Army Reserve Veteran Robert C. Hansen Sentenced to 461 Years Plus Life in Prison, No Parole for Murders of Multiple Women in Alaska (February 28, 1984)

Robert Hansen was a mild-mannered family man with a passion for hunting. A master at his trade, Hansen sought a more challenging prey – his fellow human. Hansen kidnapped women, set them loose in the Alaskan wilderness, and hunted them down for sport. -Hunting Humans, Ice Cold Killers (S1, E1)

Serial killer and Army Reserves veteran Robert C. Hansen confessed to the murder of 17 women and the kidnapping and rape of another 30 women in Alaska. But the authorities believe there are many more victims and their cases are still open. Hansen was officially charged with the abduction and rape of Cindy Paulson and the murders of Joanna Messina, Sherry Morrow, Paula Goulding, and the unidentified body known as “Eklutna Annie.” On February 28, 1984, Robert Hansen was sentenced to 461 years plus life in prison with no parole. Hansen led the police to 17 grave sites he marked on a map but only 12 of his victims bodies were recovered. Robert Hansen’s health was declining for over a year when he died of natural causes on August 21, 2014 at the age of 75.

In 1982, two off-duty police officers were hunting for wild game. As darkness fell and they headed home, they made a gruesome discovery. They knew enough to back away and dispatched the Alaska State Troopers to the scene. The crime scene investigators unearthed the partial bones of a woman buried in a shallow grave. They also found bones scattered around the surrounding area. In Alaska, wild game won’t hesitate to drag off the evidence. They also found a 223 caliber bullet casing. The victim was bound and blind folded at the time of death, and she was shot three times. She was identified as Sherry Morrow; Sherry was drawn to Alaska for the easy money. She worked as an exotic dancer in a seedy area of Anchorage known as ‘Fourth Avenue’. Police looked to see if anyone else in that community had disappeared under similar circumstances. Before the discovery of Sherry’s body, none of the missing persons reports were linked or suggestive of murder. Morrow’s case inspired police to take a look at the cold case files.

Two years before Morrow’s body was found, construction workers found the partial remains of a woman buried in a shallow grave; her body was desecrated by wild life and her bones were scattered. Police couldn’t make an identification and dubbed their Jane Doe “Eklutna Annie”. Nobody ever came forward with information about Annie. Police were concerned they were dealing with a brutal killer so they started canvassing the area where the dancers spent their time. Sherry’s co-workers feared the worst because a number of women had gone missing and they were never heard from again. Over the next several years, five more dancers went missing. Police suspected Sherry and Annie’s cases were connected. They were all victims from the beginning because everyone preyed on these girls, including the bar owners and pimps. Several dancers reported seeing the same man and provided police with a physical description. Police learned of a third body found in a gravel pit near where Eklutna Annie’s body was found.

The victim was identified as Joanna Messina. She was a canary worker who was last seen leaving the dock with her dog and a red haired man her co-workers couldn’t identify. Messina was shot and killed with a 22, not a 223. Two more women vanished and were never seen or heard from again. The blindfolds at the crime scenes told the police a lot about the killer. He was a sexual sadist who wanted complete control. He derived pleasure from his victim’s fear and pain and disposed of their bodies in isolated areas in Alaska. Nine months later, a truck driver found a frantic hand-cuffed woman running in the road; someone with a gun ducked out of site. The trucker took her to a nearby hotel where she was safe and called the Anchorage police. The police found a 17-year-old woman still in handcuffs and in shock. She told the officers she was a topless dancer down on 4th Avenue; she said she was propositioned by a red haired man in his 40s the night before. She confessed that she accepted the stranger’s offer.

Once inside the man’s car, she said the man pulled a gun on her. He kidnapped her, handcuffed her, and told her if she cooperated and did what he wanted, she wouldn’t be harmed. He took her to a middle class house in Muldoon. He held her hostage in a basement filled with mounted heads of animals. He brutalized her for hours. He chained her to beam in the basement and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. She told the police he was going to fly her to his cabin in the woods, promising to release her if she cooperated. Once at the airport, the kidnapper shoved her in a small plane and began loading supplies. The second he turned his back, she made her escape. Hoping to corroborate her account, investigators took her to the airfield to find the plane. She identified a plane owned by Robert Hansen; he was a 50 year-old avid hunter and local business man. Hansen owned a well established bakery, had lot of friends, and went to church. By all accounts, he was an upstanding member of the community.

When questioned by police, Hansen was outraged and insisted the dancer was lying to extort money from him. He also questioned whether it was even possible to rape a prostitute. He claimed he had an alibi and told investigators his wife and children were in Europe and he spent the night playing poker with friends. When questioned, the two men substantiated his story. Hansen allowed authorities to search his home but they didn’t find evidence of what the victim described. She also refused to take a polygraph and this made the police wonder if she fabricated the story. It was a “he said, she said” case because they had no evidence. Citing a lack of evidence, the prosecutor dropped the case. Three months later, Alaska State Troopers discovered the partially decomposed remains of another woman in a shallow grave. She was identified as a missing dancer from the Fourth Avenue district. Investigators found a blindfold buried among the remains. An autopsy revealed Paula Goulding had also been shot by a 223 caliber bullet.

