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It’s a chilling fact of life and death.
“A person is more likely to be murdered in Alaska than any other state,” according to a National Crime Information Center statistic cited in “Fatal Frontier: Evil In Alaska,” premiering Sunday, November 14 at 7/6c on Oxygen, which focuses on the disturbing and chilling homicide cases that have occurred in the state.
The most famous murderer in Alaska, though, is Robert Hansen, notoriously known as the “Butcher Baker,” who left a trail of women’s bodies in Alaska. Here's what to know about the serial killer who used the rugged frontier as a gruesome hunting ground.
Who is Robert Hansen?
Born in 1939 and raised in Estherville, Iowa, Hansen was the son of an overbearing Danish immigrant baker described as a “big old mean guy.” As an adolescent, Hansen stuttered and had severe acne. He turned to hunting and tracking as a solitary pursuit, later using these skills in his calculated murders.
In 1957, Hansen began a one-year stint in the U.S. Army Reserve. He later worked as an assistant drill instructor at a police academy in Pocahontas, Iowa, according to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Ten years later, Hansen and his second wife moved to Alaska, where he raised two children and opened a bakery. He was described as “mousy” by the Anchorage Daily News. But his mild-mannered demeanor masked a secret and sinister double life.
When did criminality become part of his life?
By his 20s, Hansen already had scrapes with the law. In 1960, Hansen was arrested for burning down the Pocahontas County Board of Education bus garage. He served 20 months of a three-year sentence. He was later busted and jailed a number of times for petty theft. A woman also accused Hansen of rape in 1971, reported the Anchorage Daily News.
When did he become a killer?
Hansen confessed to authorities his first murder victim was a woman “he assumed to be a topless dancer or prostitute” he propositioned in the 1970s, according to the Anchorage Daily News. After pulling a gun on her while in his car, he stabbed her in the neck and buried her in a shallow grave. Her body was found in 1980 and has never been identified.
The first slaying laid down a sort of pattern for his murders, which is explored in detail in Oxygen’s “Mark of a Serial Killer.”
After offering to pay a women for sex, he’d subdue them at gunpoint and rape them. He admitted to raping 30 women during the 1970s and ’80s. He killed 17 of them, calling upon hunting skills honed as a teen as well as his pilot’s license. Hansen would fly or drive his victims to wilderness areas, where he released them as prey. He hunted and killed them and disposed of their bodies.
During this extended period, court documents show that Hansen didn’t fly under the radar when it came to the law. He was arrested for assault with a dangerous weapon and larceny, but was released after serving minimal time.
“This gentleman here has been known to us for several years. We’ve turned him loose several times," a judge later said, according to an Associated Press report in 1984.
By then, the discovery of the victims’ bodies led authorities to suspect a serial killer was on the loose.
How was Hansen caught?
A break for law enforcement came in 1983, when a teenage sex worker, Cindy Paulson, who was abducted by Hansen escaped as he loaded his plane. Paulson led authorities to Hansen, who was arrested.
A search of his home turned up a soundproof room where Paulson was held, jewelry belonging to other victims the killer kept as trophies, and a .223-caliber rifle identified as the murder weapon.
What was his motive for murder?
Hansen said he killed women because they had rejected him all his life, according to a 1984 New York Times report.
He pleaded guilty to four murders and admitted to killing 17 women, the Anchorage Daily News reported. In February 1984, he was sentenced to 461 years plus life without parole.
Hansen agreed to lead detectives to his victims’ bodies. Only 12 have been recovered.
Where is Hansen today?
On Aug. 21, 2014, Hansen, 75, died from natural causes, according to The New York Times.
To learn more about true crime cases in this region of the U.S., watch Oxygen’s “Fatal Frontier: Evil In Alaska,” airing Sunday, November 14 at 7/6c.
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