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Young killers

Wayne Williams

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Notable Fact
A woman, searching for deposit bottles along the road in a slum section of Atlanta, saw a leg sticking out of some undergrowth.

In the twentieth century, few stories equal what came to be known as the Atlanta Child Murders. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the city of Atlanta, one African American child after another was found murdered. Panic spread as mothers and fathers and grandparents wondered whether their loved one would be next. Nothing seemed to stop the killer.

The first two bodies showed up dumped on the side of a road, found by a woman searching for deposit bottles along the road in a slum section of Atlanta who saw a leg sticking out of some undergrowth. It was the leg of fourteen-year-old Edward Smith. She then discovered a second body, that of Alfred Evans, about fifty feet from the first. Investigators later determined that Smith had been shot in the head with a .22. Evan’s body was in such a state of advanced decay that the cause of death was uncertain, possibly strangulation.

More bodies started to show up in fairly quick succession. The next body found was that of fourteen-year-old Milton Harvey, who had gone to the bank on September 4, 1979, a week earlier, and had never come back. On October 21, the body of Yusef Bell, who had gone on an errand for his mother and disappeared, was found, his body decomposing in the crawl space of an elementary school. Weirdly, his clothes were clean and it was clear that, though he had been missing for ten days, he had only been dead for half that time. In early March 1980, the body of a twelve-year-old girl was found, and just one day after that, ten-year-old Jeffrey Mathis disappeared. On May 18, yet another boy, Eric Middlebrooks, disappeared after receiving a phone call at ten-thirty at night.

At first, Atlanta police were in denial about the fact that they were dealing with a serial killer. The disappearances continued one after the other, mostly boys but a few girls also, which clouded the situation: Were they dealing with the same killer, or did someone else murder the girls? Generally, serial killers have a very specific victim type and rarely deviate from it. However, since the killings had started, there had been seven bodies of young people recovered, and three more were missing - a serial killer was on the loose.

Then, in July, the “summer of death” began. The bodies of five young boys were discovered. Not only was a serial killer on the loose but an extraordinarily dangerous serial killer - he was a prolific murderer who preyed on naive young children.

Special agents from the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, Roy Hazelwood and John Douglas, had come down to Atlanta to help local police. After they absorbed what was going on, they tried to give Atlanta police insight into the killer - they created a profile. They told the locals that the killer was likely African American, about twenty-nine years old, homosexual, and possibly a movie producer. The killer was also unable to perform sexually, which explained why there was no sign of sexual assault. It was likely that the victims knew the killer and trusted him. Indeed, before some of the disappearances, witnesses had reported seeing some of the kids willingly getting into a blue car.

But despite what turned out to be an accurate FBI profile, the killer still roamed free. However, soon the killer began to make some changes that would ultimately be his undoing. The high mortality rate continued, but now he was disposing of the bodies in the Chattahoochee River. Then, as 1980 slipped into 1981 and the killings continued, the killer changed his MO and stopped killing kids - he began killing African American adults.

On March 20, 1981, twenty-one-year-old Eddie Duncan, a mentally and physically disabled young man, disappeared; on April 8, his body was pulled from the Chattahoochee River. The bodies of three more adult African American men were found shortly thereafter, two of them pulled from the Chattahoochee. The police started surveillance on a bridge over the river, a logical place for someone to dump a body.

Making a Splash
On the night of May 22, the surveillance paid off. Officers in a concealed location heard a big splash and intercepted a youngish, stocky African American man driving on the bridge; his name was Wayne Williams. They questioned Williams closely, and he kept telling lies, saying that he was on the way to his girlfriend’s house - except he told them the wrong phone number. They took Williams to headquarters for further questioning but didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him. Two days later, the body of the oldest victim, twenty-seven-year-old Nathaniel Cater, was found in the Chattahoochee River.

