From Being a Christian and Ex-Military to being a Serial Killer: Israel Keyes

Mugshot photo of Israel Keyes | Courtesy of Wikipedia

During the summer of 1997, there was a gathering of teenagers who were inner-tubing near the Deschutes River in Oregon. In a late afternoon, Israel Keyes patiently waited for a young girl between the ages of fourteen to eighteen to separate from the gathering. Keyes found his victim and abducted her, and led his victim away from the group, where he sexually assault the young girl before releasing her and making his getaway.1

Israel Keyes was the second oldest of ten children. As a toddler, his family left Utah and moved to Washington, where Keyes was raised in the Christian religion after his parents decided to leave the Mormon Church. As young Israel grew older, he started to break into neighbors’ homes to steal guns, torture animals, and would pursue anything to kill in order to sustain his need for being in control. While Keyes’ family lived in Washington, he became neighbors and childhood friends with the brothers Kehoe, who had been convicted of attempted murder as well as murder.2 Since being childhood friends with the Kehoe brothers, it is possible that some of their ideas would have helped shape Keyes’ mind into what it became. He developed an interest in Satanism in his teenage years. He grew up to be extremely self-centered, well organized, and intelligent, and he found that he was driven by the thought of violence, which over time soon made him love inflicting pain on others.3

In 1998, Israel Keyes joined the U.S. Army, and he served tours in Egypt, Fort Hood, and Fort Lewis until 2001, when he was honorably discharged. However, prior to his enlistment in the military, he had already committed crimes that law enforcement still had not yet solved. After being discharged, he started his own construction company in Alaska, which soon became his “base” from which he ventured out to nearly every region in the United States and abroad to commit murders. To help him commit these murders, he buried “kill kits” in the areas where he planned to commit his murders. These kits were plastic containers filled with weapons, money, and useful tools to kill and discard the victims’ bodies near his targeted area. Even though he had his construction business, he would not use the money earned from it to pay for items or trips related to the murders; instead, he would utilize the money he received from robbing banks during his journeys across the nation.4

Murder kits that Keyes would bury across the country in advance prior to committing a crime | Courtesy of Marlene Lenthang

Everything he bought was paid for with cash. He would purposely remove his cell phone’s battery to lessen the chance of being tracked down. He never committed murders in the same town twice and would kill far from his home. One major detail that distinguished him from other serial killers was that he did not have a victim profile. He preyed on both men and women of all ages during broad daylight and at night. Keyes would bury planned murder kits in random places and took extra caution to avoid being detected. He would search for his victims in parks, campgrounds, walking trails, boating areas, cemeteries, and remote areas, and took into consideration if they had an attached garage, any children, cars in the driveway, or dogs when targeting a home. After each murder, he would flee the area immediately. Keyes never had any previous connection with his victims, which made everything easier for him, since nobody would be able to recognize him. He would study the work of other serial killers and always tried to be better than them. Out of all the people he’d read about, he admired Ted Bundy, and he had plenty of similarities to him: they were both methodical, intelligent, and delighted in having possession over their victims; but despite their similarities, they had differences. Bundy’s murders were throughout the country because he would reside in different areas, but they were not as intentional as in the case of Keyes, and unlike most serial killers, he pulled back from the spotlight.5

Between the years of 2006 and 2008, Keyes traveled to Mexico and visited a plastic surgery clinic and other clinics to get dental work, a gastric band, and laser hair removal. He also had his fingerprints modified. Keyes’ family never believed in doctors or medicine, which made investigators wonder why Keyes scheduled them and kept his family in the dark about them. After discovering he had gone through plastic surgery, detectives decided to ask numerous questions to all his fellow soldiers, but with one in need of being answered, “What was his physical appearance back then?” Each man described that Keyes always stood out in several ways: his sheer size, when standing he stood between 6’2 and 6’4, was built like a rock, 230 pounds of muscle, and had a huge nose.6

