The news media likes to call him the Alaska serial killer. But unfortunately Israel Keyes is one of ours, another haunting face staring down from Washington’s serial slaying hall of shame. He ranks somewhere between the tireless Gary Ridgeway and the wily Ted Bundy, who happened to be Keyes’ murderous idol - Keyes even killed two people in Bundy’s hometown. Raised in Eastern Washington and living most his adult life in Western Washington where he committed four of his eight confessed homicides, the 34-year-old long-distance killer is thought to have shot or strangled a dozen victims around the U.S. before killing himself in his Anchorage jail cell last December. His razor cutting and bedsheet hanging aborted an ongoing jailhouse confessional in which he had coyly dribbled out bits of chilling details to law enforcement officials. But the more they learned, the less they knew. For nine months, investigators have been struggling to put names and places to as many as nine of his possible victims.
“So we are trying to get information out there about what he did tell us,” Anchorage FBI agent Jolene Goeden said this week, releasing new videotape, a timeline map and other details about Keyes’ perhaps 15-year killing spree. Stumped investigators hope the info will generate new leads. “We are letting the public know the types of cars he rented, towns he visited, campgrounds he frequented,” says Goeden. “Anything that might spur someone’s memory could help us.”
Raised in Colville, Stevens County, Keyes’ first known murder was the double slaying of a couple in Washington sometime after 2001, about the time he left military service at Fort Lewis and settled in Neah Bay (he moved to Alaska with his girlfriend in 2007). In his jailhouse conversations, Keyes said he also killed two others in the state, in separate incidents, between 2005 and 2006.
In the new timeline, the FBI expands the backstory, saying Keyes refused to say whether his first victims were married or what their relationship was to one another. “It is unknown if the victims were residents of Washington, tourists, or residents he abducted from a nearby state and transported to Washington,” the FBI says. “Keyes alluded to the fact these victims were buried in a location near a valley. Keyes may have moved the victims’ car to place distance between where the vehicle was found and where the crime occurred.”
In confessing to the second and third Washington murders, Keyes was just as evasive. But, the FBI says now, he did say he “used his boat to dispose of the bodies of these victims. Keyes stated at least one of the bodies was disposed of in Crescent Lake in Washington, where he used anchors to submerge the body. Keyes reported the body was submerged in more than 100 feet of water. Keyes may have moved the victims’ cars to place distance between where the vehicles were found and where the crime occurred. The identity of these victims is unknown.”
As the Weekly reported in January, Keyes went the extra mile to find strangers to kill - in one case, taking a 6,000-mile round-trip to Bundy’s hometown, Burlington, Vermont, where he brutally killed a married couple, Bill and Lorraine Currier of suburban Essex. He picked them at random, and in a late-night entry to their home wearing a headlamp, cut phone lines and confronted the frightened couple in bed at gunpoint. He bound them with zip ties and drove them to a nearby abandoned farmhouse. Keyes battered Bill, 50, with a shovel, then shot him. He then raped Lorrraine, 55, choking her out during the sex act, leading her to another room and strangling her to death.
Keyes’ style was to blend into the landscapes of faraway towns, watching potential victims. He favored secluded parks, trailheads, and graveyards. He racked up tens of thousands of travel miles since the late 1990s, and from just October 2004 to March 2012, took at least 35 road trips and flights, traveling for weeks on end throughout the continental U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Hawaii. The builder and handyman helped supplement his jaunts with bank robberies and burglaries.
Absolutely no one was on his far-flung trail. But Keyes then veered from his m.o., and murdered close to home – literally - killing a young woman in a shed next to his house. He kidnapped 18-year-old Anchorange barista Samantha Koenig, holding her in an outbuilding on his property where he sexually assaulted then asphyxiated her in early February, 2012. A month later, he was arrested in Texas; Koenig’s cell phone and Visa debit card were found in his car. Facing the death penalty, Keyes opened up. As assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis told SW, “We laid out our photos, videos, the ATM records, and other evidence, and explained there was no doubt he’d be convicted. With his attorney’s approval, he agreed to talk.”
After investigators found news reports on the Vermont double murder on Keyes’ home computer, he confessed to that, too, then revealed the four Washington murders, one in New York, and hinted at others. His motive may have been a life sentence in return for his statements. Green River killer Ridgway did that in Seattle in 2003 for the murders of 48 women (his body count likely numbered more than 70, but he had lost track). Keyes had reigned at least as long as Ridgway, and had geographically outdistanced Bundy, whose 30-murder spree covered seven states between 1974 and 1978.
“I’m two different people, basically,” said Keyes in a jailhouse chat. “And the only person who knows about what I’m telling you, the kind of things I’m telling you, is me.” If he roamed farther and was active longer than Bundy, could he have killed more than his idol? Last December, in an unmarked grave in Eastern Washington, Keyes was buried with the answer.