37 years later, a victim of serial killer Robert Hansen identified through DNA match - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, December 4, 2021
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37 years later, a victim of serial killer Robert Hansen identified through DNA match

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The Alaska Bureau of Investigation Cold Case Investigation Unit recently launched another attempt to identify the remains of one of serial killer Robert Hanson’s victims, a young woman who has been called Horseshoe Harriet for 37 years. Her name is Robin Pelkey.

In August 2021, a new DNA profile for the victim was generated and uploaded into a public access genealogy database. Utilizing several close matches, a family tree for the victim was constructed.  Genealogy research by Parabon Nanolabs and ABI indicated that the victim might be Pelkey. 

Pelkey had been born in 1963 in Colorado. Additional research identified a few potential relatives of Pelkey’s that reside in Alaska and Arkansas. Records indicated that she had been living in Anchorage in the early 1980s when Hansen was active as a killer of young women. Pelkey would have been 19 at the time of her murder and no record was found reporting her missing.

The Alaska Bureau of Investigation contacted the Arkansas State Police and requested their assistance. They contacted a very close relative of Pelkey’s and obtained a DNA sample. The sample was sent to the State of Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage.  Kinship DNA analysis completed in September 2021, confirmed that “Horseshoe Harriet” is in fact Robin Pelkey. 

In October 1983, Alaska State Troopers arrested suspected serial killer Robert Hansen, who became known as the Butcher Baker.  At the time, he was suspected of murdering four women, whose bodies had been discovered in Southcentral Alaska between 1980 and 1983. In February 1984, Hansen agreed to plead guilty to the four murders and several other felony crimes.  Hansen eventually admitted to murdering a total of 17 women and accompanied investigators on a helicopter flight where he pointed out the grave sites.

He had hunted down his victims and killed them with a high-powered rifle. Some of the women were exotic dancers and sex workers who came to Alaska during the boom era of the building of the Trans Alaska Pipeline, when Anchorage was attracting oil workers, construction workers, and a big vice industry.

“I would like to thank all of the troopers, investigators, and analysts that have diligently worked on this case over the last 37 years. Without their hard work and tenacity, the identity of Ms. Pelkey may have never been known,” said Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell. “The Alaska Department of Public Safety will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to solve major crimes in our state, hold anyone that violates our laws accountable, and bring closure to a victims’ family.” 

In the past few years, genetic genealogy has developed into a powerful forensic tool for identifying both the perpetrators of unsolved homicides and, as shown in this case, their unidentified victims. The Alaska Department of Public Safety has used genetic genealogy in the 1978 Shelley Connolly homicide1993 Sophie Sergie homicide, and 1996 Jessica Baggen homicide.   

The surviving next of kin of Pelkey has requested that they not be contacted directly while they come to grips with this heartbreaking news, DPS said. The department has purchased a new grave marker identifying the final resting place of Pelkey at the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Suzanne, the Boom Era of “Pipeline Construction ” ended in 1978. At that time there were more ” Massage Parlors along Spenard road then there are Facist on the Anchorage Assembly today. Point being the ” boom” and the lonely men seeking comfort in the caring arms of benevolent women had passed when Hansen showed up.

    • Other than a bit of a downturn as the Pipeline wound down, Alaska generally and Anchorage specifically was booming in the early Eighties as oil revenue began to flow into the State economy. The sex and drugs trade boomed right along with the rest of the economy until the oil price crash of the mid-eighties.

    • If you believe the massage parlors were gone by 1978, you are sadly mistaken. The mob didn’t just move out when the pipeline was completed. I’m approximately the same age as this unfortunate woman, and I can assure you, it was still wild and wooly along Spenard Road, complete with after hours joints, strip clubs and comfort girls.

      • No massage parlors are needed in 2021. It’s all done via the internet.

    • Art, the article says ” during the building of the pipeline” which ended years before Hansen. I can attest to the facts reported by Mark Twain, I well remember ” Susie’s Massage” lit sign on Spenard which exclaime that the customer always come first.
      Nothing quite like old Spenard!

      • Who came second?

  • Thank you Ms Downing. The reddit truecrime is posting this identification news and it is sad but good that the victim of that killer has been identified.

  • Why is it that this seems like such a breakthrough to our LEO community when in fact many MANY of us have sent our own genetic slurry to 23andMe and other sites that respond with our genetic analysis within a month… and then introduce us to previously unknown relatives?

    You can do in 30 days what our best forensic detectives take 37 years to accomplish? What’s broken in this process?

    • I think access is the difference. Not all genetic databases are available for research, to the public or law enforcement. Most are available only through a subpoena.

    • The process of extraction of DNA samples from the deceased is not the same as it is from voluntary living saliva sample. That is the simplest explanation. Processing dna samples from teeth, bones or hair takes much longer. 37 year worth of potential contamination complicates the process even further. This reverse family tree tracing is nothing like 23andme or Ancestry.

  • That monster was allowed to live out his life and paint pictures at Spring Creek. He should have been executed as soon as he was found guilty. Instead it cost more than I make per month to keep him housed and healthy. Miscarriage of justice!
    Kudos to those who broke the identity of this poor young lady who should still be alive.
    May Robert Hansen burn in hell.

    • Didn’t Hansen die in prison? The Butcher Baker.

  • I hope Robin can rest easier in peace now. It is heart-wrenching to think of her dying without anyone realizing she was missing.

  • Whatever had her running away, someone took great care to see her teeth grew well and healthy. She had beautiful looking teeth which girls and boys feel more confident to smile big when their teeth look good.
    Teach your kids to count their blessings what is going well for them.

  • Our hearts go out to the families of the victims. May they all be found and RIP.

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