Book review: Butcher, Baker: A True Account of a Serial Murder, by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale
Butcher, Baker is the true story from the law enforcement side of the investigation and capture of 1970s/80s Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen. Originally published in 1991, a new ebook edition is being rereleased on October 25th. A film version came out in 2013, The Frozen Ground. It looks kind of cheesy, but John Cusack and Vanessa Hudgens star in it, so that’s kind of something. Nicholas Cage also stars however, so there’s a clue it’s a mess.
But the premise of both book and film are interesting, and all too true, so I can see why the book was popular enough to merit several rereleases and a movie adaptation in the first place. Hansen preyed on exotic dancers and street prostitutes while leading a humdrum life for all outward appearances – married, kids, running a bakery, avid hunter and pilot as hobbies. He’s eventually pursued and caught after one woman, called Kitty here, escapes and aids police. I think that aspect is what makes the story unique, the one that got away and is able to shed light on the scenario. It helps that she’s a young, troubled prostitute with potential for something greater, and a father figure-like detective coaxes her into testifying and helps her escape her pimp. There’s enough Hollywood-esque drama here, it’s just the delivery that suffered.
Personally, it wasn’t what I like in terms of true crime. I was curious because of the setting, there’s something mysterious and untamed about Alaska while still being a part of America that’s interesting to me. But I should mention that over the years it’s garnered some very positive reviews, so it is a lot of other readers’ cup of tea. I like a storytelling, narrative aspect, and there was next to nothing about any of the victims besides Kitty. This is just reportage of the investigative process. I skimmed many pages that were blow by blow accounting of police procedure, or this cop telling another cop this and that, and at one point I thought I just wouldn’t finish it, but I decided to push through to review it.
It’s absolutely not dry, it just wasn’t engaging. It’s not told journalistically, rather it’s presented as a very straightforward account of the facts. There’s little insight into Hansen’s personality or background, besides how he met his tepid bathwater wife (her personality is like oatmeal, which explains how he managed to get away with so much under her nose), and as I said, even though some mothers talk to investigators as bodies are being dug up after the Alaskan winter, there’s next to nothing about who these women were.
BUT! There were two major highlights of this book for me. One: the quote that’s the title of this post. It’s from a section describing Hansen’s house being searched. As mentioned, he was an avid hunter, so I guess why wouldn’t he have moose antlers on the roof. Why did this matter to investigators? Never explained. And two: he tells police that he shot wolves from his plane. In Alaska. You know who else shot wolves, and other stuff, from the air in Alaska? This unhinged lunatic:
I’m not saying she’s also a deranged, horrifyingly prolific serial killer preying on innocents throughout the state that she was supposed to govern. But I’m not sure what I’m supposed to think about two people who share such a specific hobby. What are the odds?
Butcher, Baker: A True Account of a Serial Murder
by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale
published October 25, 2016 by Open Road Media, first published 1991 by Onyx
I received an advance ebook copy for review courtesy of the publisher.