During an evening in February 2012, Israel Keyes violated his own rules and made two mistakes. He had kidnapped and killed a victim in his hometown, which violated his rule about killing in his hometown. And he let an ATM camera photograph his rental vehicle while withdrawing money from his victim’s debit card. He kidnapped eighteen-year-old Samantha Koenig who worked as a barista. Keyes did not know his victim and he wasn’t stalking any specific coffee stand when he decided that a coffee stand was going to be a good place for an abduction. Prior to kidnapping Koenig, he drove around town and found out that Common Grounds was open the latest, and it was at that moment when he chose his target.7 Through surveillance cameras, Koenig was seen working on a coffee order, but when she handed Keyes his order, he revealed a gun. A few moments later Koenig handed money from the cash register to Keyes, and then he entered through the window. Once Keyes zip tied her hands, he led her away from the stand into his truck, and Koenig tried to run away but Keyes caught up to her and threatened to kill her if she ever tried to run away again. After detaining Samantha in his truck, he returned to the stand to get her cell phone, since he viewed it as an important part of his plan. Keyes demanded Samantha’s debit card, and she informed him that it was in her boyfriend’s truck. Without a thought, he went to get her card, leaving Koenig inside a shed in front of his house, and leaving a radio playing at high volume so no one could hear her cry for help. When he arrived at her house, he attempted to break into the truck, which alarmed Koenig’s boyfriend to step outside of the house to confront the stranger. The two had a brief altercation, in which Keyes barely escaped, while Koenig’s boyfriend went back inside his home to call for help. Keyes nevertheless got the debit card and escaped. Before heading home, he tested the card and the PIN that Samantha had given him and found that it worked, and withdrew money from her account and traveled back home. Once home, he sexually assaulted Koenig before suffocating her to death, leaving her in his shed with the cold temperature’s from outside. The following day, Keyes departed for New Orleans for a two-week-cruise and left Koenig in the shed in his yard. After he arrived back from the cruise, he photographed Koenig holding on to the newspaper of that day, and sent the photo to her family using it to exploit them, making them believe that she was still alive. Since Koenig’s body was left in cold temperature’s, she did not show any signs of decomposition, so to make her family think she was alive Keyes sewed her eyelids open to make her look alive. Her family raised the money in hopes of her return. Unfortunately, she had been dead for nearly two weeks and Keyes was prepared to get rid of the evidence. After her family deposited the money, he dismembered her body and buried it in the surface of a lake while he fished.8

Ransom photo of Samantha Koenig | Courtesy of Maureen Callahan

When Keyes withdrew money from Koenig’s account that initial night, police began tracking down each action that involved her debit card. Every time he would withdraw funds, he disguised his appearance. But a security camera from an ATM captured an image of Keyes’s rental car in Arizona. As soon as the FBI found out about the image, they informed Texas Highway Patrolmen about the vehicle and that anyone driving the vehicle was a person of interest. Luckily on March 16, 2012 in Lufkin, Texas, one of the Highway Patrolmen on patrol noticed the same vehicle that was described and followed the driver, wondering if they would do anything dumb. To his surprise, Keyes committed a traffic infraction that helped the Highway Patrolman to pull him over, and he asked Keyes for his driver’s license; without a doubt in his mind, he searched Keyes’ vehicle and found all the proof he needed to link him to Koenig’s abduction.9

Once Keyes was arrested, he was extradited from Texas back to Anchorage, Alaska on credit card fraud charges. Confronted with all evidence tying him to Koenig’s abduction, Keyes confessed to the crime and led law enforcement to where Koenig’s body was buried. A month after his arrest, a grand jury from Anchorage accused Keyes of the kidnapping and murder of Samantha Koenig. While Keyes awaited trial in jail, he was interviewed for over forty hours by detectives. While detectives interviewed him, he would not completely answer their questions, and Keyes would only talk about what he wanted, not what investigators would ask him.10

Keyes soon confessed to crimes he had committed in the eleven years prior, and told investigators that he felt no remorse towards his victims’ deaths. After a few interviews, he made a deal with law enforcement in exchange of his confessions. He wanted an assurance that he would be executed within a year and that he would go unidentified to the public about his crimes. He could not live being caged up, he said, and he did not want his daughter to know about his committed crimes. Slowly through interviews Keyes dropped hints about some of his victims, which alarmed investigators to create a timeline from all his trips, and from reported missing people, hoping that they would match disappearances, bank robberies, and unsolved murders to when Keyes was in the area.11

Suicide letter that Keyes stated to enjoy killing his victims and his disgust with peoples everyday lives | Courtesy of Daily Mail

