This week my family and I are going to watch The Frozen Ground, the film released this weekend starring John Cusack, Nicholas Cage and Vanessa Hudgens. The film tells the story of Robert Hansen, a serial killer who murdered at least 17 women (and perhaps as many as 21) by kidnapping them, transporting them to the Alaskan wilderness, and then hunting them.
My family has a geographical connection to the case. I grew up with my parents in the area where Hansen preyed on women in Alaska and, as coincidence would have it, in the 1960’s Hansen lived and worked in Minot, ND at the Sweetheart Bread bakery on Broadway (now a pizza restaurant and arcade) just miles where my family and I live.
But we have another connection too. My father was one of the cops who brought Hansen to justice. Rollie Port was one of the first investigators assigned to what would eventually become Hansen’s case when the body of 24-year-old Sherry Morrow was found along the Knik River.
Currently Hansen is serving a 461 year sentence at Spring Creek Correctional in Seward, AK. My father has visited him a couple of times since while there on other business – my dad bought a model fishing boat Hansen made in prison chillingly named “Lovely” after one of his first victims, the proceeds went to Hansen’s restitution – but for the most part this story is part of my family’s lore. One of the many bad guys my dad brought to justice over the years.
I have no idea how accurately the movie will portray the case – not very, I’m guessing – and my father wasn’t involved in development for the movie, though he was asked, so I’m guessing there won’t be a “Rollie Port” character, but we hope to enjoy it anyway with a recount afterward from my dad about just how many things the movie got wrong.
In the trailer above, the part where Nicholas Cage’s character goes to the river where they discovered the body, that’s almost certainly portraying my father’s part of the investigation, as this old TruTV Crime Library article indicates:
The Knik River valley is a preferred hunting ground for veteran trophy hunters. Just twenty-five miles from the city of Anchorage, the winding gorge—carved by prehistoric glacial ice—makes it a perfect place to find mountain goats, Dall sheep, black bears, and moose. On September 12, 1982, John Daily and Audi Holloway, two off-duty Anchorage police officers, spent an afternoon hunting along the Knik River.
According to Butcher Baker by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale, the two men had little luck and as darkness began to fall they decided to call it a day. The trek was not necessarily easy, but both men were familiar with the area and cut across a wide sandbar. However, as they progressed up the river, they noticed a boot sticking out of the sand. Normally a find like this would not be cause for concern, but for any police officer, curiosity denotes investigation. Upon closer inspection, the two men were taken aback. Sticking out of the sand was a partially decomposed bone joint. Once their minds registered what they were looking at, both men backed up from the scene. The last thing they wanted to do was disturb or contaminate any evidence. After making note of the location, both men made their way out of the gorge and back to their camp.
Gilmour and Hale wrote that Sergeant Rollie Port was assigned to cover the investigation. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Port was considered one of the top investigators on the force. He was meticulous with every crime scene and was known to spend hours going over the smallest area. Before disturbing the body, Port had photographs taken from every angle and carefully examined the body itself for trace evidence before having it bagged. Afterwards, he pulled out a large screen and began sifting through the sand around the body. It took several hours for him to finish sifting, but in the end it paid off. Lying on the screen before him was a single shell casing from a .223-caliber bullet. Port was familiar with this type of ammunition and knew that it was used in high-powered rifles like M-16s, Mini-14s, or AR-15s.
That .223 shell casing would go on to be a key piece of evidence against Hansen at trial.
I’m looking forward to the movie. I was an infant when Hansen began his killings, and just three by the time he was caught and put in prison. It’s a part of my father’s life I didn’t witness fist hand, and I hope to have it more thoroughly illuminated thanks to this movie.