In the 1960s, a man named Robert Hansen decided to make Anchorage, Alaska his home. The seemingly timid baker, who soon owned a shop in an Anchorage mini-mall, quickly became known for his skill at hunting, a hobby he enjoyed on the side–in fact, he set several local records. It was not known until later, however, that he also hunted and killed at least 17 women between 1971 and 1983. His particularly brutal exploits and his trade gave him a well-known epithet after his crimes were discovered: the “Butcher Baker”.
Not all of Hansen’s victims were ever identified or, indeed, even found. When he was arrested, a map marked with numerous X marks was found behind the headboard of his bed. While Hansen would later help authorities to track down many of those marked spots and uncover the bodies buried there, there were some that he refused to identify. Some authorities believe that Robert Hansen was responsible for more than the 17 deaths to which he confessed, let alone the four for which he was convicted. He also admitted to raping more than 30 women during the same decade.
Because Hansen tended to dispose of his victims’ bodies in isolated areas only accessible by boat or bush plane, the first victim of the Butcher Baker to be discovered didn’t show up until 1980, when construction workers found the body near Eklutna Road. Ultimately dubbed “Eklutna Annie,” the woman has still not been identified. In his 1984 confession Hansen claimed that she was his first victim.
Hansen might have escaped justice even longer–and probably gone on killing–had it not been for 17-year-old Cindy Paulson, who escaped from Hansen in 1983 as he was trying to load her into his plane. Paulson later told police that Hansen had offered her $200 for oral sex, and then pulled a gun on her as she got into his car. He drove her to his home, where he chained her to a post in the basement and proceeded to torture and rape her before taking a nap on a nearby couch and then loading her back into his car and driving out to the airport. Upon arrival, he said he planned to put her in his plane and “take her out to his cabin.”
While Hansen was getting the airplane ready for takeoff, however, Paulson made a run for it. She managed to flag down a passing truck driver in spite of the fact that her hands were cuffed in front of her. Disturbed by her appearance–and, no doubt, by the handcuffs–the driver gave her a ride to a nearby hotel at her request, but then called the police shortly after he had dropped her off.
In spite of Paulson’s testimony, however, Hansen wasn’t immediately arrested. When questioned by the police, he claimed that Paulson was just lying to try to cause trouble. What's more, Hansen's friend, John Henning, provided him with an alibi that for the moment cleared Hansen of any suspicion.
However, Detective Glenn Flothe was, even then, on the trail of a killer–he just didn’t yet know that it was Robert Hansen. Flothe had been placed on a task force to investigate several bodies, including “Eklutna Annie,” which all seemed to have been the work of a single killer. He had worked with an FBI agent to draw up a psychological profile of the suspect, which suggested that the man he was looking for was an experienced hunter who had a history of being rejected by women and that he might stutter.
This description fit Hansen to a T. As a young man, Hansen had been afflicted with particularly severe acne which left his face scarred. He spoke with a stutter and had felt shunned by the girls at school. As an adult, he moved to Anchorage, Alaska with his second wife, with whom he had two children. Though he had several run-ins with the law throughout his life, neither his wife nor his neighbors suspected him of being a brutal serial killer.
Armed with this psychological profile, as well as Paulson’s testimony, Flothe was able to get a warrant to search Hansen’s home, along with his plane and cars. In Hansen’s house, the police found “souvenirs” in the form of jewelry he had taken from the women he killed, along with a map showing where many of the bodies were buried. Hansen initially denied his crimes, but ultimately confessed as part of a plea deal. He is said to have abducted the women, raped and tortured them, much as he did Cindy Paulson, before taking them to the woods and hunting them down with a Rutger Mini-14 rifle.
The grisly exploits of the Butcher Baker proved fertile ground for books and even film. Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale wrote one of the definitive books on the subject, Butcher, Baker: The True Account of an Alaskan Serial Killer. The 2013 film The Frozen Ground was also based on Robert Hansen’s killings, with John Cusack playing the murderous baker opposite Nicholas Cage as an Alaska State Trooper and Vanessa Hudgens as Cindy Paulson.
The real-life Robert Hansen was sentenced to 461 years in prison and additionally, life without the possibility of parole. He died in prison in 2014 at the age of 75.
Featured photo: Find A Grave