During one interrogation, Keyes confessed to three other victims: a couple from Vermont and another person from New York. The investigators knew their identities. While Keyes would be in his jail cell, he secretly painted skulls with his own blood, which were discovered underneath his bed. Investigators believed that he committed rapes and murders between 2001 and 2012 involving twelve victims that would have potentially been the one’s Keyes drew.12 Three months before Keyes’ scheduled trial for Koenig’s murder, he committed suicide in his jail cell via strangulation with a bed sheet and self-inflicted wrist cuts despite guards being warned to not provide him a razor blade. To the surprise of authorities, under Keyes’ body was a multi-page suicidal letter soaked in his blood, which left investigators and Koenig’s family disappointed. Once the letter was analyzed, investigators concluded that it did not contain any evidence or clues to his crimes, but was purely a “creepy” poem to murder, written by a serial killer who loved to kill.13

After the discovery of Keyes death, the FBI sent out a petition to the public, asking that if anyone had any information to come forward and help them fill in their gaps of knowledge. Investigators have tracked Keyes’ travel and financial records to put up a timeline of his whereabouts from 2001 to 2012, searching for anyone who might have been contacted by him prior to his arrest in Texas.14

  1. Micheal Whelan, “Israel Keyes,” Unresolved Podcast, Nov. 13, 2015, https://unresolved.me/israel-keyes.
  2. Biography.com Editors, “Israel Keyes Biography,” A&E Television Networks, May 21, 2020, https://www.biography.com.
  3. Micheal Whelan, “Israel Keyes,” Unresolved Podcast, Nov. 13, 2015, https://unresolved.me/israel-keyes.
  4. Charles Montaldo, “Profile of Serial Killer Israel Keyes,” March 12, 2015, About.com, https://webachive.org/web/20160426203701/http://crime.about.com.
  5. Fredrik, “Israel Keyes,” Crime Scene Database, May 4, 2016, http://crimescenedb.com.
  6. Maureen Callahan, American Predator (New York: Viking, 2019), 226-230.
  7. “Serial Killer: Israel Keyes,” video file 12:30, Spotify, posted by Crime Junkie Podcasts, May 6, 2019, https://crimejunkiepodcast.com.
  8. Matt Pearce, “Attacks by suspected serial killer Israel Keyes followed a pattern,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 5, 2012, https://www.latimes.com.
  9. “Serial Killer: Israel Keyes,” video file 8:30, Spotify, posted by Crime Junkie Podcasts, May 6, 2019, https://crimejunkiepodcast.com
  10. Charles Montaldo, “Profile of Serial Killer Israel Keyes,” March 12, 2015, About.com, https://web.archive.org/web/20160426203701/http://crime.about.com.
  11. Maureen Callahan, American Predator (New York: Viking, 2019), 145-147.
  12. Marlene Lenthang, “FBI releases chilling images Alaska serial killer Israel Keyes drew ‘in his own blood’ of 11 skulls,” Daily Mail, May 14, 2020, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8320941/FBI-release-chilling-images-Alaska-serial-killer-Israel-Keyes-drew-blood-11-skulls.html.
  13. Maureen Callahan, American Predator (New York: Viking, 2019), 270, 273-275.
  14. “Crushed like a bug you still die: The chilling four-page note found underneath Alaska serial killer Israel Keys’ body after he slit his wrist,” Daily Mail, Feb. 16, 2013.

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53 Responses

  1. I had never heard of the serial killer Israel Keyes and this was very interestingly similar to that of Ted Bundy’s. It is crazy to think that our people amongst us in society can show no remorse for the vile actions they inflict on one another. I also found it quite interesting reading about how thought out and detailed Mr. Keyes was in his thought process throughout his murders. From hiding murder boxes in particular areas, to never committing murders within his hometown.I believe had it not been for his last murder with Ms. Koenig, he probably would have never been found and would have been able to substations amount of crimes.
    This was a great article that built a ton of suspense and was well crafted, great job!

  2. Though I am familiar with Ted Bundy, the story of Israel Keyes is very new to me, so the connection between Ted Bundy and Israel Keyes, and how he admired the works of Ted Bundy, made this story a lot more eerie. In hindsight, you can see the regard for life and emotion be stripped away, but not completely, as Israel Keyes grew older, from hurting small animals, to sexually assaulting and killing human people. The selfish nature of Israel Keyes makes this story even more disturbing, as he showed no sympathy towards the victim’s families, nor did he care how his victims felt at the time of his evil acts and afterwards. Ironic, as he was feeling the same emotions his victims felt at the time of his monstrous actions, helpless and trapped, after he was caught and didn’t want his daughter knowing of his evil deeds, which eventually led to him committing suicide before standing trial and spending life in prison.
    I want to just say this was a very well written article and the way it was structured just made it a lot more interesting! Very well done!

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