Solved: Joanna Messina aka "The Bear Lady"

Blame it on the bear. Because of John Lucking, and the beast he encountered at her hasty gravesite, Joanna Messina was forever known to troopers as “The Bear Lady.” There were dark undertones to that moniker, having mostly to do with the bear’s eating habits as it concerned Joanna’s body. But the lighter side of trooper lore focused on the hapless Lucking, who took heat for killing the bear which, unlike Joanna Messina, was a protected species.

It would be two years before the troopers got a break in Joanna’s homicide. And in retrospect, the clown circus with the veterinarian was nothing more than a slight, diversionary side-show. All the paths leading from the murder scene in Kenai were deadends and distractions. The real culprit lived a hundred miles north.

Though her body was found in the summer of 1980, it wasn’t until Robert Hansen’s arrest in late 1982 that the lights started going off. Maybe… Maybe the “Butcher, Baker,” Bob Hansen, was responsible for her murder.

The tell was something troopers found during their search warrant scrape through Hansen’s house on Old Harbor Road in Muldoon. Actually, they’d found two things, nearly identical in their details. Flight maps. Robert Hansen’s flight maps.

It wasn’t unusual for Bob to have them. He was a pilot. He owned an airplane.

Robert Hansen’s Supercub

But these maps were different. They had little asterisks on them. Marks. Handwritten marks.

“[To Sgt. Glenn Flothe] the maps initially represented nothing more than documents Hansen used for hunting. Yet while examining the maps, he saw twenty-four X marks. Were these favorite hunting spots—or something else?

“The answer that suddenly dawned on him was almost too grotesque to believe. ‘Oh my God,’ Flothe said, a chill coming over him. ‘What has this man done?’ At that moment he realized that each X marked a body.

“Back at his office the next day, Flothe started to pull some case files. The first was on Joanna Messina, one of the many cases that graced the huge chart taped to the wall of Flothe’s office. A quick review of the case showed the body had been found on the Kenai Peninsula. Hansen’s map had several Xs marked on the Kenai Peninsula. Flothe called in Chuck Miller, the man who had investigated the Messina case.


“’Chuck, why don’t you show me where Joanna Messina was buried?’ Flothe said, giving him one of the maps for reference.

“Miller walked over and scrutinized the map closely. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Now here’s Seward. And here’s the railroad tracks. And up here—oh, you’ve already got it marked, Glenn. There’s an X right there.’

“’I didn’t mark that, Chuck,’ Flothe told him. ‘Robert Hansen did. You see, that’s his map that we got out of his house.’”

Excerpt From: Walter Gilmour & Leland E. Hale. “Butcher, Baker.”
Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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3 thoughts on “Solved: Joanna Messina aka "The Bear Lady"”

  1. ‘Now here’s Seward. And here’s the railroad tracks. And up here—oh, you’ve already got it marked, Glenn. There’s an X right there.’

    This would be the lower X marked 17 on the numbered map at the Metco Gravel pit, just north of Seward. The X pictured her with Joanna’s name over it is Summit lake. This Body was never identified. Marked as 12 on the map. Hansen said she was a colored girl. Her body was found in the creek bank or bottom.

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