By all appearances, Robert Hansen seemed like a model citizen: He was a business owner, husband, and father. But lying below the surface was a vicious serial killer who hunted women for sport in the Alaskan wilderness. Hansen’s crimes seem so horrendous as to be fiction, especially when compared alongside Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, the famous story about a Russian aristocrat who hunts humans on a remote island.
But Hansen’s life and crimes were not works of fiction. He led a secret, depraved existence that friends, neighbors, and family members didn’t know about, and that resulted in the deaths of many women.
Robert Hansen was born in 1939, grew up in Iowa, and eventually became a baker like his father. He was bullied as a youngster because he was skinny, shy, had a face marked by acne scars, and had a severe stutter. As a teenager, Hansen found comfort hunting in the woods.
In 1960, Hansen was arrested in Iowa for burning down a Board of Education school bus garage, and he served almost two years in jail. After his stint in custody, he was arrested several more times for petty theft. In 1967, Hansen decided to relocate to Alaska with his second wife, where he opened a bakery in Anchorage. Hansen prospered in Alaska. He received his pilot’s license, bought a plane…and he set hunting records.
Hansen projected an image of respectability as a business owner and family man in the community, but, unbeknownst to those close to him, in 1971 he began murdering and raping women in and around Anchorage. Hansen targeted exotic dancers and prostitutes, often abducting them, taking them to his remote cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, and then setting them loose so he could hunt them down like wild animals.
In June 1983, Hansen’s reign of terror came very close to ending. A 17-year-old prostitute named Cindy Paulson escaped, handcuffed, from Hansen as he was preparing to put her on his private plane. Paulson recounted to police how Hansen had pulled a gun on her, kidnapped her, tortured her in his house, and almost got her on his private plane. Only when Hansen became distracted loading the plane’s cockpit was Paulson able to run and flag down a passing truck. Hansen told police that Paulson was simply trying to extort him for money. The police believed Hansen and let him go.
Though they released Hansen, the police were actively investigating the many women who had gone missing from Anchorage by 1983. Believing they had a serial killer on their hands, the police turned to the FBI for help. The FBI compiled a criminal profile of the unknown killer, and the results, plus the incident with Cindy Paulson, led the police to return their focus to Robert Hansen. The FBI profile stated that the killer would be a hunter with low self-esteem, that the killer would most likely keep souvenirs, or “trophies,” from his victims, and that he might have a stutter.
When the police searched Hansen’s house, plane, and cars, they discovered jewelry belonging to some of the missing women. They also discovered a map of the area with Xs marked all over it hidden in Hansen’s house. Faced with the evidence, Hansen decided his dangerous game was over. He admitted to murdering 17 women and raping dozens more over the course of 12 years. Police believe Hansen may have had many more victims than the ones he admitted to attacking.
Hansen was sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2014 at the age of 75.
Want to read more true crime stories? The case of the Zodiac Killer remains one of the most baffling unsolved crime mysteries of the 20th century. The man terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area, murdering at least five men and women–though he claimed to have killed many more–in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
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