Arrest of Robert Hansen: When Human Rituals Go Missing

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

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

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

Not this:

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


Lisa Futrell

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

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: A Grieving Stepfather

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

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

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

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

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

Thompson Center Arms Contender (7mm, single shot)

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

Tamara Pederson (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

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

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

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Sue Luna Identified

Nearly two years had passed since Sue Luna’s disappearance. The only way to identify her was through dental records. Sgt. Flothe remembered her well: she was one of the first ones he’d called out on his victim matrix. He now knew that Hansen had not only killed her, but taken back the $300.00 he’d paid for an hour of sex. That post-mortem theft was not only the definition of cheap, but of cold-blooded.

4/27/84: Body removed from grave site #2 east of Knik River bridge positively identified as SUE LUNA. LUNA identified from dental records by Doctor ROGERS. ROBERTA MOOREHEAD, [her] sister, reported her missing to the Anchorage Police Department on 5/30/82. S[he] was to meet an unidentified male at Alice’s 210 Cafe for $300.00.

Sue Luna (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Angie

Known by almost everyone as “Angie,” Angela Feddern was a troubled soul. Her sister in Seattle knew that she was into drugs, and turning tricks to support her habit. She reached out. She tried to help. So did her mother. They both failed.

In Seattle Angie’s mother, Mary Radford, soon learned that her daughter’s body had been found. “I was prepared for it,” she told the Associated Press. “I knew something was wrong when she stopped calling last year. In a way, there’s some relief. You wonder what happened to them until you know for sure.”

Asked what she thought of Hansen’s plea-bargained sentence, Mrs. Radford turned bitter. “I don’t see why he should be alive and they dead,” she said.

Mrs. Radford also acknowledged that her daughter chose to be a prostitute, knowing it was a rough life. “That was the life she chose,” she said. “Angie just couldn’t find it in herself to go out and get a thinking job. She did the best she could.”

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

Angela “Angie” Feddern (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

4/26/84: Sergeant FLOTHE, Trooper VonCLASEN and helicopter pilot fly to Figure 8 Lake, grave site #ll. Figure 8 Lake is west of the Susitna River. Body located lying on the ground beneath flag placed by HANSEN. Some clothing and bone protruding from frozen ground. Unable to dig out pants without destroying evidence. Must wait for thaw. Jaw bone found lying on top of ground near pants with dental work. Jawbone removed, transported back to Anchorage.

Figure 8 Lake (Google Maps; illustration by Leland E. Hale)

Sergeant FLOTHE, Trooper VonCLASEN and helicopter pilot fly to Scenic Lake grave site #13 on Kenai Peninsula. Body left by HANSEN lying on top of ground covered with some brush. Clothing (red blouse) and small rib bone found in location pointed out by HANSEN. “Bear sign” noted around body. Ground frozen. Looked for purse, still ice along edge of lake where purse is allegedly located. Need to return in a week or two to allow for sufficient ground thaw. Seized bone and torn red womans blouse.

Returned to Anchorage with jawbone from Figure 8 Lake. Compared with known dental records on file. Positive ID from dental X-rays as ANGELA FEDDERN, missing from Anchorage approximately February 1983. Reported missing to APD Officer P.C. CANADY by JOE MAJORS, owner/operator of Murphy’s Law, a bar featuring nude female dancers. No official APD report filed. Information passed on to Troopers. FEDDERN was working as an avenue prostitute and allegedly had a date with a doctor when she disappeared.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: 3 Rings & Gold Nugget Necklace

The truth was bound to hit Darla Hansen at some point. April 25, 1984, was one of those days. The day she found three rings and a gold nugget necklace in her house. She knew they weren’t hers. Which meant that they belonged to another woman. Or other women. Bob’s women. Bob’s dead women. Note, too, Glen Flothe’s precision in marking the handover. 4:10 p.m. had to be an awkward encounter.

Rings found among Hansen’s mementoes (modeled by AST employees)

Troopers searching for bodies, meanwhile, continued their fight with Mother Nature; the ground was still frozen 8 to 10 inches down. They would soon learn that Darla’s husband didn’t bother to dig deep graves for his victims. He didn’t have time for that. Sometimes, he didn’t bother with graves at all. In his haste, he simply left them where they fell. And here, his lack of respect had a silver lining. Bodies left on the ground were easier to find.