After further investigation, though, carpet fibers and dog hairs from Williams’s home and car were found on victims - including Cater, the latest victim to be dropped into in the river - and Williams was arrested. Police also found five bloodstains on the floor of his station wagon. The evidence - plus his lying - was circumstantial, but it was strong.
In this May 24, 1999, file photo, Wayne Williams poses along the fence line at Valdosta Sate Prison, Valdosta, Ga. Lawyers for Williams, blamed for the murders of two dozen children and young men in the late 1970s and early '80s, have asked to perform DNA testing on dog hair, human hair and blood. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (John Bazemore - AP)

Williams was put on trial for two murders, that of Nathaniel Cater and another adult named Jimmy Ray Payne, in January 1982, and it took the jury only twelve hours to find him guilty. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Some people believed that Williams was innocent, and others believed that the Ku Klux Klan had framed him. But there was one telling argument for his guilt: When Williams was locked up the killings stopped.

A Change in MO
One mystery in the Williams case is that, in an extremely rare departure for a serial killer, he started to murder adults. No one has been able to come up with a cogent theory as to why this might be.
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Ed Gein

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Notable Fact
Ed Gein was the real-life man on whom Norman Bates, the killer in the movie Psycho, was based.

Around five o’clock on November 16, 1957, Frank Worden returned from a day of deer hunting—it was opening day of hunting season—to the hardware store that he and his mother, Bernice, owned in Plainfield, a tiny town in northern Wisconsin. As he pulled up, he got a surprise: The store was closed. It shouldn’t have been. He looked in the store window and saw no sign of his mother.

Puzzled, he went across the street to a gas station and asked the owner whether he had seen his mother or knew why the store was closed. The owner had no idea, but he said that the store had been closed for several hours. That made Worden even more anxious. He let himself into the store and called out for his mother, but there was only silence.

He searched the store, then wandered behind the counter - where he made a stunning discovery. On the floor was a mass of congealing blood. A red trail led to the back door, as if some wounded person or animal had been dragged out of the store. Terrified, Worden went out the back door, where he kept his pickup truck. It was gone. He went back inside and called the

A few minutes later, three investigators from the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department arrived. One of the investigators called Worden aside and asked him whether he could think of anyone who might be responsible for the disappearance or who might be capable of violence.

Worden immediately blurted out a name: “Gein. Ed Gein.”

Worden didn’t know exactly why; it was more instinct than anything. But he did remember that, just the day before, Gein had been in the store and had asked Bernice to go out with him. To top it off, Gein had asked Worden a strange, now very troubling question: He wanted to know whether Worden would be gone all day, and Worden had said yes, that he was going deer hunting.

Then Worden thought to check the day’s receipts. One was for a gallon of antifreeze, made out to Ed Gein. He had been in the store that very day.

Panic Spreads
Word started to get out that Bernice Worden was missing, and panic spread through the small town. Suddenly the police had a problem on their hands - townspeople had heard that Ed Gein was involved, and a lynch mob could form at any moment. More police called in from surrounding counties responded quickly. They knew that they must find Gein quickly to protect him.

Detective Dan Chase and the village marshal Specks Murty immediately drove the five miles to Gein’s farmhouse. When they arrived, darkness had fallen and there were no lights coming from the house, which had no electricity. They knocked, then pounded, on the door. No answer. Finally they entered the house and Murty lit a match. The place was littered with papers and junk, and in fear of starting a fire they extinguished the light and left. But both men had noticed a peculiar odor that neither could place.

Back in town, the lawmen saw unrest continue to build, and Gein was at the center of it. The townspeople assumed Gein had killed Bernice - and if they found him, they were going to kill him.

Detective Chase knew that Gein sometimes hung around the house of a friend named Hill, so after checking Gein’s house, Chase went over there. Gein was there, just visiting. The cops quickly arrested him and put him in their car, instructing him to lie down across the backseat so townsfolk couldn’t see him. With Gein in custody, a second foray to his house was made, this time by Captain Schoephoerster and Sheriff Seley.

This time the men recognized the all-suffusing smell: decomposing flesh. Using flames to light their way, they went through the house and noticed several bowls - but not ordinary bowls. They were bowls made of human skulls, severed just below the eyebrows. It was, the men sensed, the tip of the iceberg. More officers were summoned to bring better lighting.

The cops were right - the skull bowls were the least of Gein’s “treasures”; they were merely a warm-up to the discoveries in the stomach-wrenching chamber of horror. On the walls, the cops found death masks made of real flesh from real people. There was a lamp made of human skin, a belt made of women’s nipples, human vests with the breasts still attached. To top it all off, the police found a fresh human heart in the saucepan.

