The Butcher Baker of Alaska
Robert Hansen hunted his victims and crossed them off on a map.
When the police walked into Cindy Paulson’s motel room at Big Timber, she was shaking and hysterical, trying to remove the handcuffs digging into her wrists. She’d survived an attack by a man who had paid her for sex and instead abducted her, tied her up in his home, and would have eventually killed her if she hadn’t escaped.
Cindy’s quick thinking and luck helped her get away from her captor, but there were many more who came before her, who weren’t as fortunate.
The man who would soon be known as the Butcher Baker of Alaska was Robert Hansen. He was born in 1939 and grew up in Estherville, Iowa, to Danish immigrants. He had a stutter and was incredibly shy because of it. He also had terrible acne scarring, which didn’t help him with girls at school, and he hated them for their rejection.
Robert Hansen via The Independent
When he finished school, he followed in his father’s footsteps and trained as a baker, but he also enrolled in the Army for a year. After this, he worked as a drill instructor at the police academy in Pocahontas, Iowa, and this is where he met his first wife.
In the winter of 1960, Hansen was arrested for burning down the bus garage of a school in Pocahontas. He was sentenced to three years at Anamosa State Penitentiary but only served 20 months. During this time, his wife divorced him. He also was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had periodic schizophrenic episodes while incarcerated. In the years after his release, he went back to prison a few times for theft, but he never stayed long.
In 1963, he met his second wife, Darla, who was a special education teacher. They moved to Anchorage, Alaska, had two children together and lived a seemingly normal life. However, Hansen was an avid hunter and spent a lot of time outdoors when he wasn’t working at his bakery or with his family.
Despite Hansen’s wholesome life, he continued to get in trouble with the law, and in December 1971, he was arrested for the rape of a sex worker and the abduction and attempted rape of a housewife.
He agreed to plead guilty to assault with a deadly weapon involving the housewife if the attempted rape of the sex worker was dropped. He served six months of a five-year sentence and was released in 1972 into a halfway house.
Four years later, he was arrested for stealing a chainsaw from a department store in Anchorage. At his trial, he pleaded guilty to the theft and was sentenced to five years in prison, but it was reduced due to the treatment he received for his bipolar disorder.
From the early 1970s, women began going missing, and bodies started showing up around Anchorage. It was believed that Hansen began killing women as early as 1973.
Cindy Paulson was thought to be his last victim, but there may have been more.
Cindy Paulson was 17 years old when Robert Hansen pulled up next to her in his car in downtown Anchorage. He offered her $200 to perform oral sex, and she accepted, climbing into the front seat of his car.
Cindy Paulson via lelandhale.com
The seemingly shy man suggested that they go to a nearby carpark to not arouse suspicion, and Cindy agreed. Once they were finished, Robert Hansen pulled her head back and pushed a gun in her face. Hansen said he wouldn’t hurt Cindy as long as she did what he said.
Hansen took her to his home and dragged her out of the car. Cindy was in survival mode, so she made mental notes of everything she could, including the blue house she would soon be inside. Hansen sexually assaulted Cindy, and when he was done, he chained her by her neck to a beam in the basement and then fell asleep.
While he was sleeping, Cindy had time to memorise the inside of the basement. There were hunting trophies, animal heads on the walls, various games and clothing scattered around the home.
Hours later, Hansen awoke and released Cindy from her shackles. He ordered her to use the bathroom to get herself cleaned up. He then told her that he wanted her to see his cabin and promised to let her go afterwards.
Hansen’s plane via youtube.com
Hansen told Cindy that they could only reach his cabin by air, and he had a plane ready to go. The pair drove to Merrill Field airport, and as Hansen was getting the aircraft ready for take-off, Cindy escaped from the car and ran for her life.
She was half-naked, barefoot and handcuffed, but she sprinted for Sixth Avenue and tried to flag down a vehicle. She managed to jump into a truck just before Hansen managed to catch up with her.
