Robert Hansen dragged Joanna Messina across the gravel and stuffed her into a sleeping bag. He shoved Sherry Morrow into a shallow grave, a makeshift blindfold across her face. He shot a third victim in the back as she tried to escape. These images of Robert Hansen’s murders conjure the image of a man who systematically stalked and then hunted humans.
A prototype for murders of this type is the 1924 short-fiction piece, “The Most Dangerous Game.” Filmmaker Scott Walker saw his Hansen-inspired movie, “The Frozen Ground,” as another entry in the human-hunts-humans genre. He admits as much. And so the mythmaking begins.
“I was working on a completely different script — it was something fictional,” Walker said [of early drafts of The Frozen Ground.] “I was exploring the idea of a victim’s story and it had a hunter in it and was more a contemporary take on ‘Deliverance,’ the obsession of hunting and the thrill of killing.”
But when Walker was working on the script, somebody pointed out some eerie parallels. “When I told them about the script, they said, ‘Wow, that sounds like Robert Hansen.'”Bring Me the News, Interview: ‘The Frozen Ground’ writer-director Scott Walker
Suffice it to say, there’s no shortage of commentators and armchair experts who subscribe to the Scott Walker theory: Robert Hansen was a killer who flew his victims into the Alaska bush, sexually abused them and then purposely let them loose to be hunted down like animals.
Is it true? “Yes.”
True: Robert Hansen was a hunter. He methodically stalked his fellow humans, kidnapped them, made sure no one ever saw them together, and then bound these women after immobilizing them with a gun to their head.
True: Robert Hansen took these women into the Alaskan bush, to places that he hoped would allow him uninterrupted access to their person. Sometimes, he claimed, he brought them back. And if they fought him or tried to escape? “They stayed.”
Not True: Hansen didn’t always use a plane to fly women to places accessible only by boat or plane. Sometimes he took them to sites that were much less remote. Over the backroads. In his Subaru 4×4. Alaska’s like that: “remote” can be right out your back door. And not always as remote as one might think.
I experienced that when I visited Sherry Morrow’s grave, driven there by two Alaska State Troopers in a pickup truck. It was a rough ride, to be sure, as we maneuvered around multiple washouts. But we got there without incident. We weren’t the first ones. Along the way we came across a Ford Thunderbird that looked out of place on that road.
On 9/13/82, Sergeant Haugsven went to [a murder] scene and observed the decomposed remains of a female victim in a shallow grave on a gravel sandbar in an area accessible by vehicle, river boat or small aircraft. Haugsven observed the body to be fully clothed in blue jeans, baby blue ski jacket with darker blue trim on the shoulders, sweater, panties and bra. He also observed that an Ace elastic bandage was wrapped around the victim’s head and face from forehead to nose, secured with metal clips. Sergeant Haugsven also observed and seized a single .223 caliber cartridge case from the grave.Affidavit for a Search Warrant concerning Robert C. Hansen, October 26, 1983 (Emphasis added)
Not True: Hansen probably wished he had a fool-proof protocol that allowed him to methodically snatch women off the streets and then do what he wished with them. He didn’t. Need examples? Witness Beth van Zanten. Witness Sandra Patterson. Witness Joanna Messina. Witness Christy Hayes. There’s a pattern here: Robert Hansen was sometimes inept or careless or both. He was anything but the evil genius in “The Most Dangerous Game.”
Consider one of Hansen’s first victims, who wasn’t just lucky but outsmarted Hansen’s preliminary attempt to hunt humans.
November 11, 1971: Susan Heppeard is accosted at her apartment by Robert Hansen, who has followed her home. He asks Heppeard to go out with him because he doesn’t know many people in the area. She declines the offer.
November 22, 1971: Hansen returns to Heppeard’s apartment, with a gun, and attempts to kidnap her. She screams. Her roommates are alerted. Hansen runs. Police show up. Find Hansen nearby. Authorities charge that he “did unlawfully and feloniously assault one Susan Marie Heppeard by pointing said handgun at said Susan Marie Heppeard’s head and threatening to kill her if she screamed.”
There’s also Cindy Paulson. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention her: She’s the best part of the story. But that’s for next time.
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