The Downward Spiral Of To Catch A Predator Host Chris Hansen

If you had an obsession with true crime, reality TV, or some intersection of those genres back in the mid-2000s, then you've probably heard of the "Dateline" show, "To Catch a Predator." In case you haven't, here's the brief: Host Chris Hansen headed up a team that was looking to punish sexual predators who were trying to prey on minors. Members of Hansen's team would pose as teenagers, lurking in online chatrooms where these potential predators might frequent. They would then engage in suggestive conversations and agree to meet.

What the titular predators didn't know, however, was that the meeting location would actually be set up for a sting operation. Instead of finding the minors they thought they were conversing with, Hansen himself would emerge from the shadows, bearing evidence of their crimes, often quoting their own explicit messages back at them. The whole thing was rather melodramatic and also incredibly popular, making Hansen something of a celebrity. Even if his show wasn't quite one of the biggest scandals to hit NBC, Hansen did run into scandal after scandal over the ensuing years, with each instance ending with his face plastered all over the tabloids. Not only that, but there's plenty of evidence that seems to say his personal life has been spiraling downward, whether that be about money, his personal relationships, or even his living situation. Oh, then there are the couple of run-ins with the law, too — not a good look, to say the least.

Chris Hansen's methods were pretty questionable

To say that any show was a success hardly seems like anything but a point in its favor, but the conversation is actually a bit more complicated than that. After all, television is a business, and sure, Chris Hansen wasn't a presenter killing for his ratings, but where did his methods start to rub up against journalistic integrity and plain old ethics?

Clearly, getting sexual predators off the street is a good thing, but was Hansen's approach the proper means to achieve that end? Other journalists have questioned whether the entire show is a huge case of entrapment — essentially, someone being lured into committing a crime by authorities — especially because, in some cases, the decoys brought up sex first. What's more, there's also the fact that NBC and the crew of "To Catch a Predator" aren't law enforcement officials themselves. Hansen explained that his crew left the actual punishment to the authorities, but some critics have argued that they're still taking some level of justice into their own hands by deciding which individuals deserve that punishment ... and which ones deserve to be humiliated on broadcast television.

Then, there are even questions to be asked about the show's main premise. In essence, the show draws on a love of public humiliation inherent in American culture (in all fairness, plenty of reality shows run on the same premise) while also playing on the fear of sexual predators — not a glamorous look, when put that way.

His televised stings sometimes hindered justice

Chris Hansen's show, "To Catch a Predator," gave its viewers satisfying endings, with sexual predators confronted with their crimes and then escorted off by police. But court officials weren't always amused by the show's conduct. In one case, a 2006 sting operation led to a five-year-long legal struggle — which ended in immediate acquittal. The judge literally threw out the case before the defense team could do anything, with jurors agreeing that the tactics utilized were shady at best.

In a similar vein, not a single case that came from a sting in Murphy, Texas, was prosecuted. The district attorney explained that not only was jurisdiction technically a problem, but the operation was carried out by amateurs. None of the chat logs could be verified because, again, the whole thing was headed up by the crew of a reality TV show, not law enforcement, and if the evidence couldn't be authenticated, then it wasn't of any use in court. As a direct result of Hansen and the "To Catch a Predator" team's involvement, all of those cases were completely dropped.

The death of Louis Conradt Jr.

Whether you think that the overall effect of "To Catch a Predator" was positive, negative, or something of a wash, there's also the fact that the show became the stage for a pretty major tragedy, and that certainly muddies the waters. The tragic event concerned Louis Conradt Jr., a prosecutor who lived east of Dallas, Texas. He found himself in the crosshairs of "To Catch a Predator" after having some sexual conversations with an individual posing as a teenage boy. The police forced their way into his home, and by the end of the ensuing confrontation, Conradt had died by suicide.

Chris Hansen's response (via Columbia Journalism Review) could definitely be considered cold — "If you're asking do I feel responsible, no ... I sleep well at night" — but the problems run deeper than that. Later investigations found that the entire operation was botched, particularly because paperwork was filed incorrectly, which would've invalidated court proceedings, had it gone that far. Locals also hated the whole ordeal, feeling that the show had brought lawbreakers to their homes, rather than just exposing them. 

