Cold Case, Old Case

Sometimes my blog topics hit like serendipity, that strange concordance of luck and good fortune. Except, when you’re deep into research – as I often am – you get to make your own luck. The secret is being open to the sidetracks that actually lead somewhere. Even if, as is the case with the story I’m about to share, they’re unexpected. This one is an old case, a cold case. But wait…


It all starts as something familiar. Something I have written about before. Two young women, one named Megan Emerick, the other Mary Thill. Two young women who disappeared out of Seward, Alaska, in the early- to mid-70s. There are three things to keep top-of-mind.

One, these women went missing in 1973 (Emerick) and 1975 (Thill), respectively. Two, Robert Hansen sought, and received, permission from his parole officer to take his boat down to Seward on each of those dates. Both times over the Fourth of July holiday, when these women went missing.

The third thing, though, has always seemed the clincher. That would be Hansen’s aviation map. The one that records a deadly cluster of bodies along the Knik River. The same map that shows multiple marks south, along the Kenai Peninsula. Three of them in Resurrection Bay. That puts Hansen at the entrance to Seward Harbor. In his boat.

Annotated Sectional, Seward & Vicinity
Robert Hansen Flight Map

All of which is, frankly, been there, done that. Or was, until I came across – here’s the serendipity – a 2008 article from the Anchorage Daily News. “Cold Case Warms Up.”

Cold Case

Now, suddenly, there’s news about a couple of guys — Ken Gage and Manfred West — who’re jail “buddies” with Robert Hansen. They’re piping off about how they know where Megan Emerick is buried. There’s a map, they say. And they have it. Well, one of them has it.


And, like every clever inmate, Ken Gage was not giving it up. Unless… A pack of cigarettes? A conjugal visit? Nah. Gage wanted his freedom. And he possessed no ordinary tease.

“Could it be that from his cell in Seward’s Spring Creek Correctional Center, Alaska’s most infamous serial killer can peer out across Resurrection Bay through barred windows and see where he hid Emerick’s body?”

Cold case heats up, James Halpin, Anchorage Daily News, Sept. 28, 2008,

You’ve got my attention. Thirty-five years late. 

Glenn Flothe Chimes In

One of the folks James Halpin interviews for this story is, unsurprisingly, Glenn Flothe, AST, Retired. Flothe tells Halpin that, if he was still investigating, Emerick and Thill would still be on his list. Still as in, yes, they were already on his list. But it’s Flothe conjecture that two of those marks in Resurrection Bay belonged to Emerick and Thill. 

And, as these things go, Robert Hansen denied involvement in their disappearance. Except, now there was a tantalizing new clue. So much so that the Seward Police department contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who brought in two cold-case investigators. Like I said, I’m at attention. This little episode had somehow slipped my notice.

Courtesy ADN September 28, 2008

The claim? Hansen told the jailbirds where he buried Emerick. That he had a map. And they had managed to copy that map. Janet Franson, from the NCMEC, vouched for the new findings. “At least from what I’ve been able to track down and verify,” she told Halpin, “it’s been good info.” 

Old Case

Which leads us to a slight detour down a parallel road. It’s all about the map. Because, you see, in 1980 another young woman went missing out of Seward. Her name was Joanna Messina. And, in her case, we have the benefit of a Robert Hansen confession.

Joanna Messina’s gravesite, Seward & Resurrection Bay
Robert Hansen’s aviation map

Here’s what Hansen said about Joanna Messina: “There was only one other time it went bad and that’s down by Seward it went bad down there… I was down there and ah, matter of fact I was walking up and down the docks and talking to the different fisherman, and… there was kind of an attractive gal [there] and ah, kind of gratifying to me to talk and I’ll be the first one to admit I got to thinking gee whiz, ah, maybe I can ask her to have supper with me and spend a few pleasant moments…

“I met her and I talked to her and… we could joke and having fun and I had my boat down there. Talking to her that I was going to go out, out the next day fishing, so forth, would she like to go along, you know…” 

Robert Hansen confession February 1985

Except, of course, Joanna Messina said she couldn’t go fishing. She had a job interview the next day. Her body was found in a campground due north of Seward. Wrapped in a sleeping bag. Partially consumed by a bear.

Joanna Messina gravesite Kenai
Detail: Campground Where Messina Found
(Courtesy Google Maps; illustration copyright Leland E. Hale)

[Pure Conjecture]

It’s not hard to imagine a similar situation with respect to a Hansen encounter with Megan Emerick (or Mary Thill). They meet on the docks. Hansen mentions fishing. Or, better yet, offers them a job cleaning his boat. Yeah. That’ll work.

Suddenly they’re on the boat. There’s a gun. Things “go bad.” End of case. Because, really, why would Robert Hansen tell anyone about Megan Emerick? Especially a couple of cons? Assuming he killed her, he’d already lied straight up to the cops and prosecutors. He could lie to Ken Gage and former cellmate Manfred West just as easily.

Though, in a way, they were both right. From prison, Robert Hansen could see Resurrection Bay on the near horizon. The Megan Emerick case, meanwhile, remains unsolved. And Ken Gage? He wrote a memoir entitled Within These Walls. One of the chapters was called, THE HUNTER’S PLAYGROUND. You can guess what it was about.

Copyright Leland E. Hale (2023). All rights reserved.

Leland E. Hale

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