“Shut up, sweetheart, or I’ll blow your brains out.”
Robert Hansen is Alaska’s most notorious serial murderer. Several television shows have portrayed his life; numerous books have detailed his horrific deeds; and a 2013 movie, The Frozen Ground, starring John Cusack as Hansen and Nicholas Cage as an Alaska State Trooper, chronicles Hansen’s crimes and dramatizes the police investigation and apprehension of Hansen.
I hesitate to repeat this story, but if my goal is to recount some of the worst crimes in the history of Alaska, I would be remiss not to include those of Robert Hansen. This story is also important for two other reasons. First, it showcases the time during the construction and early operation of the trans-Alaska pipeline when thousands of people flocked to the state for jobs, and crime soared. Second, this case represents the beginning of the change in the criminal justice system in Alaska when investigative techniques, evidence processing, and dealing with sexual-assault crimes and victims moved out of the dark ages and into the present.
This is not a tale of Alaska’s criminal justice system at its finest. Hansen should have been caught and prosecuted years before he was, but a perfect storm of circumstances allowed him to remain free and continue killing. Robert Hansen was a skilled liar, able to talk his way out of nearly any situation. He owned a bakery and maintained a reputation as a respected businessman with powerful friends he could convince to lie for him and provide him with critical alibis. He was married with a family and had strong ties to his church. Hansen was smart and adept at navigating the wilderness. He was a pilot with his own plane, allowing him to kill and dump bodies in remote locations. He was also an avid big-game hunter with a small arsenal of guns he knew how to use well. Several of his trophies scored high in the record books, and his hunting buddies admired him. He did not fit a typical criminal profile, and on those occasions when he was caught doing something wrong, the justice system repeatedly gave him the benefit of the doubt, despite his criminal record.
Anchorage in the 1970s
Anchorage in the early 1970s was a frontier town with growing pains. Construction began on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in 1973, and it was completed in 1977. During this time, 28,000 people worked on the pipeline. Oil-field workers made good money, and while many pipeline employees…