Robert Hansen was an avid hunter and set several local hunting records. But no one knew that in his spare time, he was hunting more than game.
In Richard Connell’s 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game, an esteemed old war general, bored with trapping animals, lures a big game hunter to his island, and challenges him to a competition: the general will hunt the hunter for three days, and should he elude him, the general will allow the hunter to live. In the end, the hunter emerges victorious, though the tale alludes to the fact that the moral ambiguity of hunting shall perhaps, never be resolved.
Since Connell’s short story was published in 1924, the concept of man hunting man for sport has captivated people. The idea appears in the pages of novels, and the plots of TV shows and movies, but for the most part seems to be relegated to fiction.
However, in 1971, Robert Hansen lifted the concept from the pages of fiction and turned it into a horrifying, decade-long reality.
Unlike his fictional counterpart, Robert Hanson was no esteemed general. He was skinny, painfully shy, and spoke with a stutter, an impediment that would result in years of mockery. As a social outcast, he took refuge in time spent alone, and over time became an avid hunter, channeling his rage and insatiable need for revenge on those who mocked him into stalking animals.
In 1957, when he was 18 years old, he joined the United States Army Reserve, hoping to leave behind the pathetic person he’d been in his youth and make something of himself. For a while, he did. After serving a year in the reserves, he became an assistant drill instructor in Pocahontas, Iowa, and even married a young woman he met there.
Unfortunately, after he was arrested for burning down a school bus garage, his wife divorced him, leaving him alone and incarcerated. He was released 20 months into his three-year sentence for arson, though after being released he was jailed a few more times for petty theft, but managed to remarry, to another local woman.
Finally, he’d decided he’d had enough of the continental United States. In 1967, he moved to Anchorage, Alaska, which was about as far from his life in Pocahontas as he could get. There, he moved into a small community, had two children with his wife, and settled into a quiet life. He was well liked, had a nice family, and even opened up a small bakery.
But, while the townspeople bought into the facade of a happy baker with a quiet family and a knack for hunting, inside, Robert Hansen was still the little boy who had been endlessly mocked as a child and was wrought with an insatiable thirst for revenge.
Twenty years after Hansen moved to Anchorage, a 17-year-old woman was found running down Sixth Avenue outside of town, barefoot and handcuffed. After being picked up by police, she described being held hostage by a man who’d raped, tortured and chained her up, before attempting to load her onto a bush plane and take her to his cabin in the Matanuska Valley. She’d been able to escape as he was preparing the plane for takeoff.
The woman’s description fit that of Robert Hansen, who was brought in by reluctant police. After all, he may have been a meek man, but he was well liked in the community for his bakery. Hansen admitted to police that he had met the young woman, but that he believed she was setting him up because he had refused to pay her extortion demands. When he told police about his strong alibi, from a friend, he was released.
Still hung up on the handcuffed woman’s mention of the cabin in the valley, the Alaska State Troopers conducted an investigation of the area. Over the next few months, they found several bodies in the valley, all of women, several of whom were never identified. The evidence lead to the involvement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who put together a profile of the would-be killer, based on the injuries inflicted on the recovered bodies.
The findings of the criminal psychological profile theorized that the killer was likely an experienced hunter, with low self-esteem, a history of being rejected by women, and likely a stutter.
Though he had been cleared several times before, after the profile was completed, there was no doubt about it. Robert Hansen fit the profile almost exactly, and furthermore, he owned a bush plane and a cabin in the Matanuska Valley.
The police soon obtained a warrant to search Hansen’s plane, car, and homes, and what they found shocked them. The horror that the women had endured was deeper than just rape and murder, the likes of which were almost too horrifying to believe.
Upon the kidnapping of the women, usually prostitutes and strippers, Robert Hansen would take the women to his remote cabin on a patch of land in the valley. He’d set them free, and for a moment they’d have hope and believe that they had a chance. Then, as they ran for their lives, he would track them down, taking his time, and hunting them like animals.
Armed with a hunting knife and a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, he’d torture them for hours, sometimes days at a time, until he located his prey and shot them like game. At his home, police found a map of the area, marked with tiny “x’s,” denoting the kill sites and burials of the women. There were 17 “x’s” in all.
Though he denied involvement in four of the murders, Hansen acknowledged the existence of 13 of them, full on admitting he had killed four of them. He assisted police in locating several of them, though four still remain missing.
Robert Hansen, the “Butcher Baker,” was charged in the murders of four women, and the kidnapping and rape of the handcuffed and barefoot woman, despite the presence of so many bodies. He was sentenced to life in prison in Seward, Alaska, where he died in 2014.