Life really is stranger than fiction.
When I was a kid, a twisted horror tale called The Most Dangerous Game was mandatory reading in high school.
In Richard Connell’s story, written in 1924, a big-game hunter matches his wits against a deranged captor who had grown bored with hunting animals and turned his attention to “the most dangerous game.” In other words, humans.
The true story is even more disturbing.
In the 1970’s and early ’80s, women were vanishing in Anchorage, Alaska. For the most part, the women were prostitutes or topless dancers, so their absence often went unreported. When they were reported missing, police figured the women were runaways who had disappeared of their own free will.
Until the bodies started turning up.
It was bizarre. Each woman had been shot execution-style, either in the back or the back of the head. Even more puzzling, they appeared to have been naked when they were killed, and then redressed in their own clothing.
A teenager named Cindy Paulson broke the case wide open. The 17-year-old claimed a man had offered her $200 for oral sex, only to rape, torture, and hold her captive. She’d managed to escape before he could load her into a plane for a trip to his cabin in the wilderness. The terrified girl was still wearing the handcuffs he’d used to restrain her when police showed up to take her statement.
One of the most shocking aspects of Cindy’s story was the man she claimed had attacked her. She accused Robert Hansen, who was a well-known business owner and a respected man in the community. When Hansen was questioned, one of his friends gave him an alibi and this, along with the man’s meek demeanour and stellar reputation in the area, kept him from being a serious suspect.
But one man believed Cindy, and he wasn’t ready to give up. Detective Glenn Flothe of the Alaska State Troopers contacted the FBI’s Behavorial Science Unit and requested a criminal profile of the man behind the murders. The resulting profile fit Hansen to a tee, down to his stutter and his preoccupation with big-game hunting. The FBI gave Flothe suggestions on how to stage another interrogation of Hansen in order to get a confession.
On the strength of the profile and Cindy’s testimony, the police got a warrant to search Hansen’s home, where they discovered some of the dead women’s jewelry and an aerial map with little Xs that marked locations where bodies had been found. Realizing that Hansen’s trouble with the law was more serious than he’d thought, Hansen’s friend admitted that the hunter hadn’t been with him at all when Cindy was kidnapped and tortured–he’d lied for his friend because he believed he was saving him from simple embarrassment.
Flothe and his team designed an interrogation room following the FBI’s instructions, showing Hansen how much effort was being put into finding the missing women in order to intimidate him.
While at first the seemingly mild-mannered man continued to deny his involvement, the chilling story eventually came out.
Hansen had lured women to his home while his wife and family were out of town. After hours of rape and torture, he flew his victims to a remote cabin in the wilderness, where he set them free. The terrified women, naked and beaten, ran for their lives. But their freedom was only a cruel trick–it was all a game to Hansen, who hunted them down like animals and shot them in the back. He then redressed his victims and buried them in shallow graves.
While Hansen helped police find seventeen of the bodies, he is suspected to have killed more than thirty. He died in prison of an undisclosed ailment in 2014.
The parallels between Hansen’s crimes and Connell’s famous story are eerie, but at least the hunted man in the fictional tale had a fighting chance. He had weapons and a head start, not to mention years of experience designing and setting traps for unwary prey. Hansen’s “most dangerous game,” on the other hand, were naked and traumatized women, already badly beaten, who had no means of defending themselves against a deranged killer.
Do you believe Hansen was inspired by Connell’s tale to the point that he strove to recreate it? Or are the similarities merely a coincidence?
PS – If you found Hansen’s story interesting, you’ll enjoy this story of another twisted killer who got away with murder for years.