She asked the driver, Robert Yount, to take her to a motel, the Mush Inn, rather than the police station. The driver dropped her off and immediately found a payphone and called the police.
When the police arrived at the Mush Inn, they were told by a clerk that the woman had taken a cab to another motel, the Big Timber. When they arrived at her room, officer Greg Baker unlocked her handcuffs with a master key, and Cindy’s hysteria calmed. She then told the officer her incredible story.
At first, officers weren’t sure whether to believe Cindy. She was an underage sex worker, and they thought she’d made up the tale due to a bad transaction with a client.
However, she described her attacker in finite detail; his acne scars, his crooked teeth, how he spoke with a stutter, the kind of plane he owned, the car he drove and the house she was taken to. There was so much detail to her story that Cindy thought they would have to believe her.
Greg Baker took the young girl to the hospital for a check-up and a rape kit, but on the way, they drove past the airfield that Cindy had escaped from. As they drove, a plane took off, and Cindy told the officers that it belonged to the man they were looking for.
It wasn’t the plane that Hansen owned, but while they’re at the airfield, they found the right plane, which was in Hansen’s name. Cindy was taken to the hospital, and her examination showed that a severe sexual assault had taken place.
When police arrived at Hansen’s home, they realised that Cindy's description was accurate down to the smallest detail. So they knocked on the door of the blue house, and the man Cindy described greeted them.
Hansen’s home via butcherbaker.net
Hansen had an alibi and told police that he had spent the first part of that day with his friend, working on a new seat for his plane. Later that night, he went to another friend’s house to plan a fishing trip. His friends corroborated his alibi, and with the three well-respected men’s stories appearing very different to that of the teenage sex worker’s, it wasn’t looking good for Cindy.
Robert Hansen was so sure of his innocence that he allowed police to search his property and car. It was the same make and model that Cindy had described, including specific discarded rubbish items on the floor of the vehicle.
Her description of the inside of the basement was accurate too, but the issue police had was that there wasn’t any evidence alluding to Hansen having abducted her. They also couldn’t find the gun that Cindy had described being held to her head during the kidnapping.
There was a definite split between the officers in Anchorage. Greg Baker believed Cindy’s story, but the officer brought in from the sexual assault team wasn’t buying it.
Police knew of Robert Hansen before Cindy’s case even began and had a nickname for him; Bad Bob the Baker. They knew of his previous criminal activity, and despite being a respected businessman, people knew he wasn’t as clean-cut as he made himself out to be.
Anchorage PD didn’t know what else to do, so they decided to make Cindy take a polygraph test to see if she was lying. But, unfortunately, when they went to collect her for the assessment, she had vanished.
Glenn Flothe and the Alaska State Troopers
Instead of closing Cindy’s case, Anchorage police sent the file to the Alaska State Troopers, investigating the murders of multiple women being discovered across Anchorage. The women were primarily involved in sex work and led “high-risk” lives, so the police believed there might be some connection with Cindy.
Detective Glenn Flothe and his team knew that the women had been offered large sums of money for sexual favours or even just going on a date, but they never came back. They were reported missing, but the disappearances had become a part of everyday life.
“Eklutna Annie”, aged 16–25, was found on the 21st of July 1980, in a shallow grave. She’d been stabbed to death in the back and had been eaten by animals. She was unidentifiable, so she was given the name of where she was found, near South Eklutna Lake Road. Forty years later, she’s still not been identified.
Eklutna Annie facial depiction via Wikipedia
Joanna Messina’s body was the next to be found, later the same month. Joanna was 24 when she went missing earlier in July, and her body was found in a gravel pit.
In September 1982, Sherry Morrow’s body was discovered by off-duty police officers. She, too, was buried in a shallow grave near the Knik River. She was fully clothed, and it was evident that she’d been murdered as she had bullet wounds in her back. Curiously, she’d been redressed after her death, as there were no holes in her clothing.
A year later, in September 1983, Paula Goulding’s body was discovered by the same river. As with Sherry, she was found in a shallow grave and had been redressed after her shooting.
