A day after federal agents and police officers searched Israel Keyes' former home in West Anchorage, investigators on Wednesday were scouring the accused killer's property in rural, upstate New York.
Keyes, 34, is jailed in Anchorage awaiting trial for the alleged February abduction and slaying of Samantha Koenig, 18. But Keyes, a once self-employed carpenter and Army veteran, is now apparently the target of an investigation outside Alaska.
Citing anonymous sources, Vermont TV station WCAX says Keyes is the prime suspect in the killing of a couple in Essex, Vermont. Recent court documents filed by Keyes' defense team in Alaska say he is the subject of a criminal investigation outside the Koenig case. So far, neither the documents nor federal authorities have connected Keyes to anything other than Koenig's death and the related theft and illegal use of a bank card.
On Tuesday, FBI agents and police officers executed what they said was a federal search warrant at Keyes' last residence, a house on Spurr Lane in Anchorage's Turnagain neighborhood owned by his girlfriend. Over the next two days, New York state police in Constable, N.Y., searched a 10-acre property Keyes owns in a forested area north of Constable.
Constable resident Patrick Guagliano said he was biking along a gravel stretch of Poplar Street to a friend's house Wednesday morning to help her cut firewood. A police officer at a roadblock was turning around cars trying to drive up the road. But the officer escorted Guagliano on foot past the search just as it appeared to be starting, he said.
"It's unusual to see that much traffic in one spot. At first I thought they were hunters, I saw all these cars on the side. I thought, 'There must be a lot of white-tailed deer up there,'" Guagliano said.
Guagliano saw an officer with a police windbreaker holding a round-nosed shovel. He could see investigators wearing orange hats and vests and the flashes from their cameras as they walked through the shoulder-high grass.
"There were state police, and it might've been the FBI," Guagliano said. "Between 25 and 30 people getting out of vehicles. ... There were a bunch of them getting ready to head into the woods."
The New York state police referred questions about the search to the FBI. A New York spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment.
According to property records for Franklin County, in which Contable sits about five miles south of the U.S. border with Canada, Keyes bought the property in 1997 when he was 19. The property includes a two-bedroom house built in 1890 and listed in poor condition.
Nobody has been seen living at the red house for at least 10 years, probably longer, Guagliano said.
"It's old. It's shambled. The roof's caved in. Unkempt, you might say," he said. "From the looks of everything, it hasn't been kept up in years. It's really in bad shape."
With little development in the area and a 686-acre state forest nearby, the woods stretch for miles, Guagliano said.
"We're out in the middle of no man's land," he said. "You could put anything and everything out there, and nobody would ever know it."
Hunters and neighbors pass through from time to time, and sometimes people go onto Keyes' land to get water from a well, said Chana O'Leary, Guagliano's friend and the nearest neighbor to Keyes' property. O'Leary said she lives about a mile away.
"I've always been reluctant to walk onto that property. I couldn't tell you why. I drive by there almost every day," O'Leary said.
Two detectives from the state police Violent Crimes Investigation Team came to O'Leary's door Wednesday morning, she said. They asked her how long she'd lived there -- two years, she said -- and if she knew Israel Keyes.
"Frankly, I didn't. The house is very dilapidated looking. It doesn't look like anybody's been living there for a long time," O'Leary said.
O'Leary said she later saw investigators wearing all orange walking on Keyes' land. It was the first time she'd seen police on the property, she said. The search picked up again Thursday, but the quiet road had returned to normal by Friday, O'Leary said.
With no answers coming from the police or FBI, O'Leary said neighbors can only speculate about what triggered the search and where it might lead.
Keyes is so far charged only in the Koenig case.
According to federal prosecutors, police statements and charging documents, Keyes forced Koenig to leave the Midtown Anchorage coffee stand where she was finishing up work the night of Feb. 1. At some point that night, Keyes stole a debit card from a vehicle Koenig shared with someone else, and Koenig told him the password to make withdrawals with the card, which he etched into the card. According to an indictment, Keyes then killed Koenig -- it's unclear how -- and put her body in Matanuska Lake, north of Anchorage.
Meantime, public and police attention turned to finding Koenig, as they had not yet learned of her death. Volunteers posted fliers with Koenig's picture all over Alaska. Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil downtown.
As the search continued, Keyes sent text messages from Koenig's cell phone to mislead police and her family, indicating she was still alive and demanding ransom money, according to the indictment.
Keyes allegedly made a series of withdrawals using the card, first in Alaska, then in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. Federal authorities were apparently on his trail when a highway patrol officer pulled over Keyes' car in Lufkin, Texas, on March 13. There were rolls of money and a disguise in the car, and Keyes was arrested and soon brought back to Alaska, the charges say.
That same day, police with bulletproof vests and helmets raided the Spurr Lane home in Turnagain. Neighbors said dozens of officers swarmed the house and searched inside and outside.
The night of March 30, FBI agents using a forklift and flat-bed truck seized a shed from the driveway of the Spurr Lane home. Three days later, on April 2, FBI divers pulled Koenig's body out of the lake.
Agents and officers returned to the home on Tuesday, again searching inside and in the yard and driveway, using metal detectors at one point.
Federal prosecutors and spokespersons for the FBI and police have refused to say what caused the recent searches in Anchorage and New York or what, if anything, the investigators seized as evidence. They have also declined to comment on whether there have been other searches related to Keyes.
After more than a year spent looking for Essex, Vt., residents William and Lorraine Currier -- who disappeared in June 2011 -- federal prosecutors said in July 2012 that they'd learned the Curriers had been the victims of an abduction and homicide and that the man they suspected in the killing was behind bars in another state.
The Vermont U.S. attorney refused to name the suspect or identify the state in which he is jailed. According to multiple anonymous sources, Vermont TV station WCAX says Keyes was in Vermont at the time of the Curriers' disappearance and that he is the main suspect in the case. The Curriers' bodies have apparently never been found, though recent court documents filed in the case say investigators found evidence of "human decomposition" in the basement of a Vermont farmhouse.
Reach Casey Grove at email@example.com.
By CASEY GROVE