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Unsealed interviews detail two lives of Alaska serial killer Israel Keyes

Israel Keyes is interviewed by the FBI on July 10, 2012. (FBI photo)

They brought treats for the man they suspected was a serial killer. Espresso. Cigars. Bagels. The occasional candy bar. They let him feel like he was in control.

And Israel Keyes talked and talked.

Sitting in jail in Anchorage, charged in the kidnapping and murder of a teenage Anchorage barista, FBI agents and an Anchorage police detective interviewed Keyes for dozens of hours between April and October of 2012.

Audio recordings of those conversations were unsealed recently after a legal fight initiated by a New York author who is writing a book about Keyes.

The Anchorage Daily News reviewed 13 hours of newly-released audio files. The conversations illustrate the fractured thinking of an Anchorage contractor and father who led a secret life, plotting and carrying out killings of three people who have so far been identified. Through the interview process, he hinted about other victims. Investigators believe he may have killed 11.

"This is entertainment for me," he said at one point.

Then, in December of 2012, Keyes killed himself at the Anchorage jail. Five years later, questions about the true scope of Keyes' killing remain.

An author's fight to get records unsealed

When the interviews were recorded, Keyes was a defendant in the kidnapping and murder of Samantha Koenig, 18, who was abducted from the Tudor Road drive-thru coffee stand where she worked in February of 2012.

The crime — an abduction by a stranger that investigators said ended with Koenig being sexually assaulted and strangled in a shed in a West Anchorage neighborhood — gripped the city and made national headlines. Detectives caught Keyes, 34, with Koenig's debit card in Texas and arrested him in April. As they began to question him, Keyes told investigators that the Koenig murder was one of many.

A memorial on April 19, 2012, for Samantha Koenig in the Kehl’s Chapel at Legacy Funeral Homes. (Bill Roth / ADN)

They made a deal: Keyes would speak freely about his past crimes in exchange for details being kept out of the public and other demands. He teased that he'd killed "less than a dozen" people around the country over more than a decade, in addition to robbing banks, burglarizing houses and arson.

In 2013, after Keyes' jailhouse suicide, a federal judge unsealed some of the interviews at the request of the then-Alaska Dispatch. Those conversations mostly dealt with wrangling over legal procedures with investigators and federal prosecutors over his cases.

But some of the sessions, as well as a psychological evaluation of Keyes, were kept sealed.

When author and New York Post columnist Maureen Callahan began researching a book on Keyes, she went in search of the sealed interviews.

"I was just told, 'No, you can't have them and we're not going to tell you why,' " Callahan said. "The government was so intent on keeping them sealed years after the case had been closed."

She tried for years to get the files released, eventually hiring Anchorage attorney Jeffrey Robinson to argue they be unsealed in federal court in Alaska.

In April, a judge ordered the government to release all the interviews, as well as the psychological evaluation.

Callahan's book about Keyes, "A Dark Night in Alaska: The Hunt for the Perfect Serial Killer," will be published in 2019.

'Anything with a heartbeat'

In April, Keyes submitted to a 6.5-hour evaluation by Dr. Ronald Roesch, a Washington psychologist. It was meant to determine whether Keyes was sane enough to make legal decisions for himself.

The evaluation found that Keyes was sane and at the "high average" end of the intelligence spectrum. He was found to have antisocial tendencies.

He also told Roesch a version of his life history. He said he was born in Cove, Utah, to a large Mormon family. He was the second oldest of 10 children. When he was 3 or 4, the family settled in the woods outside Colville, Washington — a remote hamlet in the northeastern part of the state.

Officials released this photo of Israel Keyes at the time the FBI and the Anchorage Police Department were investigating the disappearance of Samantha Koenig in Anchorage in February 2012.

His parents had by then become fundamentalist Christians, moving from churches Keyes described as "Amish" to a "more militant militia sort of church" when he was a teenager. They lived at times without electricity and home-schooled the children. For years, some of the kids slept in a tent. The kids earned money through under-the-table jobs cutting firewood or working on farms. He said he spent time in the woods and hunted "anything with a heartbeat."

Keyes was obsessed with guns from childhood. As an adolescent, Keyes said he shot at houses with BB guns, broke into homes and started fires in the woods. Later, he slipped into the cabins of neighbors to steal guns, which he secreted in a cache in the family home. When his parents found out, they made him apologize and return the guns, according to an anecdote in the evaluation.

In an already isolated family, Keyes said he kept to himself.

"He stated that there are two sides to him, but people know only one side," Roesch wrote.

He talked about a need for control, a theme in his interactions with investigators as well as his killings.

In his teenage years, he renounced the Christian faith, which led to a schism between him and his father. In 1997 or 1998 the family moved to Maupin, a high-desert town along the Deschutes River in Central Oregon. He and his brothers helped their dad build a house.

In an interview with FBI investigators, Keyes said that he had by his late teenage years decided he could rape or kill and get away with it. He was also interested in satanism at this time, and began to plan a satanic ritual killing involving a young woman.

The area where Keyes was working was a popular place for inner-tubers to float the Deschutes River. Keyes told investigators that one day he stood on a beach along the river, waded out and grabbed a woman who was last in her group of tubers, a teenage girl with sandy-blond hair.

He dragged her to a remote campground bathroom, tied her up with ropes and raped her, he said. Keyes planned to strangle the girl and dump her body in the toilet pit, where he thought it wouldn't be discovered for a long time. He had knives with him to use for a satanic ritual.

The girl was a teenager, maybe between the ages of 14 and 18, he told investigators. She was "really scared," he said. "She kept saying she wasn't going to tell anybody."

He told her to shut up but she kept talking, he told the investigators.

"She was pretty smart. It worked," he said. "Things never got really violent like they could have if she had been fighting me."

He let her go.

"I was too timid," he told investigators. "I wasn't violent enough."

"I made up my mind I was never going to let that happen again," he said.

He was never charged with the crime. It's unclear if the investigators located the victim.

Murder spree

After Oregon, at 20, Keyes took a high school equivalency test and joined the Army. He liked the survival skills aspect of military training, he said.

Keyes made friends among the soldiers and drank a lot, he said. He was stationed for six months in Egypt, where he and his friends took trips to Tel Aviv to patronize prostitutes, he told investigators.

During this time, Keyes resolved to act on his fantasies of killing strangers, he told the investigators. He decided he was an atheist.

"I guess you could say I came to terms with myself and the reasons I wanted to do it," he said.

After his deployment, stationed at Fort Lewis south of Seattle, he met a woman from the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. She was pregnant with their child when he got out of the Army, he told investigators.

He spent most of the next six years living on the reservation with her and their child, working in the parks and recreation department for the tribal authority. He spent a lot of time in the forests and mountains of the Olympic Peninsula and made long trips to Eastern Washington, where he'd spent most of his childhood. He suggested to investigators that this was when he began killing people.

"I just accepted it was a matter of time, time and opportunity before I did something again," he said.

Investigators pressed for clues about other victims. Had the crimes possibly taken place on national park land? State park land? Keyes wouldn't say. They searched his boat — he said a homemade anchor might have been of interest.

He and his daughter's mother broke up and he began dating a new woman. When she moved to Anchorage around 2007, he and his daughter followed.

A confession to a Vermont double slaying

Vermont State Police investigators pause to allow a dog to inspect dirt and debris at a dig site off Vermont 15 near Lang Farm in Essex, Vt., Thursday, April 12, 2012, in what Essex Police Chief Brad LaRose described as part of the ongoing investigation into the disappearance of William and Lorraine Currier. Israel Keyes confessed to killing the Curriers. (Ryan Mercer / Burlington Free Press)

Keyes told investigators he traveled widely. Until the Koenig abduction, he said, he followed a rule about never killing too close to home.

In the interviews, Keyes confessed in detail to killing a middle-aged couple, Bill and Lorraine Currier, in Vermont in June 2011.

He chose the Essex, Vermont, couple to kill for no reason beyond the design of their home, he said. They lived in a house with an attached garage that would be easy to enter. He cut phone lines before bursting into the bedroom where the animal hospital technician and medical practice worker slept. He let them put on slippers rather than walk across broken glass as he led them to their car, which he would use to take them to an abandoned farmhouse.

