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)


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True Crime, Real People

Real People: One

Robert Hansen’s victims were not numbers. They were real people, with families, friends and loved ones. The step-father of Tamara Pederson, whom I met in the early ’90’s, carried a complex bundle of grief and anger. Grief at her untimely death; anger at the police for not stopping Robert Hansen sooner. Healing is a journey, not a destination.

Here, we put faces to the marks on Robert Hansen’s map. These real people deserve that. Sadly, not all of them have names or faces. That is one of the lasting sorrows of Hansen’s crimes. [All victim photos courtesy of Alaska State Troopers]

Hansen map
Detail: Hansen’s Map – Knik River Sites (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

    • #2 — Sue Luna (Jim Creek, east of Old Knik River Bridge)

Real People: Sue Luna

    • #3 — Unknown (Old Knik Bridge Parking Area)
    • #4 — Malai Larson (Old Knik Bridge Parking Area)

Real People: Malai Larson

    • #5 — Lisa Futrell (Old Knik Bridge Gravel Pit)

Real People: Lisa Futrell

    • #6 — Tamara Peterson (Island south of Sherry Morrow’s Body)

Real People: Tamara Peterson

    • #7 — Unknown (Adjacent to Paula Goulding Grave)
    • #8 — Unknown (Island south of Paula Goulding Grave)
    • #10 — Unknown (Body over railroad bridge; likely not to be found)
    • #14 — Sherry Morrow (Knik River)

Real People: Sherry Morrow

    • #15 — Paula Goulding (Knik River)

Real People: Paula Goulding

    • #16 — “Eklutna Annie” (Eklutna Lake Rd)

Miscellany: Eklutna Annie

Real People: Two

A little over a year ago, I was contacted by a TV producer who was working on a series that “interviews family members who have been victimized by a loved one who is involved in a crime.” She wondered whether I was still in contact with Darla Hansen. I had some information which proved useful; I’m not sure anything came of it. But there is a truth to the producer’s quest.

“It is hard for people to understand how a killer’s family suffers in silence, but they do.”

As we’ve said before, Robert Hansen left a trail of victims, his own family included. Hansen’s mother was in Anchorage, visiting, on the day he was arrested. His wife and children, though attached to Anchorage, felt compelled to leave the state.

Darla and her two children relocated to Rogers, Arkansas, a town of 55,000 that’s home to Daisy Outdoor Products, famous for its air rifles, and site of the first Walmart store. Bentonville, the corporate home of Walmart, is nearby. They’re not in Alaska any more.

Miscellany: Rogers Arkansas
Rogers, Arkansas (Google Maps)

Darla, now in her seventies, is still very religious. She’s also a grandmother; her grandchildren are good-looking, active in sports, All-American kids.

Darla’s children are married, in their early 40’s, with multiple offspring between them. Both are graduates of Rogers High School, in Rogers, Arkansas. Darla’s daughter works for a major insurance company; her son-in-law owns a used car dealership in Mena, Arkansas, where Darla sometimes works. Darla’s son, after a career in the Marines and time at a Junior College, moved to the Denver, Colorado area, where he works for a major snack foods manufacturer.

These are the threads of a normal existence, far from the scene of the crime. You can bet that they don’t often speak of Robert Hansen.


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Walter J. Gilmour, In Memoriam

Walter J. Gilmour

There are memories galore. I’ll share one.

When I finally convinced Walter to appear on the Sally Jessy Raphael show to promote “Butcher, Baker,” he was still less than enthusiastic. He didn’t like New York. He didn’t think much of the show. He thought our hotel (the legendary Plaza Hotel) was too old, the rooms too dated, with big porcelain tubs instead of showers.

At the studio, we were taken to a Green Room separate from the other guests, who were, no surprise, the surviving relatives of Robert Hansen’s victims. One of the runners kept promising that Sally “will come see you before you go on.”

Walter mumbled, “She’s not coming.”