It was all too much, and the men regularly ran outside into the November night to gulp down air and try to retain what was in their stomachs. It was horrific; what more could there be? Then, someone yelled from a back shed: There was a body, but no one could be sure whether it was Bernice Worden because it had no head. It was hanging by the feet from a ceiling beam, the body cut from genitals to chest, and it had been disemboweled and washed; the breasts were intact. The body had been prepared just like a dead deer.

Police confirmed that the body was that of Bernice Worden a little later on in the search: They found her head under a mattress on one of the beds. The mind-boggling finds did not stop with Bernice Worden. Gein had made chair seats with leg bones and dried fat. On his bedposts were human skulls preserved with salt. In a shoebox were nine vulvas.

One of the most horrifying films of all time, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre MOVIE has gone from 16mm independent film to full-blown horror classic. Tobe Hooper's nightmarish vision from 1974 is a grim and unsettling tale that paved the way for such indie fare as Halloween and Re-Animator.
The Events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." - August 18th, 1973 
Despite being heavily touted as "inspired by a true horror story," both Tobe Hooper's original 1974 film and the 2003 Marcus Nispel remake are only lightly based on the real-life murderer Ed Gein, who is Ed Gein's Homesuspected to have taken several victims between 1954 and 1957. Perhaps the most recognizable similarity is the film's house, whose gruesome content was similar to that found in Ed Gein's home in 1957

Suddenly the sleepy little town of Plainfield - where doors were never locked and neighbors trusted neighbors - became illuminated in a worldwide spotlight that generated fear and anger. But for his part, Gein seemed unimpressed by it all. And he had hardly seemed like a monster. He was a short, slight, watery-eyed man who looked like he could harm no one.

He was given a quick hearing and sent to Central State Hospital at Waupun, Wisconsin, to determine whether the doctors there could discover what manner of creature could have done such things. Police officers and civilians alike wanted the details, an explanation, for why Gein did this. They also needed to find out whether he was qualified to stand trial - he certainly seemed legally insane.

At the hospital, Gein detailed some of his activities for the stunned doctors. Although it was never determined where all the body parts came from, Gein said that he often robbed graves for body parts and would regularly wear the parts as a human-flesh suit. He explained matter-of-factly that on more than one occasion he had donned a female scalp, secured female breasts to his body, shoved the nine vulvas into his underwear, and gone out to dance in the Wisconsin moonlight!

Ten years after he entered Central State Hospital, he went to trial, where he detailed more of his gruesome activities. He was returned to Central State after the trial, having been convicted of murder.

Gein was suspected of another murder, that of a woman named Mary Hogan, but police couldn’t come up with enough evidence to indict him for it. Some of the officers also thought he had killed more people, but a lack of evidence hampered their case.

The Making of a Monster
The most fascinating question of all is, of course, why would Gein do what he did? As with most serial killers, it all starts with an unhappy childhood.

Gein’s father was an alcoholic who would become enraged when inebriated. His mother was the dominant parent, the one who made all the decisions. She was hardworking and religious, with rigid morals. In high school, Gein got along well with his classmates and participated in social activities and sports such as skiing, archery, and basketball. He also enjoyed old music and adventure movies - and stories about headhunters and cannibals.

Gein said that he lived by his mother’s rigid moral code. He was described as hardworking and always willing to help neighbors. And he was hygienic: When asked whether he was a necrophiliac, he denied it for a simple reason - the corpses “smelled bad.” Gein claims that he never had sexual relations with anyone.

Gein had one brother, Henry, who died in a marsh fire under strange circumstances. It was said that Edward lured Henry into the marsh, then set it ablaze, trapping him. But nothing could be proved.

The great hang-up of his life appeared to be his mother. He was devastated by her death; despite the general disarray of most of his house, Gein kept his mother’s room pristine, spotless, just the way it was on the day she died. Gein seemed to find whatever salvation and security he could in keeping the fantasy of her alive in his mind. In a sense, he denied her death all his life. Wearing female body parts and dancing in the moonlight was perhaps his way of living inside her, safe from the world - living in the only safe place he knew of, inside her strong persona.

