You know that sense when you feel at risk in a place or situation? Or you meet a person who makes you feel uncomfortable? I know it well…I’m sure most do. A friend sent me a news link this week that brought it home again.
It was early December, 1981. A former co-worker of Doug’s had invited us to stop by his home in Anchorage. Bob had always wanted to meet us, so he told Doug. What better time than the holidays.
I was mystified that Doug even cared to visit. Our good friend Tom, Bob and Doug had worked together for several months at a now defunct Anchorage bakery. I’d heard many stories of Bob…none too complimentary. Doug and Tom worked as a team and had a great friendship besides. They never could get in step with Bob.
At any rate, heading into the “big city” was always a treat. Plus we needed to shop before Christmas. A brief visit would work in fine.
Bob must have been watching because he was out to meet us on the driveway. He made a bee-line to me…to help the pregnant lady maneuver the snow and ice. I didn’t need or want help and I felt he sensed that. His grip on my arm was uncomfortable.
Nonetheless, we’d arrived with Ian-8, David-5, Andrew-11 months and Daniel-“in process” – due in four months. I’ve never been embarrassed to take my kids anywhere. They had manners. Still, when we stepped into their living room I had a sudden vision of David throwing up on their spotless carpet…not that he normally threw up on carpets. I heard Doug admonishing the boys to “take care”…”don’t track snow”. Bob chuckled, offering “they would be fine”.
Introductions were made to Bob’s wife, a son and a daughter. Mother and children were polite but expressionless. Ian and David were ushered down the hall to play. I told Doug later that at that moment, I felt we’d been part of a Stepford Wives movie scene. There were a few scenes from the day that would play over in my mind for a long time.
I couldn’t tell you what color was on the walls or furnishings in the living room. It was an immaculate room, sterile actually and as expressionless as the family we’d just met. The one thing that did stand out was the christmas tree.
The Tree – It was small, symmetrical, perfectly shaped and sitting on a low table. It was the type of tree my mother liked…the branches were far apart so ornaments could dangle freely and be easily seen. The ornaments on this tree were few, but exquisite. I asked about them and Bob insisted, again, on taking my arm to escort me to the tree. As he blathered about his ornament collection, all I wanted was to pull free of his grip.
Motherhood – Doug and Bob chatted a bit about work, but time and time again Bob would turn the conversation to me. He noted how clean my children were, how gently I tended Andrew, how fortunate it was I was a good mother… fortunate for me and for my family. He pontificated on motherhood in general. I didn’t understand his “fortunate” comment. Bizarre doesn’t come close to describing his interest in the cleanliness of my kids. In short…it was creepy.
Through all this I don’t recall his wife speaking much…perhaps a submissive yes or no. She made coffee and just as we were about to sit down and have a cup, Bob ordered her to watch Andrew for a few minutes. He wanted to show Doug and I something……..
The Basement – Bob was an avid hunter and an accomplished bush pilot. His hunting trophies and weapons were displayed in the basement and he wanted Doug and I to see them.
The guys were downstairs in a flash. I followed slowly, not wanting to go. I felt as though I’d been commanded and had no choice.
Just as in the living room, no specific detail stood out for me other than the trophy heads lining the walls. The room felt dark and cold. I couldn’t bring myself to step further inside and felt an odd panic within.
“Leave, Run!” ran through my head. Then Ian came down the stairs.
Up to that point Bob’s voice had been soft and patronizing. Suddenly, with Ian next to me, he shouted “GET OUT!”.
“This basement is not for children!” he boomed. The voice was harsh…not the one we’d been listening to for the past hour.
Ian ran. I followed. Within a few moments Doug was upstairs too. He thanked them for their hospitality, told them we had to go. Bob’s demeanor had changed dramatically. He seemed more than ready for us to leave.
In spite of the weather, I don’t recall taking time to properly boot, button, snap or zip our winter gear….we just got out of there. Once in the car, Doug and I agreed that was one of our more weird experiences.
For a long time I couldn’t shake the creepy feelings of that day. I thought often of his children…how sad they didn’t laugh and smile. I’ve wondered about their lives since.
In the fall of 1983, I watched the evening news in disbelief, as Robert Hansen, Bob, was led away in handcuffs. He was later convicted…a serial killer. His focus was young prostitutes.
And the basement… he took many of them there, apparently when the family was out-of-town. Hidden in the basement were “trophies” of some of his victims.
Books have been written about Bob. And here is the link about an upcoming movie on his life. I’m not sure I want to see it.
But I do know for sure, when that small voice speaks in your head and heart …. you should listen.