Other lawyers weighed in, too, explaining that the police shouldn't have forced their way into Conradt's home at all; typical protocol was to have such confrontations away from the home, specifically to avoid these kinds of outcomes. Shortly afterward, it became another not-so-untold and uncomfortable truth of "Dateline" that Conradt's sister accused them of being responsible for his death, saying that a ploy to chase ratings made a tragedy out of a situation that was never an emergency to begin with.

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Cheating allegations

Given that Chris Hansen made a name for himself by going after sexual predators, the press had quite the field day when rumors began to fly regarding reports of Hansen's infidelity. Of course, cheating on a spouse isn't the same as sexually engaging with minors, but news outlets milked the situation for all it was worth, nonetheless.

A 2011 sting arranged by the National Enquirer (via the New York Post) allegedly caught Hansen on camera while he took reporter Kristyn Caddell on a romantic dinner date at the Ritz Carlton hotel, then back to her apartment later that night. The tabloid's article further included responses from Caddell herself (via Daily Mail), who claimed that Hansen had told her that his marriage to his wife Mary Joan Hansen was falling apart, so he was perfectly fine with taking Caddell on public dates. Hansen reportedly even said that he planned to leave both his wife and kids for her. It gets even more twisted than that, though. Allegedly, Hansen wasn't only cheating on his wife with Caddell, but was also cheating on both of them with a Las Vegas singer, Kathleen Collins. 

As the story goes, he'd used basically the same excuse with both Caddell and Collins, with the latter being told that Hansen had already separated from his wife, and that a divorce was on the way. Which was all a lie. The Hansens' marriage remained intact, though he was dropped by NBC two years later, shortly after Radar published photos of him and Caddell kissing.

A botched Kickstarter campaign

It's likely you're probably familiar with Kickstarter, that site where you can go and find cool little businesses and projects looking for funding. Well, as it turns out, if you were scrolling around the site in April 2015, you would've found a project by Chris Hansen: "Hansen vs Predator." In effect, it was a web series reboot of "To Catch a Predator," which he explained would examine how sexual offenders operated in the age of social media. The project was fully funded and aired in 2016, but it didn't come without its share of problems.

On one hand, the authorities Hansen worked with on the project weren't exactly enthused, being aware of his former show's controversial reputation and not exactly convinced that this was a problem in their specific town. They took part just because they knew it would happen regardless, and figured it would be safer if they did (though they did later admit to being impressed by Hansen's operation).

On the other hand, though, there was the Kickstarter side of things. Hansen had promised things like mugs and shirts to his backers, but he failed to deliver. Over time, most of those backers just assumed their rewards weren't coming, and some started treating the entire incident like a joke. Hansen made promises in 2016 that the rewards were on their way, but once again, it was mostly an empty promise. That said, some backers apparently did get their mugs eventually. It just took two and a half years to happen.

A set of bad checks

After Chris Hansen was let go by NBC, he was involved in a string of newsworthy financial mishaps. One of the most prominent of those incidents was the one surrounding a bunch of merchandise and a bad $13,000 check.

Here's how it all unfolded. In 2017, Hansen put in a large order for merch — hundreds of mugs, shirts, and vinyl decals — from Peter Psichopaidas' relatively small shop. Hansen was supposed to pay for the order in full prior to the delivery, but it took three months after receiving an invoice for Hansen's company to send a check. And it bounced. Psichopaidas contacted Hansen, and even more months passed, with Hansen still sending no money. The police got involved, but Hansen just didn't show up at the station to discuss the issue; the most Psichopaidas heard was a promise from Hansen that there was a check on the way. But there wasn't. By April 2018, Hansen finally sent a personal check for the full amount. And then the check bounced again. Hansen swore the issue would be resolved within days, but it wasn't, which led to a warrant for his arrest.

Hansen eventually turned himself in to the police in January 2019, but by later in the month, all of the charges were dropped, with Hansen's attorney claiming that the whole thing was nothing more than an oversight.