Initially, the police didn’t link the cases but the use of the 223 caliber bullet helped them realize they were dealing with a serial killer who was targeting exotic dancers in Anchorage. Troopers contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation for assistance; agents created a behavioral profile of the serial killer. The killer believed he was invincible because he picked the perfect victims. He chose the dancers on Fourth Ave because he thought no one would care if they were missing. They started looking into Robert Hansen’s past. They learned he was abused as a child and had very low self-esteem. He was always considered small and had few friends; he was often ridiculed by his peers. After graduating from high school, Hansen enlisted in the Army Reserve and went to basic training at Fort Dix. He later received advanced training as a military police officer at Fort Knox. While enlisted in the Army, he was known to frequent prostitutes. He told fellow soldiers, he found them dissatisfying and yearned to take control of the situation.

Despite his strict up bringing and disciplined military structure, the profilers learned Hansen had a number of run-ins with the law. He served time for arson and theft but he appeared to have long since left that life behind. In 1967, he married and moved to Alaska. He was a functioning member of society. They believe his low self-esteem would drive him to live in a place like Alaska. His former neighbor told investigators he loved the thrill of the hunt; and he was always looking for the bigger hunt. He was an avid trophy hunter. Hansen’s weak point was women because he was unsuccessful with them. He hunted where most of the victims were found. “Perhaps Hansen tired of game and turned to more interesting prey like humans.” Humans create a much greater challenge to the hunter. Police deduced he most likely had trophies from his hunts for humans. The killer was a sexual sadist, proficient, and more successful over time. Authorities threatened the two men who alibied him with jail time if they didn’t come clean about the night the dancer was abducted.

Both friends quickly broke down and said they were covering for him because they thought he was a legitimate guy. They believed him when he said he thought the dancers were trying to extort him. The police asked Hansen to come down to the station and executed a search warrant. An officer searched the attic and in the rafters he found a bag of jewelry. And nestled with his bag of trophies, they found IDs belonging to the victims and newspaper clippings. Authorities also found a trophy map with locations of where he killed his victims. Hansen tracked his kills. The most critical find was a 223 caliber mini 14 rifle. The rifle was sent to the crime lab for further analysis. The 223 matched perfectly with the round they found in Eklutna. Robert Hansen was charged with assault and kidnapping. Despite his pleas of innocence, the evidence was mounting against him. The District Attorney agreed to charge Hansen with four murders: Sherry Morrow, Eklutna Annie, Joanna Messina, and Paula Goulding. Hansen accepted a plea deal. Police believe he chose prostitutes because they represent the evil in humans.

Robert Hansen chose prostitutes because they will go anywhere for anything and when they disappear, no one cares. He admitted he controlled the game from the point of abduction. He was the predator and they were they prey. He killed Eklutna Annie first. Then he abducted Sherry Morrow. He took most of his victims to his remote cabin and brutalized them for hours before he stripped them naked, blindfolded them and then released them in the woods. He turned them loose, gave them a head start, and hunted them down. He was a trophy hunter. He then collected things off the girls so he could re-live the events. Robert Hansen’s killing spree lasted twelve years in Alaska. Hansen confessed to 17 killings but it is believed he had many more victims. He eventually lead police to 15 gravesites unknown to investigators. Unfortunately, investigators only recovered 7 bodies likely due to the veracious animal activity in the Alaskan wilderness. Robert Hansen was sentenced to 461 years plus life in prison with no chance of parole.

Source: Hunting Humans, Ice Cold Killers, Investigation Discovery

Andrea “Fish” Altiery (disappeared 12/2/81, unknown if body recovered)
Roxanne Easlund, 24 (disappeared 6/28/1980, unknown if body recovered)
Megan Emerick, 17 (suspected abduction on 7/7/73, body never recovered)
Angela Feddern, 24 (disappeared February 1983, body found)
DeLynn “Sugar” Frey (disappeared September 1983, body found)
Lisa “Betty” Futrell, 41 (disappeared 9/7/1980, body found)
Malai Larsen, 28 (disappeared June 1981, body found)
Paula Goulding (disappeared 4/25/83, body found)
Sue Luna, 23 (disappeared 5/16/82, body found)
Joanna Messina (disappeared 5/19/1989, body found)
Sherry Morrow, 23 (disappeared 11/17/81, body found)
Tamara Pederson, 20 (disappeared August 1982, body found)
Mary Kathleen Thill, 23 (suspected abduction on 7/5/75, body never recovered)
Cecelia “Beth” Van Zanten, 17 (suspected abduction on 12/22/71, body found)
Theresa Watson (disappeared 4/29/83, body found)
“Eklutna Annie” (real name unknown, disappeared 11/1979, body found)
Cindy Paulson (abducted & raped on 6/13/1983, escaped & survived)

List compliments of The Frozen Ground.

In the News:

A Killer Among Us: Inside the Hunt for an Alaska Serial Killer (June 11, 2017, KTUU-Channel 2, Anchorage, Alaska)

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Based on a true story. An Alaskan State Trooper (Nicholas Cage) must partner with a near victim and the only witness to escape the clutches of the serial killer in order to bring the murderer to justice. -The Frozen Ground

Frozen Ground – Examining the Frozen Ground

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. Download the ID Go app and binge away. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

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Army Reserve Veteran Robert C. Hansen Sentenced to 461 Years Plus Life in Prison, No Parole for Murders of Multiple Women in Alaska (February 28, 1984)
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