greg Nicholas in for a second interview shortly after talking to his blood cousin, Ronnie Broughton. They needed a second take because the discrepancies were starting to mount, not only from Ronnie, but from Beth’s brothers. The key differences were, perhaps naturally, in the timing of Greg’s visits to the van Zanten household and the garage owned by Beth’s brother.

In his first interview, those events all seemed to happen at once. In his second take, troopers had him concentrate on that crucial timeframe.

Second TakeBeth van Zanten Memorial


December 27 Re-Interview, Gregory Nicholas
Chronology for December 22, 1971 (Summary)

  • 5:45 – 5:50 pm: At Stephens house.
  • 6:30 pm: At Freda Shannigan’s house.
  • 6:45 pm: Left Freda’s house.
  • 7:15 pm: Left airport for Jim Shannigan’s house [Freda’s brother].
  • 7:30 pm: Arrived at Jim Shannigan’s house.
  • 8:30 – 9:00 pm: Left Jim Shannigan’s house, took Freda home, then went to van Zanten residence.
  • 9:00 – 9:30 pm: Arrived at van Zanten’s.
    “I ran into the house front door. I can’t remember seeing anyone home. The house was all lighted up. I went upstairs and Beth was in her room. She was laying on her bed looking at books. That was the first time I was in her room… I was there for 3 minutes… She got up and then I left… Ron and I went downtown and parked in front of the Malemute Bar [next to the Montana Club]. No, we stopped by Dave’s garage from leaving van Zanten’s. We stayed 10 minutes.”
  • 9:45 pm: Malemute Bar.
  • 12:00 pm: Left bar.
  • 3:00 am: Started home.

Troopers already knew that Greg had left out one important detail. After weaving in and out of each other’s presence the night of December 22nd — with Greg and Ronnie going bar to bar, getting drunk — they ultimately left Fourth Avenue together. The two of them, in the company of three Alaska Native women, were stopped by State Troopers at about 1:00 am for drunk driving. The troopers made them take a taxi home.

The bigger question was: Did the timing finally add up? If Greg and Ronnie arrived at the van Zanten’s at 9:00 pm and stayed 3 minutes, they would have arrived at the Fly-By-Night garage by 9:12 pm (9:13 pm, when accounting for Greg’s move from car-to-house and back again). If they stayed for only 10 minutes, they should have left by 9:23 pm. It was another 11 minutes to the Montana Club, meaning they could have arrived by 9:33 pm. Greg’s 9:45 pm estimate was now seemingly in the ballpark.

It was possible, in fact, to line it up with Ronnie’s statement: “Freda asked me to call at 9:00 or 9:30. I called her from the Montana Club.”

And yet the doubts persisted. Had they perchance coordinated their stories? After all, both Ronnie and Greg were trying to reconstruct an evening that had gone sideways in many, unexpected ways. The second take didn’t change that. As troopers pulled on all the threads in their probe, they learned one other thing: there was always another surprise around the corner.


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

Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Informant Statement

What Sandra Patterson told Trooper Sgt. Don Hughes would come to stand as the early archetype for all of Hansen’s kidnappings, rapes and, ultimately, his murders. She was among the lucky ones, though she too feared she would be killed. Indeed, Sandra was barely able to talk Hansen down at the crucial moment and, even then, was convinced things could have gone either way. Her statement to Hughes was a study in terror and survival. A statement that showed an evil seed, poised go grow.

Remember this: the year of Sandra’s assault is 1971. Hansen’s deadly quest would not be stopped until 1983. That’s a lot of time. Too much time. Especially when one considers that the D.A. did not pursue charges resulting from this incident, instead rolling them into the charges that resulted from his attempted kidnapping of a real estate secretary.

Whether they knew it or not, prosecutors were teaching Robert C. Hansen a lesson: when the victim is a prostitute, you can get away with almost anything.


Statement of Sandra Patterson (excerpts)
A week ago, last Sunday morning, December the 109th, I was in the Nevada Cafe* having a cup of tea around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. I went out to start my car and let it warm up, and as I walked out the door of the cafe, I noticed a car drive up and park. I continued on out and started my car and then turned around and started back into the cafe, at which time I noticed the driver of the car, apparently waiting for me at the door.

