A chilling look inside one of America’s most infamous serial killer cases (2024)

On the morning of Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, 18-year-old Samantha Koenig was reported missing from her workplace — a small roadside coffee kiosk she had worked the night before, alone, in Anchorage, Alaska. Her disappearance rocked the city. The FBI joined local police in the search, yet weeks went by with no leads.

And then something strange: Samantha’s ATM card, which by now had a tracker on it, began pinging. In the Lower 48.

When detectives caught up with that card more than a month later, they found a 34-year-old Alaskan man driving a rented car in Texas.

His name was Israel Keyes, and he was arrested on the spot.

In custody in Alaska two weeks later, Keyes finally told investigators what happened on the night of Samantha’s disappearance, as detailed in this excerpt from the new book, “American Predator” (Viking). His cold-blooded demeanor, coupled with the unthinkable details he was relaying, had the FBI immediately on edge: Had he done this before?

Shortly after 7 p.m. on February 1, Israel Keyes pulled his white Chevrolet pickup out of his driveway and drove to the Home Depot on Tudor Road, 15 minutes away. He had made the same drive, at the same time, several different days that week, curious about the comings and goings at the Common Grounds kiosk.

After several evenings of observation, Keyes decided to rob it. Even though the kiosk sat alongside a highly trafficked main road, there had been such heavy snowfall that the shack was obscured behind five-foot snowdrifts.

The night was cold and extremely dark. He would wait until near closing time, when there would probably be no other customers.

Keyes parked in the Home Depot lot, close to an IHOP. He grabbed his coffee mug, a pair of plastic zip ties, his headlamp and his .22 Taurus revolver. He wore a tiny police scanner in his ear.

Keyes got out of his truck and crossed the street toward the kiosk. He couldn’t see who was working inside, but he figured it was a young woman — most of these kiosks were staffed with teenage girls working alone. Whoever was inside didn’t seem to have a car; there wasn’t one parked nearby.

Keyes walked up to the kiosk at five minutes to eight, just before closing, and stood at the large, open window, which he knew would have no Plexiglas, not even a screen. He put down his empty thermos and asked the barista for an Americano. Now he had a good look: She was young, small, pretty, alone. Samantha Koenig.

As she moved back and forth from the window to the espresso machine in this tiny space, about three feet wide, Keyes began silently running through his plan. Now there was a hitch: Someone was suddenly sitting in a nearby car, engine idling, watching him. It made what he wanted to do all the more challenging.

Samantha handed him the Americano and Keyes pulled out his gun.

“This is a robbery,” he said.

Samantha put her hands in the air. He could tell she was terrified.

“Turn off the lights,” Keyes said.

Samantha moved to the back of the kiosk and switched off the lights, then returned to the window. She didn’t scream.

“Give me all the cash in the register,” Keyes said.

Samantha stiffly moved toward the right of the window, where the register sat hidden from customers. She emptied the drawer and handed the money over.

‘The patrol car drove away, Samantha watching its red taillights dwindle in the darkness’

“Get down on the floor,” he said. She did.

Keyes was still outside the kiosk.

He told Samantha to turn off the lights and the open sign. She did.

He watched Samantha while scanning the parking lot. Whoever was in that idling car finally pulled away and drove off. It was quiet now, just the soft whoosh of cars going back and forth on Tudor Road.

Keyes told Samantha to get down on her knees and turn around at the window. She did. He leaned over, binding her wrists behind her back with the zip ties.

He told Samantha to move out of the way, then jumped inside. He moved his headlamp over the countertop and spotted a set of keys.

“Where’s your car?” Keyes asked.

“I don’t have one,” Samantha said. “But my dad’s coming to get me in half an hour. I mean — he’s going to be here any minute.”

Keyes had second thoughts. He couldn’t tell which was the truth.

“Did you hit an alarm?” Keyes asked. “Don’t lie to me. I have a police scanner in my ear. I’ll know.”

“No,” she said.

“If I hear the police being dispatched here,” he said, “I’ll kill you.”

“I didn’t,” Samantha said. “I swear.”

He said he asked her what her name was, then shut the windows, barred them, took some napkins and stuffed them in her mouth.

Then he told her they were going for a walk.

As Keyes led Samantha through the parking lot, he found a new Canon camera on the ground. It had to be worth about $300.

He bent over to pick it up. Samantha, feeling his distraction, broke away and ran.

Keyes regained control of Samantha quickly by pressing his .22 against her ribs. That gun was small, light, easy to conceal, but most of all, it was quiet. You could shoot someone on a busy street and no one would hear a thing. Keyes knew what he was doing.

He threatened to kill her if she tried to escape again.

Samantha nodded. Keyes told her to stumble around a little, lean against him like she was drunk. He took her across Tudor Road and walked her through the Home Depot lot, then to his truck at the IHOP.

A few people, he said, were lingering near a car parked in front of Keyes’s vehicle. Now he had to rely on Samantha’s fear to paralyze her.

In a way, that first escape attempt worked to his advantage.

He moved Samantha to the passenger door as though he were chivalrously opening it. He leaned down and whispered in her ear.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said. “But this .22 is loaded with very quiet ammo. It will kill you, so don’t make me do it.”

As Keyes opened the door and began clearing out his cluttered passenger seat — he hadn’t planned on using his own truck — Samantha silently watched these strangers, just feet in front of her, clamber into their car and drive away.

