Gilmour’s Take: Robert Hansen vs Third Party Reporting

The third party reporting system instituted in Alaska helped move the conversation about sexual assault to a different place. Victims did feel more comfortable talking to advocates than going straight to the police. And having these advocates with them in court helped move prosecutions forward. But the third party reporting system couldn’t close every gap, as Gilmour soon discovered.

Maj. Walter J. Gilmour

“In the summer of 1975, Robert Hansen asked his parole officer for permission to go to Seward for the Fourth of July holidays, saying he wanted to go fishing. Fishing for what, he didn’t say, though after his parole officer granted permission, he asked a friend if he knew any girls in Seward he could party with. Though I didn’t know about it, or have any reason to connect it to anything at the time, Mary K. Thill was reported missing in Seward on July 5, 1975. Like Megan Emerick, who had disappeared two years earlier, Mary had no record of prostitution and her body has never been found.

reporting
Seward, Alaska (and Seward boat harbor)

“It was also in 1975 that the third party rape reporting system would come back to haunt us. In late September of that year, Hansen was at it again. This particular incident made the Catch-22 of third party reporting painfully evident — and added a new twist to the pinball game that Hansen’s relations with the criminal justice system had become.

“On October 5, 1975, Sheryl Messer of the Anchorage Rape and Assault Center dutifully reported to Investigator Sam Barnard that an adult female had informed her she’d been abducted and raped by a caucasian male on September 28th, in Anchorage. Messer said the victim had sworn her to secrecy concerning her name and refused to talk to the police herself, out of fear for her life.

“That was the Catch-22. Police wouldn’t have known about the rape without the third party reporting system. But if the victim wouldn’t talk to us, there was not too much we could do.”


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Craig

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