On July 28th, the Anchorage Daily News reported that there was going to be a film based on Alaska serial killer, Robert Hansen, starring John Cusack as Hansen and Nicholas Cage as I’m guessing a composite character representing all the Anchorage police officers and Alaska state troopers who tracked him down.
It’s scheduled to begin filming on October 10th. You can read the full story here.
Three days later ADN columnist Julia O’Malley spoke for many Alaskans when she wrote a column about Hansen’s victims. “These were real women,” she wrote. “Women who lived in Alaska. Women who suffered and died. Some of their bodies are still out there. What about them?” (Read the full column here.)
It generated a ton of comments from people who have vivid memories of that time, which led O’Malley to write another column today, incorporating some of the comments and generating more.
Read the full column here.
Like virtually everyone else who lived in Alaska during that time, I have my own memories of the Hansen case, including this one about my father, Slim Stabenow.
He got his pilot’s license at forty-two and from then on never owned less than one plane. “You can only fly one at a time, Dad,” I pointed out when he acquired a Cessna 180 to go with the Piper Super Cub and the Cessna 172. “Yeah, but we can be in Naknek in an hour,” he said. The phone would ring and it’d be ”Hey kid! I got a new plane! Wanna go for a ride?” I’d meet him at the Lake Hood seaplane base or Merrill Field and we’d fly down to Polly Creek to go clamming or to Seldovia to visit friends or to Cordova to meet the shrimp boat or through Lake Clark Pass because it was there.
One sunny afternoon we took the Cub down the west side of Cook Inlet, sightseeing, looking at grizzlies fishing in the Little Su, not flying too low over Tyonek. We landed to refuel and when we got back in the air the gas fumes from the funnel filled the cabin. I lasted as long as I could and then I smacked Dad and barked, “Put her down! NOW!” Dad hated anybody puking in his planes–during a previous flight he made his friend Abe throw up into his own hip boot–and we plunked down on the bank of the Little Su and I bailed out before we’d stopped rolling.
Someone saw us make that abrupt descent and landing, saw a woman jump out followed by a man, and took down the Cub’s tail number. Three days later Dad called. “Hey, kid! You still alive? Good! The FBI wants to talk to you.” This turned out to be the time of the Robert Hansen serial killings, and for a few sweaty hours one afternoon Dad was a possible suspect. “Took your time getting over here,” Dad said when he answered the door. “Well, yeah,” I said, and we both laughed.
(Excerpted from “A Son of Martha,” a memoir of my father, published in Our Alaska.)
Yeah, we made a joke of it, but it was only that typical Stabenow reaction of whistling past the graveyard. The truth is that after Shelia Toomey’s column in the ADN, drawing attention to the disappearance of all those girls, which essentially jumpstarted the investigation, everyone in Alaska was upset and unnerved by this story. There were just so many missing girls, most of them Outsiders imported to service all those guys working on the TransAlaska Pipeline. They didn’t have any local friends and family, and they worked slinging drinks in bars, as strippers and hookers. Easy prey, easily replaced.
Dad had a soft spot for women in trouble (I remember one story when he beat up a pimp in the Yellow Rose who was whaling on one of his girls). After Hansen’s arrest Dad wanted to grab up Hansen, fly him out somewhere, strip him naked, and turn him lose in front of somebody with a gun, preferably himself. He wasn’t half kidding, believe me.
I spoke to one of the investigating troopers years later, and he said some things I still wish I could forget.
For one thing, the officers involved think that Hansen killed at least 32 women, not just the 15 to which he confessed. There are still bodies out there, and the officer said (at the time we spoke at least) that every year an officer will go down to Spring Creek to talk to Hansen in hopes that he will confess to the other murders and show where he buried their bodies.
For another, the then-retired trooper vividly described Hansen’s behavior after his arrest, when they put him in a helicopter to fly him to the grave sites of those victims he confessed to. The ex-trooper said that Hansen’s own attorney, who was supposed to have accompanied them, called the night before and said, “I’m done, I’m not getting in the air with that guy no matter how well you have him restrained.” (I’m paraphrasing.) Hansen was weighed down with hand cuffs, a belly chain and hobbles and he isn’t a big man, but he was so eager to show them where he had buried the bodies that he hopped forward, jumping ahead of and outpacing the officers to the graves.
No fictional killer about whom I or any other novelist has written can ever come close to the reality.
There are two published accounts of the Hansen investigation.
One is Butcher, Baker by Walter Gilmour (one of the investigating officers) and Leland E. Hale.
The other is Fair Game by Bernard Duclos.