Keyes drove out of the parking lot.

Minutes later, after he stopped at a red light, a police car pulled up next to Samantha, two officers inside.

What were the chances of this? Keyes picked this part of Anchorage, on this night, because there was a huge festival across town. He knew from his scanner that almost all the police were over there.

Keyes watched Samantha silently work out her options.

What should she do? If she started screaming or banging her head against the window or even tried to wrest herself free and the cops pulled away before seeing her, there was a chance he’d kill her. The cops next to her had their windows all the way up, dispatches constantly coming over their radio — dispatches her abductor was hearing in real time, in his ear! Maybe she should go along with what he wanted.

Keyes, too, was assessing his risks. That same scanner told him that these officers weren’t looking for a missing teenage girl. If Samantha tried something — and really, he thought, at this moment, she should — and the cops pulled him over, well … he had his gun. But if he stayed calm and just sat at the light, if he was able to control Samantha here without saying a word, this night would surely go as planned.

The light turned green.

The patrol car drove away, Samantha watching its red taillights dwindle in the darkness.

Keyes thought about what to do next. His 10-year-old daughter was probably asleep, but his girlfriend Kimberly was a night owl.

It was closing in on 11 p.m.

Using Samantha’s phone, which he’d grabbed from the kiosk, Keyes sent text messages to people who’d been calling her: one to her boyfriend, one to her boss. He wrote as though Samantha was extremely pissed off. And then he pulled the battery out of the phone.

Finally, Keyes drove home and pulled into his driveway. It was around midnight now, freezing cold, yet there were people out, neighbors walking their dogs. Keyes would have to wait some more. It was close to 2 a.m. when Keyes got the nerve to get Samantha out of the truck and walk her over into the shed in his backyard.

“I’ll make you comfortable,” he told her. “You just sit here . . . But I’m gonna have this police scanner on me so if I hear reports of screaming from this neighborhood or anything, any disturbance from over here, I’m gonna be back here before the cops.”

Samantha had every reason to believe him. He turned his radio way up, heavy metal drowning out any noise she could possibly make.

He took a piece of rope, tied it around her neck and screwed it to the wall on both sides. He moved her hands so that they were in front of her and told her to “chill out.”

Next he told Samantha to give him her home address and the location and description of the truck she shared with her boyfriend Duane. The ATM card they shared, Samantha told Keyes, was in the truck, either in the glove box or tucked into a visor.

Keyes went back inside his house and checked on Kimberly, who was now finally asleep. In just two and a half hours, Keyes and his daughter needed to leave for a two-week-long trip.

Keyes called for a ride to the airport at 5 a.m. sharp. What could he have possibly done to Samantha — leaving behind no evidence of any kind— before stealing her ATM card, showering, changing clothes, waking his daughter, feeding her breakfast, making sure she was packed and getting to the airport, with his girlfriend staying behind, ostensibly none the wiser?

And where was Samantha? Anchorage PD had recovered a ransom note on the evening of February 24, 2012, which included a photo of the teen, hair braided, eyes open, a newspaper dated February 13, 2012, in the frame — proof of life.

Some of the investigators had hope she was still being held somewhere against her will. This first interrogation was critical — only Keyes could tell them what happened, and how.

Q: “Was she alive when you left?”

Keyes: “That would seem like an obvious question.”

Q: “ So she — she was alive?”

Keyes: “When I left? No.”

Keyes had demands before he would say more: He didn’t want the house he shared with Kimberly torn apart anymore. The investigators needed to come to him and ask permission to search it. Maybe he would let them.

And he didn’t want them talking to Kimberly, ever. He didn’t care if they believed him. She had nothing to do with this.

“I don’t want to hear about you questioning her again,” Keyes told the agents. “You know, like I say — obviously you have no reason to trust me, but I can tell you right now there is no one who knows me, or who has ever known me, who knows anything about me, really. . . . I’m two different people, basically. And the only person who knows about what I’m telling you, the kinds of things I’m telling you, is me.”

Q: “How long have you been two different people?”

Keyes: “A long time. Fourteen years.”

Excerpted from “American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century” (Viking), by Maureen Callahan, on sale July 2.

Tomorrow: Israel Keyes confesses to another crime — one that terrifies even the FBI.

A chilling look inside one of America’s most infamous serial killer cases (2024)


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Storyline. This installment details the 1990s serial killer Larry Hall, who murdered young women. His identical twin brother, Gary Hall, has never been a suspect in the murders of Larry Hall, who was eventually convicted and sentenced to prison.

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Serial killers with the highest known victim count
NameCountryYears active
Luis GaravitoColombia Ecuador Venezuela1992–1999
Pedro LópezColombia Peru Ecuador1969–1980
Javed IqbalPakistan1998–1999
Mikhail PopkovRussia1992–2010
29 more rows

Is there any active serial killers in the US? ›

America remains fascinated with its serial killers. Yet, in recent years, serial killings have plummeted. One scholarly study found that the number of active serial killers dwindled from 198 in 1987, the largest number on record, to 12 in 2018.

Who was the first serial killer in America? ›

H.H. Holmes (born May 16, 1861?, Gilmanton, New Hampshire, U.S.—died May 7, 1896, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an American swindler and confidence trickster who is widely considered the country's first known serial killer. Born: May 16, 1861?, Gilmanton, New Hampshire, U.S.

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