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Crime & Courts

Serial killer Hansen dies; 'World is better without him,' trooper says

Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen, who killed as many as 21 women, died Thursday at an Anchorage hospital.

With his death, the full extent of Hansen's deeds, including the true number of his victims, the location of their bodies and the identities of all the women he kidnapped, raped and sometimes hunted like wild game before murdering might never be known. He was 75 years old.

"On this day we should only remember his many victims and all of their families, and my heart goes out to all of them," said Glenn Flothe, a retired Alaska state trooper who was instrumental in Hansen's 1984 capture.

"As far as Hansen is concerned, this world is better without him." Flothe said.

Hansen died around 1:30 a.m. at Alaska Regional Hospital, said Sherrie Daigle, deputy director of administrative services for the Department of Corrections. He had been transferred to the hospital on Wednesday. The cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner but it appears he died of natural causes, she said.

The killer had been in declining health for the past year, the department said.

A mousy, seemingly easy-natured family man, Hansen admitted to killing 17 woman and raping another 30 over a dozen years in the 1970s and 1980s. 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.

Hansen served time briefly at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau until authorities found escape plans stashed among his belongings and sent him to Seward, officials said at the time. He spent many of the final years of his life working as a jailhouse barber.

"He will not be missed," said Frank Rothschild, the assistant district attorney who tried the case. "Good riddance to him."

"He's one of those kind of guys that you kind of hope every breath he takes in his life, there's some pain associated with it, because he caused such pain," Rothschild said.

'You won't get hurt'

Hansen grew up in Iowa, the son of immigrant bakers. In the 1960s he moved to Anchorage and opened a bakery of his own in a strip mall at Ninth Avenue and Ingra Street.

A woman accused Hansen of rape in 1971, even as he awaited trial in a separate incident for following a stranger to her Spenard home and trying to kidnap her at gunpoint, according to Anchorage Daily News reports at the time.

Despite his growing rap sheet, Hansen escaped notice when Anchorage women soon began to disappear.

Construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline ignited nightlife in the city blocks surrounding his bakery. Workers and drug dealers and dancers came and went, many with few ties to the state and no one to notice if they went missing.

Hansen later told investigators that his first kill involved a woman he assumed to be a topless dancer or prostitute. He picked her up in town and told her he was driving her to his home in Muldoon, he said.

When he reached the Glenn Highway, he kept driving. The woman tried to escape and he pulled out a gun, he said.

"I says ... If you do exactly what I tell you and don't give me any problem whatsoever, there's going to be no -- you won't get hurt in any way, shape or form," Hansen told troopers, according to news accounts at the time.

When his truck became stuck in the mud, the woman tried to run. Hansen said she had a knife in her purse. He used it to stab her in the back, he said.

Hansen said that victim is the woman known to police as Eklutna Annie, a roughly 20-year-old brunette whose body was discovered in 1980 by electric workers repairing a power line outside Eagle River.

Hansen couldn't or wouldn't help identify her. He never learned her real name, he said.

'Mild-mannered Bob the Baker'

A turning point came in 1983, when a teenage prostitute named Cindy Paulson ran into a Fifth Avenue motel in handcuffs, saying that Hansen had imprisoned her at his home, raped her and put her on his plane for a one-way ride.

Several months later, police with search warrants went through Hansen's home, finding enough evidence to eventually charge him with four murders.

Rothschild recounted watching Hansen transform into "the monster he was" the day prosecutors sat down with Hansen and laid out the evidence against him. They told Hansen they had seized his map marked with 17 locations, spots that they believed indicated the locations of bodies.

"He was mild-mannered Bob the Baker, and as I'm looking at him, all of sudden he transformed. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and his neck got red, and he was pissed," Rothschild said in a phone interview Thursday.

"I can still see him when he got livid like that," he said.

Hansen asked to speak with his attorneys and went out into another room. "You could hear him screaming at his lawyers," Rothschild said.

Hansen didn't see his victims as human, the attorney said. "In his mind there were good girls and bad girls."

The killer received a 461-year sentence in February 1984, pleading guilty to four of the murders. Hansen confessed to authorities that he had killed 17. Police suspected the real death toll was even higher.

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.

Hidden map, ‘Frozen Ground'

When it was time for Hansen to go to prison, his plea agreement included a request, according to accounts at the time: He would do his time outside Alaska.

He was afraid of running into friends, relatives or acquaintances of people who knew his many victims. He was right to worry, state officials later said.

"When you kill that many women ... there's a good chance you may have killed some convict's girlfriend," said Bob Spinde, who was in charge of prisoner records.

Hansen landed in a federal prison in Pennsylvania but didn't get along with other inmates.He served time in Minnesota before returning to Alaska in May 1988, corrections officials said at the time.

Hansen worked in a supply room at the Lemon Creek prison in Juneau, where in 1990 authorities found an aeronautical chart, a hand-knit winter hat, magazine articles on plastic explosives and correspondence with a Juneau boat broker.

Lemon Creek Superintendent Dan Carothers called it "the bust of the decade" for Alaska prison officials. "We nabbed him before he could do any damage to anyone."

Hansen later became one of the first prisoners at the newly opened Spring Creek Correctional Center, where he had remained until this year.

His health failing, Hansen was moved to the Anchorage Correctional Complex on May 11. He had been placed in medical segregation in Anchorage, which is akin to being in the hospital, Daigle said at the time. Anchorage's jail is one of the state's only correctional facilities with a medical unit.

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

Daigle, the corrections official, said that as far as she knows Hansen never saw the film.

Daily News reporter Sean Doogan contributed to this story.

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