Darla Hansen: The Better Half of Robert Hansen

I’m not sure whether the filmmakers in “The Frozen Ground” meant to protect Robert Hansen’s wife or not. Whatever their motives, they renamed her, called her “Fran Hansen.” Her name is Darla. Darla Marie Henrichsen Hansen. That fact has been known since Butcher, Baker was first published in 1991.

Darla was Bob’s second wife. The one who, to some degree at least, knew what she was getting into. She married him in the aftermath of his Iowa arson conviction. Stood by him when he was arrested and convicted for trying to steal a chainsaw from an Alaska retailer. Stood by him when he was arrested and convicted for an attempt to kidnap a young woman — at gunpoint — from her apartment in south Anchorage. Visited him in jail, kids in tow, though even Bob knew it was profoundly humiliating for her. Stayed with him though he was verbally abusive to her and the children.

Darla Hansen
Darla Henrichsen (Hansen)

I met Darla Hansen in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s conviction for the murders of dozens of young women in Alaska. Those interactions, plus Sgt. Glenn Flothe’s insights into the woman, provide a glimpse into this complex person. What she knew, when she knew it, how she survived.

Darla told Flothe that she knew her husband was up to no good. She had, after all, already travelled that road. She thought, though, that it didn’t go beyond him seeing prostitutes in the wee hours before starting work at the bakery. And, really, who could imagine what Robert Hansen was actually up to? Even at his worst, he hadn’t been that evil.

Because Darla was deeply religious, she also thought she could help him. That getting Bob to attend church would guide him toward a path of righteousness. After each arrest, he deigned to go to church with her for a while. But Bob’s church was the Alaska wilderness; it was his refuge and his chief preoccupation, for both good and bad.

It was not too surprising then that, after many years, Bob and Darla ended up living separate lives. Darla had her own income source, from tutoring learning disabled children. She paid the house expenses, she took care of their two children. Summer vacations saw her and the kids going to Arkansas, where she had family. Bob stayed behind, ostensibly to mind the bakery. The money from the bakery, Darla told Sgt. Flothe, was Bob’s separate money. They did not mingle their funds.

By the time Darla decided to leave Anchorage in the aftermath of Bob’s crimes, that separation was complete, at least legally. She was divorced from Bob and the house was hers, free and clear. She told me her neighbors wanted her to stay in Anchorage, but she didn’t see how she could raise her kids there, not now, after all that had been revealed about their father. It was an eerie feeling as she guided me through the house, the stuffed animals that haunted Cindy Paulson still on the walls of the den.

The woman I met was a tall, big-boned woman who radiated a quiet, almost resigned, strength. Intelligent, too. In all her years of wandering the Midwest with Bob, before they moved to Alaska, she managed to get a Master’s degree in Education. But Bob was her blind spot.

To my mind, the same Christianity that kept her whole and gave her hope was the Christianity that forgave Bob his sins, that kept her with him, if only for the sake of the kids.

When I attended one of Darla’s Bible study groups at a private home south of Anchorage, I was struck by the steadfastness of her religious community. These church friends let me know that “they knew,” and were standing by her. The topic that day was about “talking to God.” Bible verses were read to illustrate the practice. Each attendee testified to his or her own experiences. When it came Darla’s turn, she confessed to talking to God every day. That was not shocking.

But even these deeply religious people were slightly taken aback when Darla said, “Sometimes God talks to me.”

Darla missed it, but one of the attendees discretely rolled his eyes.

Purchase Butcher, Baker

30 thoughts on “Darla Hansen: The Better Half of Robert Hansen”

  1. Was her church Abbott Loop? I grew up in Anchorage in the 70s, and my family attended that church. I remember my parents’ whispers when he was arrested and grew up believing he was the father of one of my church friends.

      1. Darla was also active in a Bible Study group with some of her church friends. I had the privilege of attending that study group with Darla, at someone’s home. They supported her with no questions asked. True brothers and sisters in Christ.

    1. That is not true. I spoke to Darla Hansen in 1984, in person, and she confirmed that she and Bob were divorced. It was a big deal, because the divorce put all the property in her name, thus making it possible for her to sell her Anchorage house and leave the state.

      1. I was also going to ask this same question as I saw on Wikipedia that he was married to his second wife until the day he died… Perhaps you could update the Wiki site with this firsthand info you have? Even her name is not listed…

  2. I hope their children (now adults) were able to bring some kind of peace, forgiveness, stability to their heart, mind and soul. A very different thing for a adult to be a spouse learning about such unhuman acts. A child learning their father was this person performing these acts is a very different absorbtion of feelings. My heart and prayers go to all who were effected by this awful creature.

  3. I was roommates with the daughter in the late 80’s early 90’s in Arkansas. She was in fact deeply affected and even then wanted privacy. She had her dads stutter and was self conscious but spectacularly gorgeous. Please leave her alone. She is a dear, sweet human whose dad was a monster. I’ve lost touch with her over the years and I’m certain she does not want to be found.

    1. She deserves privacy and it’s not her fault what Bob did. It must be awful for her and her mother to go through what they did. I’m a true crime fan and Its my opinion that Bob’s children are victims in this too. I dont think that anyone blames them for anything their father did. I’m sure she does love her father as every child does.

  4. I am absolutely positive that the man who kidnapped me was Robert Hansen. It was during the Thanksgiving holidays, in the early 1980’s in Anchorage , Alaska. A girl friend, whom I worked with at one of the oil companies, and I had been to dinner at another co-worker’s home.