Gein’s house no longer stands; a short while after he was charged, vandals burned his house to the ground. No one tried to find the arsonists, and many people would just rather forget it all. To this day many people will not drive by the site of the house.

In the 1970s, the asylum where Gein had been kept was closed down, and the inmate patients were distributed throughout the states, some landing in the correctional system. Gein was placed in Mendota State Hospital in Madison. He lived there quietly until his death in 1984.
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Harvey Glatman

Notable Fact
When his mother inquired as to what caused the welts on his neck, he said that he had tied a rope around his neck and was hanging from it—that torturing himself like this gave him pleasure.

Harvey Glatman was reminiscent of a character often seen in B movies: He looked like a harmless nerd, a baggy faced, bespectacled, slow-witted young man. But beneath this benign exterior he was sharp - his IQ, measured while he was in San Quentin, was 130 - he was a genius even.

Despite this intelligence, something was clearly wrong with Harvey Glatman even at an early age. When he was twelve, for example, his mother noticed red welts on his neck. When she inquired as to what caused them, he said that he had tied a rope around his neck and was hanging from it - that torturing himself in that way gave him pleasure. In 1945, at age seventeen, Glatman started grabbing women’s purses, running away, then tossing the purses back - he was more interested in scaring women than he was in robbing them. This predilection escalated further that same year when he was in Boulder, Colorado. He pulled a toy gun on a young girl and ordered her to disrobe. She screamed and he ran, but the girl was later able to pick him out of a lineup and he was arrested.

Glatman didn’t hang around for the trial; he fled to the East Coast. There he was caught in a robbery, and the authorities learned that he was a fugitive wanted in Boulder. He was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

In 1951, Glatman was released from the prison, and he headed for the West Coast, settling in Los Angeles. He became a repairman in the burgeoning television-repair business, and he had a hobby: photography.

By all appearances, Glatman appeared to have assumed his place in the community. He had a job with responsibilities, a place to stay, and a hobby. Nothing, of course, was further from the truth. Glatman was getting ready to kill.

Pretty Women
Glatman developed some methods for capturing women that seem like scenes from the movies, not real life—it doesn’t seem like they could actually happen, but they did, with horrifying results. For instance, in 1957, under the alias of Johnny Glynn, Glatman made a television-repair service call to the home of Judy Dull. Dull was a very pretty, recently married nineteen-year-old. When Glatman learned that she was a model, he told her he was a part-time photographer and asked whether she would be interested in a job. He explained that a New York City detective magazine had hired him to take one of those woman-in-jeopardy photos - a girl, bound and gagged. If she accepted, Glatman said he would pay her $50. The girl agreed, and on August 1, 1957, Glatman picked her up, ostensibly to go to the photography studio.

Once in the car, Glatman pulled a gun on Dull and said that she was to obey him or he would kill her. He took her to his apartment, where he forced her to strip and took photos of her. Then he raped her and told her to get dressed. He tied her up, put a gag in her mouth, and took more photos of her. The photos Glatman took are not overtly obscene: Dull’s dress is pulled up above her knees - and, of course, she’s bound and gagged.

Then he forced her into his car and drove about 125 miles out into the desert, near the town of Indio. He took some flash photos and then used a rope to strangle her. He buried her in a shallow grave, but the wind ultimately blew the sand off her, and her skeleton was eventually discovered. Glatman enlarged the photos of the terrified woman and mounted them on his wall.

The Lonely Hearts Club Killer
The second ploy involved Glatman becoming a member of a lonely hearts club - the potential predator that women were always warned about when they joined one of these clubs (it’s like the equivalent of online dating today). There, using the alias George Williams, Glatman met a woman named Shirley Bridgford. He told her he was a plumber. They hit it off and made a date, and he told her to be sure to dress for the occasion: He was going to take her to an exclusive dance club. Once he had her in his car, he sped out toward the Borrego (now Anza-Borrego) Desert State Park near San Diego, fifty-five miles away.

Out there in the darkness, with only the stars above, he raped her repeatedly. Afterward, he tied her up and shoved a gag in her mouth and took photos of the crying woman. Like the photos of Dull, the photos of Bridgford were more suggestive than obscene. Then Glatman raped her again and strangled her to death. He left her body out in the open to decompose and be eaten by animals.

