Koenig's body believed found in Valley lake

Anchorage Daily NewsApril 2, 2012 

A law enforcement dive team on Monday discovered what authorities believe to be the body of Samantha Koenig -- the 18-year-old abducted from a Midtown Anchorage coffee stand on Feb. 1, Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said.

It's a grim development in a kidnapping case that gripped Anchorage for two months.

The body was found in Matanuska Lake, off the Glenn Highway, Mew said. An autopsy will be conducted to confirm the identity, he said.

"Investigators believe that Samantha died within hours of the abduction, and we are continuing to investigate these facts," Mew said, reading from a written statement to a crowd of reporters outside police headquarters. He said police are confident they have the person responsible in custody and that the person acted alone.

Police and the FBI have been jointly investigating the abduction. Mew said that police are working with the U.S. Attorney's Office and that murder and kidnapping charges will be filed.

Neither Mew nor Mary Rook, FBI special agent in charge of the Anchorage division, would answer questions, each sticking to their carefully worded written statements.

While police didn't name the person in custody on Monday, last month authorities arrested Israel Keyes, a 34-year-old self-employed carpenter who lived in Anchorage, on a federal fraud charge and said he was directly tied to Koenig's disappearance.

According to an FBI agent's affidavit, Keyes used a debit card reportedly stolen hours after Koenig vanished to steal more than $2,400 from an unnamed man's bank account in several transactions in Anchorage and the Lower 48. He was caught in Texas on March 13 with the stolen card and rolls of cash, the affidavit says.

Last month, he pleaded not guilty to one count of access device fraud in federal court in Anchorage. While describing his financial situation, Keyes told a judge he's in debt, his bank account is overdrawn, and that he has a 10-year-old daughter.

Rook told reporters the case was especially challenging because there appears to be no known association between the abductor, Koenig, or any member of her family.

Everyone has been asking "why Samantha?" Rook said. "I believe it was largely the dissociative nature of this crime that so perplexed investigators, at least initially."

Investigators received hundreds of calls from people in Anchorage and the Lower 48 trying to solve the case. Local, state and federal authorities in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas all moved fast to help the investigation, she said.

"In fact, were it not for the efforts of several very alert and dedicated Texas law enforcement officers, Samantha's abductor might still be at large," Rook said.

Police and FBI agents earlier seized Keyes' white pickup truck and a storage shed from his home in West Anchorage's Turnagain neighborhood.

Rook said Monday that investigators still are working the case. They want the public to provide any information about the white truck and where it may have been spotted.

"Specifically, we want to hear from anyone who have seen the truck in the vicinity of Lake Matanuska," Rook said.

CRIME SCENE ON THE LAKE

Authorities didn't reveal how they knew to look under the ice at Matanuska Lake. The lake, part of the Matanuska Lakes State Recreation Area, is about 35 miles north of Anchorage near the intersection of the Parks and Glenn highways.

On Monday afternoon, investigators could be seen moving on the ice. They used snowmachines and ATVs to make runs between a parking lot staging area and the crime scene investigative site about 400 yards away on the lake's frozen surface. Authorities blocked off public access to the lake. .

Several tents and other portable structures, including a red one that resembled an ice-fishing shelter, ringed a triangle-shaped hole in the ice that observers estimated at about 4 feet long on each side. Investigators used chain saws to cut away at the ice.

At around 7:30 p.m., two divers lowered themselves into the hole. Investigators then moved two white tents over that spot. At 8:20 p.m., a snowmachine pulling a long, covered sled left the white tents and headed across the lake to the parking lot.

At the sun set, investigators began breaking down the tents. At 9 p.m., the Anchorage Police Department's big blue mobile crime scene unit drove away.

Kevin Sturgeon, 27, said he'd been living in the lower unit of a house that overlooks the lake for about a month and a half. From the house, located at Fox Run Campground near the recreation area, Sturgeon said he was used to hearing the sounds of ice-fishing and other lake activity but was startled Sunday night when he saw "three backhoe-type trucks" pushing snow around near the recreation area parking lot.

It was APD units and the FBI clearing a staging area for their search of the lake.

In the morning, Sturgeon saw tents on the lake and heard chain saws.

Sturgeon, who moved to Alaska from Los Angeles for a slower, more peaceful lifestyle, said he'd been following the Koenig case in the news. "I was wondering if they were ever going to find her. I pray for her family."

A MISSING TEENAGER

On Feb. 1, Koenig was working at Common Grounds Espresso in the parking lot of the Alaska Club at 630 E. Tudor Road, police said. Video surveillance shows a man holding a weapon walk up to the coffee hut just before 8 p.m. at the end of her shift, at closing time.

Police refused to describe the weapon or release any images from the video, something that frustrated the public. The surveillance video contains the last known images of Koenig. Nobody has reported seeing her since. Police said the video wouldn't have helped anyone identify the abductor.

The abductor obscured the camera's view somehow, caused Koenig to appear frightened, and forced her to leave with him on foot. They walked to the west, police said. Once detectives saw the video, they began investigating the disappearance as a kidnapping.

All the cash from the coffee stand went missing when she disappeared. Cups of coffee were left on the counter. One of her coworkers said it was as if she left in the middle of making a drink.

Her father, James Koenig, offered a reward for her safe return. He and friends distributed thousands of fliers with her photo and the word "KIDNAPPED" in bold letters, which became a common sight across Southcentral Alaska. Both Mew and Rook expressed sorrow for him and the family.

Koenig had custody of her since she was small. He last talked to her about an hour and a half before her shift ended. When she didn't come home, he kept calling and texting her cell phone until the battery died.

Her disappearance led to candlelight vigils and calls for better security at Anchorage coffee stands, where young women often work alone.

INVESTIGATION NOT OVER

Mew acknowledged how frustrating the case had been for everyone: her family, the community, detectives and FBI agents, the media.

"We have pursued theories that variously required us to regard uninvolved parties suspiciously and/or withhold information when people didn't understand why," Mew said.

The police didn't release all they knew to increase the chances of Koenig's safe return, he said.

"Unfortunately, that potential no longer exists," he said.

More than a month after her disappearance, detectives said publicly they were operating under the assumption she was still alive, though wouldn't say why they believed that.

With the discovery of the body, the investigation shifted dramatically but it's not over, Rook said.

"While we are now able to reveal more regarding this investigation we must also be cognizant of our joint responsibility to allow the judicial process to move forward," she said. "As such, there is still much information that we cannot disclose at this time."


Contact Lisa Demer at 257-4390 or ldemer@adn.com and Michelle Theriault Boots and mtheriault@adn.com.

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