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Scary True Stories: The most dangerous game

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.

It worked.

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.

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34 Comments

  1. These stories always interest me because of the killer. I’m not afraid of ghosts or monsters or even drug gangs. Deranged murderers who are otherwise normal creep me out.

    I also wonder how they can go back to their normal lives after doing such horrible things. How do you go back to your wife after you raped and murdered someone and act as though nothing happened?

    I suppose it’s a good thing that I can’t understand that but from a psychological stand point I do find it fascinating.

    Reply
    • JH

      I find it fascinating too, Frank. It’s why I always wanted to get into forensic psychology. What makes these people tick? What’s the method behind their madness? It boggles the mind.

      Reply
  2. Wow, this is one of the few that I’ve never heard of. (I’m a rabid watcher of all serial killer and crime documentaries.) I’ve known about a few other serial killers in Alaska and Canada, but this one is new to me and quite shocking. Awesome work by the smart detective who wouldn’t give up! Thanks for the info!

    Reply
    • JH

      Yay! This comment makes me so happy, Lexa. I LOVE introducing people to subjects they’re not familiar with, especially if the topic is already of interest.

      There’s nothing new under the sun, so it’s hard to keep this kind of blog fresh.

      Reply
    • Me too!! Do you know any good sites that have stories such as this?

      Reply
      • JH

        Um…how about this one? 😀

        Reply
  3. Cindy must have been very strong and clever to escape. She probably saved many women in doing so. The deranged can be such good actors. Or, are they really so mentally messed up that they are one person as a murderer and another in their regular lives? He might have gotten the idea to hunt them from the story, but he was on his own with the terrorizing. That story is still part of the English curriculum. My boys read it last year.

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, it’s amazing that it’s still part of the curriculum…I thought schools had pretty much gotten rid of everything dark. I won’t be surprised if that story stays with your boys forever. Along with “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, it’s always stuck with me.

      Cindy was (and is) amazing. A lot of women owe their lives to her, and to the detective who decided to believe her. So many didn’t.

      Reply
  4. Eish! As we say here in South Africa – meaning oooosh, or ish or hells bells … Did his family have no clue? But we know this to be true, that others cannot believe that a person can be such when to all intents and purposes they seem so mild mannered.

    Perhaps there was some thrill in his reading the original book and he wanted to ‘capture’ that thrill for himself. But good on the detective for believing the young lass and persevering …

    Reply
    • JH

      Thank god he did, Susan! Otherwise even more women would have died at the hands of this monster. Hopefully we’re a little smarter now when it comes to realizing that serial killers aren’t foaming at the mouth with crazy eyes.

      I’ve never found anything about Hansen’s family, but I think it’s safe to say his wife had no clue…although she might have wondered why he was always sending her out of town.

      Reply
  5. Those poor women must’ve been terrified. Not only the physical abuse but the psychological cruelty of thinking you have a chance to run, to escape, only to find out it’s a trick.

    I wonder why Hansen redressed the women only to bury them? I would think the clothing would have evidence of him and/or hold some clue to the women’s identity. Maybe he ended up feeling a sense of belated grief?

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s a good question, Madeline. I suspect it was part of his perversion, or “signature.” He got something out of dressing the women after death, but I doubt it was out of grief or respect. These guys have no conscience.

      Unfortunately, now that he’s dead, we’ll never know what that was about.

      Reply
  6. I think Nicolas Cage was in the movie. I’ve always been freaked out by people that are one way in public and another behind closed doors.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Reply
    • JH

      Nothing’s scarier.

      Yes, Nicholas Cage was the cop in “The Frozen Ground,” which was based on Hansen’s story. But that wasn’t nearly as weird as having John Cusak play the killer.

      Reply
  7. This reminds me of a Criminal Minds episode…the guy letting his victims go only to hunt them down and shoot them.

    You never can know about people can you. A seemingly demure, respectful man with a family can be a cruel rapist and murderer. Crazy. And scary.

    On another topic, I’ve been think about you a lot since Samhain’s announcement. I’m pulling for you and hope everything works out.

    Reply
    • JH

      That Criminal Minds episode was based on Robert Hansen, so I guess they did a good job.

      Thanks so much for your kind words–they mean a lot. Things are still up in the air, but one of my editors landed at Kensington, so that’s very good news!

      Reply
  8. Nothing’s stranger or more horrifying than fiction unless it’s non-fiction, so I can see why a novelist would go to true crime stories for his characters and what they did.

