Lonesome Death of Beth van Zanten: Stone Cold Psychopath

His name was Gary Zieger. Kim Rich wrote about him in “Johnny’s Girl,” and how he turned her life inside out. Tom Brennan wrote about him in “Cold Crime,” describing the investigation that pegged him as a stone cold psychopath. One of my earlier blog entries has its own Zieger story.

And then there is what Walter Gilmour wrote about Gary Zieger. This account, taken from the earliest drafts of “Butcher, Baker,” has never been published before.

psychopath
Gary Zieger, Psychopath


“With Beth van Zanten’s foster cousin cleared by the box, and Hansen with an alibi, things were looking bleak, although I had still not run out of suspects, even with a long dry spell where there were no leads worth investigating. In August of 1972, at about the time Robert Hansen was transferred to a halfway house, a young woman named ZeZe Mason was found dead in a gravel pit just outside Anchorage.

“She had been missing for several weeks and our investigation quickly identified Gary Zieger as the prime suspect. I knew Zieger was a killer because he had come to our attention in another case, although he had never been arrested for his involvement.

“In the summer of 1971, State Troopers found the body of a young Native Alaskan boy in a secluded area of the Anchorage International Airport. To the best of our information, the boy had been murdered about three months before we found him. He had been shot six or eight times by a .22, and it was evident he had been running for his life, because there was a trail of shell casings stretching for 60 to 70 yards from where he had fallen.

“Just after we found the body, a guy named Beatty came in with his girlfriend and confessed to the murder. He came in because his girlfriend wouldn’t marry him until he came clean. That was fine. We had a body and a confession. Now all we needed was the murder weapon. While we worked on getting a search warrant for Beatty’s house, we kept it under surveillance. One night, a man unknown to the police came to the house, entered and then left shortly afterwards. We asked his name. He identified himself as Gary Zieger.

“When we finally got the warrant and searched Beatty’s house for the murder weason, it was gone. Zieger was our number one suspect; he was the only person who had come or gone from the residence.

“Beatty had not implicated Zieger in his initial confession. As part of his sentence, however, he agreed to give us the details. He revealed that he and Zieger had kidnapped the Native Alaskan kid in Zieger’s truck, and then forced him to perform oral sex. When he was finished, they told him he’d better run for his life, and he did.

“Zieger, who was a powerfully built man at 5’8” and 185 pounds, ran alongside the boy and shot him with the .22 pistol. Since a .22 isn’t the most lethal weapon, it had taken quite a chase and a whole lot of shots to bring the boy down and finally kill him.

This act alone marked Gary Zieger as a psychopath. There would be more.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press.

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 2

There’s a wonderful bit in the Robert Hansen portion of Hidden City: Anchorage where Marcus brings in professional tracker Ty Cunningham to give a sense of what Hansen’s victims were up against. It’s an extremely powerful segment. Except that the segment was filmed in winter snow. According to Robert Hansen:

“This was a summertime project.”

Since Hansen’s wife was a teacher, and often travelled during the summer, it kind of makes sense, you know? When the cat’s away, and all that… But let’s not take this summertime thing too far. Hansen kidnapped and raped a woman back in 1971, just days before Christmas.

Of course, he also had the good sense to take that victim to a motel.

Bonus: Video Clip: Hidden City Anchorage: Tracks of Terror (tracking in the snow)

What about the chase? It is, after all, a recurring theme in discussions about Robert Hansen. Well, the chase started the minute he first stalked his victims. But in Hansen’s universe, the chase was always (out)balanced by questions of control.

We know that Hansen worried about the intangibles. The known unknowns. The women had to be alone when they reached the rendezvous. Hansen always picked a spot where he could see everything and everyone. Even early on, he used a restraint of some type, eventually graduating to handcuffs. By his own admission, he was obsessive about the mechanical reliability of his car when he kidnapped women. Didn’t want to break down with some woman in handcuffs.

Those control issues extended to the bush. Even in the bush there’s the risk that some hooker can outrun him, even for a little while. She can kick her heels off, right? And, you know, the Alaska bush ain’t no frickin’ island. Those were troubles he just didn’t want. Given all that, it’s my view that he started shooting sooner rather than later.

Loss of control, baby. Not so good. And being “in control” ultimately trumped other considerations. Including the chase. He really, really liked this “game.” Lose control, you lose everything. In fact, there was one who got away. Yeah. She was the one who brought him down.

Quotes from Robert Hansen’s Inconvenient Confession (February 22, 1984)

RH: I only, I only used the airplane three times and maybe if I kept on going like that I would have had a problem… [But] where I have my plane parked there isn’t a lot of people in and out right there and the girl was almost more scared of being in the airplane than she was scared of me…

GF: Scared of being in the airplane. You mention that this area was pretty populated but in the winter time with skis you were somewhat unlimited as to where you could go. Your privacy was pretty much up to you. Or were you concerned about flying a long time? You mention three girls but I’m just wondering, with skis, you know in the winter, you could go just about anywhere.

RH: I could but winter time wasn’t the time to do it. Things were dormant in the winter time. This was a summertime project.

GF = Glenn Flothe
RH = Robert Hansen

Want to learn more about the Robert Hansen murders? Read “Butcher, Baker,” by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale. More here…