Search For Victims Lives On After Killer’s Death

Jan 15, 2013

December, a suspected serial killer from Washington killed himself in a jail cell in Anchorage, Alaska. Israel Keyes’ suicide abruptly halted progress into uncovering one of the widest-ranging serial killing sprees in the U.S. Now, the FBI is trying to piece together exactly what he did. As Jessica Robinson reports, investigators are struggling to connect seemingly random dots that they hope will lead them to other victims.

Serial killer Israel Keyes.
Credit Photo courtesy FBI

In February of 2012, Israel Keyes murdered Samantha Koenig. Keyes ordered a coffee at the stand where she worked in Anchorage, Alaska, then kidnapped her, sexually assaulted her and killed her. She was just 18. Those are the details James Koenig tries not to think about. Instead he focuses on the little things about his daughter Samantha.

Koenig: “I miss her laugh and her smile and her eyes and hearing 'Daddy' come out of her mouth and just one of the greatest things to hear is my name called from her voice. And that's the hardest part of my days anymore is waking up and reliving it every day and the hopes it's a nightmare and she's going to come walking through the door any minute.”

Samantha is one of three victims of Israel Keyes whose identity the FBI knows. Now, agents, along with state and local law enforcement across the country are in the midst of a needle-in-a-haystack search. They’re looking for possibly eight other people that Keyes claimed to have killed in the last decade and a half.

Keyes grew up in the small, northeastern Washington town of Colville, and friends knew him as a father, Army veteran and contractor. But Keyes lived, in his own words, a double life.

Keyes: “There is no one who knows me, or who has ever known me, who knows anything about me really.”

In interviews with the FBI after his arrest, the 34-year-old Keyes said he traveled the country, kidnapping and murdering people and robbing banks to fund his spree.

Keyes: “And the only person who knows about what I'm telling you, the kind of things I'm telling you, is me.”

No long after saying that, Keyes committed suicide.

Grabenstein: “This is our murder file ...”

Rick Grabenstein is an investigator with the Washington attorney general’s office. He operates a searchable database with the details of 12,000 homicide cases in Washington. They go back to the 1960s. On the wall behind him is a chart of famous Washington serial killers. Ted Bundy is there. And Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer.

Generally, says Grabenstein, investigations into serial murders are based on a simple premise:

Grabenstein: “People are creatures of habit, they do the same thing over and over again. So, that's what you look for.”

Grabenstein is now searching for the four people Israel Keyes claimed to have killed in Washington. But the binder on Grabenstein's desk labeled “Keyes”? It's virtually empty.

Grabenstein: “Unfortunately he didn't ..."

Jessica: “Do you have any leads?”

Grabenstein: “I don't, no. I wish there was, but, not.”

Frank Harrill is the supervisory FBI agent in eastern Washington.

Harrill: “What you really see here is the expression of true evil in some ways. And one that isn't – possibly not explainable at all and because there's no logical pattern. He selected seemingly at random his victims.

I ask Harrill how many missing person and unsolved homicide cases is the FBI is looking into?

Harrill: “All of them, literally all of them.”

In an age of crowd-sourcing, the case has given rise to online efforts to find Keyes’ other victims. Peggy Giles of Valdez, Alaska, runs a Facebook page called “Have You Ever Met Israel Keyes?”

Giles: “There's a lot of cases that we suspect now that the FBI hasn't said he's involved in yet. I'm thinking 17, minimum. Just cases that fit in.”

One of the details that came out of the interviews with Keyes was that his first victim was in Oregon, only he didn't kill her. Keyes said in the late '90s he sexually assaulted a young woman along the Deschutes River near Maupin. Lane Magill is the undersheriff for Wasco County. He says they've check through years of hand-written logs and computer records, and haven't found anything.

Magill: “If it got reported, we would have a record of it. I mean, we don't take those kind of cases lightly here, that's for sure. I think that we either have a victim out there that did not report it, or it actually didn't happen.”

I talked to other people in law enforcement who raised that same question: Was Keyes telling the truth about his murders? or was he embellishing, as some criminals do. Still, the FBI says other details – like which banks Keyes said he robbed – did check out.

Either way, Samantha Koenig’s father James hopes investigators will figure it out soon – for the sake of the victims’ families.

Koenig: “You have to get the answers so you can rest somewhat. That's the main thing, get 'em home one way or another, so you can either hug 'em or lay them to rest properly.”

The FBI is now asking the public for any information they might have about Israel Keyes.

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio