Details of Disappearance
Joan was last seen in King County, Washington on August 10, 1962. She planned to meet her sisters at the World's Fair in Seattle, Washington, but never arrived. She was talking on the phone with a friend, Patricia Martin, and suddenly said, "Oh my God, he's in the basement. He's coming." Joan screamed and the line went dead.
Martin repeatedly called Joan back and at first no one answered the phone. After several attempts, Joan's estranged husband, Robert Milton "Bob" Hansen, came on the line. Martin asked where Joan was and Robert said, "She's with you."
Joan has never been heard from again, and all her belongings were left behind except a blue sequined dress, one of her favorite outfits. Her Chevrolet Biscayne was found abandoned weeks after her disappearance in the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood of Seattle. The windows were rolled down, the tires were flat, and the interior was dusty, filthy and cluttered with debris such as empty bottles, food wrappers and cigarette butts.
There were no usable fingerprints, no signs of foul play and no indication of Joan's whereabouts. She normally kept her car in a neat and clean condition. An extensive search of the area turned up no sign of her and a private detective her parents hired was also unable to locate her.
Joan married a man she'd went to school with and had two children by him, but her first marriage ended in divorce after the couple's daughter died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Joan had an affair with another man. During this period she was hospitalized briefly for emotional problems caused by the stress in her life.
After her divorce, in either 1956 or 1957, she married Robert, who made a living as a carpenter and fisherman. They had two sons and one daughter during the first three years of their marriage. Robert severely beat Joan's oldest son when he was about six years old, injuring the child so badly that he couldn't walk afterward. The boy stayed with Martin for two months, after which his father, Joan's ex-husband, filed for custody.
Robert also physically abused Joan on a regular basis, even while she was pregnant, and the couple's children were afraid of him. She told Martin she was afraid for her life. Robert refused to let her tell the children about any of their relatives on her side of the family; they didn't even know about her oldest son.
In May 1962, Joan moved in with Martin and went to an attorney, told him about the abuse, showed him her bruises and filed for divorce. She and Robert fought bitterly over the division of the family's assets (worth $300,000), and on August 8, Joan got a restraining order against him. The order required him to vacate the family home and let Joan move back into it.
Two days later, she disappeared. Robert reported her missing on August 15.
Joan's attorney continued the divorce action in her absence. On November 21, the divorce was granted. Robert denied abusing Joan, accused her of stealing $8,000 from him, and sought to keep all the property and assets, but the judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to indicate Joan had been abused by her husband.
She was given 40% of the marital property and Robert got 60%. The court ordered that if she did not return alive, her share would be held in trust for her children until they came of age. In spite of the court order, Joan's share of the property eventually came under Robert's control and their children got nothing.
Joan never used her Social Security number after her disappearance, or left any other paper trail. She was declared legally dead in 1975. Robert raised their children alone after the divorce and made a fortune in the construction business and with rental properties he owned.
He was arrested several times over the years for assaulting people and destroying property in anger. Once he advertised for a housekeeper and, when a woman responded to the ad, he kept her on his property against her will for three days before she escaped.
Police briefly suspected he was the Green River Killer, a serial murderer of prostitutes who operated in the Seattle/Tacoma area and was responsible for numerous disappearances as well as homicides. The Green River Killer was eventually identified as Gary Leon Ridgway.
Robert spent his later years traveling back an forth between Washington state and Costa Rica in Central America. He struck up relationships with women in that country and got married and divorced at last twice, possibly more times. He was denied Costa Rican citizenship, however, and eventually moved back to the United States for good.
The Hansen children grew up believing Joan had abandoned them. Joan and Robert's daughter became addicted to drugs as a young adult and died of an overdose in the 1980s. Their two sons, who described Robert as an extremely abusive parent, now believe he murdered their mother. The police have long considered him a person of interest in her case.
Robert died by suicide in his Auburn, Washington home in August 2009, leaving an estate worth $5 million. He was 84 years old. He never faced charges in his first wife's disappearance.
In his will, Robert wrote Joan had disappeared years ago and, if she was alive, she was to inherit nothing. He also disinherited his children; by the time of his death he'd been estranged from them for years. In December 2009, his sons filed a wrongful death suit against his estate, alleging he'd caused their mother's death. They were awarded $100,000 in damages.
For years after her disappearance, there were rumors that Joan's body was buried beneath a barn on a farm in the Kent Valley along the Green River, on property the Hansen family had once owned. The barn had originally had a dirt floor, but a concrete floor was poured around the time of her disappearance.
The building has since been demolished and Kent-Des Moines Road now runs over where it used to be. In 2006, at Joan's son's request, investigators examined the road with ground-penetrating radar. No evidence was located, however. Joan's case remains unsolved.
The noted true crime writer Ann Rule lived near the Hansen family in the 1960s. She didn't know Joan and didn't hear about her disappearance when it happened, but her children knew Joan's children and had gone to school with them. Rule profiled Joan's case in her 2009 book, Don't Look Behind You: And Other True Cases, the 15th book in her Crime Files series.