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Law enforcement agencies release new details of abduction, slaying of Samantha Koenig

Casey Grove

Federal authorities say Israel Keyes raped and strangled Samantha Koenig in a shed outside his West Anchorage home after abducting the 18-year-old from a coffee stand Feb. 1. About two weeks later, after leaving Alaska to go on a cruise, Keyes dismembered Koenig's body, cut a hole in a frozen lake and hid her remains under the ice, authorities said. .

The new and grisly details of Koenig's death came Tuesday, following Keyes' suicide Sunday at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, where he was held in solitary confinement awaiting a March trial date. In the wake of his death, authorities revealed the 34-year-old Keyes admitted to killing Koenig and at least seven other people, including Vermont couple Bill and Lorraine Currier, over the span of roughly 11 years.

Authorities do not know the names of Keyes' other victims, and investigators suspect there are more to be discovered. As the full story of Israel Keyes -- an Army veteran, self-employed carpenter and confessed serial killer -- continues to unfold, federal agents and city homicide detectives described in detail Tuesday the events surrounding Koenig's slaying in Anchorage. The case generated intense interest, and criticism of police efforts, after Koenig went missing, and Tuesday marked the first time law enforcement authorities have spoken in any detail about the case.

According to the FBI, police and federal prosecutors, it happened like this:

Keyes picked the Common Grounds espresso hut, in the parking lot of the Alaska Club fitness center at 630 E. Tudor Rd., because of its location and because it was open later than other coffee stands. Keyes told detectives he planned to at least rob the stand and was prepared for an abduction if the opportunity presented itself, said FBI Agent Jolene Goeden.

Keyes had never met Samantha Koenig before, and there was no indication that he was ever a customer of Common Grounds, Goeden said.

"It was random. That's something that I think is really important for people to know, across the board with his crimes. It was not about the specific victim. It wasn't anything about them," Goeden said. "It's about the situation. It's about the circumstances. It's about the location."

Snow from what would become a record-breaking winter for Anchorage was already piled high, blocking views of the coffee stand from Tudor Road. Because of its location at the northeast corner of the parking lot, people coming and going from the Alaska Club could not see the stand's north side. And because Keyes carried a portable police scanner with an earpiece, he knew officers were responding to an emergency on the other side of Anchorage, police said.

Police on Tuesday showed news media surveillance video from the Home Depot to the north of Common Grounds, across Tudor Road. The video shows a white Chevrolet pickup drive into that parking lot and back into a spot at its far end. Keyes, the driver, likely had his "head on a swivel," looking around to see if anybody nearby was suspicious of him, said homicide detective Monique Doll.

Keyes had earlier removed a rack and toolboxes mounted on the pickup's bed and taken off the pickup's license plates, Doll said. Police later identified the pickup as belonging to the abductor, unknown at the time, and narrowed their search to about 750 pickups matching its description. But when patrol officers went to look at Keyes' pickup, as they did with hundreds of others, the rack and toolboxes were back and appeared to be welded on. Keyes' name was scratched from their initial list of possible suspects, said Doll, who described Keyes as "methodical."

Ten minutes after parking in the Home Depot lot, just before 8 p.m., Keyes walked across Tudor Road at Denali Street, crossing in the crosswalk, police said. Video from the coffee stand's surveillance cameras shows him approaching from the west.

Another camera inside the coffee stand showed Koenig wearing a long-sleeved, lime-green shirt, her favorite color, family said. Keyes, wearing a ski mask, walked up to the window on the stand's secluded north side. He handed Koenig a coffee cup and asked her to make him an Americano, said Doll, the detective.

Koenig made the drink, handed the cup back to Keyes at the window, and he pointed a gun at her, demanding money, Doll said. Keyes told her to shut off the lights, which she did, and though the light switch was inches from the "panic button" on the hut's security system, Koenig did not press it, Doll said.

She might have been too afraid to hit the button, Doll said. She also probably believed Keyes when he said he just wanted money, the detective said.

Keyes ordered Koenig to get on the floor, which she did, Doll said. He climbed through the window into the darkened coffee stand, crouched down next to Koenig, and tied her hands with plastic zip ties. Keyes trimmed off the excess plastic from the ties and stayed down low for two or three minutes, telling the investigators later that he was waiting to make sure no last-minute customers saw him.

Keyes asked Koenig if she had a car, and she said she did not. In fact, her boyfriend was coming to pick her up, but it's unclear if Koenig mentioned that. With Koenig now gagged and with her hands still bound, Keyes forced the teenager outside. The two are seen in the video walking west toward the Denali Street crosswalk.

But Koenig broke away during the walk and tried to run, Keyes told detectives. He chased and tackled her, then put his arm around her and shoved the gun into her ribs, Doll said. Despite the struggle along busy Tudor Road, nobody reported seeing anything strange, investigators said.

"He told her that if she tried to get away again or if she tried to do anything, he would shoot her. During this contact, and later in the evening, he convinced her that he only wanted to ransom her, and that as long as her family came up with the money that he wanted, he would let her go," Doll said. "She kept trying to convince him to release her. ... He wasn't really responding to her. He would at certain points, when he felt he needed to, to keep her from panicking, I think."