After makeup (still no Sally), we were led to the set. Walter said, “I’m looking forward to this about as much as a visit to the dentist without Novocaine.”

He was right, of course. In the little world of daytime TV, Walter was cast as the villain. He was the cop. Robert Hansen had killed 30 odd women. Someone had to take the blame.

They underestimated Gilmour. He had the AST at his back. He refused to play the fall guy.

Instead, we watched with amusement as the stage manager walked us through the elaborate rituals of daytime TV. “When I raise both hands, I want you to start interrupting each other, okay?” she insisted. “There’s nothing more boring than people politely waiting their turn to talk.”

Okay, we said. And promptly ignored her. Every single one of us. Walter had set the tone. We didn’t budge.

Frozen Ground: The Distribution Game, Part II

That the film industry is one in transition is oft-discussed. In North America, movies are increasingly watched at home — hence the success of Netflix. Globally, it’s a somewhat different story, as this piece from PWC notes:

China will become the fastest-growing filmed entertainment market in the world, expanding by a CAGR of 14.7% from 2012 to 2017, followed in the Asia Pacific region by Thailand (10.5%) and India (9.9%). Other markets with double-digit CAGR are Venezuela, Russia, and Argentina. The larger traditional markets in North America and Europe are comparatively stagnant, with 1 to 3% growth in general.

Now consider this in the context of The Frozen Ground release schedule. The Argentina release, for example, has moved to December 12, 2013 (where it will be known as [correction] Cazador de mujeres – Hunter of Women). But countries across Europe and Asia have already seen the film’s debut, the one exception being the all-important China market (which should be on track for a 2014 release; the film has already appeared in the Taiwan market).

As noted in our previous blog post, distribution decisions restricted the North American theatrical release — but reflect the changing dynamics of the North American film industry toward the home market and away from the theatrical market, where it seems only blockbusters survive.

Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.

Frozen Ground: The Distribution Game

I missed this detail in my earlier posts, but the Anchorage Daily News has a great story explaining why The Frozen Ground movie has not enjoyed a wide theatrical release. Dunham quotes Ron Holmstrom, who played Hansen’s lawyer and is an Anchorage-based board member of the Seattle Local of the Screen Actors Guild. Holmstrom explains why the movie did not premiere in Anchorage, where much of it was filmed.

“The reason that Anchorage is being skipped… has to do with a fight among theater chains, producers and distributors that involves, among other things, the video on demand (VOD, home pay-per-view) release of ‘Frozen Ground’ on the same day that it opens in American theaters.”

It wasn’t just Anchorage that was affected. Few cities saw “The Frozen Ground” reach theaters.

Holmstrom adds: “I spoke with both Lionsgate, the theatrical distributor, and Grindstone, the VOD distributor. They assured me that because of the VOD release, the big cinema chains refused to do a wide release.”

This is, of course, a business decision. The principals behind “The Frozen Ground” are Emmett/Furla Productions (they drove the film from its inception). Emmett/Furla are in tight with Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment Group, after signing a 10 film deal in 2012. From the PR piece announcing the deal:

The Grindstone collaboration with Emmett/Furla and Cheetah Vision has generated a string of successful features starring notable A list actors, including: the thriller SET UP, starring Bruce Willis, Ryan Phillippe and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson; the crime drama FREELANCERS, starring Robert DeNiro and Forrest Whitaker; the high octane FIRE WITH FIRE, starring Willis, Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson and Vincent D’Onofrio; and the serial killer thriller THE FROZEN GROUND, starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack. The next film slated for release from Grindstone’s partnership with Emmett/Furla is the crime thriller EMPIRE STATE, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, THE HUNGER GAMES’ Liam Hemsworth and Emma Roberts.

So if you happen to live in New York, Dallas, Phildelphia or… Wasilla, Alaska (pop. 8,456)… You were lucky… Otherwise, it’s VOD (If you have Redbox in your area, you might be able to get it there, too).

Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.

Frozen Ground: The Trailer

The trailer is out for Frozen Ground, the film inspired by [1] Butcher, Baker. Here’s a screen capture of Vanessa Hudgens as stripper and prostitute, Cindy Paulson. Not much left to the imagination, I’d say. So much for her Disney image.

Vanessa Hudgens in Frozen Ground

Well, let’s correct a few things. The trailer was available for a little while (week of August 19th). More than a few sites purport to have it; the trailer quickly went viral. But if you’re in the U.S., you’ll get a not-so-cryptic ERROR MESSAGE. Seems there are some problems about the rights. Both copyright and country rights.

Message on U.S. Trailer Sites
Frozen Ground: Copyright Warning

Interestingly enough, one gets a different error message when trying to view the trailer on the French site, Cinema Teaser. UPDATE: Cinema Teaser now reports that its trailer was also pulled for copyright issues. We’ll keep you posted.

Message on EU Trailer Site
Frozen Ground Trailer: Cinema Teaser (France)

ANSWER ME THIS
Here’s the question: if you’re going blockbuster, why play games with the trailer? Why NOT make it broadly available? I’m educated-guessing here, but I tend to agree with Brad Brevet on Rope of Silicon.

Lionsgate is distributing the pic with IMDb reporting a November 30 release date, but this feels like one of those limited release/VOD titles if you ask me with a DVD/Blu-ray release about a month later.

In fact, I’ll go one step further and posit that the limited release will initially focus on Europe. Hence, the Cinema Teaser video from France, among the first sites to feature the trailer.

The fact that there is a European trailer at all tells you where the money is; U.S. domestic sales are falling, international sales are not. There’s also this telling tidbit from The Numbers on box office statistics. The key columns to watch are 1) Weekly Gross, 2) Theaters and 3) Per Theater. Limited Release = Limited Butts in Seats = Limited per Theater Revenue.

Butts in seats still count. And realistically, Frozen Ground already made its money. Film subsidies. State of Alaska.

Global Boxoffice: MPAA

NOTE: Another explanation is here. It shares a similar assessment, expecting a lag in the U.S. theatrical release. Hmmmm…

[1] Maybe I should say “appropriated” because the arc of the movie is absolutely identical to Butcher, Baker. Opens with the escape of the teenage prostitute. Segues to the sensitive Trooper. Yeah. I’ve read the script. Oh, and I wrote the book. First published in 1991. Before the internet existed. Answer me that.

James Eagan Holmes On Drugs

Well, you know, this guy’s pretty much a hated person.

Accused mass murderer James Eagan Holmes.James Eagan Holmes.

It’s easy to see why. 12 dead. 58 injured. Bug eyes. Orange hair. Who in America loves a crazy man with tons of guns?

The Colorado criminal justice system agrees. They’ve lobbed 142 criminal charges against the dude, 24 of them homicide, plus the injured, plus the bombs. Not sure about the homicide math. 12 dead does not equal 24 homicide charges. But ok, whatever. It turns out the dual charges are based on different legal theories.

And yet… My most immediate thoughts on this homicide say… Darkness, Darkness by Jesse Colin Young.

Joe Amendola & “Jer”

Some months ago, I ran a number of analysis pieces about the child sex abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky. By now, it’s widely known that he was convicted on 45 of the 48 counts against him. As is usual in such high-profile cases, there’s much “Monday morning quarterbacking” going on. Personally, I’ll let the jurors do the talking.

The one thing that still stands out, though, is Joe Amendola’s closing statement to the jurors. In it, he says that it doesn’t make sense for Jerry Sandusky to suddenly become a pedophile after 68 years of spending time with kids.

“When this case has gone worldwide. With all this publicity, the earlier allegations are in the 1990s?… So, not only do we have a pedophile who doesn’t become a pedophile until his mid 50s, but he writes a book and puts all of his victims in the book. That’s smart,” Amendola said.