Knik Graves: Depth Measure (courtesy Alaska Times)

4/25/84: Sergeant FLOTHE, Lieutenant KASNICK, Trooper VonCLASEN, Sergeant HAUGSVEN search grave site #3, parking area Old Kink River Bridge. Ground frozen 8 to 10 inches down. Return later.

Trooper VonCLASEN, Sergeant HAUGSVEN check grave site #8, island south of GOULDING’s body in sandbar, negative. Not sure of exact location easy digging. Use 4X4 pickup and helicopter.

Sergeant FLOTHE, Lieutenant KASNICK check grave site #7. Grave site adjacent to GOULDING. Ground still frozen 8 to 10 inches deep. Not sure of exact location, will return. Used helicopter.

Sergeant FLOTHE, Lieutenant KASNICK, helicopter pilot check grave site (lying on ground) at #9, Horseshoe Lake. Body located approximately 50 feet from flag left by HANSEN. Body lying face down prone, fully clothed. Mostly skeletal with some tissue in protected areas of remaining clothing.

4/25/84 4:10 p.m.: 3 rings, gold nugget necklace to Flothe from Darla.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Grave Digging Begins

With the digging came the smell of death. There was no escape. It clung to every hair in their noses; it was the stench of rotten chicken left to molder. It was also the smell of mourning, of lives needlessly lost. That they found not only bodies, but the vestiges of daily existence — a suitcase, a purse — brought home those losses even more poignantly.

At least it was shared toil, and work that didn’t respect rank. Troopers, sergeants and lieutenants all took their turn at the shovel or the screen. This was, after all, the criminal justice system making good on its word. Come spring, they had promised, we’ll start digging up bodies.

4/23/84: Trooper WAYNE VonCLASEN checks grave sites at Knik River bridge, locates suitcase and purse buried at grave site #6 belonging to TAMMY PEDERSON. Spot pointed out by HANSEN.

4/24/84: Lieutenant JENT, Sergeant FLOTHE, Lieutenant KASNICK, Trooper VonCLASEN dig up body #l at grave site #2 near Jim Creek east of Old Kink River Bridge on north side of river (later identified as Sue Luna).

Lieutenant JENT, Sergeant FLOTHE, Lieutenant KASNICK, Trooper VonCLASEN dig up body #2 at grave site #4 parking area Old Knik River Bridge (later identified as Malai Larsen).




Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Prison Bound

When it came to jail time, Hansen wanted out of Alaska. The women he’d killed were, he insisted, linked to criminal gangs. If imprisoned within the state, Hansen was certain he’d be killed. He got his wish and ended up in a prison far from home.

Lewisberg Federal Prison is a high-security facility in central Pennsylvania. Robert Hansen was Prisoner #80462-011. Not his lucky number, perhaps, but at least he had some famous company. Among them, Edwin Cortes and Ricardo Jimenez, Puerto Rican nationalists convicted in 1981 of seditious conspiracy for their roles in numerous bombings aimed at achieving Puerto Rican independence. And Melvin Williams, former organized crime figure in Baltimore, Maryland; convicted of heroin trafficking in 1985, he served as an inspiration for the character Avon Barksdale in the HBO series The Wire.

Melvin Williams

Lewisberg’s other notorious alumnae include Whitey Bulger, John Gotti, Jimmy Hoffa and Alger Hiss, to name just a few.

Located in mid-state, Lewisberg is a natural landing place for East Coast crime figures including, over the years, a goodly share of made men and racketeers. Somehow, Robert Hansen seemed out of place with this crew. At least he could see corn fields. If he tried really hard, he could imagine he was in Iowa.

4/10/84: Lieutenant ROBERT JENT and Sergeant GLENN FLOTHE transport ROBERT HANSEN to the federal intake prison at El Reno, Oklahoma for eventual transfer to Louisberg (sic), Pennsylvania.

El Reno Federal intake prison, El Reno, Oklahoma

Lewisberg Federal Prison, Lewisberg, Pennsylvania

Purchase Butcher, Baker

The Silt Diaries: Finger Lake, Alaska

When I talked about the AST Tactical Dive team in my last post, the problem of silt on the bottom of the Knik figured prominently. This is an issue with most Alaskan waters, including fresh water resources like Finger Lake. All that glacial action over the years has left its mark.

