Genealogy art

Serial killer victim identified after 37 years through genetic genealogy and DNA match

A woman known for just 37 years as Horseshoe Harriet, one of dozens of victims of a notorious Alaskan serial killer, has been identified through genetic genealogy and a DNA match, it was announced Friday authorities.

The victim was identified on Friday as Robin Pelkey, who was 19 when she was killed by Robert Hansson in the early 1980s, the Alaska Bureau of Investigation’s Cold Case Investigation Unit said. The Alaska State Troopers released a nearly 8-minute video describing the genetic genealogy process and the Pelkey ​​cold case.

Genetic genealogy – New tool for AST

Alaska State Troopers have used genetic genealogy to identify one of the unidentified victims of serial killer Robert Hansen 37 years after his discovery. Through the work of the Cold Case Investigation Unit and others, we have identified “Horseshoe Harriet” as Mrs. Robin Pelkey. Pelkey ​​was born in Colorado in 1963 and would have been 19 at the time of her murder. Learn more ➡

Posted by Alaska State Troopers on Friday, October 22, 2021

“I would like to thank all of the soldiers, investigators and analysts who have worked diligently on this case over the past 37 years. Without their hard work and tenacity, Ms. Pelkey’s identity may never have known,” the Alaska Department said. Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell said in a statement.

Hansen, who owned a bakery, earned the nickname “Butcher Baker” for abducting and stalking women – many of whom were sex workers – in the wild just north of Anchorage in the early 1980s when the most major city in the state was booming due to the construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline.

Convicted serial killer Robert Hansen is seen in this undated file photo in Anchorage, Alaska.

Anchorage Daily News via Getty

Building the 800-mile pipeline provided well-paying jobs for workers, but it also attracted those who wanted to make money off them, everyone from sex workers to drug traffickers. Many of these quick-money seekers left as quickly as they came, and exotic dancers circuited along West Coast towns, making sudden disappearances commonplace.

Retired soldier Glenn Flothe, who helped put Hansen behind bars, told the Anchorage Daily News in 2008 that Hansen’s victims initially included any woman who caught his eye, but he quickly learned that strippers and prostitutes were harder to track and less likely to be missed.

The 2013 film “The Frozen Ground”, starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack, chronicled the soldiers’ investigation and Hansen’s capture.

Hansen was convicted of killing four women but confessed to killing several others, soldiers said. At one point, he flew with investigators over an area north of Anchorage, where he indicated where 17 of his victims were buried.

In 1984, Alaska State Troopers returned to these areas, where the remains of eight women were discovered. A total of 12 bodies have been recovered, and 11 of them have been identified, Private spokesman Austin McDaniel said.

The one person not yet identified is only known as Eklutna Annie, McDaniel said. His body was found near Lake Eklutna just north of Anchorage.

Randy McPherron, an investigator on the Alaska State Troopers cold case, said Hansen “confessed to his murder and claimed he was his first murder victim.”

Among skeletal remains found in 1984, Pelsky was discovered lying on the ground near Horseshoe Lake near the Little Susitna River a few miles northwest of Anchorage, soldiers said.

CORRECTION ID of Alaskan serial killer victim
This undated photo released by the Alaska State Department of Public Safety shows Robin Pelkey ​​just before his 18th birthday.


There was no identification on the body which became known as Horseshoe Harriet. Hansen told investigators she was a sex worker he abducted from downtown Anchorage in the winter of 1983. He told investigators he took her to the lake in his little plane, murdered her and dumped the body. He didn’t know her name or much else about her.

An autopsy confirmed that the body was that of a white woman aged 17 to 23. No missing person’s report matched, and she was buried in the Anchorage Municipal Cemetery as an unknown.

The case was reopened in 2014, the same year Hansen died in prison at the age of 75.

The body was exhumed and samples were sent to create a DNA profile, which was added to the FBI’s National Missing Persons Database. He did not provide identification.

In September 2020, investigators made another attempt to identify the remains using genetic genealogy.

A bone sample was sent to a private lab and additional DNA was extracted and sent for whole-genome sequencing, the soldiers said. This data was then sent to another lab, where a DNA profile was generated and uploaded to a public-access genealogy database in April.

Soldiers said several close matches were found and used to create a family tree for the victim. Research has indicated the victim may be a woman named Robin Pelkey, who was born in Colorado in 1963, soldiers said.

Soldiers found her in Anchorage in the early 1980s, but no records indicated she was alive after 1984.

Eventually, close relatives were located in Arkansas and Alaska. Family members told soldiers that Pelkey ​​lived in Anchorage in the late 1970s, but moved to Arkansas as a teenager before returning to Alaska in 1981 to live with his father and step- mother.

Soldiers said she ended up living on the streets of Anchorage but disappeared in late 1982 or early 1983.

Relatives told soldiers they were unsure why Pelkey’s parents, who are now deceased, did not report him missing.

A DNA match with a close relative in Arkansas confirmed Pelkey’s identity, and the family was notified in September. Through the soldiers, the family members said they did not want to be contacted by the media.

“Obviously, I’m very happy to finally find out who she is and give her family a bit of a hard time,” McPherron said. “Genetic genealogy has come a long way in solving unsolved homicides, but also in identifying people, so it’s very satisfying to finally see it come together like this.”

The soldiers purchased a new headstone for Pelkey, McDaniel said.