Flothe now had seven murdered women in and around Anchorage, and when Cindy’s case file was delivered to the office, he and his team immediately began to connect the dots.
Robert Hansen was already a person of interest due to his history, but so were many others. However, Cindy’s file put him right at the top of the list, and they began to look through his arrest records. They found a long list of criminal activity with a similar MO, and in particular, one rape case.
18-year-old sex worker Robyn Patterson was kidnapped at gunpoint outside the Nevada Club in December 1971.
Her attacker bound her hands and drove her towards the Kenai Peninsula to a motel, but during the journey, he pulled over multiple times to strip her of her clothes and to instigate sex.
Once at the motel, he sexually assaulted her. Once he’d finished, he eventually drove her back to Anchorage after she begged him not to kill her. He did, however, threaten to kill her and her family if she spoke to the police about the attack. Robyn contacted the police once she was safe and picked Robert Hansen’s photo out of the perp book at the station.
Despite her father being a State Trooper, Robyn’s case was the one quashed in favour of Hansen’s guilty plea for the assault with a deadly weapon involving the housewife.
Flothe knew Robert Hansen was the man they were looking for. He had a plane, so he had access to the sites where the bodies were found. Second, he had easy access to the victims because they were sex workers. Third, he was a hunter, so he could track these women once they were let go and shoot them down. Finally, he had a criminal record of sexual assault and kidnapping. All the puzzle parts were there, and the State Troopers had all but to put it together.
Search warrants were requested for Hansen’s property, but the District Attorney denied the application twice. So instead, Flothe contacted the FBI in the hope of some assistance in the case.
Flothe’s call was sent to the Behavioural Science Unit, and John Douglas was assigned to the case. Douglas is best known for his work depicted in the series Mindhunter with criminal profiling.
Douglas wasn’t told anything about the man they suspected but was given the information about the three recovered bodies. From here, he created a criminal psychological profile of the man he believed was responsible for the murders.
He thought the killer would be around 40 years old and have low self-esteem due to a history of rejection. He would be an intelligent and well-respected member of the community he lived in. He would have been involved in shoplifting and arson at some point during his life. He would be an experienced hunter and would keep trophies from his victims.
Douglas’ profile described Robert Hansen perfectly, and along with Cindy’s testimony against Hansen, Flothe was able to secure a search warrant for his property, plane and car.
On the 27th of October 1983, Flothe and his team searched Hansen’s property. His wife, Darla, his children and his mother were at the house when the cars and forensic units turned up. The family had no idea why the police were at the home and were shocked when they were told the reason.
Darla had stood by her husband when he was arrested for theft and when he was imprisoned on rape charges. She believed she could save him with her faith, and together they went to church. She had no idea that he had continued on his path of destruction, which had now amplified to murder.
However, their incomes were separate, with his money from his bakery on “his own needs” and hers from tutoring going towards supporting their children and looking after the home. In reality, they led very independent lives, and Darla had no idea what her husband was capable of.
The family left the home to let officers begin the search, and it wasn’t long before they found the evidence they needed.
Behind the headboard of Robert and Darla’s bed, they found an aviation map that had been written on. The map of Anchorage had 24 crosses scribbled on it, and police quickly realised that four of the crosses were where bodies had been discovered.
Hansen’s kill map via lelandhale.com
Another officer headed into the attic to see if he could find any more evidence. He pulled out insulation and Christmas decorations and looked in every corner of the dark space. He spent hours in the small area, but he eventually found what he thought he would.
There were multiple firearms hidden in the back of the attic, including the gun that Cindy described and the same type used in the other murders. There was also a bag of jewellery.
44-year-old Robert Hansen was arrested and charged with kidnapping, assault, theft, insurance fraud and weapon offences, bringing his nightmare reign to an end.
When questioned about the assaults, he didn’t deny being with the women, but he told police that it was all consensual and he didn’t rape them. He stated that the women were just enacting revenge because they altered their prices after sex, and he wouldn’t pay. Flothe didn’t buy his story.
