Word came yesterday that Robert Hansen, known as “the Butcher Baker,” had passed away at age 75 at a hospital in Anchorage, Alaska. He was serving a sentence of 499 years in prison for kidnapping, rape and murder. He admitted to killing 17 women; we’ll probably never know the actual number.
Like the main character in Richard Connell’s popular 1924 short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” Robert Hansen got a particular thrill from hunting humans – in his case, terrified, naked women.
The cause of Mr. Hansen’s death was not announced. But whatever it was, it could not have come soon enough.
By the time the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit got involved with the case in 1983, Anchorage police already had pegged him as a suspect in the disappearance of a number of prostitutes and the discovery of a number of female bodies in the wilderness outside Anchorage that bore gunshot wounds and evidence of physical and sexual assault. The challenge was tying in the mild-mannered baker in his mid-forties, originally from Iowa, who was known as an upstanding member of the community, who was married, with a daughter and a son.
The case is detailed in our book Mindhunter.
The police contacted John Douglas and said they had a suspect they believed was a serial killer, knew they would need a confession to convict him, and wanted advice on how to make the case against him. John said, “First tell me about the crimes and let me tell you about the guy.”
When John gave them back a description based on the evidence he’d been presented with, it was uncannily similar to Hansen, down to his pockmarked complexion and the stutter that made him uncomfortable speaking to women. John also predicted that he would have a trophy room that would hold not only the mounted heads of his animal conquests, but also souvenirs from his human conquests and possibly a diary memorializing his exploits. They would also find the rifle that ballistically matched the bullets in the victims, John predicted. The key, he suggested, would be to obtain a search warrant. And for that they would need an affidavit to convince a judge what profiling was all about and what they would expect the search to yield in the way of evidence.
John and his associate Jim Horn flew up to Anchorage and worked the case with the police. The search warrant was granted and yielded pretty much what John had predicted, including the trophy room of animal heads and cheap jewelry, driver’s licenses and photographs taken from some of the victims. While no diary was found, police did come upon an aviation map marking the dumpsites for the bodies.
When faced with the evidence and the capital case prosecutors were planning against him, Hansen confessed. This was the first time profiling had been used to support a search warrant, a tact that has been used innumerable times since.
What the Hansen case also showed was how “ordinary” violent serial predators can be – how they can have “normal” lives with wives and children and blend in to the community. These guys have developed a tremendous capacity to compartmentalize their lives while still feeding their deadly psychosexual needs.
Good riddance, Mr. Hansen. If there is a hell, we are sure you are residing there. And as one final wish for you, may the Devil derive as much satisfaction from hunting you down for eternity as you did from stalking your innocent victims.