Glatman picked his next victim from the personal ads of the Los Angeles Times. It was an ad placed by the model Ruth Rita Mercado, who was looking for work. Glatman went over to her apartment, raped her a number of times, and then forced her to get into his car. He drove out to the desert and photographed her bound body, dressed only in a slip.

But Glatman had a problem with Mercado. He liked her so much that he didn’t want to kill her. He debated with himself all day, and then, as reported in Jay Robert Nash’s Bloodletters and Badmen, he decided that to protect himself he had to kill her. “She was the one I really liked,” he said later. “I didn’t want to kill her. I used the same rope, the same way.”

At least one potential victim saw right through Glatman, a French model named Joanne Arena. She agreed to pose for Glatman, but only if there was a male chaperone with them. Glatman backed out. Said Arena, as reported in Bloodletters and Badmen, “I’m not so dumb . . . You know, I think he wanted to kill me . . . I knew it even then.” Arena was part of a string of bad luck for Glatman—while his next potential victim, Lorraine Vigil, did not sense his homicidal intent, she was plucky, and it was his undoing.

Glatman told Vigil, as he had told other victims, that he was going to photograph her in his studio. Instead, once she was in his car he swung onto the Santa Ana Freeway. When Vigil became alarmed, Glatman pulled his gun. He stopped the car on the shoulder of the road and started to tie Vigil’s hands. “I knew he was going to kill me,” she told police later. “I tried to plead but I knew pleading wouldn’t do any good.” So she took matters into her own hands: She lunged for and grabbed the gun. A shot went off, hitting her in the thigh, but she got the gun, leveled it at him, and told him not to move. Glatman’s response was to lurch for her and the gun, and they went tumbling out the door on to the shoulder, wrestling furiously.

Vigil got the better of the match and came away with the gun again. Sitting up, she trained the gun on him, and he stood transfixed, rope in hand, not knowing what to do. And just then, Harvey Glatman’s luck ran out. A state police officer had spotted the fight and stopped his car. He came running across the highway, firing a shot as he did. Glatman gave up meekly, though he claimed later he could have easily killed the cop.

At the station, he gave up the details on the killings. His trial was short and, apparently for him, sweet. As Nash says in Bloodletters and Badmen, Glatman’s lawyers tried to arrange for appeals, but Glatman refused to cooperate. He wanted to die, saying, “It’s better this way. I knew this was the way it would be.”

On August 18, 1959, Glatman got his way, dying in the gas chamber and perhaps leaving behind a horde of grateful movie writers for whom he had provided seeds that would grow into their fictional murderous scenarios.

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Robert Hansen

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Notable Fact
Some (investigators) think Hansen played a kind of hunt-and-kill game with his victims, releasing them in the wilderness and then hunting them down with a bow and arrow or gun.

If Robert Hansen were murdering women today, the chances of him being caught would be a lot greater than they were in the early 1980s, when he was finally tracked down. For one thing, films, books, television, and other media have made the average person - and average police officer - much more aware of the existence of serial killers. For another, many people now know that serial killers often prey on prostitutes. Prostitutes had complained about how Hansen had treated them long before he was apprehended, but the police had a jaundiced view of them and doubted their credibility because of their profession. Also, record keeping is a lot better now. Robert Hansen’s criminal record was revealing, but it was kept by separate police jurisdictions, and therefore not all the people who needed to know about his past were aware of it. And, of course, there is that remarkable new investigative tool, DNA.

The bottom line, though, was that no one put it all together before it was too late for Hansen’s victims. Although he was a serial killer, Hansen was not, of course, a wild-eyed hunchbacked monster slavering at the mouth. He was a wiry, 5´10½ forty-four-year-old who was married with children. He lived in a log cabin on Old Harbor Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska, and owned and operated a successful bakery there. He was even the object of sympathy: He had a severely pockmarked face, a remnant of his teen years when he suffered from very bad acne, and he stuttered.

