'Butcher Baker' Prosecutor Frank Rothschild Shares the Serial Killer's Breaking Point

Serial Killer Week is underway on Investigation Discovery, highlighting some of the most dangerous murderers in history. Among them is Robert Hansen, perhaps more commonly known as the Butcher Baker. Hansen was a baker by trade and an avid hunter by hobby. He was known for kidnapping his victims and then hunting them in the wilderness as his own prey.

In the 1970s and 80s, he killed at least 17 women across the state of Alaska. Hansen was caught in 1983 after a woman escaped after being abducted, and ultimately sentenced to 461 years in prison, plus life. The two-hour documentary, The Butcher Baker: The Mind of a Monster premieres on Wednesday.

Newsweek spoke with prosecutor Frank Rothschild, part of the team who spoke directly to Hansen when he was questioned for his multiple killings. He was integral in getting him to confess.

During the conversation with Newsweek, Rothschild revealed what it was like interrogating Hansen, how serial killers choose their victims, and why he never got closure on the gruesome case.

At what point in the case did you get involved?

"Once the troopers identified him as the likely person. After Officer Baker came to them and brought all of the files that he had from the Anchorage Police Department. They came to the office of the district attorney, wanting to get a search warrant, realizing they had a definitive suspect. The head of the office, after meeting with them, decided to appoint me as the person to handle the case. He came down the hall, came into my office, as he had done other times. He said, I've got a case for you to do."

Butcher Baker Killer map
A still from ID's documentary “The Butcher Baker: Mind of a Monster,” which maps out Robert Hansen's suspected victims. Courtesy of Investigation Discovery

What were some of the techniques you used while interrogating Hansen?

"Well, I had a lot of help from the FBI expert in dealing with these types of people...John Douglas was his name, and he explained to me the mindset of these people, although I kind of already knew a lot thanks to him and others. I'd been reading books about other serial killers, Ted Bundy and the like, so they have similarities in the way they think and the way they act.

"The main thing that was explained to me was the game playing of it all. A great deal of the mindset of these people is wanting to beat the system, beat the man. That's why a lot of them tend to be kleptomaniacs, they like to steal things and get away with it, and beat the system. That was one of the things Bob Hansen. He had theft charges in his past.

"He [Douglas] explained to me at this point that Hansen knew that we had him. We had done the search, we had found the ballistics that tied him to several of the killings. We found the jewelry, we found the clippings, we found the map with the X's in the greater Anchorage area. We charged him with the kidnapping and rape of the the one live person that we had.

"Basically it was explained to me that he would give away those cases where he knew we had him. And that he would then say, "stop," and say, "that's it," because in his mind, if he was able to walk away from that confession, not having confessed to other cases, then he would walk away a winner and would have beaten the system again.

"And it was explained that that was how it was going to play, and we needed to have a good cop, bad cop approach. I was to be the good cop, who was going to be friendly with him, non-judgemental. It was very clear that I was to be non-judgemental no matter what he admitted, no matter how horrible his actions were, as he described them, I was not to get upset, I was not to condemn him in any way. I was to sort of act like 'oh gee, Bob, and what happened with the next day?' and be very matter of fact, because that would draw him out. As soon as you got judgemental, if I would have been that way, he would have clammed up. And our goal of course was to get him to talk as much as possible. But he also said that the moment would come, guaranteed, when he would give up what we knew he had to give up, because of course he had all of our police reports, he knew what had been seized when his house was torn apart.

"So sitting next to me was Victor Krumm who was the head of the office, the district attorney of Anchorage at the time, and the idea was when this moment came, when he said, 'that's it,' knowing that we had a map with 21 X's on it. And it happened, very early on, basically confessed to five killings, then Krumm was then to become the bad cop, and to get agitated and get angry and start pointing his prosecutorial finger at Hansen, which is what he did.

"Vic was ready to go, and he said that, 'if you think that we're going to accept that as everything, you're mistaken,' and 'when the spring thaw comes, we're going to to go out to all these locations with dogs and we're going to unearth — we know we're going to find more gravesites, and we're going to find more ballistics. We're going to charge you and you're gonna be in court and we're gonna have you in trial for however long, and on and on.' He had this whole rap prepared.

"And it worked! As he was doing that, I looked at Hansen across the table and I watched this amazing transformation from mild-mannered Bob the baker, who was a fairly small fellow, he wasn't an imposing physical specimen. And he wore his glasses, he looked like just a little nerdy guy. But all of the sudden, his neck turned all red, and his hair stood up on the back of his neck, and he transformed into the person who had killed all these women. Right in front of our eyes, he got really, really angry. He demanded to leave the room with his attorneys, he wanted to talk to his attorneys, and so they did.

