Robert Hansen is a notorious serial killer who confessed to killing 17 women and raping 30 other women over a 12-year span in Anchorage, Alaska, according to 1984 article from the Daily Sitka Sentinel.
Hansen, who is being featured during Investigation Discovery’s Serial Killer week, was most well-known for kidnapping women and hunting them for sport in the Alaska wilderness; he did this unbeknownst to his family and the community, where he was mostly known for his bakery. He was ultimately convicted when one of the women he kidnapped escaped and helped police identify his plane.
Hansen was convicted in 1984 and later died in prison.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Researchers & Journalists Said Hansen’s Childhood Was Filled With Resentment
The Cinemaholic reported that he was the son of Danish immigrants, Christian and Edna Hansen, who required the young Michael Christian to work long hours in their bakery. The article described how he was “forced to use his right hand” and had a “strict and dominating father.”
According to a conference paper that conducted a psychobiography of Hansen, he was a weakly child who was often ridiculed by his parents, bullied in school and resentful of the long hours he was forced to work at the bakery:
Hansen was the polar opposite of what one would refer to as all-powerful during this phase of his life. He was under the absolute control of his domineering father for much of his early years which ultimately had an enormous effect on his later functioning as a serial murderer. His ‘yeah-saying’ mother also played a marked role in his later development, providingHansen with the perception that women are weak and easily subjugated. The emotional abuse endured by Hansen laid the foundation for the overcompensating that would come decades later when he would control his victims.
The Daily Sitka Sentinel described Hansen as someone, “spurned as a youth because of his bad complexion and a speech defect.” In another article from the same paper, he was described as a boy who was “shunned by girls in his hometown of Pocahantas, Iowa,” leading to resentment that “smoldered for years.”
2. Hansen Had a Troubled Youth
All That’s Interesting reported that in 1957, Hansen joined the U.S. Army Reserves at the age of 18 and served a year and even became an assistant drill instructor. It was at this time that Hansen “had his first sexual encounter with a prostitute,” according to the psychobiography. It was also where he met his first wife and married her.
However, when Hansen returned to Iowa, he burned a school bus garage as an act of revenge against the high school where he felt tormented as a child, enlisting the help of a young bakery boy. However, the boy confessed and Hansen was caught, All That’s Interesting reported. He was sentenced to three years for arson and his wife divorced him.
Released with six months left on his sentence, Hansen returned to his father’s bakery and married Darla Henrichsen in 1963, according to The Cinemaholic. However, he still engaged in criminality by frequently committed petty thefts, which Hansen’s psychobiographers described as a sexually stimulating behavior for him: “Around this time, Hansen’s voracious urge to steal unnecessary items hit the roof. He became addicted to the thrill of walking into a store and taking any item he wanted without paying for it … DuClos (2012, p.158) highlighted that Hansen came close to ‘ejaculating in his pants’ when he stole items.”
A well-known troublemaker around town, Hansen decided to relocate his family to Anchorage, Alaska. There, Hansen opened his own bakery, reinventing his image in front of the community even as his secret resentment of women turned deadly.
3. Hansen Used His Hunting Experience to Terrify Women
The Cinemaholic reported that the only thing Hansen shared with his father was a love of hunting and, in fact, inherited 17 guns from him.
Hansen became the father of two quickly after moving to Anchorage, and he also became an avid hunter. According to the psychobiography on him, “Hansen became an increasingly skilled hunter and broke several records for taking down the biggest dahl sheep. Perhaps Hansen used hunting as a way to exert his new-found control and power over any creature.” The Daily Sitka Sentinel reported that Hansen had even earned national recognition for his skill in using a bow and arrow as a hunter.
The Cinemaholic reported that Hansen’s wife still supported him even after he was accused of attempting to abduct one woman (Susie Heppeard) and abducting and raping a different woman (Barbara Fields) because “she felt that faith could be his way out.” The rape charges against the housewife were dismissed as part of a plea.
Hansen was court-ordered to see a psychiatrist by the name of Ray Langdon, but he continued to stalk women, eventually escalating to rape. The psychobiography described Hansen as “becoming increasingly narcissistic, antisocial and even more disturbed.” In 1973, he began killing and continued even after he was arrested and sentenced to five years for shoplifting a chainsaw in 1976, All That’s Interesting reported; Hansen successfully appealed that sentence.
Hansen’s method of killing involved searching for sex workers he could rape at gunpoint. According to psychobiographers, he would take those who struggled to his home, where he would torture and rape them. Then he would fly them in a bush plane, force them to strip and tell them to run. Using his hunting experience, he would lead them on a terrifying journey that would end in their deaths.
4. One of Hansen’s Victims Escaped, Leading to His Arrest
In 1983, Hansen picked up a 17-year-old dancer and sex worker named Cindy Paulson, whom he offered $200 for sex, The Lineup reported. Hansen immediately handcuffed her at gunpoint and took her to his home, where he raped and tortured her. As Hansen prepared his plane for a flight into the wilderness, Paulson ran, leaving her shoes behind and with the handcuffs still attached to her wrist.
Hensen ran into the street and flagged down a good Samaritan who drove her to a hotel and called the police. However, according to The Lineup, Hansen’s choice of victim and family-man facade protected him from her harrowing story: “(Hansen) claimed that Paulson was just a lying prostitute trying to extort money from him,” according to The Lineup.
At that time, Anchorage Detective Glenn Flothe had already been tasked to investigate why topless bodies were appearing all over town, according to The Lineup. Flothe enlisted the aid of FBI Agent John Douglas, who suggested Flothe look for a man who was an experienced hunter, had a very pronounced stutter and kept souvenirs of some type from his victims. Using that profile, Flothe obtained a search warrant where a discovery of Hansen’s home turned up souvenirs like jewelry from his victims. The search also produced a rifle and maps marked with “X”s of where Hansen left his bodies.
According to All That’s Interesting, there were 17 marks on the first two maps and 21 on a third map; however, Hansen only confessed to killing 17 women.
According to the Daily Sitka Sentinel, District Attorney Victor Krumm said, “We believe that there’s a good possibility that all the marks on the (third) map coincide with victims. We may never know for sure.” The Sentinel also described how Hansen said he was able to kill so many women: “I guess prostitutes are women I’m putting down lower than myself,” Hansen said.
Paulson’s harrowing escape was turned into a movie featuring John Cusack as Hansen and Nicholas Cage as “Jack Halcombe” (a character based on Flothe); the real Paulson helped advise Vanessa Hudgens on how best to portray her.
5. Hansen Died in Prison at the Age of 75
After his arrest, a hunting organization that Hansen had been involved with, Pope and Young Club, eliminated its name from his books, The Lineup reported.
Even though Hansen confessed to 17 murders, he was only charged with four as part of a plea bargain to “spare his wife, and two children, the embarrassment of protracted legal proceedings,” the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported.
Coined the “Butcher Baker,” Hansen was sentenced to 461 years plus life without parole, according to All That’s Interesting. He was sent to Seward, Alaska’s Spring Creek Correctional Center. Hansen died August 21, 2014, at the age of 75, the Washington Post reported.