Israel Keyes, suspect in multiple U.S. deaths, found dead in Alaska jail

12/03/2012 7:03 AM

12/03/2012 7:01 PM

Israel Keyes, accused in the kidnapping and killing of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig, was found dead Sunday morning in an apparent jail suicide, and he is suspected in at least seven other deaths outside Alaska, authorities said.

At a hastily called press briefing Sunday, authorities announced his death and made a series of startling revelations, starting with the fact they believe Keyes was a serial killer. The U.S. attorney for Alaska, the top FBI agent here and Anchorage's police chief all spoke, as did those directly working the Keyes case. They disclosed that Keyes had talked repeatedly to investigators.

His killings may date back a decade or longer, the FBI said at the briefing in the U.S. Attorney's office in Anchorage. His victims all appeared to be strangers to him, prey from random encounters. And investigators suspect he killed more than the eight they've zeroed in on. He'd fly someplace, rent a car, then drive hundreds of miles away, the FBI said. While he stole from Koenig using her ATM card, and confessed to bank robberies in Texas and New York, his motive did not appear to be financial, authorities said.

Keyes told investigators he killed Koenig, a Vermont couple and five others, Karen Loeffler, U.S. attorney for Alaska, said. Investigators were able to corroborate enough of what he said about the deaths of William and Lorraine Currier of Essex, Vt., to be convinced he was responsible, though they were not able to find the couple's bodies, Loeffler said. Sunday marked the first time officials publicly connected Keyes to the Curriers, who disappeared in June 2011.

He also said he killed four other people in Washington state, where he used to live, and one person in New York state, said Mary Rook, the FBI special agent in charge of the Anchorage office.

Authorities "developed information that he was responsible for multiple additional victims," Rook said. "To our knowledge, there are no other victims here in Alaska. They were all in the Lower 48."

Authorities have not been able to identify the suspected additional victims, or recover their bodies, she said. He didn't tell their names, authorities said.

"Even though Mr. Keyes is now dead, our investigation continues," Rook said.

Investigators are analyzing years of financial and travel records to try to piece together Keyes' actions, she said. They have consulted with the FBI behavioral analysis unit based in Quantico, Va., for insight into his personality, she said. The investigation aims to close unsolved homicide and missing person cases, and give some measure of peace to friends and families of the dead, Rook said.

Loeffler described the investigation since Koenig's Feb. 1 disappearance as "massive."

Keyes was found dead in a cell at the Anchorage correctional complex Sunday morning, according to Beth Ipsen, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers. Troopers were notified about 6:30 a.m., she said at Sunday's news conference.

Troopers determined Keyes died "of an apparent suicide," Ipsen said. "I can tell you that he was alone in his cell. ... We don't suspect foul play." Ipsen said troopers are awaiting autopsy results before disclosing how he died. Neither troopers nor the other officials would say if he left a suicide note.

KEYES TALKED ABOUT KILLINGS

Keyes, 34, a once self-employed carpenter and an Army veteran, had been jailed since March on federal charges connected with Koenig's disappearance and death.

"What we do know about him is he worked alone," FBI agent Jolene Goeden said. "He traveled a lot. He was a loner. He would go to a state and get a vehicle and he would drive."

Anchorage police and FBI investigators spent dozens of hours talking to Keyes in the months since his arrest, they said Sunday. He was continuing to cooperate, talking to investigators as recently as Thursday, but only letting out bits of information at a time. His suicide hurts the ongoing law enforcement investigation, authorities said.

"As of this week, we were still obtaining valuable information from Mr. Keyes," said Kevin Feldis, chief of criminal prosecutions for the U.S. attorney's office in Anchorage.

Before Sunday, police and the FBI had revealed little about the cases under investigation, sticking mainly to scripted statements.

"We needed to keep those lines of communication open," Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said. "He was very, very, very sensitive to his reputation, as odd as that sounds. And we had to keep things extremely quiet to keep him talking to us."

Koenig, a barista, was abducted from Common Grounds Espresso in Midtown as she was closing up the stand around 8 p.m. on Feb. 1. Mew said Sunday that Keyes took her at gunpoint. Family and friends organized a massive search. Volunteers posted fliers with her picture all over Alaska. Hundreds showed up for a Town Square vigil on Feb. 11 at which a pastor pleaded with her kidnapper to free her. But she was already dead.

"We are convinced both from the confession, and from corroborating evidence, that Samantha was killed that night, long, long before anybody received reports of her being missing," Mew said.

Surveillance video from the coffee stand showed a struggle but the images were shadowy and didn't help much, he said. A second video from the nearby Home Depot parking lot showed a man and Koenig approaching a white pickup truck, later identified as his 2004 Chevrolet Silverado, but it was shot from a camera hundreds of feet away. The video was pixelated, but investigators were able to pull images from it that eventually helped convince Keyes to talk, authorities said.

Police determined there were about 3,000 similar trucks of around that year in Anchorage. Traffic officers were dispatched to check out every one, Mew said.

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

But that didn't get them to Keyes. Officers hadn't made their way down the list to his truck before his arrest.

ATM TRAIL

Authorities were not prepared to release any details on Sunday about how he killed his victims or about evidence they obtained from searches. His former home in West Anchorage was scoured, as was property he owns in upstate New York. Among other things, investigators hauled away a shed from his Anchorage yard.

Mew and Loeffler said they wanted to first talk to the victims' families. Prosecutors said his sudden death means they will never get the same sense of justice and finality that a jury trial or guilty plea would bring.

Some details are known. In February, Keyes obtained Koenig's debit card -- Mew said he got it from her boyfriend's truck. He began making withdrawals, first in Anchorage and then in the Southwest. He texted police a ransom note from Koenig's cellphone to get more money.

That's why police thought she might be still alive, Mew said. Anchorage authorities were working with the FBI, police departments, sheriff's offices, and state law enforcement all around the Southwest, Mew said.

"We were picking up instant notices of ATM withdrawals, picking up photographs from the ATMs" and traffic cameras, Mew said. Keyes' rental car, a white Ford Focus, showed up in an ATM video.

Agents were up all night following his ATM trail of cash withdrawals and photos, Anchorage police investigator Jeff Bell said.

"We were 10 minutes behind him," Bell said.

Investigators aren't sure whether Koenig was Keyes' last victim. They don't know what all he did in Texas.

suspected SERIAL KILLER REVEALED

On March 13, a highway patrol officer in Lufkin, Texas, spotted the Ford Focus and pulled it over. Until then, investigators didn't know the name of the man they were looking for, Mew said. Koenig's debit card and cellphone -- with the battery removed to prevent tracking -- were inside, police said.

Keyes was charged with financial fraud and brought to Anchorage. He was interrogated by a team from the FBI, Anchorage police and the U.S. Attorney's Office, and he confessed to Koenig's murder, Loeffler said.

He told them he hid her body under the ice in Matanuska Lake north of Anchorage and used a chain saw to cut a hole and slip her body into the water, Mew said, explaining for the first time how police knew precisely where to look. FBI divers pulled her body out of the lake on April 2.

During that initial confession, investigators and prosecutors began to suspect that Koenig "was likely and sadly not Mr. Keyes' first victim" -- and they all had different reasons for coming to that conclusion, Feldis said. "Which immediately led us to develop a plan of how we were going to get him to talk to us about these other crimes, where the investigation needed to go. That's really what we were doing for the past nine months."

The suspect came across as highly organized and methodical, Feldis said.

Keyes soon admitted he killed the Curriers, Feldis said. He told authorities he had hid their bodies in an abandoned farmhouse in Essex, Vt., but it had been torn down by the time investigators got that information, Mew said. And he said there were more.

Koenig's body is the only one authorities have found so far. Keyes was thorough, Mew said.

None of the officials on Sunday could say what drove Keyes to kill. Investigators are still researching his background. They all struggled to understand why he did it, Loeffler said.

"This isn't a concrete thing that somebody can answer," she said.

In a court appearance in May, Keyes tried to flee the courtroom, vaulting over the rail separating defendants and lawyers from spectators. Deputy marshals used a Taser to shock and subdue him. Bell said Sunday that Keyes had noticed his leg irons were loose, so wiggled his way out. He thought he might get away, Bell said.

"He told us that if he even had a 1 percent chance, why not go for it," Bell said.

Keyes' trial for the charges related to Koenig's death had been scheduled to begin in March. The U.S. Attorney's Office had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty, Feldis said. Keyes never showed remorse, he said.

"This has been massive," Loeffler said. "It started out massive with the Anchorage Police Department doing every possible thing they could to find Samantha Koenig under the hope that she was still alive. And it evolved into massive when we found out what we had."

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com.

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