In October 1983, Alaska State Troopers arrested suspected serial killer Robert Hansen. At the time, he was suspected of murdering four women, whose bodies had been discovered in Southcentral Alaska between 1980 and 1983. He was also suspected of being responsible for the disappearance of many more sex workers from the Anchorage area.
In February 1984, after unsuccessful attempts to suppress the evidence against him, Hansen agreed to plead guilty to the four murders and several other felony crimes. Hansen also agreed to speak with investigators, and he would eventually admit to murdering a total of 17 women. He accompanied investigators on a helicopter flight where he pointed out the gravesites of many of his victims. Hansen was later sentenced to over four hundred years in prison. He eventually died in prison in 2014.
In the Spring of 1984, AST investigators returned to the various locations Hansen had designated as body locations. The remains of eight women were eventually discovered. The skeletal remains of one of the women was found lying on the ground near Horseshoe Lake, near the Little Susitna River, approximately 10 miles northwest of Anchorage. No identification was found on the remains. Hanson had told investigators that the woman was a prostitute that he had abducted from downtown Anchorage, sometime in winter of 1983. Hansen flew her out to Horseshoe Lake in his airplane where he murdered her and discarded her body. Hansen said he did not know the woman’s name and he provided only scant details about her appearance.
An autopsy determined that victim was a Caucasian female, 17 to 23 years of age. Investigators were unable to link the victim to any reported missing person. All efforts to identify the woman were unsuccessful. Her remains were later buried in the Anchorage municipal cemetery. She would eventually be nicknamed “Horseshoe Harriet”.
In 2014, the Alaska Bureau of Investigation (ABI) and the Alaska State Medical Examiner’s Office (SME) re-opened the investigation. Horseshoe Harriet’s remains were exhumed. Bone samples were collected and sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI). DNA was extracted from the bone samples. UNTCHI generated a full DNA profile for the victim. The DNA profile was uploaded into the FBI’s national missing person database in 2015, but no identification was made.
In September of 2020 the ABI Cold Case Investigation Unit (CCIU) launched another attempt to identify Harriet, this time using a recently developed forensic DNA process called “Genetic Genealogy”. The existing bone samples at the SME were sent to a private forensic laboratory in the lower 48 and additional DNA was extracted. The DNA extract was sent to another private DNA laboratory for Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). The data generated by the WGS was forwarded to Parabon Nanolabs, in Virginia.
A new DNA profile for the victim was generated and uploaded into a public access genealogy database in August 2021. Several close matches to the victim were found in the database. Utilizing these matches, a family tree for the victim was constructed. Genealogy research by Parabon and ABI indicated that the victim might be a woman named Robin Pelkey.
Pelkey had been born in 1963 in Colorado. Records indicated that she had been living in Anchorage in the early 1980s when Hansen was active. No record was found that she had been reported missing. Researchers found no indication that Pelkey was alive after 1984. Additional research identified a few potential relatives of Pelkey’s that currently reside in Alaska and Arkansas.
ABI contacted Pelkey’s relatives. They confirmed that she had lived in Anchorage in the 1970s. She moved to Arkansas as a teenager. She later returned to Anchorage in late 1981 to live with her father and stepmother but eventually ended up living on the street. By late 1982 or early 1983, she had vanished. Pelkey’s relatives did not know for certain why her parents, who are now deceased, did not report her missing. Pelkey would have only been 19 at the time of her murder.
ABI contacted the Arkansas State Police and requested their assistance. They contacted a very close relative of Pelkey’s and obtained a DNA sample. The sample was sent to the State of Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage. Kinship DNA analysis completed in September 2021, confirmed that “Horseshoe Harriet” is in fact Robin Pelkey. Her surviving next of kin were notified that she has been positively identified.