The following are the first two chapters from the book “The Butcher Baker – The True Story of Robert Hansen, The Human Hunter”
The Baker’s Son
From the start, it seemed that young Robert Hansen was destined for a mediocre life. Born in Iowa on February 15, 1939, he was the eldest of the Hansen family’s two children. Christian Hansen, the patriarch, was a short-tempered, domineering man who had immigrated to the United States from Denmark and made a living as a baker. Edna Hansen, on the other hand, was a soft-spoken, almost feeble woman, the one parent her son could turn to when he needed comfort.
In 1942, the family left Iowa and headed to Richmond, California. It was here that the youngest Hansen, a little girl, was born. However, the family never truly adapted to the fast-paced city life, and by the late 1940s, they returned to Iowa, this time settling in Pocahontas, a small city notable only for being the hometown of the man who would go on to be Alaska’s most prolific serial killer.
In the 1950s, Pocahontas had a population of just under two thousand people, a number that would slowly rise until the 1980s, and steadily decline afterwards. When the Hansens arrived in 1949, most of the land was still rural and underdeveloped, belonging mostly to farmers.
That same year, the Hansens placed an ad in the town newspaper announcing the opening of their new bakery. The business was well-received by the people of Pocahontas, and it soon became a staple of the community. But as business got better for his father, Robert Hansen’s life was becoming increasingly stressful.
Though it was not uncommon at the time for young boys to be put to work, the elder Hansen proved to be a difficult boss. His son recalled him as being strict and demanding, often making the boy feel worthless for his mistakes. Work began every day at two in the morning, and after his shift, Robert would attend school. This often left him too exhausted to learn, causing him to fall asleep during his afternoon classes, and his grades were consistently average.
At some point in his childhood, he developed a severe stutter, a trait Christian Hansen also had. This speech impediment was made worse by the constant scoldings doled out by his parents. When Robert turned out to be left-handed, his father would force him to do things with his right. He feared disappointing his family, and gradually this anxiety would consume him, making him timid.
For as much as Robert was intimidated by the elder Hansen, he also secretly felt some shame because of him. Christian may have been the man of the house, but to others, he was merely an immigrant with a stutter and tenuous grasp of the English language. Edna Hansen, described as frail and dutiful, was always obedient to her husband, and Robert disliked feeling dependent on her.
Though life at home was difficult, school would prove to be an even more hellish place.
By the time he was a teenager, earning less than a dollar a day at the bakery, he had become awkward and gawky. He developed painful acne that was so severe it would leave his face pockmarked with scars for the rest of his life. His stutter often made him the target of bullying. “I looked like a freak, and I sounded like one,” he would later say.
It got so bad that Robert became afraid of speaking at all. The possibility of being called on in class would make him “break out in a sweat” and cause his stuttering to worsen. Whenever he did try to speak, he would hardly be able to get the words out. He would often walk away right in the middle of a conversation in humiliation.
Girls were some of his biggest bullies throughout high school. He would state that he was deeply unpopular, going on less than a handful of dates. How was he supposed to get girls to like him when he couldn’t even speak to them like other guys? This was a rather formative experience, and as he grew older, he began to resent women.
As Pocahontas’s population grew in the 1950s, so did the number of opportunities for recreation. While others his age got to enjoy bowling, drive-in theaters and B-movies, skating, and dancing to rock n roll, Robert was working long hours at the bakery. Not only were his parents insistent that he work, they were also devoutly religious. The old-fashioned Lutheran couple doubtlessly disapproved of the way other teenagers spent their free time.
Still, Robert did make an effort to socialize. He took part in parent-approved activities such as chorus, and at school he tried each year to make the basketball team and later the football team—both of which he failed at. He fared better at track, even getting a varsity letter in his senior year.
Unfortunately, he remained an outcast. It was this loneliness that caused him to take an interest in more solitary activities such as hunting, fishing, and archery. He would practice these skills often, honing them whenever he had free time. Soon, he had learned how to kill animals—quietly and efficiently.
The Calm Before the Storm
The nightmare that was high school ended at last in May 1957, upon graduation. To his dismay, the yearbook misspelled his last name as “Hanson.”
Life remained largely the same otherwise. He still worked at his father’s bakery and socialized little with others, but eventually the small-town life had become stifling, and he sought change by joining the Army Reserves. He was soon sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he tasted freedom for the first time.
It was the first time he had free time to spend as he pleased, and without his father looming over him, and finally got to try new things. Among those things was sex. His first sexual experience came after winning “soldier of the week.” The prize included an all-expense-paid weekend in New York City alongside another soldier.
“Boy, while we’re here, we gotta get ourselves a piece of ass,” said his companion. Hansen agreed, and the two men soon ended up in a hotel room with a pair of prostitutes.
Though his fellow soldier had enjoyed himself, Robert felt rather disappointed by the experience. He would come to dislike these “quickies” with prostitutes as he felt he had less control over what they did, and that made him feel unmanly. If there was one thing Hansen liked, it was being in control.
It wasn’t long before Hansen returned to Pocahontas. Though he still worked at the bakery, he had moved into an apartment of his own this time. Many would describe him as being “different” and a “loner,” although he had made a number of friends among the local high schoolers—one of whom was the son of the town jeweler as well as Hansen’s coworker at the bakery. Teenagers were easier to impress, and they often hung out at Hansen’s apartment, talking about guns, hunting, and the people they disliked.
Hansen, in particular, had quite a few people he disliked.
Though he had been out of school for a few years now, he still harbored resentment towards his former classmates as well as the school staff. Beneath his mild-mannered exterior lay a rage that would shape him into the killer he became.
But Hansen had a talent for disguising the darker parts of his personality, presenting himself as an upstanding citizen. In 1959, he became a drill instructor for the Pocahontas Junior Police. Under him, the young recruits would learn about law enforcement, firearms, first-aid, and other important subjects.
He also got his first girlfriend, a quiet girl named Phebe Padgett whose family belonged to the same Lutheran church as the Hansens. Hansen and Phebe made a good match. Both were timid, awkward people who had been unpopular in high school. Both families were devoutly religious and strict. Phebe’s father, the town chiropractor, was especially socially withdrawn, seldom talking to anyone outside of the Padgetts.
The relationship between these two outsiders blossomed throughout that year. He even began to think about marrying her. For a while, life seemed to be looking up for him, but a need for revenge would soon undo everything.