The dives you’ll see here were captured in 2011, at a Finger Lake crime scene near Palmer, Alaska. The video was taken during a visit with Walter Gilmore: No sooner had I landed than he announced we were going to a dive site to recover stolen weapons. Yes, I’ve written about this burglary before.

The parallels between the Knik River and the Finger Lake dives are telling. There’s the pervasive silt, once more wreaking havoc with the evidenciary search. The divers have to be careful not to stir it up and cloud visibility. And then, not quite by accident, there’s the floatplane. A floatplane very similar to that flown by Robert Hansen. And its flight path? Within sight of Pioneer Peak, in the shadows of the Knik River. The river that became Robert Hansen’s killing field.

Herewith in four installments, are is video of an actual Dive Team in action.

About the videos: There are some WordPress restrictions on file size, so I had to break them up and make them way tinier than I wanted. Also, I think I must have channeled my late father that day, with the shakey, handheld video quality and the completely wrong camera orientation (should have shot landscape, not portrait). And that up-lilt in my voice on the last frame? Ah. Live and learn…

Finger Lake Divers (Copyright Leland E. Hale; Shot on iPhone 4; best at Full Screen)

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Way Too Much Silt

Of the three Knik tactical divers, I’ve only met one — Laddie Shaw. I wish the circumstances had been better: we were at the funeral of Walter Gilmour. Still, the man I met matched the indelible image engraved by Gilmour; Shaw is a wiry bundle of energy and get-it-done intensity who is friendly, open and unassuming.

Shaw is also an ex-Navy SEAL who served in ‘Nam. They don’t make ’em any tougher. Just the right man for the job of finding human remains in the silt of Robert Hansen’s callous disregard for just about everything.

Silt Knik River Railroad Bridge

3/9/84: The Tactical Dive Unit consisting of LADDIE SHAW, Sergeant DON SAVAGE and Trooper MIKE DEKREON conducted a search of the Knik River under the railroad bridge in the vicinity of Mile 30.4 on the Glenn Highway. The bottom search was conducted between the south three sections, to the bank, using a straight line method in addition to individual search. The water depth averaged 12 to 20 inches with a maximum depth of approximately four feet. The bottom was made up of a top layer (approximately four to six inches) of silt with an underlying layer of gravel/silt mix.

It was noted that over the previous year the tide change has been in excess of six feet and with the season changes in weather and fluence, the bottom gradient of the Knik River had made a dramatic change in movement of sand bars, bottom composition, etc. The river was extremely clear with very little debris, including no logs, large branches, however, due to the tidal changes and the amount of silt build up it would be necessary to research the area perhaps late in the fall after the spring run off is concluded.

Laddie Shaw, Navy SEAL

Laddie Shaw

Don Savage (After retiring from the AST, Savage was Wasilla Chief of Police)

Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Too Much Snow

Snow is a reality in Alaska, though how much snow depends on the where of Alaska. Anchorage, for example, is on a coastal plain and doesn’t get as much snow as parts farther inland, closer to the mountains.

Time of year makes a difference too. In March, even if the melt has started, there is still a good chance the ground is frozen. The Chugach Mountains that surround Anchorage, on the other hand, seem perpetually cloaked in white.

Given these realities, getting to Hansen’s grave sites depended on the spring thaw. That was April at the earliest; April sliding into May and then June.

3/5/84: Sergeant FLOTHE, Trooper VonCLASEN and AST pilot utilizing AST helicopter checked the grave sites previously marked along the Knik River to determine when they could be examined. It was noted that a large percentage of the snow cover had melted, however, the ground was still frozen.

3/7/84: Sergeant FLOTHE receives a telephone call from DARLA HANSEN, advises Seargeant FLOTHE that prior to HANSEN’s confession and soon after his arrest, HANSEN asked her to remove weapons that he led her to believe were possibly buried in the back yard.

Later that day, the sergeant was back at Old Harbor Road, this time with a metal detector. He slowly swept the area in back of the house, while Darla stood by nervously. They didn’t find a thing, and Hansen had already denied throwing anything into a septic tank he said didn’t exist.

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

Backyard of Hansen house, Old Harbor Road (copyright Leland E. Hale)

Troopers FORREST BULLINGTON and VonCLASEN utilizing the AST helicopter checked the grave sites located west of Wasilla. There still, however, was a large amount of snow cover thus preventing any excavation at this time.

Wasilla Snow in March

Purchase Butcher, Baker