But he was extremely dangerous. In the end, he admitted to having raped and killed seventeen women - mostly dancers and prostitutes who worked the strip joints in Anchorage on Fourth Street - but state troopers who investigated the case believe Hansen’s death toll to be a lot more. Glenn Flothe, one of the state investigators, believes that Hansen killed four or five women a year from the early 1970s until police tracked him down in 1984.

Fire Starter

Hansen was raised in the tiny town of Pocahontas, Iowa. His first recorded offense against the law was in 1960, when at the age of twenty-one he and a friend set fire to the Pocahontas school bus garage, burning it to the ground and destroying three of the seven school buses. He would have gotten away with it, but his accomplice friend was seized with a surge of guilt over the act and confessed, implicating Hansen.

For this, he was sentenced to three years in the Iowa Men’s Reformatory with recommended psychiatric treatment. Hansen spoke in a forthright way with the psychiatrists about his compulsion to set fires, until one day in court he got a rude awakening: Prosecutors were using the information Hansen had given the doctors against him.

Hansen said to himself, as reported much later in the Anchorage Daily News, “Wait a minute, Bob, you Goddamn fool, they suckered you . . . So right away I think, well now boy, you know you’re never going to make that mistake again.”

Hansen was paroled in May 1963 but had some more interaction with the law in Minnesota - he was picked up for shoplifting, an activity that he had been enjoying for a long time and one that continued even after he started to kill. In a confession to police, he explained that it aroused him sexually to steal. Once outside the store, many times he would give away the stolen articles. The stealing was its own reward. He was not incarcerated on the shoplifting charge.

He had been married for one year and then in 1967 married for the second time and moved to Anchorage, where he opened his bakery. His father had been a baker - in fact, the only one in Pocahontas - and Hansen had learned the trade from him.

Criminal Escalation

In November 1971, Hansen was arrested - he was driving in the town of Spenard, had stopped for a light, and glanced over at the woman in the car next to him. She smiled at him, and he regarded this as an open invitation to point his gun at her and demand she come with him. The woman didn’t oblige him.

He was released on his own recognizance, but while awaiting trial he was arrested again, this time accused of having picked up an eighteen-year-old prostitute outside a bar in downtown Anchorage, kidnapping her, and raping her at gunpoint. But the district attorney was forced to drop this case - the prostitute who filed the complaint failed to appear in court.

Superior Court Judge James Fitzgerald sentenced Hansen to five years for drawing the gun on the Spenard woman, basing the punishment “heavily on the psychiatric evaluation.” Judge Fitzgerald could clearly see that Hansen was dangerous. However, because of the way offenders like Hansen were treated in those days in Alaska, he got out of jail quickly despite objections from the prosecutor. He had immediately applied for parole and was in jail only from March to June. In June he was assigned to a halfway house, where he received psychiatric treatment until November

In December, he was let out of the halfway house on a workfurlough program. In the confession he gave to investigators later, he stated that the very first night he was free he went down to Fourth Avenue in Anchorage and started cruising the area, watching the prostitutes and fantasizing about how he would capture them again.

Then he started to hang around the strip joints, trying to lure dancers and prostitutes with the promise of money for a good time. He was always flashing a big wad of money, which was tempting to some women even though, at the time, many thought of Hansen as weird.

In 1975, another prostitute complained about Hansen to a rape crisis center, and the center reported the assault to the police. But Hansen was lucky. After a while the woman refused to cooperate - prostitutes worry about talking to the police and he was not charged, even though officers at the time were convinced he was guilty. Hansen, however, claimed that it was merely a dispute about money. Then, in 1976, Hansen was picked up for shoplifting a chain saw from a Fred Meyer’s store in Anchorage. This time the law treated Hansen’s offense severely because of his two previous felony convictions, the fire in Iowa and pointing his gun at the woman in Spenard. The judge sentenced him to five years - the sentence may have been harder if the judge had known of the two rape charges that had been filed against Hansen but thrown out.

Hansen appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing that his sentence was excessive - the court agreed, setting Hansen free in August 1978. In doing so, the court cited Hansen’s apparently stable family life and his job. Other than his shoplifting and two prior felonies, the court believed that Hansen lived a fairly normal life and thought that with psychiatric help he should be fine. They recommended that he be put on probation and treated, but the treatment never happened. Hansen was free again.

