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How ‘geeky baker’ Robert Hansen carried out killing spree in the Alaskan wilderness

Robert Hansen [inset] went on a killing spree for at least 12 years before he was finally caught (Picture: Getty/Investigation Discovery)

Hansen’s Bakery in Anchorage, Alaska was a popular spot in the 1970s. Located on the corner of Ninth Avenue and Ingra Street, the bustling shop’s donuts and danishes drew customers near and far.

To those who visited, owner Robert Hansen seemed like a good-natured man. He was married to Darla, a deeply religious woman who tutored disabled children. Hansen went hunting on the weekends and worked hard. If anything, the dad-of-two was considered a little dull by friends. 

‘Robert Hansen was a geeky looking guy,’ Dom Utton, author of new book Faces of Evil, tells Metro. ‘He had a stutter, he wore glasses, he was skinny. He didn’t seem like a “bad man”.’

But Hansen was worse than bad, he was pure evil. His ferocious killing spree – which went unnoticed for 12 years – is suspected to have stemmed from a feeling of ‘inadequacy’ experienced from an early age.

Born on February 15, 1939, in Estherville, Iowa, Hansen had been bullied in school due to his stutter and severe acne. He had an unstable relationship with his father, who had made him work long hours in the family bakery before school. 

By his twenties, Hansen had turned to a life of crime. 

Robert Hansen took several victims to the Knik River, on the outskirts of Anchorage, to murder them

At 21, he was jailed after burning down a school bus garage and went on to be caught several times for shoplifting in the years which followed. 

When Hansen moved to Alaska in 1967 it was to start a new life. But behind his ‘gentle’ exterior, was a terrifying secret.

In the 1970s, construction workers had flocked to Anchorage to help build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which stretched over the state. In a bid to capitalise on the influx, nightlife bosses hired extra dancers and prostitutes to keep them entertained.

At the same time, Hansen began to prowl the downtown Anchorage area when his wife, Darla, visited her family in Arkansas with their children.

Later known as the ‘Butcher Baker’, he deliberately targeted sex workers as young as 16 – often vulnerable and from out-of-state – as he knew were less likely to be missed.

After meeting the women on street corners or near bars, Hansen would kidnap them at gunpoint and smuggle them to his plane at the city’s Merrill Hill airport. The killer would then take them to secluded areas such as the Knik River in the Alaskan wilderness.

There – according to disputed reports – he’d hunt them like animals. Many of the women were killed by gunshots to the back.

‘Hansen was a killer hidden in plain sight,’ Dominic explains. ‘So many people would have popped into his shop and thought he was a nice bloke, then later had to come to terms with the fact he was, in fact, an absolute monster. The way he killed his victims was horrendous.

‘Hansen got away with his murders for 12 years. You’d think local gossip and word of mouth would have made people realise what this guy was doing, but the pieces never really came together.

‘When police first started finding bodies, and it took a while before they did, they built up a psychological profile of the suspect, which was weirdly accurate. It said the killer would have feelings of inadequacy and a stutter..’

Hansen, shy outwardly, had secretly grown in confidence as he got away with his murders. Anchorage was the perfect backdrop for his crimes, as he was able to blend in with Alaska’s natural predators such as bears, moose and Mother Nature.

When women started to disappear, there was no ripple of fear. Deaths in Alaska were easy to ignore. When 17-year-old dancer and sex worker Cindy Paulson escaped from Hansen in 1983, but her experience was brushed off by police.

Hansen had persuaded investigators she had made up the story after a dispute over money.

Dominic adds: ‘Cindy had been chained up in Hansen’s basement and ran out of his car when he tried to take her to his plane. She went to the police and went “look, this is the guy, he raped me, he did all these horrible things, he was going to take me into his plane and kill me in the wilderness.” Cindy gave the police everything they could possibly need.

Lt. Pat Kasnick of the Alaska State Troopers and Leon Steele of Fish and Wildlife Protection Agency helped to conduct the

‘Detectives brought Hansen in for questioning and he says, “no, no, it wasn’t me, I was at a friend’s” – and they let him go. Hansen was clearly guilty as hell, but got away with it.’

When bodies started emerging later that year – on the banks of the Knik River and buried in gravel pits – police realised there was a serial killer was on the loose.

Detective Glenn Flothe of the Alaska State Troopers persuaded colleagues to revisit Cindy’s testimony and Hansen’s home was searched for any evidence which could link him to the bodies. There, they found several guns and jewelry belonging to some of the missing women. A chart with 37 small ‘x’ was also discovered, with locations which matched up to where the bodies were found.

Hansen eventually admitted to killing 17 woman and raping another 30.

He was thrown behind bars for life and, over decades, the story of the Butcher Baker faded. Hansen’s name was briefly brought back into the spotlight in 2013, when a film ‘On Frozen Ground’ – which starred John Cusack as Hansen and Vanessa Hudgens as Cindy Paulson – was released.

Robert Hansen was handed a 461-year prison sentence as a result of his murderous rampage

Robert Hansen died aged 75 at 1.30am at Alaska Regional Hospital August 21, 2014. The cause of death given was ‘natural causes’.

While Hansen’s story is full of intrigue, mystery and horror, his name isn’t quite so infamous as the likes of Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. The very location of his crimes in Alaska – a state nicknamed ‘the Last Frontier’ – may have made his murderous spree seem more distant to Americans and the wider world, Dominic suggests.

What’s more, there didn’t seem to be a direct motive for Hansen’s crimes. A variety of factors – his strict father, bullying in school, previous crimes – had perhaps set him on the path to becoming a murderer, but the world will never truly know.

‘We crave explanation. When there is none, it makes you want to dig around more to find answers,’ says Dominic.

‘When I was writing my book, the really scary killers weren’t John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy, or even the Moors Murderers.

They’re all nightmare-ish figures, for sure. But people like Hansen are different. He seemed so “normal” to people who knew him, and it’s just terrifying to think how easy it was for him to hide his true self.’

Credit: metro


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