    On the way back from dinner, we stopped at the Pines Club. We were at our table talking, when out of know where, this creepy guy came over to our table. He was kind of a small, thin guy, he wore glasses, the top of the rims were dark plastic and the bottom rims were metal. He had “smoker’s face” skin, that looked like grey parchment with ruts, and mousey, greasy hair. He was nervous. He was not the kind of guy that you would ever notice. He pretty much “blended into the woodwork” and was not attractive. He told me that he was from California and wanted to take photos of me, “for modeling.” I told him that I had a very good career and was not interested in “modeling”. After he left our table, we joked about his “modeling” line, being the oldest line in the book.

    On my way home, I never noticed anyone following. However, as I was getting out of the car; a big white car with a dark top, pulled up. The driver jumped out of his car; grabbed me and threw me into the front passenger side of his car. He then peeled out, heading South on the Seward Highway. I was absolutely terrified! I knew that once we were past the street lights, he would kill me. I was frantically looking for APD cars, or the State Troopers, but there weren’t any! I was screaming and hitting the kidnapper, fighting for my life! He was swearing at me, trying to drive, while I was fighting him. I don’t know how I did it, but I barreled out of the car!

    I ran between buildings and trees, trying to stay in the darkness, and staying off the road and sidewalks, so that he could not see me and kill me. I must have run about five miles. By the time I got home, I was crawling on my hands and knees, in the cold snow and ice. I have never been so terrified in my life!

    I did not report it to the police. I didn’t think that they would believe me. After all, they didn’t even believe the girl who was running down the street in handcuffs and had been chained up in Hansen’s house for days, and she even identified Robert Hansen! Robert Hansen not only kidnapped and killed dancers and hookers. Robert Hansen kidnapped respectable career women as well. I lived to tell about it, even if it took 40 years later.

      1. There is a God and he was with me the night I was kidnapped. Every time I think about it, I get chills. I think I was spared, because I fought like Hell! I knew he was going to kill me, as soon as we got past the street lights! I was dressed up, because we had been to a Thanksgiving holiday dinner. I was wearing a suit and high heels with inch wide ankle straps with big buckles. I think the wide secure buckled ankle straps, kept my shoes from falling off. I ran for about five miles in those heels, in the snow and ice. I was lucky that I didn’t sprain an ankle. ( I was a very fast runner in school and only weighed 110). By the time I got home, I was crawling on my hands and knees, which were now bruised and bloody. My clothes were torn. Also, I wasn’t wearing a coat in the freezing cold, dark night. When I was fighting off Hansen, I was wishing that my then boyfriend was there to save me, because he was a Viet Nam vet and had a gun for protection from bears in the wilderness. I was also frantically looking for the police. My advice to anyone who is kidnapped is: “Fight like Hell! Do not go quietly.

    1. Hi,

      What incredible story of survival. I am an Assistant Producer based in the UK. I am currently working on this case and trying to find people involved. Would you possibly email me so I can speak to you directly? Joe.roddis@woodcutmedia.com

      All yours,
      Joe Roddis
      Assistant Producer
      Woodcut Media

  5. Bless your heart… God did that!
    I believe it was him. God meant for you to report it, but you didn’t so God used someone else who did and because he was an outstanding person of the community the police did not want to believe Cindy because of her character… When are we going to learn that your character on the outside is not who we really are on the inside? I am sure a lot of police officers etc has bought a piece of the pie on the side line, and then want to be judgmental. That is why Jesus told Mary accusers who brought her up on adultery, told them he who is without sin cast the first stone. Neither one could do it. Mainly men were going to those dance/striptease bars and had/have wives/women at home and a family. It is still like that today. He had sex with them, just to brutalize them afterwards and then kill them like animals. Imagine what his wife went through. all she knew was he was not touching her at home. sad… Thank God you are well and recall. I am sure you were not the only one but again Thank God

  6. Since Robert Hansen kidnapped and killed (mainly) strippers and hookers; there was a certain very degrading stigma to being kidnapped by Hansen; besides being absolutely terrified for my life! (It is hard to put into words, even forty years later). I remember waking up the next morning (by the grace of God), and still being absolutely terrified! I was so afraid that he would find me and kill me. As I said, I didn’t report it because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. And I didn’t know who he was, until I saw his pictures, after he had been arrested and charged with the murders of many women.

  7. I have to admit I feel odd commenting on this site and this subject. I’ve read several true crime books by Ann Rule and others, and being originally from Washington State, it’s impossible not to know about serial murderers like Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgeway. After watching ‘The Frozen Ground’, which I believe is a fantastic movie, and having known a young lady who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a sub human piece of trash when I was serving in the military overseas, I’ve come to believe there’s an other-worldly quality about serial rapists and murderers. It just seems to defy all logic that these monsters can go for so long without being detected, and I wonder if they’re being guided and guarded by Satanic forces… It’s just a thought.

    1. When I was growing up, my mother told us about a young woman of her acquaintance who, while not at the top tier of intelligence, managed to achieve many things. She did so by virtue of sheer determination and single-mindedness. She was not, of course, a serial killer. But, in my view, “successful” serial killers share those characteristics.

      The serial killer with whom I’m most familiar – Robert Hansen – was single-minded to the point of obsessiveness. Everything in his life, it seemed, revolved around kidnapping, raping and, ultimately, killing women. That included extensive planning to avoid discovery and capture. In his confession, he talked about blindfolding and restraining women out of fear they would call attention to themselves in his car. He was also obsessive about keeping his vehicles in tip-top shape.

      Whether the “devil made him do it,” I cannot say. But he was very conscious of what he was doing during his murderous spree. The result was a decade-long reign of terror over the young women of Anchorage.

      And, yeah, he was ultimately caught. As were Bundy and Ridgeway. But not before many lives were lost or ruined. Unconscionable.

  8. Darla Hansen was my music teacher in Arkansas from the time I was a child until I was in high school. She taught music at our very small school for many years, and was always sweet and very soft spoken. She also happened to live across the street from my mother and invited my brother and I over to swim with her grandkids multiple summers.

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