The Strange, Violent Reach of Israel Keyes

Date Published 12.05.12

I've always admired Steve Huff's original mind.  He was one of the first to see the true crime potential in a blank search bar.  I'm honored to have him as a guest blogger, especially on this case, the kind Steve does best --- vast, breaking, a deceptive story that at first glance seemed small and local, but now is anything but...

Steve is a writer for the New York Observer and the Observer's tech blog, Betabeat.com.  He also created @LIFECOACHERS.  Follow him on Twitter @stevehuff.

 

*****

Israel Keyes was an immensely clear-headed and organized serial killer, akin to a suspense novelist's clever, highly competent invention. He wasn't a fictional creation, though. No, Keyes looked like a regular guy. He was on the tall side, about 6'2", and in good shape. Medium-colored hair, dark eyes. He was ex-military. He lived at a stable address with a woman and her child. In 2006, he placed 129th in a marathon in Olympia, Washington. When he was arrested he had his own construction business in Anchorage, Alaska. He charged "as low as 35.00 an hour" depending on when the job was done. Israel Keyes had a MySpace he never really used and he had a commonsense Yahoo email address,israelkeyes@yahoo.com. An average, busy guy's web presence. He was an Everyman. He blended in.

Serial murder can be hideously prosaic. The men (and sometimes women) who habitually kill to satisfy lust or rage or voices in their heads or all these things combined are never as precise and cold-blooded as a novelist's creation. Most of them make mistakes. Even those who have never been caught made mistakes. They just weren't bad enough mistakes to finally put a name to the secrets written in the blood trails.

For a time, maybe as long as a decade if not longer, Israel Keyes made very few mistakes. When he finally did and was arrested for kidnapping and murdering Anchorage barista Samantha Koenig in early 2012, he went ahead and admitted--to a degree--to what he was and what he'd done.

He did a lot.

Based on interviews and investigations done since Israel Keyes was arrested in March 2012, the FBI believes he traversed the U.S. for 11 years and committed many murders along the way. It was his past-time. His hobby.

Keyes was nonchalant about his hobby.  In interviews with astonished investigators he matter-of-factly doled out just enough details to assure them he was no desperate fabulist.  Then, just as his vague but chilling admissions set cold case departments across the country scrambling through their files, Keyes pulled his final act of violence, the ultimate gesture of a control freak who wanted the last laugh: he killed himself.   The details of Keyes’ suicide on Sunday are still hazy, but he was alone in his cell and not on suicide watch at the time, though he had been in the past.

Keyes lived in Washington State from 2001 till 2007, then he moved to Alaska, where he found work as an independent carpenter.

He traveled constantly, all across the nation, and in interviews he gave investigators before his suicide, Keyes revealed the mind of an ice-cold, methodical psychopath. He may have been the ultimate "organized" serial killer.

His methods were untraceable.

Based on what he told police, Keyes would typically fly to a city, pick up a rental car, then sometimes drive for hours, even days, to reach his real destination. Once there he would choose his victims purely at random.

That's what he did with Bill and Loraine Currier.

The Curriers, who vanished in 2011, lived in Essex, Vermont. They didn't know Israel Keyes. He didn't know them.

On June 2, 2011, Keyes flew from Alaska to Chicago. He told investigators his purpose was to kidnap and murder someone.

In Chicago he rented a car and headed east.

Five days later, Keyes checked into the Handy Suites on Susie Wilson Road in Essex Junction, Vermont. The next night he began scouting for a victim. He told police he zeroed in on the Curriers because their house had an attached garage. There were no cars in the drive and no sign of children in the home. They didn't have a dog. Keyes, a seasoned construction worker and carpenter, also felt he could accurately guess the home's floor plan and predict the location of the bedroom.

He was right. By his own account, Keyes was on the Curriers within 10 seconds of breaking in. They awakened to a stranger, wearing a headlamp, carrying a gun and bearing zip-ties.

He took them to an abandoned farmhouse nearby, where he eventually shot Bill Currier before raping then killing Lorraine. Keyes said he hid their remains under the structure. Police have yet to recover their bodies.

Less than a year after he killed the Curriers, Israel Keyes kidnapped Samantha Koenig, and an Associated Press account of her ordeal, published December 4, tells a story just as nightmarish as what happened to the Curriers:

"In the most detailed account yet of what happened to Samantha Koenig, who disappeared in February, authorities said Israel Keyes told them he strangled the 18-year-old, then left her body in a shed outside his Anchorage house until he returned from his cruise from New Orleans."

The AP also reported that Keyes later dismembered Koenig's body before sawing through an iced-over lake to hide her remains.

The degree to which Keyes planned his crimes is astonishing in its own way. He buried caches of weapons, money and tools used to get rid of his prey across the U.S. The FBI found two of his stores, one in Eagle River, AK, the other thousands of miles away, by the Blakes Falls Reservoir in New York State.

Keyes said he hunted humans in parks, campgrounds, trailheads, even cemeteries; any place that was isolated and out-of-the-way.

He killed at least four in Washington State; two in 2005 and 2006, then a couple between 2001 and 2005. Keyes also confessed to a 2009 murder somewhere on the east coast. He transported that victim to New York State, where he had a cabin near the Canadian border.

Monsters like Israel Keyes always provoke the same, persistent questions and those questions are rarely answered to anyone's satisfaction. The main question for most of us is usually, "why?" One answer is there are just some people who at some point completely embrace that inner animal, that monster that thrills to violence and degradation. Of course, that doesn't explain everything. Sometimes people are simply evil. They do evil things. They like it.

With Israel Keyes a more pressing, immediate question is this: who else did he kill, and when?

Attacking a home he'd only had under surveillance for less than a day may say a lot about Keyes's experience as a killer. For one thing, it says that by 2011 he was supremely confident in his ability to subdue and control two adults. He was a big man, but not that big. By 2011, he'd had some practice.

Serial killers like Henry Lee Lucas have inflated their crimes, bragging that they'd killed outlandishly large numbers of people. A twisted ego like Lucas's needed the fame and status a reputation as a prolific homicidal maniac might confer in popular culture and even in the microcosm of prison life.

After Keyes's death, Reuters quoted Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis, who said of Keyes, "We have no doubt [...] he was telling us the truth." Regarding Keyes's true number of victims, Feldis added that investigators were not ready to "put a number on it." Keyes may have been hesitant to really talk about his crimes, aside from detailing what he'd done to the Curriers and Samantha Koenig, but wherever they've looked, investigators have turned up clear evidence that what he did tell them was true.

Given the killer's wide-ranging travels, the field of possible Keyes victims is too broad for one article or post. Here are a handful that may fit his method of operation:

 

  • Maura Murray--Maura vanished from a snowy, rural New Hampshire road in February, 2004 and remains missing to this day. Israel Keyes likely knew the back roads of upstate New York and his attack on the Curriers in Vermont may indicate he was familiar with parts of New England as well. There's a chance Maura had an unlucky encounter with him on that mysterious Winter's day. Author James Renner, who runs a blog about Maura's case, doesn't think she fell prey to Keyes, writing, "It is extremely unlikely that Keyes happened to be driving by the scene of Maura's accident in rural New Hampshire in the seven minutes she was alone and decided to abduct her in clear view of three homes. It would be too much of a coincidence in timing. And Keyes had no control of the scene."

 

  • Stevan Haugen, Jeanette Bauman, Haugen's dog, Caesar--Haugen, Bauman and Caesar were found shot to death in the Willamette Forest near Oakridge, Oregon on July 1, 2005. Their killer took license plates and perhaps some fishing gear from the scene. The remote location as well as the practical step of stealing the plates may suggest Keyes or a killer with a similar mindset. The couple is just as likely to have fallen victim to another mysterious killer who was comfortable with remote locations, like Joseph Henry Burgess

 

  • Lindsay Cutshall and Jason Allen--The unsolved murders of Cutshall and Allen on a remote Northern California beach in August, 2004 drive both amateur and professional sleuths to distraction.  The Christian camp counselors didn't have an enemy in the world, and were in a nominally safe area, just camping for the night. At some point someone shot them as they slept. Aside from the isolated location and proximity to some of Keyes's likely kill zones, an odd bit of evidence mentioned in some reports about the crime stands out: a bottle of Camo Beer was found near the scene. Camo has chiefly been sold in Texas, Illinois, Utah, California and Vermont. 

 

  • Susanna Stodden and Mary Cooper--Stodden and her mother, Mary Cooper, were slain while hiking near Pinnacle Lake in Washington in 2006. They may be the most likely Keyes victims among this selection of unsolved cases. They were in his favored sort of remote location and Keyes's home state of Washington and a thin timeline of Keyes's movements has him in the West and Alaska for most of 2006. Keyes, organized as he was, could also seize opportunities, even saying in a recorded interview that he "let" his victims come to him. It's easy to imagine Stodden and Cooper encountering the outwardly quiet and normal-seeming Keyes on the trail and not realizing what he was until it was too late.

 

The FBI timeline of Keyes’s travels, located below, is full of holes. It doesn't rule him out for much, but the timeline's vagueness underscores the feeling that an entire website could be devoted to listing possible victims and ultimately be incorrect about all of them.

However many he killed, Israel Keyes's true body count is hidden in those shadow-filled gaps of time.

If you think you can help the FBI add new details to their slowly developing portrait of this killer, get in touch with them at 1-800-CALL- FBI.

 

10/05/2004 to 10/16/2004 Eastern US?04/20/2005 to 04/25/2005 WA, British Columbia?05/10/2006 to 05/15/2006 Western US?09/01/2006 to 09/07/2006 Alaska?10/21/2006 to 10/23/2006 Western US, Mexico?11/08/2006 to 11/16/2006 Alaska?02/05/2007 to 02/08/2007 Southwest US?03/01/2007 to 03/09/2007 WA, Canada (drove to Alaska)?04/24/2007 to 05/04/2007 Western US, Mexico?08/26/2007 to 09/06/2007 Western US?10/29/2007 to 11/02/2007 Western US?11/12/2007 to 11/13/2007 Western US?12/04/2007 to 12/17/2007 Midwest and Western US?01/05/2008 to 01/08/2008 Western US?01/28/2008 to 02/15/2008 Southern US and Western US?05/11/2008 to 05/17/2008 Western US?07/03/2008 to 07/07/2008 Western US?09/16/2008 to 09/24/2008 Western US?10/24/2008 to 11/05/2008 Southwest US, Midwest US and Western US?12/05/2008 to 12/07/2008 Hawaii?12/11/2008 to 12/25/2008 Mexico?02/23/2009 to 02/27/2009 Western US?04/01/2009 to 04/14/2009 Eastern US, Western US?09/11/2009 to 10/03/2009 Southern US 12/17/2009 to 12/29/2009 Southern US?01/11/2010 to 02/25/2010 Western US?03/01/2010 to 03/10/2010 Western US?04/24/2010 to 04/30/2010 Western US?05/19/2010 to 07/18/2010 Midwest US and Western US?07/18/2010 to 07/22/2010 Southwest US?10/15/2010 to 10/25/2010 Midwest US, Eastern US?06/02/2011 to 06/16/2011 Midwest US, Eastern US?09/15/2011 to 09/25/2011 Western US?02/02/2012 to 02/18/2012 Southern US?03/06/2012 to 03/13/2012 Southwestern and Southern US

 

Israel Keyes

 

(Additional information from WCAX.com.)

 

More from Steve Huff here:

http://stevehuff.wordpress.com

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