Criminal sentencing in the U.S. usually comes down to a combination of three factors, in greater or lesser proportion. First there’s good, old-fashioned Old Testament punishment: “breach for breach, eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth.” Second, there is deterence — the notion that severe punishment will give future perpetrators pause. Finally, there is the notion of the offender being rehabilitated — the sentence should lead him to “go and sin no more,” which is decidedly more New Testament in origin.
All three of these options were in play at Robert Hansen’s sentencing. Here’s Assistant D.A. Frank Rothschild addressing those topics.
“So we have to ask ourselves, can he be rehabilitated? We know that’s a joke, that has failed, there’s no way, it’s too late.
“Will this deter others? People like this aren’t going to get deterred, not that have the kind of problems this man has.
Cindy Paulson Interview w/ Sgt. Glenn Flothe, AST
“We can sure isolate him and we can sure tell all the people in our community and reaffirm their value system, that this man will never see the light of day again. We can’t put him to death (1). But truly that would be too easy for this man, Your Honor. It’s really what he’d prefer at this point. He said to us on Friday, I’m going to die in prison anyway (2), as a matter of fact it probably would be better for me if I die quick.
“This man who loves the outdoors, he’s never going to smell the freshness of a mountain meadow. He’ll never hear water trickle again down a creek, he’ll never thrill in seeing our great wilderness and our wild animals that roam there.
“He truly hates being locked up. It’s better that we lock him up and make him live with this for each breath that he takes for the rest of his life. He’s asked that we recommend and we strongly recommend that he be sent to the federal prison system. Was ask the court to make that recommendation.
“He’s asked for psychiatric counseling. We agree if for no other reason than to try to make him aware of what a monster he is.”
Robert Hansen’s Alibi Pitch
(1) Alaska does not have a death penalty.
(2) Hansen died in prison after 30 years in a variety of penal institutions.
As Assistant District Attorney Frank Rothschild articulated the depth and depravity of Robert Hansen’s crimes, one description rose to the top. “This man was cold,” Rothschild told Judge Moody. Everything about him, everything he did. Cold.
“He said, I tried to act tough as I could to get them as scared as possible. Get my hand on the girl’s hair, hold her head back and put a gun in her face to get them to feel helpless, scared right there… [He] talked about wanting to have complete control and domination over these people. As long as I can control the situation then there’s going to be no problem, I won’t have to kill anybody. I’ll get what I want and send them back on the streets,” Rothschild continued, paraphrasing Hansen. […]
“And when asked, well, what happened Mr. Hansen, if they didn’t go along with the program, he said, well, then they stayed. Those were his words. He would even tell them if things don’t go right, boy, this is where you’re going to stay. To scare them.”
At this point, the Assistant D.A. took a leap into conjecture. Informed conjecture, but conjecture nonetheless. It was the kind of conjecture that gets movies made.
“And while he doesn’t talk about it or admit to it, it’s obvious from reading through and looking at where things started and where the women ended up, he hunted them down, Judge. He let them run a little bit and then he enjoyed a little hunt just like with his big game animals. He toyed with them, he wanted to scare them, he got a charge out of all this.
Hansen Victim Grave (clothing and shoe)
“They weren’t shot right where it all started; he let them run, he grabbed them and they’d claw a little bit and he’d let them run a little more and he played with them. He doesn’t look big and strong but he is.
“One time he called this a summertime project. What a lovely word for his handiwork, a summertime project. And he did admit that none of them went willingly. Even when he went through the map and talked about where all these women were and pointed out to us where they were, it was cold. He said, well, there’s one here and there’s one there and you’ll find one next to this tree and one under that road. They weren’t people to him. They weren’t human beings to him.”
Trooper Dig on Knik River
It’s here that I disagree with Rothschild (and others). I personally don’t find it completely credible that Hansen routinely released his victims so he could toy with them. In part that’s because of what Rothschild himself says of Hansen:
[He] talked about wanting to have complete control and domination over these people. As long as I can control the situation then there’s going to be no problem…[emphasis added]
By releasing his victims, even in the relative safety of the Alaskan bush, Hansen was effectively reliquishing control. That goes in the face of everything else Hansen did. Remember that Hansen was meticulous in his precautions. He sought to control things down to the knat’s ass last detail.
Never going on a “date” at the first meeting, but making a rendezvous at the time and place of his choosing.
Making sure they met him at a location where he could ensure they were unaccompanied.
Abandoning the rendezvous if he saw them with other people.
Using restraints so the women wouldn’t get out of control in his car.
Forcing them to sit on the floor of his vehicle, so no one could see them.
A pistol always at the ready, the better to maintain control.