Calmly, he told investigators that he bound the woman. He bludgeoned her husband in the basement. The man called out "Where's my wife?" Keyes shot him. The woman was "feisty," he said. She tried to fight him. He described pouring Drano on the bodies before packing them into garbage bags.

He stopped in the middle of the crime to smoke a cigar in the backyard, wet from a rainstorm. He noted that when he was in Vermont on the trip to kill the Curriers, he had gone fishing. He'd made sure to buy a legal fishing license.

Beyond this confession, Keyes didn't describe any other killings in detail.

"The things I've done … I don't feel bad about them," Keyes told the investigators. "I did them for myself. … It's better for me to keep them to myself. They're mine."

A photo of Bill and Lorraine Currier along with a yellow ribbon is displayed on a tree on the couple’s front lawn Dec. 29, 2011, in Essex, Vt. Israel Keyes confessed to killing the Curriers. (Matt Ryan / Burlington Free Press)

As the hours piled up in the interrogation room, Keyes grew more at ease discussing how he fantasized and planned killings in the midst of an otherwise ordinary seeming life in Anchorage.

He talked about the public Israel Keyes, who lived with a nurse practitioner girlfriend and his school-aged daughter on a street in the Turnagain neighborhood where the neighbors included a Superior Court judge.

Law enforcement personnel search the home where Israel Keyes lived on Oct. 23, 2012 in West Anchorage. Keyes was jailed in April for allegedly abducting and killing 18-year-old Samantha Koenig in February. (Erik Hill / ADN)

When FBI agents searched the house, they found the couple's well-behaved pugs and the little ramp Keyes had built for them to get into the backyard. He talked about hobbies: fishing, boats, hiking, camping, kayaking at Eklutna Lake. Regular things Alaskans do. But Keyes' motivation wasn't regular.

"You go fishing, or out hunting. Stalking through the woods. You see somebody through the woods," he said. "They don't see you. Sit there and watch them for a while."

He wasn't picky about his victims, he said. He liked them to be "lightweight" because they were easier to dispose. After he became a father he "tried to avoid situations" that might end with him hurting a child.

Keyes said his "retirement plan" was to build a dungeon in his home. He told investigators about a cache of potential body disposal tools he had secreted along a bank of Eagle River. They found it, based on Keyes' directions.

"I only left that stuff there because I was planning on using it eventually," he said. "I don't like to litter."

'How long am I willing to sit in jail?'

As the interviews went on, Keyes was spending 23 hours a day in a cell. The guards were "watching him like a hawk," he complained. He wanted the death penalty and told investigators he had no "long-term interest in survival" in prison.

"How long am I willing to sit in jail?" he asked.

By October, the agents told Keyes they were losing patience.

Their bosses believed they were being played by him, they told him. They were under pressure to produce names and locations of the people Keyes claimed to have killed.

"The ground is freezing, Israel," said Steve Payne, an FBI agent. "If you want to be involved in helping us … it was 18 degrees outside yesterday. We don't have a lot of time to play with. And it's a long, cold winter."

Flowers are left at an overlook of Matanuska Lake on April 26, 2012. FBI divers found the body of Samantha Koenig under the ice there in April 2012. Police say she was abducted from an Anchorage coffee stand in February and killed by Israel Keyes. (Marc Lester / ADN)

They repeated the proposition: You give us information, we go out and look for bodies.

"My whole issue is to keep control of it," Keyes told them.

His biggest concern was that the details of his crimes would become public in the media. He wanted to shield his daughter from that, he said.

The last recording unsealed this year by the court ends on Oct. 30, 2012. Keyes talked again to interviewers on Nov. 29.

A few days later, he was dead.

On Dec. 2, 2012, Keyes asserted his final act of control, strangling and slashing himself to death in his cell at the Cook Inlet Pretrial Facility.

More than five years later, "some aspects of the case are still considered open," according to Anchorage FBI spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier.

None of the law enforcement agents or attorneys who talked to Keyes were willing to be interviewed for this story. Investigators say no other homicides have been definitively linked to Keyes aside from Koenig and the Curriers.

In some of the interviews, Keyes seemed relieved to be talking about his hidden life. He had developed a certain intimacy with his interrogators.

"You guys know more about me now than anyone," he said.

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