"But the concept of how to deal with him came, for the most part, from the expert from the FBI, and he nailed it. He's the same fellow that nailed it ahead of time. He told the troopers, 'you're looking for someone who has theft in their background. You're looking for somebody who has a speech impediment, who has facial blemishes. They laid out a whole series of things that are common to these folks, and they were right. There's a reason for that, which came out very clearly when we talked to Hansen, because he was little and made fun of during his schooling career back in Iowa, because of his stutter and because of his facial blemishes. So he developed a real attitude toward the female sex. He was carrying that out when he was up in Alaska."

You mentioned in the documentary that you said before questioning Hansen that you all needed to remain calm and cool, no matter what he said. Was there ever a point where it felt almost too difficult?

"No. Not for me. It's seeing a trial lawyer when you're in court and things are not going perfect, you have to keep your cool. Well, that's what you do. I didn't have a problem with that. I had a function, I ask questions and keep my mind racing and try to figure out what the next question would be to keep him talking and get details. We wanted details from him on each of his interactions with these women.

"We were trying to figure out who some were, and get some information. We, being the troopers, were the ones interacting with families and trying to answer questions and give information. So, we really wanted this guy to talk, and to try to understand how this all happened and we tried to learn as well, which we did not only through talking with him but looking through all the records from all of his previous encounters with the law. How it was that he slipped through the system as long as he did, and how he cleverly manipulated the system. He did talk to us about that.

"He learned, for example, early on, one of his early cases where there was a question about his mental stability. So the court ordered that he get a psychiatric evaluation. And what he learned, and here he is talking to a doctor, he's talking to an expert. And the first time he ever did that, he answered questions honestly, because he thought this person was there to help him. Well, what he learned was everything was twisted around and used against him.

"So, the lesson was, don't tell the truth when talking to these people, and that's what he did in later times when he talked with experts like that. Same with talking with police, obviously. He denied everything initially. When he talked to the troopers particularly, you look at the transcripts of his conversations with the troopers. 'I didn't do anything wrong, you got the wrong guy.' That was his approach to that."

What ultimately was his breaking point?

"Well, I think one of the most important things that helped get him to the table and talk with us was the way the judge in the case handled an initial hearing. He [Hansen] had good lawyers, he was a member of the Teamsters Union, and the Teamsters Union, had a contract with a substantial firm in Anchorage to handle any cases that came up with their members. His lawyers filed a ream of motions — which is standard, although they came up with a whole bunch — and the challenging of the search and challenging lots of different aspects of what had happened. And the goal, of course, was to have things thrown out so that we couldn't prove the case against him.

"So I was the one tasked with responding to all of those motions, which I did, and luckily in my career up to that point, I had really good experience in learning how to do that kind of work. So I actually still have a lot of the papers that I filed in the case. I kept a whole file from that time...

"Anyhow, we went to court to argue these various motions. And the judge handling the case made it very clear that the Alaska State Judiciary was not going to look favorably on this guy and what he's done, and somehow cut him a break or find a new law that was going to free him up in any way shape or form. The way that hearing went and the way the judge acted, gave him a message. He realized, 'okay, I'm screwed here. They got me, and legal wrangling is not going to get me anywhere.' And it was after that hearing that his lawyers contacted me and said 'we'd like to come in and talk.' And we set in motion of what the conditions were going to be, have him come in, and in essence, confess to us, rather than go to trial."

Frank Rothschild Butcher Baker
Frank Rothschild in a still from the Investigation Discovery documentary, “The Butcher Baker: Mind of a Monster." Rothschild was a prosecutor on the case, and part of the team who spoke directly to Robert Hansen when he was questioned for his multiple killings, and was integral in getting him to fully confess to the 17 murders across the state of Alaska. Courtesy of Investigation Discovery

In the documentary, you said that Hansen learned to choose his victims as time went on. Can you elaborate on how and why serial killers would typically do this?

"Well he learned from experience, because one of his early abductees had a father who was a trooper. She was not a gogo dancer or a street person, she was just a woman that was attractive to him that he'd seen, and someone who would be believed by the authorities. He got in trouble over that. Eventually, he got cut a deal to where there were two cases pending against him way back when for abducting women and he got himself a sweetheart deal, back in the 70s.

"But anyhow, what he took out of that was, one, it's very easy to lure women who are working the streets or who are in the bars and the gogo clubs because their business is to make money from men by doing things for them, whatever it might be. [It was] easy to talk to them, easy to lure them to go with you in the car, and their credibility is low on the totem pole when it comes to dealing with the police.

"So he saw that, and stuck with that. That became his modus operandi, as they say. That was the way he chose to find these women.

"And the other thing, I don't know whether he thought about it, in law enforcement we certainly realized it. When he started abducting these women and they didn't return back to society, they weren't missed the way other people would be missed. They were all transient, they would come and go, come up to Alaska, there was some kind of a gangster outfit out in Seattle that took young girls who sent them to Hawaii and sent them to Alaska, where there was business for them with men.

