A Tale of Two Maps

Toni Lister was reported missing in Seward, Alaska, on March 7, 1982. Her body was found a month and a half later. An autopsy showed she had been sexually assaulted and brutally stabbed 26 times with a Phillips screw driver.

Nine months later, on October 26, 1982, Robert Hansen was arrested on kidnapping and rape charges — and later confessed to the brutal murders of four women in Alaska, although the known death toll is much higher (at least 17 victims). In the final days and months of his killing spree, according to autopsy reports, Hansen had gone into a frenzy of violence, not only shooting the women, but stabbing them multiple times. When asked about the Lister murder by Alaska State Troopers, however, Hansen denied it.

It wasn’t until 2007 that cold case investigators made an arrest in Toni Lister’s murder. The man they arrested was not Robert Hansen. They instead arrested Jimmy Lee Eacker, a trade school friend of Lister’s husband. He had been an early suspect.

Is it possible that police have the wrong man?

Let’s be clear. Jimmy Eacker is no choirboy. He has an armed robbery conviction. He’s a registered sex offender. At his 2007 trial, at least two witnesses testified that he’d raped and threatened violence against them during the ’80s. He acknowledged he’d had sex with Toni Lister on the night in question. Beyond that, he claims he can’t remember killing Toni Lister because he was high on mushrooms.

To complicate matters, the critical DNA evidence in the case — the DNA that tied Eacker to Lister’s murder — was seriously compromised. More specifically, it was contaminated to the point where more than one person’s DNA was found. Several factors were involved, including sloppy lab work. The judge, upon learning of this, threw out Eacker’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

That’s where the maps come into play.

When Hansen was arrested, troopers found aviation maps at his home with hand-drawn markers on them. Those markers later proved to be spots where Hansen victims would be discovered. Once troopers started unearthing bodies, Sgt. Glenn Flothe created a parallel aviation map, marking spots that Hansen had “missed.” Flothe also color-coded his map, with blue marks for victims Hansen acknowledged killing, yellow for those he denied.

There are key differences between those two maps. Flothe’s map has more markers than Hansen’s. Including one very near where Toni Lister’s body was found (#23) — a marker missing from the Hansen map.

Glenn Flothe’s cryptic note about #23? “Denied.” Indeed, the Flothe map shows that Hansen claimed only one of the Seward markers represented a victim. The sole exception was Joanna Messina (#17), whose body was found in… 1980.

So by his own admission, Hansen had been in the Seward area as late as 1980 — and routinely visited Seward in the ’70s, during which time police have evidence of at least one kidnapping and rape (1971). There are also two very suspicious Seward disappearances (1973, 1975) that Hansen denied; suspicious because Hansen was known to be in Seward both times. Troopers speculate that Hansen denied those presumed murders because the victims weren’t prostitutes.

Could Robert Hansen have killed Toni Lister? Yes. Could Jimmy Lee Eacker have killed Toni Lister? Yes. Anyone else? Maybe.

The lesson? If you are going to go cold-casing, don’t cut corners on the lab work required to pinpoint the DNA. After thirty years, memories go bad. DNA evidence is not always perfect or pristine, but carelessness in the lab can be prevented.

AST Version of Hansen’s Flight Map (portion)

Sgt. Glenn Flothe's version of Hansen's flight map

Hansen’s Flight Map (portion)

Hansen's original flight map

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 3

Trooper Sgt. Glenn Flothe has described Cindy Paulson (Kitty Larson), the young woman who escaped Hansen and led to his downfall, as one of the best witnesses he’s ever worked with. Hidden City: Anchorage mentions, for example, that she’d memorized the tail number of Hansen’s plane. She also memorized the location of his house. And everything in his basement.

She did so because, in her own words, “this motherfucker wasn’t getting away with it… I knew I was in trouble… But if there was any chance of me getting away, he wasn’t getting away with it.”

As in any criminal investigation, details matter.

Consider what occurred when Cindy Paulson was at Merrill Field ID’ing Hansen’s plane with an officer from the Anchorage Police Department. While they were observing the plane, a private security guard at the air field approached and told them he had seen someone at 5:14 a.m. that same day.

[The security guard] observed a white male running from that Super Cub to a green vehicle and that he noted the vehicle to have Alaska license number BJZ775. [The guard] also stated that the man was wearing a green coat and cap and that he ran from a wooded area at the rear of the airplane toward the green vehicle. When the man saw [the guard], he slowed his pace to a walk, and entered the green vehicle and drove away.

That license number turned out to be registered to a green Buick, owned by Robert Hansen. There were several people being very observant that day. None better than Cindy Paulson. But she was not alone. Details matter.

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

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…