Israel Keyes: the methodical serial killer

Israel Keyes went to extraordinary length to indulge his passion for murder
Keyes dumped Samantha Koening’s body in Matanuska Lake

In 2012, 34-year-old Israel Keyes was arrested after being linked to the abduction of a young woman in Anchorage, Alaska. Investigators working on the case would soon uncover that this abduction was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and Keyes would expose himself as one of the most diabolical serial killers in modern American history.

Keyes’ downfall commenced in the 1st of February 2012 when he abducted 18-year-old Samantha Koening from a drive-thru coffee stand on Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska, where she worked. He was wearing a mask and hoody as he approached the coffee stand. He ordered a coffee before jumping in the window and zip-tying Koening. The entire kidnapping was caught on security camera.  

Two weeks after Koening’s abduction, her family were clinging to hope that she was still alive. Her boyfriend had received a text message directing him to a specific area in a local dog park where he found a ransom note. The random note included a photograph of Koening. She was tied up with a copy of the Anchorage Daily News, dated 13 February, 2012, indicating that she was still alive. The ransom demanded $30,000 be deposited directly into Koening’s bank account and the family complied. 

Unbeknownst to Koening’s family, however, she was already dead. She had been sexually assaulted by Keyes and then strangled to death in a shed near his home. The photograph Keyes had taken of Koening was from after her death. He had applied makeup to her face and sewed her eyes open with fishing line, giving the impression of life. After Keyes snapped the grisly photograph, he dumped Koening’s body in Matanuska Lake where it would eventually be found by investigators.

When the money was deposited into Koening’s bank account, Keyes went to a bank in Wilcox, Arizona, to withdraw some of it. He then sped to a bank in Lordsberg, New Mexico, to withdraw more. Investigators were able to retrieve the security footage from the banks which showed a man wearing numerous layers in an effort to make himself appear larger as well as a full-face mask and glasses. Keyes’ vehicle, however, was also captured on security footage at both banks and on the 13th of March, he was arrested in Lufkin, Texas.

Following his arrest, Keyes gave investigators the crushing news that Koening was dead and gave them details of where to find her. He chillingly stated that her murder was just one of many... 

Keyes would confess to at least 11 murders between 2001 and 2012, as well as 20 to 30 burglaries, a number of rapes and several bank robberies. One of the conditions of his confessions was that investigators could not publicly release any information regarding his spate of crimes. He had feared that his young daughter would learn about his murders. He told investigators: 'I’m happy to help but it’s on my terms. I am not in this for the glory. I’m not trying to be on TV.'

Keyes was born in Cove, Utah, on the 7th of January, 1978. He was the second oldest of ten children. When he was around 3 or 4-years-old, his family relocated to a remote hamlet in the woods just outside Colville, Washington. His parents were fundamentalist Christians and at a time, they lived without electricity and opted to home-school their children. For a period of time, some of the children slept inside a tent and earned money cutting firewood or working on farms. He served in the U.S. Army from 1998 to 2001 and was stationed at Fort Lewis, Fort Hood and Fort Egypt. While here, he said that he enjoyed the survival skills aspect of military training and began to fantasize about killing strangers. 

He had lived in Washington from 2001 until March of 2007 when he moved to Alaska with his girlfriend and young daughter. They lived in a white two-story house in Turnagain where they entertained friends and family. While here, he started his own construction business and travelled extensively.

On the 2nd of December, 2012, while he was being held at the Anchorage Correctional Complex on suspicion of murder, Keyes ended his own life by slitting his wrists and hanging himself with a sheet in his jail cell. His suicide left many questions about possible murders, rapes and robberies. However, it also gave investigators the opportunity to go public with his confessions. Investigators were only able to identify three of his victims: Samantha Koening from Anchorage and Bill and Lorraine Currier from Essex Junction, Vermont. Both of these murders he confessed to in extensive detail. He told investigators he had buried weapons in Burlington, Vermont, in the past and had dug them up to murder the Curriers in June of 2011. He had chosen this couple in particular simply because of the design of their home – they had an attached garage which made it easy to enter.

Despite only being able to corroborate the three murders, investigators believed that Keyes most likely had other victims and that some missing person cases could actually be murder cases. When confessing, Keyes refused to name his victims other than Koening and the Curriers and refused to give exact locations. During one interview with investigators, Keyes revealed he would set up target practice in the Chugach mountain range and spoke about how he scoped out various sites to abduct people. He detailed how on one occasion, he sat in ambush at Point Woronzof where he planned on shooting a couple but was interrupted by a police officer. He said he considered shooting the police officer as well which would have fulfilled a fantasy he attributed to his 'white supremacist roots.' Ultimately, however, he decided against it.

Keyes’ movements were difficult to track because unlike most serial killers, he didn’t follow a particular modus operandi and targeted both men and women ranging from late teens to the elderly. He told investigators that he would often travel great distances to find a target. He had buried what he described as 'kill kits' throughout the country which contained guns, silencers, zip ties and other weaponry. When the urge to kill came over him, he would travel to one of these kill kits and then pick a target. According to Frank Russo, the Assistant US Attorney who worked on the case, Keyes was among the top three organized minds he had ever come across. According to investigators, Israel Keyes took great pleasure in committing murder. As Detective Monique Doll said:

'Israel Keyes didn’t kidnap and kill people because he was crazy, he didn’t kidnap and kill people because his deity told him to or because he had a bad childhood. Israel Keyes did this because he got an immense amount of enjoyment out of it, much like an addict gets an immense amount of enjoyment out of drugs.'

In an effort to identify potential victims and link Keyes to potential crimes, the FBI have released audio and video clips from Keyes’ interrogations. They have also released details about what he claimed was his first violent crime. Keyes’ informed investigators that at some point between 1996 and 1998, he sexually assaulted a girl between 14 to 18-years-old on the Deschutes River near Maupin. This woman has never been identified. Speaking about this crime, Keyes said that the woman didn’t fight back: 'She was pretty smart. It worked. Things never really got violent like they could have if she had been fighting me.'

Keyes claimed to have murdered four people in Washington, at least one in New York and one in New Jersey. Keyes had claimed that in 2009, he abducted a woman in New Jersey and transported her over multiple state lines to New York where he murdered her and buried her near the Tupper Lake area, where he had been linked to a bank robbery. The FBI now believe that this woman was Debra Feldman, who vanished from her home in Hackensack, New Jersey, on 8 April, 2009.

In addition to information regarding his alleged victims, the FBI also released a timeline of 35 trips that Keyes had taken around the United States and Mexico from 2004 and 2012: More information about Keyes’ movements and potential victims are listed on the FBI’s website.