Remains of unidentified victim of Alaska serial killer Hansen exhumed

Laurel Andrews
Criminal investigators search for bodies along the Knik River in April 1984, looking for the remains of women murdered by serial killer Robert Hansen. One of Hansen's victims, a young woman known only as "Horseshoe Harriet," has been exhumed in hope of identification. Paul Brown / Anchorage Daily News

One of Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen’s unidentified victims was exhumed from an Anchorage cemetery on Wednesday, with hopes that DNA testing and a facial reconstruction image will help bring to light the identity of a young woman buried nearly 30 years ago.

The woman, sometimes known as “Horseshoe Harriet,” was believed to be in her late teens, said Jason Grenn, spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Social Services. Her body was found April 25, 1984, near Horseshoe Lake.

“Hansen had led investigators to the remains, and he confessed to murdering that victim, and in 1985 it was buried as a Jane Doe,” Grenn said.

On Wednesday, the State Medical Examiner Office exhumed the body from Anchorage Memorial Park. The body is now in the medical examiner lab in Anchorage, Grenn said.

Requested and paid for by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the remains will undergo DNA testing. A facial reconstruction image will also be created, said Dr. Angela Williamson from the center’s Virginia headquarters Thursday.

The center hopes to compare new information gathered from the remains to a missing child in Alaska. “She very well may not be this girl,” Williamson said. But without testing “we will never be able to compare her to anyone.”

The center began discussing the exhumation with law enforcement about six months ago. Case workers with the center had come across the Jane Doe, one of their 650 cases of unidentified remains of children and youth nationwide, Williamson said. “When we looked at this one, we thought, well we have to exhume her,” she said.

Of the center’s 650 unidentified remains, only two are in Alaska. Both are Hansen’s victims -- “Horseshoe Harriet” and another unidentified woman known as “Eklutna Annie."

Hansen died in an Anchorage hospital on Aug. 21. He was 75. The Department of Corrections said his health had been declining for the past year.

The fact that Hansen died just before the body was exhumed was “pure coincidence,” Williamson said.

The center has already done testing and created a facial reconstruction image for Eklutna Annie, a Jane Doe found buried along a power line outside Eklutna.

For “Horseshoe Harriet,” DNA testing will occur at a university in Texas, Williamson said, and the facial reconstruction imaging will take place at the center’s headquarters in Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C.

The image will be completed in about six months, Williamson said, and after that the center will work with law enforcement to get the image out to the public.

Williamson hopes to reach “anyone who had a friend ... of that age, in that time frame, who they think could have been one of the victims,” she said.

Grenn said that the body will remain in Anchorage for the duration of the testing. Should the remains be identified, Alaska State Troopers will notify next of kin. Should the body remain unidentified, it will be re-buried at Anchorage Memorial Park.

Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen admitted to killing 17 women and raping another 30 women in the 1970s and 1980s. Police suspect the death toll was even higher. He often found his victims among topless dancers and prostitutes in downtown Anchorage. Hansen would kidnap the women at gunpoint, tie them up, then fly to remote areas to kill them. He confessed to sometimes releasing the women in the woods in order to stalk and hunt them before the murders.

He was sentenced to 461 years in prison in February, pleading guilty to four of the murders. He served most of his prison sentence at the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward. As part of his plea deal, Hansen agreed to help authorities find the graves of the murdered women. Only a dozen bodies were located. Others have never been found.

The story of Hanson eluding police and his eventual capture became the subject of a 2013 movie, “The Frozen Ground,” starring John Cusack as the killer and Nicolas Cage as an Alaska state trooper.