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Alaska investigators say Keyes felt a high from serial killings

Alex DeMarban
Loren Holmes photo

A leading federal prosecutor believes Israel Keyes may have brutally murdered at least 11 people -- three more than originally reported -- strangling them when possible so he could enjoy watching them suffer as they died.

Keyes got a high from killing and shivered with adrenaline when he recounted his murders, presenting a stark break from his usual calmness during interviews, said Frank Russo, assistant U.S. attorney for Alaska.

Yet Keyes was reluctant to provide details of his killings because he worried about how his family would view him, especially his daughter, who is 10 or 11 years old.

"He was very conscious of his daughter Googling him years from now and having to deal with the fallout from this," Russo said. "This is a guy who really cared about his family. And he would say I'm not trying to kill them or give them heart attacks."

'We lost this case'

Russo, part of the legal team that had hoped to prosecute Keyes, provided new details on Friday into Keyes sinister double life. Before Anchorage jailers found Keyes dead last Sunday after killing himself, the 34-year-old general contractor admitted to slaying Anchorage barista Samantha Koenig, 18, in February and, in a separate attack in 2011, Vermont couple Bill and Lynne Currier.

But without providing names, Keyes also said he'd killed four others in Washington between 2001 and 2006, before moving to Alaska. And he acknowledged an eighth slaying, saying he buried a body in New York in 2009.

Before investigators could learn more, including names and burial sites, Keyes strangled himself and sliced open his wrist with a razor blade. Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is on a nationwide hunt, and seeking public input, to discover the additional victims.

Russo doubts all the bodies will be found. "I feel like we lost this case," he said. "And we lost because we couldn't get these people out of his head that he kept there. That's how he described it. I have these people, they're my people, they belong to me. In killing himself, that was his answer to us: You'll never get these people out of my head."  

Russo said he believes Keyes killed as many as 11 or 12 people. The FBI and Anchorage Police Department investigators also upped the number on Friday, saying Keyes may have had 11 victims. They'd previously said at least eight.

FBI agent Darren Jones said the FBI always thought there might be more than eight. Additional information makes them confident there's more. But no one may ever know the real number.

One thing's for sure: Keyes was meticulous. A national expert on serial killers retained for the case said Keyes was among the top three organizers, thinkers and planners he'd studied, said Russo.

Going dark

Before Koenig, Keyes' strategy involved random slayings by flying to somewhere in the Lower 48 and traveling hundreds of miles by car. He'd stashed cash from bank robberies and weapons in spots around the country for use in future crimes. The FBI said he took more than 30 multi-day trips throughout the nation the past eight years. During the trips, he'd go dark, turning off his cell phone and spending only cash to avoid being tracked.  

What pushed the Army veteran, raised in Washington, over the edge? "Everyone keeps looking for a push point where this guy went sideways, but in my view it seemed like he was born this way," Russo said. "At some point he realized he was different. He always thought other people were pretending to be nice to other people and then he realized at some point only he was pretending. He described an incident when he was younger -- how he tortured a cat in front of his friends and everybody got sick and ran away from him. He realized he should shut up about this stuff because he was different."

Yet Keyes wasn't completely without morals, Russo said. He knew it was wrong to kill, though he planned to continue. One Keyes idea involved moving away from Alaska to take advantage of the chaos and potential contracting work left by hurricanes.

"He thought it would provide him good cover to kill people and he'd have good work," Russo said.  

Children off limits

Keyes also told investigators that because of his daughter, children were off limits. That's one reason he chose to kill the Curriers in Vermont -- they had no children.

But that’s where his morality seemed to end. Keyes spent a long time making his own gun silencer, something he was "extremely proud of," Russo said. But he didn't want to use guns unless he had to. He preferred strangling his victims because he enjoyed watching them suffer, Russo said.

Also, Keyes said he wasn't interested in giving closure to his victims’ families or investigators. In fact, he said he felt a connection with serial killer Ted Bundy because Bundy led a double life, too. But Keyes looked down on Dennis Rader, the so-called BTK killer from Kansas who murdered 10 people.

"He described him as a wimp" Russo said. "He couldn't understand why he came out and said he was sorry for everything he'd done."

According to Russo, Keyes said his favorite serial killers "are the ones who haven't been caught."

Dead men less noticed

Before killing the Curriers and Koenig, Keyes’ killings didn't attract much attention. He noted that missing men, in particular, didn't get attention. People just assume they've left home.

"He goes, 'Oddly the bank robbery I did in New York got more publicity than the person I took and killed,’ " Russo said.

That lack of publicity has frustrated Russo, who said there's no nationwide database for missing adults as there is for children. Trying to find missing victims has instead involved looking at websites run by family members or others seeking information about the missing.

"It was strange that in this day and age, we were all resorting to Googling," he said.  

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com 

(Correction: Dennis Rader was the so-called BTK killer, not David Hayes, as this article originally reported in error.) 

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