He was evicted from his apartment

While there were some pretty bizarre news stories from 2019, Chris Hansen also had a pretty busy year, albeit not for the best reasons. Most notably, he fell foul of the law for writing bad checks and avoiding payments for a large merchandise order for about a year, but it turns out, he was also kicked out of his apartment.

A TMZ exclusive explained that Hansen basically just stopped paying rent on his Manhattan apartment in August 2018. He was about $400 short for that month, and once the missed rent totaled some $4,000, in October, his landlord put together the paperwork for his eviction, which was eventually scheduled for January 2019. (Which also happened to be right around the same time he was arrested for his bad checks.)

TMZ further reported that by early February, the entire affair had turned into something of a comedy of errors, with Hansen trying to sneak his way back into his apartment to retrieve some of his belongings. Allegedly, he lied to officials that he was allowed back inside — a tactic that fell apart as soon as anyone contacted Hansen's legal team — then tried to sweet talk his way in via the super, which was about as effective as his attempt at deception. Which is to say, it wasn't effective in the slightest. Apparently, someone was on his side, though, and he was eventually able to go into his apartment to pick up at least some of his things.

Troubles with taxes and debt

A total of nearly $20,000 in unpaid rent and merchandising fees is already quite a lot of money. Well, a huge sum of money, really, and a deficit that large would be enough to put most people into a panic. But when it came to Chris Hansen's financial situation in early 2019, the problems didn't end there. Not even in the slightest.

In actuality, $20,000 was a pretty small fraction of what Hansen allegedly owed to a number of different institutions — and this wasn't some simple problem of being a little too attached to a credit card. According to documents acquired by the Daily Mail, Hansen actually owed over $1 million between a handful of different creditors. There was American Express, to which he owed nearly $60,000, Ally Financial, which was owed over $15,000, and TD Bank, which was looking for nearly $130,000. 

And those aren't even the biggest numbers; with multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars owed in interests due to mortgages, Hansen owed well over $1 million to the U.S. Bank Trust alone — a problem that had apparently been persisting for a number of years, by that point. Oh, and to top it all off, there were also the $250,000 in back taxes, which he also had to pay.

His wife divorced him

It's no secret that Chris Hansen had at least some extramarital affairs, but perhaps the more surprising thing was that in the immediate aftermath of those cheating allegations, his marriage apparently wasn't in jeopardy. Or, at least, that was seemingly the case for a fair amount of time.

The exact timeline, issues, and events aren't entirely clear, but a Radar exclusive reported that the marriage did start going downhill at some point. After a number of years, the Hansens weren't living together anymore, with Mary Joan Hansen listing her official residence in an entirely different state. Mary herself said, "The marriage has broken down irretrievably," and in June 2018, she officially filed for divorce, with further talks over finances scheduled to happen at some point in January 2019. (Yes, once again, right around the same time as Hansen's host of other catastrophic financial issues.) The event itself wasn't exactly the most scandalous divorce in history — even if there's reason to think that the earlier scandals might have played their part — but either way, it probably wasn't a high point in Hansen's life.

Despite all of this, Hansen was able to move on and has since remarried, tying the knot with Gabrielle Gagnon in late 2021.

Another arrest warrant

In late 2020, Chris Hansen was back at what he's apparently most comfortable with: working with police on stings to catch potential sex traffickers and sexual predators, albeit not necessarily for one of his shows. In fact, the operation, which took place in Shiawassee County, Michigan, led to the arrests of three people, who had all been talking with undercover officers online and thought they were agreeing to meet with young teenagers in a hotel room for sex. All sounds very familiar, right?

But, as it turns out, Chris Hansen's history of attracting mishaps doggedly followed him. In the aftermath of the operation, Hansen somehow ended up withholding some evidence — specifically video recording – that should have been provided to one of the defendant's attorneys in the associated sex trafficking case. He was subsequently subpoenaed, but then failed to turn up in court or provide the video in question; as a result, a judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest. 

Hansen turned himself in shortly afterwards, then took to social media to explain that the whole thing was really just a misunderstanding and that everything had been resolved. In his own words: "All matters in the Shiawasse[e] Co predator case resolved! Justice marches on!"

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