Also in 1978, Hansen applied for a pilot’s license. On his application he said he was taking lithium, a drug used to control bipolar disorder. He was denied a license because of this. In a subsequent application he did not list any drugs - and was granted the license.

There was only one complaint on record against Hansen from that time until he was tracked down for murder, a complaint filed by a prostitute. She claimed that he held her hostage in his camper in Anchorage and that she had become convinced that Hansen was going to rape and kill her. Nude and desperate, she had broken a window in the trailer and gotten out, running down the street, screaming as she went. The police got involved, but again nothing came of the case. There was no physical evidence and it came down to the word of a respected businessman against that of a prostitute.

Finding a Suspect

Anchorage city police - and then Alaskan state police - had been receiving complaints about missing topless dancers and others who frequented the strip joint scene on Fourth Avenue, complaints that the police dismissed at first. Topless dancers tend to be a fairly transient group; when a few disappear, it doesn’t necessarily mean foul play.

Added up, though, the complaints were significant. The police realized that, since 1980, six dancers had disappeared from the Fourth Avenue clubs, and Anchorage police quietly formed what they called a “dancer task force” to look into the disappearances. Then, on September 13, 1982, a female body was discovered in a shallow grave by the Knik River, in the wilds about fifteen miles northwest of Anchorage. She had been shot once with a .223 caliber bullet; a shell casing was found nearby. In late September, the police got an ID: The victim’s name was Sherry Morrow, and she was a dancer at the Wild Cherry Club who had disappeared in November 1981. With the discovery of this woman - with a profile identical to that of the other missing women - the police department’s fears that a serial killer was at work in Anchorage were confirmed.

Since Morrow’s body was found outside the jurisdiction of city police, the state and city police combined forces to develop a list of suspects. One of the most important things they did was question again and again the women on the Fourth Avenue scene, women who had been bothered at the clubs, or who had been approached and offered money. One of the names that came up repeatedly in their questioning of these women was Robert Hansen.

Then, on June 13, 1983, a patrolman saw a seventeen-year-old prostitute running down Fifth Avenue. She was handcuffed and screaming, terrified. The patrolman, Gregg Baker, tracked
the woman through two motels and found her in one of them, still wearing handcuffs. She told him a man had taken her to his house and raped her. Baker found out about Hansen’s criminal history and passed it on to the task force. Immediately, Hansen became a prime suspect. Then something happened that made him the only suspect.

The remains of Paula Goulding were found in a remote area near the Knik River about twenty miles north of Anchorage. The grave site could not be reached by foot or vehicle - only by plane. Robert Hansen was the only one of the suspects who owned and flew an airplane.

The cops gathered everything they could and on October 27, 1983, brought Hansen in on the kidnapping and assault charges of the seventeen-year-old prostitute. They questioned him for five hours and were convinced that they had their perp, not only on the kidnapping and assault but also on the killings. But Hansen didn’t confess, even though police were able to blow away his alibi. (The wife of the friend who supplied him with the alibi said her husband had lied.)

The trial was held for the kidnapping and assault, while the investigation into the killings continued. Police, armed with search warrants, came up with some very damaging evidence against Hansen in his home, including an aeronautical map of south-central Alaska with twenty-one sites marked off, presumably for the graves of murder victims; a gun hidden under attic insulation, which was eventually linked to the killings of two women; a bag of jewelry containing a distinctive necklace worn by a missing dancer; and business cards of two missing dancers. These things, of course, were the trophies that Hansen used to relive the killings.

A Chilling Confession

At one point, Hansen “gave it up,” in police lingo (though no officer believes he gave it all up). He gave police a twelve hour confession during which he admitted to killing seventeen women and burying their remains in the wilds outside Anchorage.

He took a plane ride with the police and pointed out the burial sites he remembered. During his confession, Hansen went to great pains to rationalize his behavior. He said he would never kill “good women,” but prostitutes were something else. He could kill them with impunity. He explained that he had had problems with women since he was a teenager in Iowa and that women wouldn’t go out with him because of his acne and his stutter.

He said he always “loved” women, but he made a distinction — a sharp distinction — between good girls and bad girls. Bad girls could die. In the portion of his confession that follows, District Attorney Victor Krumm is questioning Hansen. The excerpt provides some insight into the mind of Robert Hansen. The final question is from Glenn Flothe, state investigator, and Hansen’s simple answer is quite chilling when one realizes its homicidal implications.

