Cindy Paulson was 18 when she escaped Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen in 1983. A seasoned prostitute, even at such a young age, Paulson reluctantly agreed to go with Hansen to his house instead of the initial deal he offered, which was $200 to give him oral sex in his car, according to Paulson’s interview with Alaskan State Trooper Sgt. Glenn Flothe. She could not have known that he hunted and killed women for sport and that she was chosen to be his next victim.
After a terrifying night of being raped, tied up and chained by the neck at Hansen’s house, Hansen said they were going to hop on his small plane and go to a cabin in the woods. It was okay, he said, he’d taken seven other women there before. That’s when Paulson said she knew he would kill her if they went there.
Paulson told Flothe in her interview, which is published in full on Leland Hale’s website, the man who wrote Butcher, Baker: The True Account of an Alaskan Serial Killer:
CINDY: He just said, well, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ You know, ‘Everything is going to be OK. I’m not gonna hurt you.’ And then he actually told me about the other girls.
FLOTHE: What did he say about the other girls?
CINDY: That there were seven… that he had seven other girls there before. You see, when he said that, I knew he had killed them. What girl is gonna go and do this? You know, would let this man do this to them? Well, I knew he killed them. He said that he had seven other girls and that usually he keeps them about a week.
FLOTHE: How long was he gonna keep you?
CINDY: He said that… Well, he didn’t say. He told me that since he liked me so good he would take me to his cabin and make love to me one time. And then, we would be back, so I would be back by around 11 o’clock in the afternoon (sic). And you know, I said, ‘OK, fine, that’s good.’ And I acted like I wanted to go.
Hours later Paulson ended up escaping from Hansen’s car when he was unloading items onto the plane, telling Flothe, “[I decided] to wait till we get to the airport. And I was thinking, wow, we’re going to the airport. He said Merrill Air Field. And I was staying at the Big Timber, so I knew, you know, I’m getting the f*** out of there. So I just waited. Finally, I just was so scared, I just ran…”
Paulson’s Escape Ultimately Led to Hansen’s Arrest & Confessions, but She Went Back to a Life of Sex Work & Drugs
According to Hale:
Robert Hansen’s affect on Cindy Paulson was palpable. The fear that she had been close to death — and somehow skated away — rarely left her. Her ordeal was at an end, but not really over. In the succeeding months, her life went on spin-cycle. Her pimp soon had her working an after hours club where the men took their pick of the women and had sex with them on the spot. If they resisted, he beat them. Worse, Sgt. Flothe also learned the pimp had received a half-pound shipment of cocaine. Flothe did not need his best witness caught up in a coke bust.
When Paulson was found running barefoot and handcuffed by a trucker and taken to a hotel at her request, police showed up after the trucker called them. Paulson told her story, but Hansen denied the accusations. He was already known to police for other run-ins with the law — but he was also a seemingly mild-mannered family man. Still, Flothe had been investigating several deaths of women whose bodies had been found in various outdoor locations around Anchorage. Paulson’s story pointed to Hansen as a suspect.
It took a few months before investigators had enough evidence to get a search warrant for Hansen’s home. That’s when they found jewelry belonging to his victims and a map of the Anchorage area etched with Xs on the back of his headboard where his victims were buried.
Even though Paulson had almost been killed at the hands of a man soliciting prostitution, she went back to the life she knew.
Hale wrote, “Plagued by a torturous home life (poverty and abuse were constants), Cindy started running away from home at age 12. On the streets, she met her first pimp. He took her in, bought her nice clothes and gave her jewelry. By the time she was 15, she was his “main lady;” he dressed her in furs and let her drive his Lincoln Continental.”
Flothe tried to keep track of her but sometimes she’d disappear. Finally, she snuck a call to the state trooper and asked for him to come to pick her up, and he did. He took her to a safe house run by a church group where she “cleaned up her act” ahead of court according to Hale.
Though Hansen initially plead not guilty, prosecutors had so much evidence that he changed his plea to guilty. Hanson was convicted of four of the 17 murders he confessed to and sentenced to 461 years, according to The New York Times. He told police he also raped more than 30 women.
Paulson Has Maintained a Private Life Since Her Ordeal, But Shared Her Life Story With the Vanessa Hudgens Who Played her in the Movie ‘Frozen Ground’
Little is publicly known about the life of Paulson in the 37 years since she escaped Hansen. According to Hale she was married with three children when the movie based on her story came out in 2013.
She was willing to talk to actress Vanessa Hudgens who was cast to play her alongside Nicolas Cage as Flothe and John Cusack as Hansen. According to the movie credits that was the first time Paulson agreed to publicly share her story.
Hudgens told Collider of her conversations with Paulson, “She gave me an extremely solid foundation and told me her earliest memories that she had until where she is to this day. Being able to take those and meditate on them myself and make her memories my own memories put me in the right head space. It became very accessible to me.”
According to the Cinemaholic, the director of the film “respectfully followed everything [Paulson] expected from him and even received a letter afterward in which Cindy confessed that ‘she felt like a weight had been lifted.’