That summer I was in Anchorage as a guest of Maj. Walter Gilmour, only recently retired from the Alaska State Troopers. We had just embarked on our book about Robert Hansen, so I was there to do research. The book didn’t have a name yet — “Butcher, Baker” would come to me later. It was, however, the summer that I met my first human bloodhound.
Our first stop was an AST driver training course organized as a recruiting demo for local teens. It was set up on a local airfield, complete with cones, hairpin turns and a maneuver that required the driver to back into a mock-driveway before continuing to the finish line. I was persuaded to participate — I couldn’t really say “No” — and, in the company of an AST driving instructor, made my way around the course. Did I mention that we were timed?
The winner that day was an unprepossessing trooper that Gilmour called “Port.” The trooper confessed to Walter that one of the reasons he won was because he sliced time off the back-up manuever. “I just jammed it into reverse,” he said. “Hell, they’re not our cars.” [The vehicles were on loan from a local car dealer]
That was my first meeting of Sgt. Rollie Port. Gilmour had already sung his praises and this was a propitious start.
Rollie Port (2015, North Dakota)
But the real reason we were there was so that Rollie could take us out to one of Robert Hansen’s gravesites along the Knik River. Rollie was one of the first officers on that scene and he found some of Hansen’s brass (expended shell casings) in the grave. It was crucial evidence.
Gilmour wanted me to know the reality of Port’s feat. Finding that brass, Gilmour told me, was like finding a needle in a haystack. To prove it, they were going to have a little demonstration. Walter had brought along his service revolver for just that purpose.
The road to the Knik from the Palmer Trooper Post was a single-track dirt scrawl filled with potholes, carved with sideways dips and packed with mud as it bypassed the occasional homesteader cabin. The three of us had piled into Rollie’s truck, me in the middle because I was the smallest. As Rollie bucked and rumbled the truck to our destination, I was reminded of rodeo riders trying to manhandle one-ton Brahma bulls.
At about the midpoint, we had to veer off into a hasty pullout to let another car pass. Rollie was immediately suspicious. The car was a mid-sixties T-Bird, ill-suited to these roads. “What’s he doing here,” Port wondered aloud as he instinctively wrote the car’s license number in the dust of his dashboard. “I’ll check on him when we get back.”
1966 Ford Thunderbird (The T-Bird we saw resembled this model-year; Ford Motor Company)
The gravesite was on a gravel bar adjacent to the river; from there we could hear but not see the Knik. The grave itself was an almost-fresh scab with scrub trees pitched at its margins. Easily ten feet across, it stood out from the surrounding gravel, though it was shallow and lumpy, rather than deep and well-defined.
Standing at the side of the grave, Gilmour took out his service revolver and ceremoniously fired a single round into the gravel. Rollie Port leapt into action, getting on his hands and knees and, with his bare hands, digging through the gravel, looking for that round. I was simultaneously flabbergasted, amused and amazed. This, I decided, is what a human bloodhound looks like.
I was on the other side of the pit — watching with ten-foot wide eyeballs — when minutes later Rollie declared, “I got something.”
He reached up from his crouch, clutching a found object in his hand. He held it out for me to see. Then he thrust it forward and into my hand.
“It’s a bone,” Rollie announced.
It was a bone. A human bone. A middle phalanx bone, to be exact. It was now, suddenly, unexpectedly, in my possession.
I was shooting film in those days and an empty film canister quickly became a makeshift coffin. This was, after all, the remains of a Hansen victim. It was an awkward reverence, but it was the best I could do.
Walter Gilmour and Lt. John Lucking, examining Robert Hansen’s flight map, showing kill sites on the Knik River (1984, courtesy Alaska State Troopers)
Rollie Port dropped us off in Palmer, where he could run a license check on that out-of-place T-Bird. Walter and I returned to Anchorage. On the drive back, Walter kept looking over and asking, “Do you still have that bone?”
“Yes,” I assured him, reaching into my coat pocket to touch the film canister.
“Good,” he said. “It’s good luck.”
Rollie Port has a knack for being in the right place, at the right time, and doing the right thing. In that sense, too, he is a human bloodhound. His son Rob relates the story of how Rollie likely saved a life near Minot, North Dakota, where he now works as a private investigator for his own firm.
My Father Probably Saved Somebody’s Life Yesterday
Article by Rob Port
See Also: YouTube video featuring Rollie Port. Port describes his actions to restrain an agitated subject in North Dakota.
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