"When he was talking to us, and when he was confessing, he said he knew all along that he was going to kill her, by the time he (abducted) her," Doll said.

The Home Depot surveillance video shows the faint, faraway images of two people -- Koenig and Keyes -- gettng into the white pickup. The whole abduction took about 12 minutes, Doll said.

'AN INCREDIBLE COINCIDENCE'

About 8:30 p.m., roughly 15 minutes after the white Chevy drove away, the surveillance video back at the coffee stand shows Koenig's boyfriend arrive in a pickup. He walked around the stand once before driving away. Koenig's cell phone, left inside, can be seen lighting up as she receives text messages and calls, apparently from her boyfriend and father.

According to the FBI, Keyes drove around Anchorage, lying to Koenig about his supposed plot to get ransom. Koenig told him that her family did not have much money, but Keyes said he expected the public to donate to a reward fund, the detective said. And that's what happened: People who thought Koenig was still alive in captivity gave more than $70,000 in the weeks that followed. The total amount collected is unknown, as Koenig's father, James Koenig, eventually refused to talk about the fund's balance.

But a key part of Keyes' plot was missing: Koenig's cell phone. He wanted to use it to send Koenig's family text messages demanding money, but it was still at the coffee stand, according to the FBI. With Koenig still in the pickup, Keyes drove back to Common Grounds about 10:30 p.m., forced his way inside and, while wearing a headlamp, retrieved Koenig's phone and the plastic zip tie pieces he'd left behind, the FBI said. The video shows Koenig's boyfriend return to look for her about four minutes after Keyes leaves.

"That was one of the things, to us, that seemed like an incredible coincidence," Doll said.

Keyes drove to a different part of Anchorage and impersonated Koenig in two text messages from her phone -- one to her boyfriend, the other to her boss -- saying she had a bad day and was leaving town for the weekend, the FBI said. He then forced Koenig to tell him where to find her debit card, which was at her house in a pickup she shared with the boyfriend. Koenig also told Keyes the password to use the card, the FBI and police said.

According to authorities, Keyes then drove to his Spurr Lane home in the Turnagain neighborhood and put Koenig in a shed. Property records show Keyes' girlfriend owns the house, but it is unclear where she was at the time of the abduction.

Keyes later said he turned the volume up on a radio in the shed so neighbors would not hear Koenig if she screamed, the FBI said.

Keyes drove to Koenig's house, broke into the pickup and stole her debit card, the FBI said. Her boyfriend saw Keyes and yelled at him, but Keyes escaped when the boyfriend went to get help, according to the FBI.

Back at the shed, Keyes sexually assaulted Koenig and choked her to death, the FBI and police said. The next morning, Feb. 2, he flew to New Orleans and boarded a cruise ship for a cruise he had planned in advance, leaving Koenig's body in the shed. According to a written statement from the FBI, police and U.S. Attorney's office, Keyes returned to Anchorage on Feb. 17 and used a typewriter to write a ransom note demanding $30,000.

"He went into the shed and retrieved Samantha's body, taking steps to make it appear that she was still alive, and took a Polaroid picture of her tied up," the statement says. "The photo also showed Keyes' arm holding the Anchorage Daily News from February 13, 2012."

Keyes left the note at the Connor's Bog dog park, under a "memorial" flier for a dog named Albert. He sent a text message to Koenig's boyfriend saying the note was "under Albert," the statement said. Police retrieved it.

Over the next several days, Keyes cut up Koenig's body, according to the FBI. He later used a chain saw to cut a hole in Matanuska Lake and put Koenig's remains in the hole. Believing she was still alive, Koenig's father deposited reward money into her account, and investigators planned to track Keyes through withdrawals made with the debit card, the statement said.

'HE WANTED TO TALK ABOUT IT'

Keyes made the first withdrawal in Anchorage and soon flew to the Lower 48, where he rented a white Ford Focus, the statement said. The investigators did not say where the trip started, but Keyes was soon in Wilcox, Ariz., taking more money from an ATM while wearing a disguise over his face.

"We were always 10 to 15 minutes behind this guy," Doll said. "We're very thankful Mr. Keyes continued to use that debit card."

Alerts kept coming in for withdrawals, leading authorities to Texas. And if it had not been for the tenacity of the Texas Rangers and other law enforcement officers in that state, Keyes might never have been caught, Doll said.

Federal agents and Texas state authorities eventually started following Keyes' car after withdrawals near Lufkin, Texas, and learned Keyes was staying at a hotel. A highway patrol officer pulled over the car for speeding, and Keyes handed him an Alaska driver's license, Doll said.

"He knew then that he had the right person," she said.

Keyes soon confessed, Doll said. He told the investigators where to find Koenig's body, which FBI divers recovered April 1. Keyes said he had not expected to get caught by using the debit card but knew that he would admit to killing Koenig if he was arrested and presented with evidence proving he'd done it, said Goeden, the FBI agent and part of the team that interviewed Keyes.

"He wanted to talk about it. He wanted to tell this story," Goeden said. "It was chilling at times. ... There was really no sense of remorse. He was very matter of fact."

Keyes referred to Koenig and his other victims as objects, Goeden said.

"His victims were not people to him," she said. "They didn't have any value, human value, to him."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com