As I walked in, he said something to me — I don’t recall what — and I brushed it off. As I started to go on into the cafe. this man pulled a gun out from underneath his coat and pointed it at me and said something to the effect, not to give him any trouble, and that the gun was a .22 caliber gun. He held it under his coat and pointed it toward me and told me to go and get into his car, which I did.

After I got into his car, he took my purse from me to be sure I didn’t have any protection. This man was somewhere between 23 and 28 years old, it looked like, about 5’8″ to 5’9″, skinny, had blonde hair cut fairly short, bluish-green eyes, kind of a turned up nose and his face was kind of lumpy. He was wearing horn-rimmed glasses. He was dressed warm, had a coat or jacket on and had G.I. type pants and dark heavy boots.

After getting into the car, he held the gun on me, holding it in his left hand and driving with his right hand. The gun looked like an automatic rather than a revolver.

Statement
Route Out of Anchorage (Apple Maps; illustration Leland E. Hale)

He drove out of the parking area onto Gambell Street and went south. He turned right, either on Fireweed or Northern Lights Boulevard, and drove on Arctic Boulevard, where he made a left turn and continued south on Arctic. Just before getting to Campbell Creek, he stopped and tied my hands and feet with leather shoe laces. He tied my hands behind my back. I think he had the shoe laces in his pocket.

Statement
Hansen Binds Sandra’s Hands & Feet (Apple Maps; illustration Leland E. Hale)

He told me he would beat me up if I gave him any trouble at all. He said that he intended to keep me for two days and then if I cooperated with him, he would bring me back to town and let me off within a block of my car. He told me he was going to take me to Kenai to some cabins.


* The Nevada Cafe was only blocks from Hansen’s place of work, the Safeway Bakery at 9th & Ingra. As Walter Gilmour observed, criminals often perpetrate crimes very close to where they work or live.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

The Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Informant Interview

After Sgt. Gilmour’s initial interview of Sandra Patterson, the case was turned over to Sgt. Don Hughes for further investigation. Gilmour learned that trooper brass thought Hughes was more by-the-book and had a better relationship with the D.A.’s office. They were also wary of Gilmour; they had convinced themselves that he was pushing too hard. What they hadn’t counted on was a case that would grow so many disparate threads.

What follows are excerpts from Hughes’ Investigative Report.

SUMMARY
“On 12/26/71, SANDRA PATTERSON came to Alaska State Trooper Headquarters, along with her father, J. PATTERSON, to register a complaint of abduction, ADW [Assault with Deadly Weapon] and rape.

Miss PATTERSON reported that she had been accosted at gunpoint at a local cafe in the early morning hours of 12/19/71 and forcibly taken to the Kenai Lake area by a white suspect. Suspect bound victim’s hands and feet. After raping her and threatening her life and voicing threats against the victim’s parents and her small child, he brought the victim back to Anchorage.”

Investigative Report, Sgt. D.W. Hughes, 12/28/1971

INTERVIEW
SANDRA PATTERSON was interviewed on 12/27/71, at 2:00 p.m. at the Alaska State Trooper Headquarters.

“In the preliminary discussion of this case, Miss PATTERSON indicated that the reason she had not reported this incident is because she was fearful of harm to herself, her child and/or her parents because of the threats the subject had made to her. After talking to Miss PATTERSON she stated she would register a complaint.

“Miss PATTERSON was shown five black and white head and shoulder photos, which included pictures of DONALD S N., DAVID J R., WILLIAM JOSEPH H., CHARLES E S., and ROBERT CHRIS HANSEN. All of these individuals wore horn-rim glasses and were in the same general age group. Upon viewing these photos in a group, she immediately, with no hesitation pointed to the photo of ROBERT C. HANSEN and stated very definitely, “that’s him.”

Interview

“Later, during the interview, a book of colored photos was secured from Anchorage City Police Department containing sixty colored photos of individuals, some in line-ups and some individual photos. Miss PATTERSON looked through this book and on the last page she excitedly pointed to the photo of ROBERT C. HANSEN. She then stated that there was no question about this being the man that had picked her up.”


Purchase Butcher, Baker