*Though it’s not super graphic or bloody, this article does contain a couple of images of the killer posing with hunted game animals. If you’re very sensitive to that sort of thing (I know that much of my audience is 💚) then you may wish to skip this one. I’m sorry that these photos needed to be included, but we really can’t discuss this particular serial killer without speaking of hunting.
Robert Hansen is probably the most prolific serial in recent Alaskan history. Like many killers he targeted transient women, they were often exotic dancers and sex workers; after he’d charmed the woman of his choice and done his best to convince her of his harmlessness, Robert would talk her into leaving with him. He liked to take these women home with him, and once a victim had entered this killer’s lair she was pretty much doomed; he would take her down to the basement, often to a secret soundproof room where he already had chains rigged up. When his wife, Darla Marie Henrichsen Hensen, and their children were home (they visited family in Arkansas quite often) it’s believed that Robert would simply skip taking his victim home altogether. Instead he would immediately force her to board his small bush plane, and he’d fly her out to a desolate area near Knik River where he would sexually assault her in a little shack which he’d occupied there.
Whether she’d been taken to his house or not, in the end these women (or the known victims at least) wound up in the Alaskan wilderness. The avid hunter would strip his victim naked (often in subzero temperatures) and simply set her free. She would, of course, run like hell for her life, but the killer would track her down. Robert thoroughly enjoyed hunting humans; these ladies were savagely murdered with his favorite weapons: a Ruger Mini-14 and a hunting knife.
Let’s touch on this serial’s background for a minute, because that’s important when looking at a killer. Some people don’t care to dive into it, but it’s the reason that I do this. Now a bad childhood doesn’t excuse cold blooded murder, of course, but it can help shed light on how some people are capable of committing atrocities such as these while the majority of us are not. Psychology tells us that we all process things differently – things that you may be able to shrug off, incidents which may make you stronger and more determined could emotionally break someone else – quite literally. While there does not seem to be a singular traumatic event in Robert’s childhood which we can pinpoint, it appears that he’d had a really difficult time in most aspects of his life as a kid and even as an adult he just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) let it go. The only thing which he ever seemed to truly succeed in, the one thing which others commended him for, were his exceptional hunting skills.
So in 1939 Robert was born in Estherville, Iowa to an immigrant father. He was a natural leftie, but forced to become right handed. This actually wasn’t an uncommon thing for parents to do during this time period, plenty of us lefties in past generations were forced to conform, but apparently this deeply scarred this young man. Growing up Robert was scrawny, he had this terrible stutter, and a super bad case of acne; all of this made him the target of bullies everywhere. Kids can be so cruel; while the boys his own age poked fun of and beat on him, the girls all laughed about how ugly he was. If his social life hadn’t been bad enough, he never could find much solace at home, either. Robert’s father, an overbearing man who never did care to have a decent relationship with his son, expected young Robert to be busy at work in the family’s bakery whenever he wasn’t in school.
As soon as he was of age Robert joined the Army reserves and moved to another town where he found himself a wife, but he was still treated badly. As an act of retribution against the people who he felt had tortured him, Robert talked a young bakery employee into helping him blow up a local school bus barn. Eventually his buddy’s conscience got the better of him, and he confessed his crimes to the police; for his role, Robert was sentenced to three years incarceration. It was during this 30 month prison stint that he was diagnosed as bipolar with schizophrenic episodes, and wife number one filed for a divorce.
After he was released from prison, Robert decided that he needed to get as far away from Iowa as possible, so he moved near Anchorage, Alaska. That seemed to be a common enough thing to do, plenty of troubled Americans had moved to Alaska to start a new life, and this worked out splendidly for Robert! For a man who had been a social outcast all of his life, it should’ve been an incredible feeling to finally be accepted; in his new town he opened his very own successful bakery with money obtained through an insurance scam, he and his new wife had a couple of kids, and Robert became a well respected member of society.
Though he was doing so well in his new life, Robert’s dark urges grew stronger by the day; he could and very often did hunt all of the Alaskan game that he liked, but each kill steadily grew less satisfying than the last. Since his release from the Iowan prison, Robert had been arrested more than once for crimes such as shoplifting, but somewhere around ‘71 and ‘72 he was arrested for having sexually assaulted both a sex worker and a housewife by the names of Patricia Roberts and Susan Heppeard. It’s likely that it was around this time that the rapist decided that he’d no longer leave behind any victims who could turn him in to the police, and that he would dispose of these women in the best way he knew how. Sometime between ‘71 to ‘73 Robert began to murder young women.
All throughout the mid seventies and even into the eighties Robert carried on with his hobby of abducting and murdering women, and there’s no telling how much longer he would’ve lasted had he not decided to attack a 17 year old girl by the name of Cindy Paulson in June of ’83.
Cindy later recounted that Robert had offered her $200 bucks for oral sex, and that he’d pulled a gun on her just as soon as she stepped inside his vehicle; the teen was driven back to Robert’s home where she was chained to a beam by her throat, raped, and tortured for several hours. After he’d taken a nap, Cindy’s kidnapper informed her that they were going on a little trip on his plane, but that she shouldn’t be alarmed as he’d already taken seven other women out to this location. Later the girl stated that she had immediately known that those seven other women had been murdered, and she was very determined not to become number eight! Once they’d arrived Robert left his handcuffed victim in the back seat of his vehicle while he loaded his aircraft as per usual; Cindy waited until her captor was distracted, and when she saw her chance she jumped out of the car and ran for her life!
