A house in Constable, N.Y., searched by the FBI in October in conjunction… (For The Times, Chana O'Leary )
SEATTLE — As they talked with him in a conference room at the federal courthouse in Anchorage, agents already were confident they had Samantha Koenig's abductor.
They had surveillance footage of Israel Keyes' truck parked outside of the lonely coffee stand where Koenig was working when she was kidnapped one frozen night in Anchorage. They had the ATM withdrawals the 34-year-old construction worker had made with her bank card. They had a ski mask found in the trunk of his vehicle. It wasn't long before he confessed.
It was the way Keyes confessed to the killing that day in March that turned the agents' confidence to alarm: The adrenaline was almost visible as he described how overwhelmingly powerful he felt as he pointed a gun at Koenig's ribs.
"His demeanor, the level of detail, the lack of remorse, the enjoyment he was getting out of telling certain details," recalled Kevin Feldis, chief of the criminal division for the U.S. attorney's office in Alaska.
Feldis felt a growing suspicion: "This was not the first time he killed somebody."
Over the last few months, Feldis and a team of detectives in Anchorage have been sharing jokes, bagels and coffee with the often-talkative but cagey suspect who had promised to tell them everything about his crimes.
By November, Keyes had admitted to eight slayings and hinted there were more, laying out a trail of killings, arson, robbery and sexual assault that spanned the width of the country. His death in a jailhouse suicide last week left law enforcement authorities scrambling to identify all eight victims and figure out how many others may have fallen prey to a man they now believe was a meticulous and prolific serial killer.
The FBI has banked Keyes' DNA and asked police and the public across the country to come forward with unsolved deaths, disappearances and possible sightings in an attempt to learn who his other victims may have been. A photo surfaced this week of someone who could have been Keyes robbing a bank in New York. Agents are pushing especially hard here in Washington state, where Keyes lived before moving to Alaska, and where, he told authorities, he had killed four people between 2001 and 2006.
"The investigators are going over everything. There might be more they can extract from what he already told them that they didn't think about before — maybe if they put it in a different context, it could provide something important," said Ayn Dietrich, FBI spokeswoman in Seattle.
Keyes appears to have spent many of his teenage years in the wooded hills of eastern Washington, north of Colville. He's the second-youngest of 10 siblings, many with Biblical names like Charity and Hosanna, who were instructed in homesteading skills such as carpentry and making goat milk soap. The family moved to the outskirts of an Amish community in Maine when Keyes' father grew concerned that their upbringing was not rigorous enough.
"Around the age of 11 and 12, my heart turned in rebellion toward my parents: My two older sisters and I were in a kind of revolt against them. We had friends they did not like, we secretly listened to music they forbade, and we got away with as much as we could," Keyes' sister, Autumnrose, wrote in a recent testimonial about her faith on her church's website. "I've thanked God many times for my earthly father, who was a strict man. When my sins came to light by God's mercy, he pulled me away from my circumstances and moved the family to an Amish community."
Keyes joined the Army in 1998 and was posted at the former Ft. Lewis base near Tacoma, Wash., at the time of his discharge in 2001. From there, he got a job doing maintenance and light construction in the remote Native American tribal community of Neah Bay, Wash. He had a daughter with a local woman and sought to win partial custody after they broke up.
"He seemed totally normal. He was quiet; he was more reserved, I guess, but you never would have picked him out for doing something like this.... In no sense of the word was he in any way weird," said David Kanters, who worked with one of Keyes' girlfriends.
"He would tell me about his days in the armed services and the parties they had. He would lovingly talk about his daughter, or tell me when he'd been up late because she was sick," said Jim Thompson, a volunteer who sometimes helped Keyes clean up community areas around Neah Bay.
About 2007, Keyes followed a girlfriend to Anchorage, where he started a construction company under his own name.
He was "reliable, unfailingly polite and responsive — you called, he called you back," said Paul Adelman, who had hired Keyes to do projects. "I completely trusted him with his work. If he gave me a bill, I always paid, no questions asked."