Real Names: Jillian Lee and Julie Ann Hansen
Nicknames: Jill (Jillian)
Location: Willow Creek, California
Date: November 14, 1986
Details: In 1971, Hans and Betty Hansen moved to Willow Creek, California, with their four kids, Donald "Donny", Becky, and twins Jill and Julie. Donny and Becky were Betty's children from a prior marriage. Hans operated a logging supply business in a warehouse next to their mobile home. The Hansens remembered that the twins were always kind and friendly. Everything seemed perfect for the family until the night of November 14, 1986. At around 11PM, the twins, then sixteen, were preparing for bed. In the living room was twenty-one-year-old Donny, who was visiting from Fortuna, seventy miles away.
At around 3AM, Betty awoke to the smell of smoke. Hans opened the door to find the hallway engulfed in flames. He found a fire extinguisher and attempted to contain the blaze. He noticed that the fire seemed to be in a strip down the hallway, which seemed odd to him. He called for his children but received no response. As he exited the back door, he almost tripped over an empty gas can. When Betty came down the hallway, she saw Donny yelling at someone to "get out of here". She did not know who he was yelling at.
Betty ran to the shop where several fire extinguishers were stored. Donny and Hans soon came in and grabbed fire extinguishers as well. Hans also grabbed a ladder, which he used to break in the window to the twins' bedroom. He sprayed a hose inside in an attempt to extinguish the fire. He called to his daughters, but again received no response. Fire trucks arrived at the scene within fifteen minutes.
A few minutes later, a neighbor noticed a body in a field next to the trailer. It was Julie; she was barely alive, bleeding profusely from a gaping wound in her abdomen. Donny informed Hans about Julie, claiming that he had pulled her out of the home. Meanwhile, Betty ran to firefighters, begging to find Jill. Julie was rushed to the hospital; paramedics believed that she had suffered from a fire-related explosion. However, doctors were shocked to discover that she had actually been shot with a 12-gauge shotgun.
The next morning, Jill was found dead in the house. It was determined that she had been shot to death. Investigators recovered three shotgun shells and another five-gallon gas can in the ashes. They examined the Hansen warehouse for clues. Shoved behind some boxes was a 12-gauge shotgun. Ballistics test would later prove that it was the gun used to shoot the twins.
Two nights later, while police were guarding the warehouse, Donny tried to break in. When questioned, he claimed that he had come to feed the family dog. However, the dog had been taken to the neighbors. It is believed that he had gone there to retrieve the shotgun. Investigators began to suspect that he was involved in the murders. They determined that he borrowed the gun from a friend a few days before the shooting. Unspent shells in his car matched those used in the attack; he had purchased the ammunition on the night before the fire. A credit card statement showed that he had purchased five gallons of gas at a gas station, just two days before the fire. Witnesses confirmed that the container that he filled at the gas station was identical to one of those found at the scene.
Approximately two weeks after the fire, Julie recovered enough to tell her parents what had happened. At first, her memories were sketchy; she recalled being shot, but did not see the shooter. She remembered climbing over her sister prior to being shot. She also remembered running from the house and laying down in the field. As they asked her for more details, she stated that she remembered seeing Donny's face in the flash of a gun shot before she was hit. However, her statement contradicted what she told her doctor. She claimed that she did not see anyone.
Two weeks after the fire, on December 2, Donny came voluntarily to the courthouse for further questioning. He denied any involvement, giving explanations for the evidence. He claimed that he panicked and hid the gun because he did not want to be tied to the murders. He was given two polygraphs and failed them both. Based on the large amount of circumstantial evidence, Donny was arrested that day and charged with arson and murder.
The situation would only get worse for Hans and Betty. On December 19, 1986, Julie died in a freak medical accident; an air bubble had entered her bloodstream through an IV tube and stopped her heart. As a result, her testimony was inadmissible in court because she could not be cross-examined by defense attorneys. Prosecutors now had a more difficult case to handle without the key witness.
