Alaska’s Long History of Serial Killers (2024)

From the time gold was discovered here in 1871, Alaska has been a magnet for a certain type of risk-taker. Daredevil fortune seekers came, seduced by the area’s seemingly infinite riches – miners, traders, trappers, and crab fishermen all answering Alaska’s siren song.

Throughout Alaska’s recorded history, yet another kind of risk-taker has gravitated to The Last Frontier. Lured by the vastness of the terrain, its Wild West lawlessness, its endless winter nights, or all of the above – serial killers have left their mark.

I set my debut mystery/thriller Cold To The Touch in this locale because of its unique, stark beauty and its ability to harbor the darkest and most sinister of predators.

Edward Krause, Alaska’s first known serial killer, is said to be responsible for the deaths of at least ten men between 1912 and 1915, killing them for their real estate holdings and bank balances. His true identity was Edward Klompke, a U.S. Army deserter. He was sentenced to hang but escaped two days before his execution. He met his end when a homesteader shot and killed him for a $1000 reward.

Klutuk, “The Mad Trapper of Bristol Bay,” was a Yupi’k trapper named for a small tributary of the Nushagak River in Western Alaska. Between 1919 and 1931, he stalked trappers and prospectors in the wilderness between Cook Inlet and the Kuskokwim River. Fiercely territorial, he supposedly killed twenty or more men he perceived as infringing on his domain. After an exhaustive manhunt that covered several thousand square miles, a U.S. Marshal found remains he claimed to be Klutuk in a cabin near the Mulchatna River.

Harvey Carignan killed 58-year-old Laura Showalter in the Territory of Alaska in 1949, while stationed in the U.S. Army in Anchorage. Although Showalter was his only Alaska victim, Carignan also killed two young women in Washington – one who answered a “help wanted” ad he posted for his gas station – and two women in Minnesota. He died in prison in Minnesota.

Thomas Richard Bunday was serving at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks when he murdered five girls and young women between 1979 and 1981. With no physical evidence to hold him in Alaska, Bunday was able to transfer to Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. He finally confessed in 1988, but killed himself before Alaskan detectives could apprehend him.

Joshua Alan Wade claimed to have killed his first victim on an Anchorage bike trail when he was fourteen. He went on to kill four more people, including his neighbor, a nurse practitioner. After forcing her to give up her ATM and PIN, he shot her in the head and burned her body. He is serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Indiana.

James Dale Ritchie started killing in 2016, when he shot a homeless woman and a male acquaintance. Twenty-six days later he shot a young man, presumably for his bicycle, which he rode away from the scene. A month later, he killed a homeless man and a young environmental activist out on a late-night bike ride. Ritchie himself was killed during a gunfight with Anchorage police.

Robert Christian Hansen was the most notorious of the Alaskan serial killers, called the “Butcher Baker” because he owned a bakery a short distance from Merrill Field, where he kept his plane. From 1971 to 1983, he abducted, raped and murdered at least seventeen Alaskan girls and women, many of whom were exotic dancers or sex workers. Some he flew out to a remote location in his Piper Super Cub and hunted them in the wilderness with a semi-automatic rifle.

When Hansen was apprehended, investigators found an aeronautical chart with thirty-seven “x” marks on it, leading officials to believe that he was responsible for far more deaths than he claimed. Hansen was only formally charged with the murders of four victims – of these, only “Eklutna Annie” has not yet been identified. He died of natural causes in 2014 while serving a life sentence.

Long-haul trucker John Joseph Fautenberry confessed to killing six people across five states, including Jefferson Diffee, a miner at the Greens Creek silver mine near Juneau. After pleading guilty to killing Diffee and given a 99-year prison term in Alaska, he was extradited to Ohio. Here he was sentenced to death for previously killing and robbing Joseph Daron, Jr., a Good Samaritan who had stopped to offer him a ride. Fautenberry was executed there by lethal injection in 2009.

Although Israel Keyes is believed to have committed multiple murders from 2001 to 2012, he has identified only three by name: William and Lorraine Currier of Essex, Vermont, and Samantha Koenig, a barista in Anchorage. In 2007, after living for six years on the Makah Reservation, Keyes left Washington state for Alaska where he started a contracting business. It was during one of his many trips to the Lower 48 that he meticulously stalked William and Lorraine Currier.

Two years prior to the killing of the Curriers, Keyes had buried near their home a five-gallon drum of guns, ammunition, a silencer, zip ties, and duct tape. Using the contents of this “murder kit”, he tortured and murdered the Curriers, a middle-aged couple he had never met before, and left them to rot in an abandoned farmhouse. The Curriers’ remains were never found.

Eighteen-year-old Samantha Koenig was a barista at Common Grounds coffee stand when Keyes abducted her at gunpoint on February 1, 2012. He took her to a shed just a few feet from his home where he sexually assaulted and killed her. Then he left on a two-week cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. When he returned, he applied makeup to Koenig’s face, sewed her eyes open with fishing line and photographed her with a four-day old issue of the Anchorage Daily News to make it appear she was still alive. He posted a ransom note demanding $30,000 in a local park, after which he dismembered Koenig’s body and disposed of it in Matanuska Lake, north of Anchorage. Officials tracked the use of the dead woman’s ATM card as Keyes moved across the southwestern United States. He was finally arrested in Texas and extradited to Alaska. He died by suicide on December 2, 2012.