Once he was arrested, the friends who gave Hansen an alibi also told police that they had lied about seeing him that night. The evidence against Hansen was mounting, and now he didn’t have an explanation for the night Cindy Paulson was abducted and attacked.
Forensics returned with a match between the crime scene bullets and Hansen’s rifle found at the blue house. Hansen and his lawyer began bargaining his plea deal. He agreed to plead guilty to the four murders of “Eklutna Annie”, Joanna Messina, Paula Goulding and Sherry Morrow and agreed to give investigators further information about the other victims, who were crosses on his aviation map.
On the 27th of February 1984, Robert Hansen was sentenced to 461 years plus life in prison, with no chance of parole, by a jury of his peers. He was transferred to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, but four years later, he was returned to Alaska to the Spring Creek Correctional Center, where he remained.
Hansen died in Alaska Regional Hospital on the 21st of August 2014 due to natural causes. He was 75 years old.
Megan Emerick, aged 17, went missing on the 7th of July 1973. Hansen denied killing her, but there was an “X” on his map where her body was eventually found.
Mary Thill, aged 22, went missing on the 5th July 1975. Again, Hansen denied killing her, but there was an “X” on his map where her body was eventually found.
“Horseshoe Harriet”, aged 19–20, was found in April 1984. Hansen helped with the location of her body.
“Eklutna Annie”, aged 16–25, was found on the 21st July 1980.
Roxanne Eastland, aged 24, went missing on the 28th July 1980. Hansen confessed to killing her, but her body wasn’t located.
Joanna Messina, aged 24, was found in July 1980.
Lisa Futrell, aged 41, went missing on the 6th September 1980. Hansen helped with the location of her body.
Sherry Morrow, aged 23, was found on the 12th September 1982.
Andrea Altiery, aged 22, went missing on the 2nd December 1981. Hansen confessed to killing her, but her body wasn’t located.
Sue Luna, aged 23, went missing on the 26th May 1982. Hansen helped with the location of her body.
DeLynn Frey, aged 20, was found on the 20th August 1985, near the Knik River.
Paula Goulding, aged 17, was found on the 2nd September 1983.
Malai Larsen, aged 28, was found on the 24th April 1984. Hansen helped with the location of her body.
Teresa Watson was found on the 26th April 1984. Hansen helped with the location of her body.
Angela Feddern, aged 24, was found on the 26th April 1984. Hansen helped with the location of her body.
Tamera Pederson, aged 20, was found on the 29th April 1984. Hansen helped with the location of her body.
Celia Van Zanten, aged 17, was found on Christmas Day 1971. Hansen denied killing her.
Cindy Paulson, aged 17, went missing on 13th June 1983. She was found alive.
What happened to Cindy?
According to TheCinemaholic, Cindy Paulson and her friend were put in a safe house while Robert Hansen was still at large. When he was charged and sent to prison, Glenn Flothe and his wife took Cindy out for dinner to celebrate.
Cindy left Anchorage shortly after and went back to sex work. Although her whereabouts are now unknown, it’s believed that she still lives in Alaska with her husband and children.
Hansen’s wife, Darla, eventually divorced him and moved the family to Arkansas due to her children being bullied because of their father. She put her Master’s in Education to good use and now teaches in Russia. However, she still has her faith.
There are still victims of Robert Hansen who have never been identified.
Horseshoe Harriet — 17–21 years old, white, 5’2”-5’6”, brown hair.
Eklutna Annie — 16–25 years old, white with possible native American lineage, 4’11” — 5’3”, light brown with red tint hair.
In the media
There have been multiple films and television episodes made around the Butcher Baker of Alaska. The Frozen Ground was released in 2013, starring John Cusack, Nicholas Cage and Vanessa Hudgens. There have also been many books written about the case, including Butcher, Baker: A True Account of a Serial Murder and Murder at 40 below: True Crime Stories from Alaska.