Choosing private and/or remote locations for sex.
In this context, the notion that Hansen routinely toyed with these woman, as Rothschild suggests, is incongruous. Robert Hansen wanted complete control, at all times.
Measuring Grave Depth
That the women were often found a distance away from the start of their ordeal also doesn’t require Rothschild’s definition of cold. Remember Cindy Paulson’s escape.
Cindy used a single distracted moment to make it hundreds of feet — in handcuffs — before Hansen caught up with her. Had she been in the bush, she would have been dead right there. Instead, a citizen in a truck came by to save her life.
We know that other women also fought off Hansen and tried to escape, including Christy Hayes — who succeeded. By Hansen’s own admission, others tried to fight him off. And lost.
That said, there remains the possibility that Hansen’s crimes evolved to the point that they reached the levels Rothschild supposes. Glenn Flothe tells us that Hansen’s acts of violence became increasingly savage toward the end. That he shot them multiple times, past the point of death. And then he knifed them, striking so ferociously that he appeared intent on obliterating them. That much we do know. The rest is speculation.
On December 2nd at 6:00 p.m., Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn summoned Erick Almandinger, his father, mother and grandmother to the Palmer Trooper Post. What he wanted, more than anything, was for Erick Almandinger to come clean.
While Erick waited in another room, Wegrzyn briefed Rodney Almandinger and his mother, Myler, on the status of the investigation. Erick, he told them, had long been a “person of interest” in David Grunwald’s disappearance and murder. Both of them peppered the sergeant with questions and complaints.
Wegrzyn methodically plowed forward, showing the two evidence photograph after evidence photograph. Blood in the trailer. The outline of David Grunwald’s body on its floor. Slowly, surely, they began to see the outlines of Erick’s involvement.
Alaska State Trooper Investigator, Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn
In an effort to shift the blame, though, Rodney tried to imply that David Grunwald wasn’t the upstanding kid everyone made him out to be. Wegrzyn quickly came to Grunwald’s defense. “He was a good kid,” Wegrzyn told him.
Rodney & Myler Almandinger, Palmer Post Interrogation Room
“The only reason he isn’t a good kid, honestly, he smokes weed. That’s his worst flaw in life. He’s a 16 year old boy who worked all summer to afford that truck, ok? He has a curfew that he abides by, he’s got a long-time girlfriend, he goes to a charter school that you don’t just get into, you gotta apply. He’s moving forward and taking college classes as a 16 year old boy. David was a good kid.”
Ever protective, Rodney and Myler next tried to point the blame elsewhere, to another of Erick’s friends. Wegrzyn was patient, but not buying it. Finally, he told them he had evidence that Erick was the shooter. It was time for them to face reality.
Troopers led Erick Almandinger into the Palmer Post interview room to join his father and grandmother. The room was cramped, with barely enough space for four chairs and a table. A brief game of musical chairs took place as Erick assumed a spot directly across from his grandmother. Then the fireworks began. Both his grandmother and father tried to get him to come clean.
Rodney, Myler & Erick Almandinger, Palmer Post Interrogation Room
“They said you shot him,” Erick’s father shouted during the interview. “You pulled the trigger!”
Erick’s grandmother Myler, also in disbelief her grandson could be involved in the killing, admonished him. “You needed to come home, get on your knees and say, ‘Grandma I fucked up.'”
In the face of this onslaught, Erick maintained his innocence. That only served to anger Rodney and Myler, who shouted at him to stop lying to investigators.
“You killed him over weed?! Why the hell would you shoot someone over weed,” Rodney asked.
“Tell me the logic in that,” Erick countered. Unrepentant, Erick was steadfast in his denials. It was too much for Rodney, who eventually left the room and could later be heard, beyond the walls, wailing inconsolably.
He was replaced by Erick’s mother, Chrystal. Slowly, under his mother’s tough-love guidance, Erick opened up and began to tell the trooper sergeant what went down that fateful night. Not coming completely clean, but approaching it. He was still clinging to his alternate reality.
Chrystal, Myler & Erick Almandinger, Palmer Post Interrogation Room
Wegrzyn had already confronted him. “Do you think Devin, Dominic, Bradley Renfro, that any of those guys are going to sit there and take the fall for you?”
Erick Almandinger said Peterson was one of his best friends and wouldn’t believe Peterson or any of the other suspects would give him up. “They would take the fall for me if I did this. They would. I know that on everything I’ve ever believed in,” he said.
No one was buying that one.