KRUMM: Why did you drive out to the road, instead of just going to a hotel or motel in town?

HANSEN: You know if you go to a motel or something with it, it’s more or less like a prostitution deal. I’m going and, or I’d — I guess I’m trying to even convince myself maybe I wasn’t really buying sex, it was being given to me, in the aspect that I was good enough that it was being given to me. Uh, if I can explain that a little bit better gentlemen. Going back in my life, way back to my high school days and so forth, I was, I guess what you might call very frustrated, upset all the time. I would see my friends and so forth going out on dates and so forth and had a tremendous desire to do the same thing. From the scars and so forth on my face you can probably see, I could see why girls wouldn’t want to get close to me and when I’m nervous and upset like this here; if I, I’ll try to demonstrate if I can think about exactly what I’m going to say and if I talk slow I can keep myself from stuttering. But at the time during my junior high or high school days I could not control my speech at all. I was always so embarrassed and upset with it from people making fun of me that I hated the word school, I guess this is why I burned down the bus way back in Iowa . . . I can remember going up and talking to someone, man or woman, classmate or whatever and start to say something and start to stutter so badly that especially in the younger years I would run away crying, run off someplace and hide for a day or so. The worst there was that I was the rebuttal of all the girls around the school and so forth. The jokes. If I could have faced it, I know now if I could have faced it and laughed along with them it would have stopped but I couldn’t at the time and it just, it got so it controlled me, I didn’t control it. I didn’t start to hate all women, as a matter of fact I would venture to say I started to fall in love with every one of them. Every one of them become so precious to me ’cause I wanted their — I wanted their friendship . . . I wanted them to like me so much. On top of things that have happened, I don’t want to, I’m not saying that I hate all women, I don’t. Quite to the contrary, if, I guess in my own mind what I’m classifying is a good woman, not a prostitute. I’d do everything in my power, any way, shape or form to do anything for her and to see that no harm ever came to her, but I guess prostitutes are women I’m putting down as lower than myself. I don’t know if I’m making sense or not. And you know, when this started to happen I wanted —
you know . . . It happened the first time there, you know, and I went home and I was literally sick to my stomach . . . Over the years I’ve gone in many many topless and bottomless bars in town and so forth and never, never touched one of the girls in there in any way, shape, or form until they asked. It’s like, it’s like it was a game — they had to pitch the ball before I could bat. They had to approach me first saying about I get off at a certain time, we could go out and have a good time, or something like this here. If they don’t, we weren’t playing the game right. They had to approach me. I’ve talked to, I suppose I made it a point to try to talk to, every girl in there. Sometimes if I thought there was a possibility that she didn’t say it the first time but she might come back and say it again, now I’ve invited two or three table dances with her and comment to her how nice she looked and everything else and I try to keep it in a joking tone, “Gosh you know, you sure would be some thing, you know, for later on,” but that’s as far as it would go until she, then she had to make, I guess play out my fantasy. She had to come out and say we could do it but it’s going to cost you some money. Then she was no longer—I guess what you might call a decent girl. I didn’t look down at the girls dancing, what the hell they’re just trying to make a buck.

FLOTHE: But when they propositioned you, then it made things different?

HANSEN: Then, yes.


In the spring of 1990, Robert Hansen was moved from the Lemon Creek Prison in Juneau to the maximum-security facility at Spring Creek in Seward, about 120 miles southwest of Anchorage. It was discovered that Hansen was collecting materials - including aeronautical maps - that indicated he was planning to try to escape from Lemon Creek.

More than one investigator thinks Robert Hansen has killed many more women than he has admitted to. He played a kind of hunt-and-kill game with them, releasing them in the wilderness and then hunting them down with a bow and arrow or rifle.

Some killers, police officers will tell you, have something likable about them. Monsters with charm, you might say. But according to exmajor Walter Gilmore of the Alaskan state police, there were no redeeming qualities about Hansen, and others have reflected Gilmore’s sentiments. The house where Hansen lived on Old Harbor Avenue is still there.

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