Authorities identify serial killer victim with help from genealogy database

“Horseshoe Harriet” no more.

She is “Horseshoe Harriet” no longer.

Thirty-seven years after a young woman’s remains were discovered, she has been identified as Robin Pelkey, authorities announced last Friday morning. Pelkey, who was born in 1963 in Colorado, was a victim of convicted serial killer Robert Hansen, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

Hansen, who, in the early 1980s abducted, hunted and killed women in the wilderness near Anchorage, died in 2014 at age 75, as reported by the Washington Post. Pelkey was 19 at the time of her death, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety. The department has purchased a new grave marker identifying Pelkey’s grave at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.

“I would like to thank all of the troopers, investigators, and analysts that have diligently worked on this case over the last 37 years. Without their hard work and tenacity, the identity of Ms. Pelkey may have never been known,” said Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell in a news release. “The Alaska Department of Public Safety will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to solve major crimes in our state, hold anyone that violates our laws accountable, and bring closure to a victims’ family.”

Hansen, who was arrested in October 1983, initially pleaded guilty to four murders and several other felonies, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety. He eventually admitted to murdering 17 women.

The Alaska Bureau of Investigation Cold Case Investigation Unit recently launched an attempt to identify Pelkey’s remains, according to the Department of Public Safety. In August, a new DNA profile for Pelkey was generated, uploaded into a public-access genealogy database and yielded several matches that helped construct a family tree for the then-unidentified victim.

Research by Parabon Nanolabs and ABI suggested the victim could be Pelkey, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety. Further research showed Pelkey had relatives living in Alaska and Arkansas, and records showed Pelkey lived in Anchorage at the time of Hansen’s murders.

ABI contacted Arkansas State Police to request assistance, according to the Department of Public Safety. In Arkansas, police contacted a “very close” relative of Pelkey’s and obtained a DNA sample that was then sent to the State of Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage. Analysis of the DNA confirmed that “Horseshoe Harriet” was Pelkey.

Pelkey’s family has requested not to be directly contacted following the news, according to the Department of Public Safety.

One of Hansen’s victims, known colloquially as “Eklutna Annie,” who authorities believe to be Hansen’s first victim, remains unidentified, Alaska Department of Public Safety spokesperson Austin McDaniel told the Empire.

He said ABI is utilizing genetic genealogy in an attempt to identify her remains as well.

Of the 17 women Hansen admitted to killing, 12 bodies were found, five were not found and four other women Hansen attacked survived, McDaniel said. He said there are no active search efforts to find the five not-yet-found bodies, but if additional evidence or information came into ABI or the Alaska State Troopers, “additional search efforts may be launched at that time.”

Contact Ben Hohenstatt at 907-308-4895 or Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt