Sunday, January 27, 2013
Trying to unlock secrets of dead serial killer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska—The suspect, hands and feet shackled, fidgeted in his chair, chuckling at times as he confessed to a brutal killing.
Israel Keyes showed no remorse as he described in merciless detail how he'd abducted and strangled an 18-year-old woman, then demanded ransom, pretending she was alive. As the two prosecutors questioned him, they were struck by his demeanor: He seemed pumped up, as if he were reliving the crime. His body shook, they said, and he rubbed his muscular arms on the chair rests so vigorously his handcuffs scraped off the wood finish.
The prosecutors had acceded to Keyes' requests: a cup of Americano coffee, a peanut butter Snickers and a cigar (for later). Then they showed him surveillance photos,
looked him in the eye and declared: We know you kidnapped Samantha Koenig. We're going to convict you.
They aimed to solve a disappearance, and they did. But they soon realized there was much more here: a kind of evil they'd never anticipated.
Confessing to Koenig's killing, Keyes used a Google map to point to a spot on a lake where he'd disposed of her dismembered body and gone ice fishing at the same time. He wasn't done talking, though. He declared he'd been "two different people" for 14 years. He had stories to tell, stories he said he'd never shared. He made seemingly plural references and chilling remarks such as, "It takes a long time to strangle someone."
As prosecutors Kevin Feldis and Frank Russo and investigators
from the FBI and Anchorage police listened that day in early 2012, they came to a consensus:
Israel Keyes wasn't talking just about Samantha Koenig. He'd killed before.
In 40 hours of interviews over eight months, Keyes talked of many killings; authorities believe there were nearly a dozen. He traveled from Vermont to Alaska hunting for victims. He said he buried "murder kits" around the country so they would be readily accessible. These caches—containing guns, zip ties and
other supplies used to dispose of bodies—were found in Alaska and New York.
At the same time, incredibly, Keyes was an under-the-radar everyday citizen—a father, a live-in boyfriend, a respected handyman who had no trouble finding jobs in the community.
Keyes claimed he killed four people in Washington state, dumped another body in New York and raped a teen in Oregon. He said he robbed banks to help finance his crimes; authorities corroborated two robberies in New York and Texas. He confessed to burning down a house in Texas, contentedly watching the flames from a distance.
Though sometimes specific, he was often frustratingly vague. Only once—other than Koenig—did he identify by name his victims: a married couple in Vermont.
Israel Keyes wanted to be in control. Of his crimes. Of how much he revealed. And, ultimately, of his fate.
In December, he slashed his left wrist and strangled himself with a sheet in his jail cell. He left two pages of bloodstained writings. And many questions.
Investigators are now left searching for answers, but they face a daunting task: They're convinced the 34-year-old Keyes was a serial killer; they've verified many details he provided. But they have a puzzle that spans the U.S. and dips into Mexico and Canada—and the one person who held the missing pieces is dead. FBI agents on opposite ends of the country, joined by others, are working the case, hoping a timeline will offer clues to his grisly odyssey.
But they know, too, that Israel Keyes' secrets are buried with him—and may never be unearthed.
Authorities aren't certain when Keyes' crime spree began or ended. But they have a haunting image of his last known victim.
Snippets of a surveillance video show the first terrifying moments of Koenig's abduction. Keyes is seen as a shadowy figure in ski mask and hood outside Common Grounds, a tiny Anchorage coffee shack then partially concealed from a busy six-lane highway by mountains of snow.
It's Feb. 1, 2012, about 8 p.m., closing time. Koenig is shown handing Keyes a cup of coffee, then backing away with her hands up, as if it's a robbery. The lights go out and Keyes next appears as a fuzzy image climbing through the drive-thru window.
Authorities outlined his next steps:
Keyes forced Koenig to his Silverado; he'd already bound her hands with zip ties and gagged her. He hid her in a shed outside his house, turned on loud music so no one could hear if she screamed, then returned to the coffee shack to retrieve scraps of the restraints and get her phone.
On Feb. 2, Keyes raped and strangled Koenig. He left her in that shed, flew to Houston and embarked on a cruise, returning about two weeks later.
He then took a photo of Koenig's body holding a Feb. 13 newspaper to make it appear she was alive. Keyes wrote a ransom note on the back, demanding $30,000 be placed in her account. He texted a message, directing the family to a dog park where the note could be found. Her family deposited some money from a reward fund.
On Feb. 29, Keyes withdrew $500 in ransom money from an Anchorage ATM, using a debit card stolen from Koenig's boyfriend (the two shared an account). The next day, $500 more was retrieved from another ATM.
Then on March 7, far away in Willcox, Ariz., Keyes withdrew $400. He traveled to Lordsburg, N.M., and took out $80. Two days later, a withdrawal of $480 in Humble, Texas. On March 11, the same amount from an ATM in Shepherd, Texas.
By then, authorities had a blurry ATM photo and a pattern: Keyes was driving along route I-10 in a rented white Ford Focus. On March 13, nearly 3,200 miles from Anchorage, police in Lufkin, Texas, pounced when they spotted Keyes driving 3 mph above the speed limit.
Inside his car was an incriminating stash: Rolls of cash in rubber bands. A piece of a gray T-shirt cut out to make a face mask. A highlighted map with routes through California, Arizona and New Mexico. The stolen debit card. And Samantha Koenig's phone.
Monique Doll, the lead Anchorage police investigator in the Koenig case, and her partner, Jeff Bell, rushed to Texas for a crack at Keyes.
Doll showed Keyes the ransom note.
"I told him that the first couple of times that I read the ransom I thought that whoever wrote the note was a monster and the more I read it —it must have been 100 times—the more I came to understand that monsters aren't born but are created and that this person had a story to tell."
Keyes' response, she says, was firm: "I can't help you."
Two weeks later in custody back in Alaska, he changed his mind.
He told another investigator, Doll says, to relay a message: "Tell her she's got her monster."