Robert chased after his intended victim, but it was no use. By the time he’d caught up, Cindy had flagged down a passing motorist; this good samaritan drove the teen to a nearby hotel room, and he promptly notified the Alaskan police. I wish we could say for sure that this was Robert’s final victim, but it’s thought that there were probably more. Police soon picked the killer up for questioning, but when it came down to it, a mild mannered baker with a rap sheet was still more believable in the early eighties than a half naked, handcuffed and barefooted teenaged sex worker. Though Cindy was able to describe her attacker and his home in great detail, it didn’t make any difference. Robert claimed that the teen was trying to blackmail him; he convinced a buddy to give him an alibi, and that was that. The serial killer wasn’t even on the suspect list anymore, he’d been completely cleared.
The one person who really seemed to have believed Cindy and became determined to stop this killer was a state trooper by the name of Glenn Flothe. Glenn had been involved in the investigation of three murdered women; these victims had obviously been connected, they had all been discovered at least partially nude, they’d been shot with the same type of firearm, and buried in a shallow grave. After he’d heard what Cindy had to say, Glenn knew a few things to be true. The trooper instinctively knew that the girl had been telling the whole truth, that Robert was his killer, and more women were going to die unless he was quickly stopped. Still, knowing something and proving it are two different things, and Glenn was going to need a good deal of help solving this case. In order to keep their witness close, the state trooper and his wife befriended the young survivor, then Glenn reached out to the FBI.
Profiling is really an incredible science, it’s amazing how even the littlest details about a killer can be told by their crimes. The infamous Special Agent John Douglas took a look at the case, and he informed the trooper that his perpetrator would likely have a stutter! That’s not all he said, of course. The Special Agent had known that this killer would be into collecting trophies from his victims, that he would have very little self worth, and that he’d have a burning hatred for women – you know, the usual type thing, but to pinpoint this killer’s stutter is truly astonishing! And I’ll give you one guess as to who fit the bill perfectly!
Glenn took what the FBI had said along with Cindy’s account of what Robert had done to her, and he obtained a search warrant for his suspect’s dwelling. The FBI had been spot on about everything. Robert had been in the habit of keeping a souvenir from most of his hunting sessions, whether it be wild game or women. The stuffed heads of the animals which he’d killed lined his walls, and damming items such as unique jewelry pieces which could easily be linked back to many of the missing women were found within the home as well. There was also a collection of newspaper articles about the killer and his missing victims, and a map with little X marks all over it which indicated where he’d dumped his victims.
Eventually Robert did admit to having raped dozens, but would only confess to the murder of 17; he even lead police to the shallow graves of twelve more corpses. Investigators are certain that number 17 is small – it is thought that Robert’s body count is really in the thirties. In 1984 this serial was sentenced to 461 years, a ridiculous amount of years to ensure that he would never be released again. The “Butcher Baker” passed away of natural causes in August of 2014, he lived to be 75 years old.
* I would like to talk about Robert’s wife, Darla, and their two children for a minute. You rarely see mention of them, other than the fact that they existed, and I read through multiple articles before I even spotted Mrs. Hansen’s first name. Darla was an exceptionally intelligent woman with a master’s degree in education who made her living by tutoring school children; she was also a devout Christian who believed in God and the sanctity of marriage with all of her heart and soul. No matter what her husband did, even after he’d been arrested and jailed for rape, she remained by her husband’s side. Often the family of these killers catch a ton of hell from the public, how could they possibly share their lives with a monster and not know it? But it would be simple – psychopaths are master manipulators and first class liars. Darla had known that she’d married a dedicated hunter, so when Robert had taken time away from the family, it was easy to explain away. If she saw blood, well, that would also have made sense as her husband was a hunter. When he was arrested for the sexual assaults, Robert had claimed to have been an innocent man, and she believed what he’d told her; she’d had her suspicions that her husband may have been a cheater who possibly enjoyed the company of an escort every once in a while, but a woman killer? It had never crossed her mind. Darla had truly believed that if she stuck it out, she could eventually talk Robert into going to church with her more often – she thought that she could save the soul of the man she’d vowed before God to love, and her marriage would be fixed as well. It must also be mentioned that she and the children were constantly insulted and belittled by Robert, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that he was physically abusive; there may have been some trauma bonding there as well. After he was convicted of committing murder, Darla finally let go of her marriage; she promptly divorced her husband, then she and the kids moved back to Arkansas to be with family. Sadly in a roundabout way Robert brought upon his own two children the same thing which had traumatized him, his kids were bullied mercilessly for their father’s evil acts. Darla eventually obtained a teaching job in Russia, and as far as I can tell she remains there today: the kids made lives for themselves somewhere in the American Midwest.
This link contains non-graphic crime scene photos from Robert Hansen, it is mostly of the grave sites. It shows just how desolate the area is, these poor women really didn’t have a snowball’s chance. The website seems to belong to the author of the book which inspired the aforementioned Hollywood movie, his name is Leland E. Hale. Interesting stuff. https://lelandhale.com/butcherbaker/wordpress/2017/09/08/robert-hansen-graves-along-knik/
* I strive to be as concise as possible when it comes to facts as there’s no telling what an article may be used for. If I’m unsure of something, I promise to tell you, and y’all the dates in this case about drove me nuts. Robert’s first kill is either believed to have occurred in 1971, 1972, or 1973. It seems that every source I looked at says something different, though generally within those three years. Same with the two sexual assaults; I have an arrest date of December 1971, but as for the date of the crimes or whether he was arrested for both at the same time (which I assume to be the case) is unclear. It seems most likely that he was arrested for the sexual assaults in December of ‘71, remained in trouble with the law (he served a short prison sentence) throughout ‘72, and probably started killing after his release. If he’d just murdered those women, they couldn’t have turned him in, and he wouldn’t have been in trouble – not committing violent crimes was never an option. Still, he could’ve taken a life before he was busted, who knows? This was a secretive killer who is believed to have taken half of his murders with him to the grave.
*EDIT * Cindy did not escape from the plane, she hopped out of his car.
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