Of course, that is hard to believe. Hard to believe because it’s probably not true. Jerry Sandusky didn’t “suddenly” become a pedophile in his fifties. The literature suggests that the onset of pedophilia usually comes early.

Notes one study: “More than 40 percent molest before they reach age 15, and the majority molest before age 20.”

There is a reason why the State of Pennsylvania is continuing their investigation against Jerry Sandusky. It’s highly likely that the man has a 50-year history of child sexual abuse. The world knows about it now because starting in the 1990’s, Sandusky created a situation at The Second Mile that gave him considerable access to potential victims. Will they come forward in a flood, now that he’s been convicted? Hard to tell. But they’re out there. They certainly are out there.

Sanford & Sons

Sanford, Florida, that is. Where now, according to Michael Miller of the Miami NewTimes, Armed Neo-Nazis are patrolling the neighborhood. Prepared for a violent Trayvon Martin backlash. Or, I think they put it, “race riot.” Ok. Crazy.

The neo-nazi story prompted me to write Walter Gilmour and get his response. He said a lot of things, most of which I won’t repeat here. But I do think he got to the nub of the issue. Here’s what he said:

At this time Alaska Law recognizes that a person does not have to retreat in their homes, or cars, if they feel that their life is in danger. Any one electing to use deadly force must be able to articulate three things.

  • That they were faced with a deadly threat
  • That the threat was imminent
  • And if the threat was carried out, they would/could be killed or seriously injured

The key word for me is “electing.”

The question is, when you are faced with an imminent deadly threat that could get your ass killed — how much “electing” are you doing? I am taking “elect” in the sense of it being “to determine in favor of (a method, course of action, etc.).” In other words, conscious action. Conscious action that puts all three factors — deadly threat, imminent danger, injury or death — into consideration beforehand.

Unless you’re a trained professional, I doubt much of any of that happens in imminent danger situations. Because imminent danger is… imminent. One has to act fast, not think about it. It’s either be quick or be dead.

So how do you sort it out? Maybe that’s what law enforcement and the criminal justice system get to do. After the fact. They get to sort it out. Hmmm…

An Open Letter to Mike Daisey

Mike is an artist, not a journalist. Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn’t his personal experience in the piece.

Statement by The Public Theater on the controversy surrounding Mike Daisey’s play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

Yeah you took on Amazon. Burned out on the Peter Principle, you told stories out of school, as former-Amazon colleague Matthew Baldwin so eloquently notes. What the hell. That’s theater.

Next? You put Apple in your sights. Why not? Lots of $$$ and Chinese factories that are a muckraker’s field of dreams. We all love tales of wealth’s evil side and the contradictions of our privileged existence. Plus, the halls of Amazon are filled with ex-Microsofties. Lots of Apple love/hate memories to surf on. You knew the drill.

But you have to get it right, Mike. This line you insist on drawing between journalism and the theater doesn’t exist. At least, not in the context of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Because it’s a work that provokes demands real-life changes in Chinese factory conditions, it demands real-life truths. Not fabrications, confabulations, dramatic malfeasance or the like. Phrases like “I’m feeling,” I’m thinking,” and “I read” are NOT weasel-phrases. They are part of the truth. And, no, this is not a case where the end justifies the means.

Ok, you made a mistake. We all make mistakes. You just make big ones. Huge ones. You’re forgiven. But you should have seen this coming. Brendan Kiley did, with a simple fact check. You only get so much free hubris. Eventually somebody sees through your shit.

So what’s next for you, my man? A prediction…

Next Stop: REHAB.

Hell, there’s another monologue in there about “truth,” “lies,” “damned lies” and “journalists.” Throw in the whole This American Life bit. Spin it for all it’s worth. Yeah. Rehab. It’s the quintessential American experience. You’ll be genius.

You already have a theme song. “The Biggest Lie,” by Elliott Smith. Like I said. Genius.