As the admissions trickled out, Almandinger (falsely) told Sgt. Wegrzyn that he, Renfro, Barrett and Johnson all burned Grunwald’s Bronco together after they shot him in the woods. [Barrett was not present at the burning.] And Erick insisted it was Johnson who pulled the trigger. “Dom was holding him by the shirt, made him walk the whole way. Turns him around, as soon as he looks up, bang! He just drops.”
Then, seemingly on a whim, Erick changed his story and claimed it was Austin Barrett who was the trigger man. Maybe coming clean meant nothing more than finding someone else to take the fall.
Austin “Andrew” Barrett
And from there it was a sick romp through the rest of their night. How he slipped into a creek as he tried to escape. Dropped off the murder weapon at Devin Peterson’s. Bought gas to torch the truck. Smoked dope while they waited for a cab to pick them up. Cleaned out the trailer. Went to the shed as a hideout.
Partied as they lived out the banality of evil.
Erick Almandinger Interrogation, December 2, 2016, Palmer Trooper Post (courtesy KTVA-11)
Sources: Anchorage Daily News, KTVA-11, KTUU, Alaska Public Media, The Frontiersman
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)
If ever there was a ’70’s lie, Hansen telling the hookers that he worked on the North Slope was it. The transient, footloose man, here today, gone tomorrow — that was the image Hansen wanted to cultivate. He even had a speech, that went something like this: “Don’t bother reporting me; I’ll be out of Alaska sooner than you can get the words out. And, besides, even if you manage to tell the cops, my buddy will give me an alibi. It will be our word against yours. And you? You’re nothing but a prostitute.”
I lived in Seattle in the mid-70s, when young women started disappearing, when warnings were broadcast against hitchhiking, when every woman I knew moved in a bubble of fear. Reports soon emerged that a witness had seen a man on crutches, wearing a leg cast, struggling to carry a briefcase. Another reported the man had asked her to help him carry the briefcase toward his Volkswagen. Soon, a name emerged. “Ted.”
Several years later, in the late ’70s, I took a job at the Washington State Energy Office. It was a successor agency to the Department of Emergency Services (DES), where Ted Bundy worked in the mid-70s. Ted had been arrested in Florida by then and many of my colleagues had worked with him. They all thought him guilty. All but one: Carole Boone.
Carole Boone was the tall, whip-smart woman who resided on the other side of my cubicle. She was also in my car-pool for the one-hour commute from Seattle to Olympia. In everything she was articulate, rational and grounded. Except for her blind spot.
Ted Bundy, preparing for trial
Ted was seen by many as handsome, charismatic and well-spoken. He’d worked in Republican politics in Washington state — which partially explained his job at DES — and, based on recommendations from party figures, he was accepted into law school at the University of Washington. That Carole Boone could fall for him — they were married during his Florida homicide trial and she bore him a daughter — says volumes about Ted Bundy’s powers of persuasion, even as most of our DES colleagues rolled their eyes at her obsession with Ted’s innocence (1).
Ted Bundy: FBI Most Wanted photo
Bob Hansen was no Ted Bundy. He was homely, could barely speak without a stutter and charmed no one, expect perhaps his wife, Darla — and even that was dubious.
Robert Hansen Police Lineup Photo
What Hansen relied upon was the willingness of young women to perform sex acts for money, that being the only “charm” that Bob Hansen owned. Once he’d captured them, Hansen depended on fear to control them. For that, he had much in common with Ted Bundy.
As the following video and excerpt from Hansen’s 1984 confession reveal, Hansen’s attempts to induce fear in his victims was unrelenting. [FR = Frank Rothschild]
FR: So what’s the plan to get ‘em to the plane and get ‘em in the plane?
RH: Just scare the living shit out of ‘em — I mean that’s — boy I mean really bad you know — uh — just tell ‘em out and out — hey you know — if anything starts to go wrong I’m gonna probably have to shoot half the people in this damned town, you know.
FR: Did you threaten to throw ‘em out of the airplane if they caused problems — things like that too?
RH: No. I don’t think I ever said that. As a matter of fact they could see that would be virtually impossible, you know. How in the hell am I going to fly the airplane, turn around and get somebody out of the back that I — on account of my seat, I could hardly reach them. Of course I don’t know if they would know that. But anyway, no, I never said nothing like that to them. I would probably mention to them once I got them where I was going to go, ah, that, if things don’t go right boy this is where you’re going to stay, you know. Undoubtedly I probably said that to them. But that again was just more or less to make sure that things did go right. I was — the entire time I want to keep upon — pressing upon them that we wasn’t going to have any problems, I wasn’t, you know. I just didn’t want any goddamn problems…
(1) Boone was, understandably, devastated when Ted Bundy ultimately confessed to dozens of murders.
Purchase Butcher, Baker