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Israel Keyes, suspected serial killer, commits suicide in Alaska

Laurel Andrews
Photo courtesy Alaska Police Department

Israel Keyes is dead.

The 34-year-old contractor who'd been indicted for kidnapping and murdering an 18-year-old Anchorage barista, killed himself Sunday morning, according to Alaska officials, who announced his death at a press conference hastily arranged by the U.S. Attorneys Office for Alaska.

The U.S. Marshal's Service was notified by the Department of Corrections that Keyes was found dead, alone in his jail cell of an apparent suicide on Sunday morning, according to U.S. Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler.

Keyes committed suicide after he'd admitted to killing a Vermont couple who disappeared in June 2011. Federal investigators had become convinced that Keyes had been a serial killer and bank robber, with murder victims in New York and Washington state along with the Vermont couple, Bill and Lorraine Currier.

Dozens of hours of interviews led investigators to believe that Keyes killed four people in Washington state and one person in New York, in addition to the Curriers of Essex, Vt., although the identities or locations of the victims was not revealed by Keyes.

Officials believe that there may have been additional victims in other states, and that these murders have been occurring for the last 10 years, said Mary Rook with the FBI. As far as they know, none of the additional victims are in Alaska. Of the eight potential victims officials are investigating thus far, Koenig’s body is the only one that has been recovered.

Keyes had been in custody in Alaska since his arrest last March in Texas on suspicions that he'd killed Samantha Koenig, who disappeared Feb. 1 from an Anchorage coffee hut where she worked.

Anchorage Police Department Chief Mark Mew said they were convinced that Koenig had died on the night she vanished from the Midtown coffee stand, due to corroborating evidence and a confession from Keyes.

Koenig's body was later discovered in Matanuska Lake, north of Alaska's largest city, near Palmer. Officials said that Keyes used a chain saw to cut a hole in the ice to deposit her body there.

Authorities allege that Keyes kidnapped Koenig from the coffee stand where she worked, just prior to closing, and killed her that same night. He then allegedly used a debit card tied to Samantha Koenig to withdraw money in Alaska and several states in the U.S. southwest, withdrawing about $2,500 total.

Following Keyes's arrest in Lufkin, Tex., police had tied the drifter to the Koenig disappearance.

Officials do not know whether Koenig was the suspected serial killer's last victim.

"We can only guarantee that once he was arrested he was in jail," Loeffler said.

Picture of a serial killer

Keyes was described as a loner who acted alone in the murders. Rook said that he traveled extensively, often landing in one airport and driving hundreds of miles, which complicates the FBI’s investigation of his travels across the U.S.

Keyes is considered a serial killer, said Jolene Goeden, Special Agent with the FBI, whose victims did not fall under one set profile, and that they covered a broad range of ages. From what Keyes told investigators, victims were chosen based on circumstances at the time.

Authorities believe that he didn’t know any of the victims beforehand.

Mew said that the team had to build a rapport with Keyes, who was "very, very sensitive to his reputation, as odd as that sounds." This was why police kept quiet to the media on the circumstances surrounding his arrest.

Keyes was highly organized and methodical, and that he “never showed any remorse for his actions,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevein Feldis. He was thorough in his disposal of the bodies, and was not interested in giving families any closure.

Officials avoided mentioning exact motives for the killings. While money was cited as a partial motive in some of the cases, Keyes was driven to kill based on a pathology that Feldis described as something “you and I will never really understand.” 

Massive cross-country investigation

Chief Mark Mew offered a glimpse of the efforts of Anchorage Police Department in the early days of the Koenig investigation, which ultimately led to capture of the suspected serial killer.

After Koenig’s disappearance, APD had two videos to work with. One provided no useful information, but the second one showed a white pickup truck. They took photos of the truck to machine shops and dealers, and found 3,000 vehicles that fit the possible descriptions.

Police worked "every one of those leads," spending about six weeks tracking down every single truck in the Anchorage area, Mew said. They were still working down their list when Keyes was apprehended in Texas.

"That’s the magnitude of the investigation," Mew said. "If you had a white pickup truck of that year, chances are the Anchorage Police Department was watching your car during those early days of the investigation."

They also had ATM video of the gloves used by Keyes, who investigators say was masked in the videos. They ran the receipts for every pair of those gloves during a certain period of time, and worked up dossiers on everyone who purchased those gloves.

Then, the ransom note appeared. ATM withdrawals and texts from Koenig’s phone began to occur during that time. That’s when police issued the statement that they believed Koenig was still alive.

Police now know that Keyes abducted Koenig, visited her boyfriend’s pickup truck to obtain her ATM card, and then later used it to make ATM withdrawals as he traveled across the state and the U.S.

Mew said that officials worked with the FBI and virtually every sheriff’s office, state police and law enforcement agency in the Southwest as they tracked Keyes' movements across the U.S. Anchorage police were instantly notified when the Koenig card was used and were sent photos from cameras at each ATM.

In the end, his use of the ATM was what led to Keyes’ arrest.

An observant Texas police officer spotted Keyes' rental car based on a description from ATM video footage. Keyes was arrested and brought back to Alaska and charged with using a federal access device fraud, while police started doing interviews and interrogations. 

While under arrest, Keyes confessed to the FBI, U.S. Attorneys Office and Anchorage police that he'd killed Samantha Koenig. And he also left the investigators convinced that he'd killed others, Loeffler said Sunday.

"In a short period of time the team obtained Keyes’ confession to the kidnapping and murder of Bill and Lorraine Currier," Loeffler said.

Keyes told authorities to look for the couple’s bodies in an abandoned house in Vermont, but that it had already been demolished, the bodies undiscovered, by the time authorities arrived there.

However, with his confession to the Currier murders, the team came to the conclusion that there had been other victims as well. Feldis, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for Alaska, would not elaborate on how the team came to conclude Keyes was a serial killer, saying that each of the professional investigators working on the case had a slightly different account of "what triggered in them that response."

Feldis also said that Keyes "indicated" that he was responsible for additional murders in Washington state and the disposal of a body in New York, but would not give them any details as to the identities or locations of the victims' bodies.

Bank robberies

Authorities also believe that Keyes is linked to multiple bank robberies. Keyes confessed to two bank robberies, one in New York state and one Texas, but the team believes that he is potentially responsible for other robberies across the U.S., which could have occurred anywhere he traveled to.

Investigation continues

Officials called the Keyes suicide a major detriment to the investigation, as he had continued to provide information to investigators up until the time he killed himself Sunday in an Anchorage jail cell.

He had met with the team on Nov. 29, just two days before his death.

Now, the FBI will continue working with state and local counterparts across the Lower 48.

“We’re going to continue to run down leads … so that we can bring some closure to the families,” Rook said, adding that they believed some of the victims were still listed as missing persons.

“This has been massive,” Loeffler said. “Even though Mr. Keyes is dead, our investigation continues.”

It’s an investigation that still faces months, maybe years, of work ahead.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com