Keyes was born in Utah to a Mormon family. Fautenberry was from Connecticut, Bunday from Tennessee, Hansen from Iowa. For these killers, Alaska was as far as they could go – literally and figuratively. Alaska encompasses 365 million acres – only 160,000 of which have been settled by humans. Only 1580 sworn law enforcement officers safeguard this landmass, twice the size of Texas (2024 World Population Review). Maybe these killers believed their unthinkable crimes would be undiscovered or unpunished in this sparsely policed wilderness.

Victims are lost here as well, never to be found, like so many of Hansen’s and Keyes’ casualties. Bodies decompose, undisturbed, in pristine lakes or are scattered by animals, strewn into the darkness of the long Alaska nights.


Alaska’s Long History of Serial Killers (1)

AlaskaCold to the TouchCrooked Lane BooksKerri Hakodaserial killers

Alaska’s Long History of Serial Killers (2024)


Who is Alaska's most prolific serial killer? ›

Robert Christian Hansen was the most notorious of the Alaskan serial killers, called the “Butcher Baker” because he owned a bakery a short distance from Merrill Field, where he kept his plane.

Which US state has the most serial killers? ›

New York is the state with the most serial killers, with a total of 18 serial killers born in the state. California comes in as the second state with the most serial killers, with 15, followed by Texas with 8, and Illinois and Ohio with 7 each.

What is the Alaska series about serial killers? ›

Lurking in Alaska are some of the most depraved criminals in America. This true-crime series reveals Alaska's most brutal murders and the extraordinary lengths law enforcement working in the Last Frontier must take to bring killers to justice.

Who is the serial killer in Alaska Israel? ›

Israel Keyes (January 7, 1978 – December 2, 2012) was an American serial killer, bank robber, burglar, arsonist, kidnapper, and sex offender.

What serial killer hunted Alaska? ›

Hansen abducted, raped and murdered at least seventeen women, many of whom he may have attacked in the wilderness with a Ruger Mini-14 and hunting knives. Hansen was captured in 1983 and sentenced to 461 years' imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He died in 2014 of natural causes at age 75.

Which serial killer was the worst? ›

With that in mind, here are the individuals who rank as the world's most notorious.
  • Jack the Ripper. To this day, the identity of England's most horrific serial killer remains a mystery. ...
  • Harold Shipman. ...
  • John Wayne Gacy. ...
  • Ted Bundy. ...
  • Pedro Lopez. ...
  • Jeffrey Dahmer. ...
  • H.H. Holmes.
Dec 20, 2023

What serial killer has killed the most people? ›

Serial killers with the highest known victim count
NameCountryPossible victims
Luis GaravitoColombia Ecuador Venezuela194–300+
Pedro LópezColombia Peru Ecuador300+
Javed IqbalPakistan100
Mikhail PopkovRussia83+
29 more rows

Are there any active serial killers? ›

America remains fascinated with its serial killers. Yet, in recent years, serial killings have plummeted. One scholarly study found that the number of active serial killers dwindled from 198 in 1987, the largest number on record, to 12 in 2018.

What state has the most serial killers in 2024? ›

Serial Killers By State
RankRegion# of Known Serial Killers
1.New York18
44 more rows

What serial killer movie is about Alaska? ›

An Alaska state trooper pursuing a serial killer teams with a 17-year-old girl who escaped the predator's clutches. Watch all you want. Oscar winner Nicolas Cage stars with John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens and 50 Cent in this crime thriller.

Who is Alaska serial killer Wade? ›

Joshua Alan Wade (born March 13, 1980) is an American serial killer who has been convicted of two separate murders committed in Alaska in 2000 and 2007, respectively, and sentenced to 99 years imprisonment. Wade pleaded guilty to one of the murders in federal court to avoid execution.

Who was Alaska serial killer Richard? ›

Thomas Richard Bunday (September 28, 1948 – March 15, 1983) was an American serial killer who, from 1979 to 1981, committed a series of murders of young women and girls in the city of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Who is the cross country killer in Alaska? ›

Who is Israel Keyes? Keyes was a serial killer from Alaska. He confessed to murdering eight people, though authorities believe he is responsible for 11 killings between 2001 and 2012.

Who was the serial killer in Elmendorf TX? ›

Joseph D. Ball was an American serial killer, sometimes referred to as "The Alligator Man", the "Butcher of Elmendorf" and the "Bluebeard of South Texas". He is said to have killed at least 20 women in the 1930s. His existence was long believed to be apocryphal, but he is a familiar figure in Texas folklore.

Who was the most prolific serial killer? ›

Little, who said he murdered 93 people, mostly women, between 1970 and 2005, was serving three life sentences in California for killing Linda Alford, Guadalupe Apodaca and Audrey Everett. The FBI dubbed Little the “most prolific serial killer in U.S. history” with his confirmed involvement in at least 50 slayings.

What country has the most prolific serial killers? ›

The United States leads globally in the number of documented serial killers, with a total surpassing the combined count of the next ten highest countries. In the U.S., few serial killers achieve lasting fame, unlike England's historic and modern cases such as Jack the Ripper and Amelia Dyer.

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