    This was chilling because the real nature of the killer was so well disguised by his public demeanor. I’m now much more suspicious of nice people than I was before reading this!

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh no, that’s not good! But I guess it rarely hurts to be suspicious.

      I tend to trust people until they show me I shouldn’t, which is bizarre considering all I know about serial killers. I guess I hope my instincts would warn me.

      Reply
  9. Some sick people out there. I’m sure he’s not the first to do it though. Glad the young lady escaped and he was put behind bars.

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too, Alex. She’s a hero in the true sense of the word.

      Reply
  10. There are monsters walking beside us each day. They do not wear rubber masks or sport claws. The monster smiles under the mask of normalcy at us, waiting for its chance. We all need to mind our surroundings. Creepy story. Cindy saved so many others. But what were the long-term effects on her psyche?

    Reply
    • JH

      Good question, Roland. I wish more survivors would write books, but I also understand if they want to move past it and try their best to forget, even if that’s impossible.

      Reply
  11. Scary! And it always amazes me that the second the public/media hears that a missing girl was involved in drugs or prostitution, she ceases to become as important as the innocent girl who was stolen from her home or community. I think we can easily dismiss a story when it’s something we feel could never happen to us. What really scares us is when someone is doing things the way WE do them and bad things happen. So people dehumanize people who get involved in drugs/prostitution to somehow get past that fear they have that it could happen to them.

    Reply
    • JH

      So true. What’s even less palatable is the mostly unspoken belief that they “asked for it.” There’s quite a few people out there who turn their noses up when prostitutes get killed, saying “Well, if they weren’t selling their bodies for money, this would never have happened.”

      I’m willing to bet that 98% of prostitutes are there because they felt they had no choice. And even if they decided to walk the streets because they love it, that doesn’t mean they’re disposable. They deserve as much consideration as anyone else, if not more.

      Reply
  12. My first thought is of his family and how his wife must have felt knowing what he had done. His kids must also deal with this and it must be so difficult. I would love to know how Cindy escaped and will read up more on this. This bastard obviously hates women and you wonder where his sick mind came from. I wouldn’t doubt he had read this book since he was a hunter and had a cabin. There is also a film called “The Most Dangerous Game” starring Cornell Wilde. How sad that prostitutes and strippers are not worth looking in to when they disappear.

    Reply
    • JH

      So much to agree with in this comment, Birgit. I’m not sure if you’ve already read up on this case or not, but Hansen briefly left Cindy unattended in his car while he loaded his small plane. She saw her chance and ran for it. He chased her into the road, but by then, a trucker had stopped for her. The trucker was so concerned by her condition and the handcuffs that he called the police after dropping her off and told them where to find her. The police had to remove Hansen’s handcuffs, which were still on her wrists.

      I imagine Hansen’s wife and kids were devastated. There was probably a lot of soul-searching and “What did I miss?” type of thinking.

      Reply
  13. I read a little about this case. Very scary to think about. I’d rather it just be fiction.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Patricia, though the similarities are fascinating, in a creepy way.

      Reply
  14. Truth is scarier than fiction. How? HOw?? Do people read book, get an idea and act on it??? I’d hate to think what will happen if that’s the case. Things will get worse…

    Reply
    • JH

      I think stories like “The Most Dangerous Game” or pornography and true detective-type stories, which serial killers cite as inspiration A LOT, play off on a sickness that is already there.

      It sparks some fantasies, but doesn’t create the problem in the first place.

      Reply
  15. Man, that is a creepy and terrible tale. It always seems like it’s the quiet, well-mannered ones that do the most terrible things. Psychological profiling is fascinating. It’s amazing that they can take a crime and come up with the perpetrator’s personality/behavior so accurately.

    As for the book, it’s entirely possible he read it and got “inspiration” though I don’t think the book is to blame if he did. A guy like that was always going to kill others, regardless of how he did it. No book/story can make you twisted like that.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Sara. It could have been the inspiration, but not the cause of his actions. He’d beaten up a few escorts and prostitutes before he began his killing spree.

      I’m fascinated by psychological profiling too. It’s a career I was always interested in…really wish I’d pursued that instead of journalism!

      Reply
  16. Visiting your blog always leaves me with chills! (That’s why I keep coming back.) I’m surprised I’ve never come across this story before, especially since it was based on The Most Dangerous Game.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s awesome, Dianne! Glad to have introduced you to a new story.

      And thank you for coming back. It’s SO appreciated!

      Reply

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