"Most of them were runaways, their families didn't know where they were. So it made it much more difficult for law enforcement by choosing these women as victims. It made it much harder to figure out what was going on and find out who was missing and were they really missing, or did they get on a plane and go to Honolulu because there was more work there than there was in Anchorage. That was an offshoot of his decision to go after these women."

Did you ever doubt that Hansen was behind the killings?

"No! Once you go into somebody's house and you get a rifle that is shown by ballistics to be the same rifle that fired the bullets that were found in these graves, or once you find jewelry that matches the description of jewelry that family had given, or friends that had given about women that were missing, no doubt about it.

"You have a woman [Cindy Paulson] running from the airport in handcuffs with no clothes on, saying 'this guy was going to load me in his airplane, he's getting his airplane ready to go.' Then she described the house that he had abducted her to, and talked about the bear rug and the post in the middle of the room where he had her chained, and all the animals on the wall. It was [then that] Officer Baker had realized this woman has been to this house and directed him right there.

"There was no question. She had been there, she described the basement, she said what had happened, and of course he had trumped up an alibi, by the time all this came down. He was a clever little bugger, and got his good friend to give him an alibi, and his story was 'this was just a dispute over money,' that she had willingly gone with him, that he didn't rape her, and this was her profession. And then all of the sudden there was an argument over money. That's the story he told his buddy in order to get his buddy to vouch for him that he was with his buddy the whole night, and none of this ever happened. But the facts were [that] there was no question that she had been abducted. There was no question that she fled from him, and then as far as all the other cases — once we did the search, that was that."

Hansen was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (then called manic depression) during his first stint in prison. How did his mental state impact everything?

"The guy was a loon, what can you say about someone who does what he did? He was a nutcase. But a dangerous nutcase and an evil nutcase. In some ways a smart nutcase. When I laid out at the sentencing hearing how he had slipped in and out of the legal system, how he had been incarcerated a few times, and all of the contacts he had with the system, and somehow he had manipulated the system to where he was out there as many years as he was out there, preying on these women.

"There's a certain evil genius there. You read books about Ted Bundy, he was a really smart guy too. Because, luckily for law enforcement, most criminals are stupid. So they get caught, and they get caught fairly easily. It's the smart ones that pose more problems for law enforcement. And I guess these serial killer types tend to be smart in a way. If they were truly smart, they wouldn't be doing what they're doing. But they're evil, they're smart evil people."

Butcher Baker Killer Documentary Still
A still from ID's documentary “The Butcher Baker: Mind of a Monster,” which premieres on September 2. Courtesy of Investigation Discovery

How did everything affect you after he was sentenced?

"I was ready to go onto a different profession. I had really, at that point, I was ready to move on. It wasn't long after that I left the office and I left Alaska."

Oh wow.

"Yeah, I think it was within months that I was done. I never ever thought that I wanted to become a prosecutor attorney. That was not something I had a desire for. I wanted to be a trial lawyer, and in order to get experience as a trial lawyer, you have to be involved with the criminal courts, because that's where all the trials are. I was fortunate to be able to work for the department of law in that capacity and I was fortunate that the leadership in Alaska were really good people, that they were the kind of people that I could work for. I had a crisis of conscious the whole time I was with the DA's office.

"But it wears on you, and people who do that as a career, that's tough. You're constantly dealing with the downside of life. You're dealing with humans that are really flawed and doing horrible things and it wears on you, for sure. The time that I was at the DA's office, which was a short few years, but my first case and my first trial was a murder case. They brought me in to do the big cases, so I did a lot of murder cases and rape cases and horrible horrible things. This was kind of the capper. So when I got done with this case, my wife back then had been really trying hard to get me to agree to stop lawyering for a while and just go travel and kick back. And when the Hansen case was over, I know I said to her, 'I'm ready. I'm done with this.'"

Did you feel a sense of closure when Hansen died in 2014?

"No, you folks don't allow me to have any closure because somebody's either doing a full-length feature movie, or there's another TV show that has a new angle on Hansen. The interview for this show happened last year and I got done, and a couple weeks later, another production company called me, and they flew a crew out here to Kauai because I said 'I'm not going anywhere anymore.' So they said, 'can we send somebody from New York out to Kauai to talk to you?' I said 'sure, send them out!' And did that, and then it wasn't but a little while later somebody else called me up! I said, 'I'm Hansened out, I'm done with this I don't really want to go back and live with this anymore.'

"And if anybody calls me in the future, I'm done, that's it, because, you know, it's creepy. What a creepy guy, and listening to him on tape and all of it. So closure I'm hoping with this show, I'm done and I can go back to my blissful life and not think about those many days anymore."

The Butcher Baker: The Mind of a Monster premieres on Wednesday, September 2 at 9 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.