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Arrest made in Texas in disappearance of barista

Casey Grove
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

An Anchorage man connected to the disappearance of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig is in jail after his arrest this week in Texas, but Koenig remains missing, police said Thursday.

Texas authorities arrested the man, Israel Keyes, midday Tuesday in Lufkin, Texas after a traffic stop, police said. He was described in a statement issued by police here Thursday as "a person of interest" in Koenig's disappearance.

Police have not revealed the charges against Keyes, but according to a charging document filed in Texas federal court, Keyes allegedly committed access device fraud, a charge typically levied against an individual who uses another person's bank or credit card to retrieve funds without permission. Federal and local law enforcement are now asking for help from the public to find out more information about the 34-year-old self-employed builder, believed to be the lone employee of his construction company, Keyes Construction.

Keyes' arrest is the only publicly released break in the case since Koenig vanished about 8 p.m. Feb. 1. Police say surveillance video shows an armed abductor force her from the Midtown coffee hut where she worked. Det. Slawomir Markiewicz would not say if Keyes matched the description of the man seen in the video.

"He's the only person we charged, and the only person of interest. And the biggest thing at this time is that we haven't found Samantha Koenig and we don't know her whereabouts," Markiewicz said.

Two Anchorage detectives have been in Texas for several days this week working on the case, Markiewicz said. The detectives will remain in Texas for several more days serving search warrants, he said. When asked if the arrest meant police are closer now to finding Koenig -- whom they hope is still alive -- Markiewicz replied, "Of course."

"As I've said before, I believe this case will be solved. This is a step toward that goal, a big step," he said.

Both Markiewicz and Koenig's father, who spoke to the Daily News through a family friend, said they do not know how Keyes might have known Koenig.

"We haven't found evidence linking him to her," Markiewicz said. "We don't know if he knew her before (she disappeared)."

Markiewicz would not comment on whether police believe Keyes was directly responsible for abducting Koenig or if Keyes was found with any of Koenig's belongings.

A TV station in Lufkin, Texas, KTRE, first reported Keyes' arrest.

KTRE reported Tuesday that diners having an outdoor lunch watched authorities take a "suspected kidnapper" into custody. A Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson told the TV station that the man -- who police did not identify at the time but is now known to be Keyes -- was pulled over for a traffic violation.

"Investigators said they found enough evidence in the vehicle to arrest the driver for suspected kidnapping. He was also searched and then taken into custody for questioning," the KTRE story says.

Markiewicz would not comment on whether Keyes was cooperating with police or specifically what led the authorities to him.

"It's the result of many hours of police work," Markiewicz said. "Methodical meticulous police work (by) our officers and detectives, the local FBI office and the local enforcement in Texas, screening every lead and following up."

"This wasn't the result of luck."

SEARCH OF HOUSE

Just after Keyes was arrested, police served a search warrant at a house in Anchorage's Turnagain neighborhood. Markiewicz said Keyes resides at the house on Spurr Lane, a narrow dead-end street off of Clay Products Drive.

Next-door neighbors Michele Buwalda and Tom McMillan said Keyes lives there with a woman named Kimberly Anderson, who is also listed as the owner of the house in city property records. A daughter they estimated was 12 or 13 lives with the couple at least some of the time, they said.

Markiewicz said Anderson is not a suspect or person of interest in the case.

Since Keyes and Anderson moved in a few years ago, the couple made many improvements to what is one of the more modest homes on the street, Buwalda and McMillan said. Keyes and Anderson were quiet and polite. They threw a couple of small parties each year, the neighbors said.

"I would be pretty surprised if he's involved with it," McMillan said.

Keyes spent a lot of time running saws and other equipment in the yard for his construction business, occasionally running afoul of neighbors because of late evening noise, they said.

Neighbors said that they noticed an unmarked police car idling for hours on Monday at an intersection a block away. Tuesday morning police arrived in unmarked cars, neighbors said. Wearing SWAT gear and carrying rifles, they swarmed the blue house. They took pictures and seemed to be collecting evidence. Later on that day, police followed Anderson's car as she pulled into the driveway, neighbors said. She left with them. Her car and Keyes' truck were towed. She returned the next day by cab. A crime scene van stayed parked outside the house until late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, neighbors said.

Late Thursday afternoon, after Keyes' arrest was announced, a truck pulled up to the blue house, where a trailer with Keyes' business name on it was parked in the driveway. Two women got out. One of the women covered her head with a jacket to shield her face.

"WE DON'T KNOW IF SHE'S ALIVE"

On a website for his business, Keyes lists his work history in construction. He says he worked in Washington from 1995 to 1997. After that, the site says he served in the Army for three years, stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington, Fort Hood in Texas and in Egypt before he was discharged in 2000. From 2001 to 2007, he worked for the Makah Tribal Council in Neah Bay, Wash. He moved to Alaska and started his business in 2007, his website says.

Anchorage police and the FBI are asking that any of Keyes' associates, anybody who's had contact with him since Jan. 1, or anyone who may have done business with his company, Keyes Construction, call 1-800-225-5324 OR 1-800-CALL-FBI.

Markiewicz said that request does not necessarily mean anything related to the abduction happened at a house or business where Keyes may have worked. But tips related to Keyes' work might help the investigation, the detective said.

"We certainly want to find out what projects he did. Whether he had access to other residences, whether he had keys to other houses. Any information like that," Markiewicz said.

Koenig's fate remains unknown and the investigators continue to treat her disappearance as a highly sensitive abduction case, Markiewicz said.

"We investigated as if she's alive. We haven't found her. We don't know what happened with her. We're concerned. We don't know if she's alive," Markiewicz said. "We have investigated this from the beginning as an abduction. Nothing has changed with that. We are very concerned that she hasn't been seen for six weeks."

"The truth is, we don't know her whereabouts ... and we don't know what's happened with her since she was abducted," he said.

Koenig's father, James, declined to answer reporters' questions Thursday. Family friend Michelle Tasker spoke on his behalf and said he is asking that anyone with information about Keyes or his daughter's whereabouts call the FBI or police.

"It's just one more step to getting his daughter back," Tasker said. "He's exhausted, tired, just wants it over and wants his daughter home. He's angry and doesn't have anything to say right now, other than wanting the public's support in answering the APD's and FBI's requests for information."

Tasker said James Koenig told her he does not know Keyes or anything about him.

"Never met him, never seen him," Tasker said. "(He) has no clue what connection (Keyes) may have to his daughter. To his knowledge his daughter doesn't know him either."

Julia O'Malley contributed to this story. Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.


By CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News