Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hunting Humans

A Killer's Past

Robert Hansen yearbook photo
Robert Hansen yearbook photo

Robert Christian Hansen was born on February 15, 1939, in Esterville, Iowa to Christian Hansen, a Danish immigrant baker and his wife Edna. DuClos wrote that Hansen had a difficult upbringing. His father was very strict and insisted that his son work long hours in the family's bakery. Adding to this ever-present strain, he was always considered small for his age and his face bore severe acne sores all throughout his adolescence. In later years, he would recall his face as "one big pimple." Although he was naturally left-handed, his parents forced him to use his right hand. In later years, he would claim that the resulting stress made his slight stuttering problem even worse. He had very few friends in school and those he did have never got close to him. In 1957, Hansen graduated high school and shortly thereafter enlisted in the Army Reserves. Following basic training, he was required to devote one weekend a month to the military. He spent the rest of his time working in his father's bakery and sometimes volunteering as a Pocahontas Junior Police drill instructor. During 1960, he fell in love with and married a local girl.

The first major event in Robert Hansen's life occurred on December 7, 1960. As retribution for perceived abuses by the people of Pocahantas, Iowa, he burned down the school bus garage. Unfortunately for Hansen, a friend turned him in and he was sentenced to three years in prison. His wife was ashamed of her husband's actions and immediately filed for divorce. After serving only 20 months, Hansen was paroled, despite being assessed as having an "infantile personality."

Shortly after his release, he met a young woman. The two hit it off and were wed in the fall of 1963. For the next few years, Hansen bounced from job to job and was arrested several times for petty thefts. In 1967, he decided it was time for a new start and left for Alaska.

Anchorage appeared to be the perfect getaway for Robert Hansen. Gilmour and Hale wrote that he was treated well by the residents and soon earned a reputation as a great outdoorsman and hunter. He would stalk Dahl sheep, wolves, and bear with a rifle or bow and arrow. In 1969, 1970 and 1971, he had four animals entered into Pope & Young's trophy hunting world-record books. Hansen's den was soon loaded with animal mounts.

Robert Hansen's trophy room
Robert Hansen's trophy room

Nonetheless, all his good fortune was short lived. In 1977 he was arrested for stealing a chainsaw and sentenced to five years in prison. After a customary mental evaluation, a prison psychiatrist concluded that Hansen suffered from "bipolar-effective disorder" and requested that the courts order him to take lithium to control his mood swings. Regardless, the order was never enforced and Hansen was released after serving just one year.

During the early 1980s Hansen reported a burglary to his home, which in the end netted him $13,000 from the insurance company. Shortly after receiving his settlement, Hansen opened his own bakery at the corner of 9th and Ingra. By this time, Hansen and his wife had two children and his problems with the law were all but forgotten. His business prospered and he was considered a successful and respected member of the community.

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