Robert Hansen was born on February 15, 1939, in Estherville, Iowa. He had a troubled childhood due to being frequently bullied for his awkwardness, acne, and stutter. He also had a dysfunctional relationship with his domineering father.
He spent a lot of time hunting in the woods by himself, and also followed in his father’s footsteps and became a baker.
He began to get into trouble with the law and was arrested several times for petty theft and for arson. He served two years in jail for his infractions. Perhaps as a fresh start, he decided to move to Alaska in the 1960s and open his own bakery.
To his wife, kids, and customers at the bakery he owned at a mini-mall in Anchorage, Robert Hansen appeared to be the perfect family man.
But Hansen, who was nicknamed “the Butcher Baker,” led a terrifying secret life in which he abducted women, raped them, and hunted them down with a rifle in the Alaska wilderness.
Hansen got his pilot’s license, and he would abduct women and take them to remote places outside the city in his plane or car.
Many of his victims were dancers and sex workers. Trooper Glenn Flothe told the Anchorage Daily News in 2008 that Hansen believed that these victims were less likely to be missed. Indeed, since seasonal and temporary workers were commonplace during this era due to the construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, Hansen was able to continue his crime spree unchecked for over a decade.
On June 13, 1983, 17-year-old Cindy Paulson managed to escape after Hansen kidnapped, handcuffed, and raped her. She told police Hansen’s name, and even said she had left her blue running shoes in his car as evidence that she had been there.
But police were unconvinced at first that the shy, unassuming baker could be a rapist, and believed his story that she had been trying to extort money from him — they ended up letting him go.
Hansen was eventually arrested after bodies started turning up, and an FBI profile led authorities back to Hansen as a suspect. When police accused him of rape, his reply was: “You can’t rape a prostitute, can you?”
After confessing to killing 17 women over a 12-year period, he was convicted in 1984 and received a 461-year sentence. He also confessed to raping 30 other women during that time.
Sometimes, he would rape them and let them go. Other times, he would set them loose in the wilderness and hunt them down Most Dangerous Game-style, often around the Knik River northeast of Anchorage.
Experts believe that there may be many more victims still buried in the wilderness.
Hansen’s crimes were portrayed in a 2013 film, “The Frozen Ground,” which starred Nicolas Cage and John Cusack.
Hansen died on August 21, 2014, at a hospital in Anchorage. He was 75.
Main photo: A hunter in Alaska [Paxson Woelber via Wikimedia Commons]