Hansen’s Victims: Lakes of the Upper Kenai

Though he generally claimed otherwise, the Kenai Peninsula — especially toward Seward — was Robert Hansen’s other killing field. Indeed, this area corresponds to some of his earliest victims, stretching back to the early to mid-’70s. These were the days before Hansen owned an airplane, the days when he trekked his boat to Seward and went “fishing.”

Upper Kenai
Detail: Hansen’s Map — Kenai Peninsula (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Upper Kenai
Lakes on the Upper Kenai Peninsula (Google Maps; illustration Leland E. Hale)

Upper Kenai Peninsula Victims

Joanna Messina’s body was found near Kenai Lake, just south of Moose Pass. A dental assistant by training, she was broke and alone when Hansen tried to pick her up on the Seward docks. He imagined he would have a “normal” date with her and, indeed, she agreed to hang out with him. Joanna couldn’t stay in town, though, because she had a cannery job-call the following day and needed to get back to her campsite.

When she asked Hansen for money, things quickly went south. In Hansen’s mind, that made her a prostitute. He killed Joanna — hastily burying her in a gravel pit — and then he killed her dog.

Troopers became aware of this 1980 homicide when a bear started after Joanna’s body. Because of that, she was forever known as the “Bear Lady” among troopers. The first suspect in her death was a Seward dentist for whom Joanna had briefly worked. He was married; they’d had an affair. When confronted by troopers, however, the dentist denied knowing Joanna — which caused him to fail a polygraph test. That was a huge mistake; it immediately made him the prime suspect. The dentist finally came clean; it was a contrite man who, in the company of his wife, admitted to his relationship with Joanna, using his infidelity as the rationale for his earlier lies.

For his part, Robert Hansen expressed some regret about Joanna’s murder during his confession:

“There was only one other time it went bad,” Hansen claimed (misleadingly) of Joanna Messina’s murder, “and that’s down by Seward. Maybe she was desperate. That one, I’ve had an awful lot of second thoughts about.”

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

      • #12 — Unknown (Summit Lake, Kenai Peninsula)
      • In his confession, Hansen says of this victim: “Ah, this girl here is black… She was buried right in a creek bank, or a creek bottom.”

      • #13 — Teresa Watson (Scenic Lake, body on ground)

    Upper Kenai: Teresa Watson

      • #17 — Joanna Messina (Gravel Pit, Seward)

    Upper Kenai: Joanna Messina


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