October 22, 2021, Anchorage NEWS RELEASE “The Alaska Bureau of Investigation (ABI) Cold Case Investigation Unit (CCIU) recently launched another attempt to identify the remains of a victim belonging to serial killer Robert Hanson. She’s been known as Horseshoe Harriet for 37 years. Genealogy research by Parabon Nanolabs and ABI indicated that the victim might be a woman named Robin Pelkey.
“Pelkey was born in 1963 in Colorado. Additional research identified a few potential relatives of Pelkey’s that currently reside in Alaska and Arkansas. Records indicated that she had been living in Anchorage in the early 1980s when Hansen was active. Pelkey was likely 19 at the time of her murder. There was no report she’d gone missing.
“ABI contacted the Arkansas State Police and requested their assistance. They contacted a very close relative of Pelkey’s and obtained a DNA sample. The sample arrived at the State of Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage. Kinship DNA analysis, completed in September 2021, confirmed that ‘Horseshoe Harriet’ is in fact Robin Pelkey.”
Things Worth Noting
There are several things worth noting about this groundbreaking discovery. First off, Robin’s body was not on any of Robert Hansen’s flight maps. The following map shows Horseshoe Lake in relation to Hansen’s marked victims. All of his map marks were south. But after his confession, Hansen led troopers to the spot.
Second, Horseshoe Lake was clearly within the active range of Robert Hansen. It’s pretty much a straight shot from Merrill Field, where Hansen parked his plane, to Horseshoe Lake. Presumably, the Knik River got too hot for him. He moved on.
Finally, Horseshoe Lake held multiple advantages compared to other lakes in the vicinity. There’s a seaplane landing. There’s an airstrip. Not that Hansen would have used those during a kidnapping. But those facilities made it easier for him to get in and out during the exploratory stage.
Walter Gilmour and I talked about DNA tests in the early 90s. The Federal genetic database (CODIS) was still a pilot project. Walter’s question: what could go wrong with a DNA test? Could somebody beat it? The prospect of a mistaken match looms large, especially in the law enforcement community. To coin a phrase, erroneous data can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on.
The answer then — as now — is that the science is sound. It has improved by leaps and bounds. But sloppy lab work, like contamination of samples, can cause things to go horribly awry. The good news here is that DNA is remarkably stable across many decades. If the sample size is large enough, lab technicians can perform multiple tests. That capability was leveraged here [AST video].
The earliest DNA samples taken from the Horseshoe Lake victim had no match in CODIS. But with the rise of consumer DNA kits from providers like AncestryDNA and 23andMe, a whole new sub-branch, called genetic genealogy has emerged. That’s where AST got the match. Horseshoe Harriet is no longer an unknown victim. She’s Robin Pelkey. Gone too soon.
The good news for us, though, it just the beginning of the journey for Robin Pelkey’s family and relatives. I wish them the very best during this difficult time.
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2021). All rights reserved.
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