In April 1988, Donny went on trial for the murders of his half-sisters. The DA asked for the death penalty. He was confident with his case: Donny had possession of the murder weapon, had brought it and the ammunition to the scene, had hid the weapon, and lied about it. However, the defense introduced two eyewitnesses, two neighbors, who had seen two unidentified men near the trailer while it was on fire. The defense suggested that these men had committed the murders.
Their theory was that at 3AM, the men approached the trailer and somehow found Donny's gun and gas that he had bought. For unknown reasons, these men spread the gas around the trailer, set it on fire, and shot the girls as they awoke. They claim that Donny awoke as the killers fled the scene. The prosecution felt that this scenario was ridiculous. They question why the killers would shoot Jill and Julie, but not Donny who apparently saw their faces.
According to the defense's theory, one of the assailants was still in the trailer when Hans, Betty, and Donny were in the warehouse. At that point, according to the defense, Jill was shot. The men then put the gun back in Donny's car and left in their own vehicle. The prosecutor points out that the theory also does not make sense because the killers did not bring any weapons of their own. They happened to use the gun, ammunition, and gas cans that were brought to the scene by Donny.
Somehow, the jury believed the scenario that the two men killed the girls and Donny was found not guilty. He moved from the area after his acquittal, legally changed his name due to the notoriety of the case, and continues to maintain his innocence. However, he has changed his story again. His attorney claimed that he was awakened by the shotgun blast. Recently, he claimed that he never heard the shot.
He also recently changed his story regarding the shotgun: he claimed that he moved his gun because he was afraid that it would be stolen, even though a fire was still engulfing the trailer at the time. When asked about attempting to break into the warehouse, he claimed that he lied in order to cover up his previous lies to others.
His mother and stepfather believe he is guilty of the murders and the attempted arson cover-up, as do the local law enforcement. They believe that he planned to kill everyone because of a life insurance policy. The case remains unsolved, due to the procedural defense of double jeopardy that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same, or similar charges following a legitimate acquittal or conviction.
Suspects: Despite his acquittal, Donny Hansen remains the prime suspect in the murders of his twin sisters. It is possible that he had accomplices in the crime. Neighbors reported seeing two unidentified men near the trailer shortly before the fire started. A car was heard "screeching down the street" shortly after the shots were fired. A few hours later, two men with ashes on their clothing were seen walking towards the Hansen home. When questioned, they lied about where they had been when the fire occurred. It is not known what connection the men have to the case.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the November 10, 1993 episode. It was also featured on the show "Hard Copy".
In his interview, Donny had his face obscured and voice altered to protect his identity.
The Hansens sued the hospital where Julie died, claiming that they were responsible for her death. However, a jury later determined that the hospital was not negligent in her death.
Results: Unresolved. Hans and Betty Hansen have since cut ties with Donny, who is still considered the prime suspect in the murders. They now live in Eagle Point, Oregon. Officially, the murders remain unsolved; however, investigators consider the case closed as they believe Donny was the perpetrator.
- Jill and Julie Hansen on Unsolved.com
- The State (Article about Julie's Death)
- October trial set in suit over Hansen twin’s death
- Wrongful-death lawsuit stalled
- Hansen case in court again as wrongful death trial starts
- Experts disagree on technical point in hearings against Mad River Hospital
- Mother of dead girl says her daughter was feeling good just before she died
- Poor care caused girl's death, nurse testifies
- $1 million sought by Hansen family as suit goes to jury
- Mad River Hospital exonerated by jury, found not negligent in Hansen’s death
- Parents of a family torn apart still grieve — and hope to find out who killed their twin daughters
- Pieces to puzzle missing
- TV show to examine Hansen case
- Terry Farmer gets frank
- Sitcoms Online Discussion on the Hansen Murder Case
- Julie and Jill Hansen at Find a Grave