Israel Keyes: A Calculating and Cruel American Serial Killer (2024)


Jump to:

  • Who Was Israel Keyes?
  • Quick Facts
  • Early Life
  • Military Service
  • Daughter
  • Murder of Samantha Koenig
  • Other Victims
  • Arrest and Trial
  • Death

Who Was Israel Keyes?

Serial killer Israel Keyes is presumed to have killed 11 people between 2001 and 2012, though authorities have only definitively connected him to three murders. As calculating as he was cruel, Keyes typically traveled to different locations to select victims of opportunity rather than target a specific demographic. He buried weapons and other supplies ahead of time and financed his actions by working as a contractor and robbing banks. His uncharacteristic behavior after killing 18-year-old Samantha Koenig in Alaska led to his arrest in March 2012. His December 2012 death by suicide, before he could stand trial, left law enforcement with more questions than answers about his crimes.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Israel Keyes
BORN: January 7, 1978
DIED: December 2, 2012
CHILDREN: 1 daughter

Early Life

Israel Keyes was born in Cove, Utah, on January 7, 1978, as the second of 10 children born to Heidi and John Jeffrey Keyes. The couple didn’t believe in government interference, public schools, or modern medicine.

Israel was 5 when his family left Utah for Colville, Washington. They lived isolated in the woods, where Keyes grew up without heat or electricity. While in Washington, Keyes’ parents left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, became fundamentalist Christians, and joined a white supremacist church called the Ark.

In the late 1990s, the family relocated to Maupin, Oregon. It was there that Keyes said he attacked his first victim, though he didn’t kill her. His family moved again, this time across the country to settle close to an Amish community in Maine.

Growing up, Keyes broke into neighbors’ homes to steal guns, loved hunting, pursued “anything with a heartbeat,” and tortured animals—behavior that has been linked to psychopathy. Years later, while in custody, Keyes said, “I’ve known since I was 14 that… there were things that—that I thought were normal and that were OK that nobody else seemed to think were normal and OK.”

After a teenaged Keyes told his family he no longer shared their faith, he was evicted from the family home, and his younger siblings were told never to speak to him again.

Military Service

On July 9, 1998, Keyes relocated to New York, where he enlisted in the U.S. Army. There, he served as a Specialist in Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, before passing a rigorous U.S. Army Rangers training course. He was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Lewis in Washington, and Sinai in Egypt. Although no crimes were reported during his time in Egypt, he did reportedly tell a fellow soldier that he would “like to kill him.”

While at Fort Lewis, Keyes was known to keep to himself and drink heavily on the weekends. He served on a mortar team in the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, and his only trouble with the law during that time came in February 2001, when he received a DUI.

Keyes received an Army Achievement Medal for his service as a gunner and assistant gunner from December 1998 to July 2001. After that, he was honorably discharged and settled on the Makah Reservation of Neah Bay, Washington.


In 2000, Keyes became involved with a woman living on the Washington Makah Reservation. The next year, their daughter, whose name hasn’t been made public, was born. In July 2001, Keyes went to live with the mother of his child after being honorably discharged from the Army. He worked for the Makah Tribal Council in Neah Bay from 2001 to 2007.

Watch Method of a Serial Killer, a documentary about Israel Keyes

In 2007, Keyes moved to Alaska to live with a nurse practitioner he’d been dating and brought his daughter along with him. That same year, he started his own business, Keyes Construction, where he worked as a handyman, contractor, and construction worker.

After his arrest, Keyes expressed his desire to prevent his daughter from suffering due to his actions: “I want my kid to have a chance to grow up... you know... she’s in a safe place now, she’s not going to see any of this. I want her to have a chance to grow up and not have all this hanging over her head.”

Murder of Samantha Koenig

On February 1, 2012, Keyes abducted 18-year-old barista Samantha Koenig from the coffee shop where she worked in Anchorage, Alaska. He stole Koenig’s debit card and cell phone, sexually assaulted her, and killed her the following day. Keyes then stashed her body in a shed while he went on a planned family vacation, a two-week cruise in the Gulf of Mexico.

Upon returning, Keyes applied makeup to Koenig’s face, sewed her eyes open with a fishing line, and took a picture of her alongside a four-day-old issue of the Anchorage Daily News to make it seem like she was still alive. Using her cell phone, Keyes sent texts, including a demand for a $30,000 ransom. Her family, hoping Koenig was still alive, deposited money into her account.

Then, Keyes dismembered her body and dropped the pieces into a lake north of Anchorage. Koenig’s remains were recovered on April 2, 2012. Although Koenig wasn’t Keyes first victim, his crimes against her ultimately led to his downfall.

Other Victims

Keyes is believed to have killed 11 people, of whom only Samantha Koenig and two others have been definitively identified. He also sexually assaulted a girl who was between the ages of 14 and 18.

According to Keyes, his first planned attack took place in Oregon in 1997 or 1998. He abducted a teenage girl, then raped her. He intended to murder her, but she convinced him to let her leave. “I wasn’t violent enough,” Keyes later told investigators of the crime. “I made up my mind I was never going to let that happen again.”

As a serial killer, Keyes targeted victims who happened to cross his path rather than sticking to a specific profile. He often waited to accost people in parks, cemeteries, or campgrounds. “Not as much to choose from, in a manner of speaking,” he confessed to law enforcement about his methods, “but there’s also no witnesses, really. There’s no one else around.”

Keyes also traveled to kill. In June 2011, he flew to Chicago before driving to Essex, Vermont, where he murdered Bill and Lorraine Currier. The couple was selected randomly as they fit Keyes’ criteria of having no children, no dog, and a house with an attached garage. He broke into their home, subdued them, and then transported the pair to an abandoned farmhouse. Keyes killed Bill, then raped Lorraine before murdering her.

Keyes claimed he took at least five other lives but never named these victims. Per his account, he killed four people in Washington state: a couple sometime between 2001 and 2005, as well as two separate victims in 2005 and 2006. Keyes also stated he murdered someone on the East Coast in 2009 and then left the body in New York state. The FBI is “relatively confident” that this victim was Debra Feldman, a New Jersey resident who went missing in April 2009.

Speculation about other possible Keyes victims has included a girl named Julie Harris, who disappeared in Colville, Washington, in 1996. Her prosthetic feet were found a month after she vanished, and her remains were found in 1997. Keyes was in the area when Harris went missing but denied any involvement. Keyes has also been posited as responsible for other unsolved crimes, such as the murders of 56-year-old Mary Cooper and her 27-year-old daughter Susanna Stodden, who were shot while hiking in Washington State in 2006.

After he was caught, Keyes spoke of killing “less than a dozen.” While in jail, he used his own blood to draw 12 skulls, which might represent 11 victims and Keyes, himself. In 2020, an FBI agent told 48 Hours, “We believe that 11 is the total number of victims.” The murderer also said he had intended to leave Alaska and travel through storm-ravaged regions to find new victims while working as a contractor. He had dreamt of later building a house where he could imprison his victims, similar to H.H. Holmes.

Keyes’ serial killing incorporated detailed planning. He crisscrossed the country to hide caches of murder equipment that consisted of guns, ammunition, and chemicals for the destruction of bodies. When he wanted to kill, Keyes would dig up a cache.

Keyes had a history of trips that covered a lot of ground in the United States, meaning he had many opportunities to seek out victims. Foreign journeys—such as visits to Canada, Mexico, and Belize—might have played another part in Keyes’ killing spree. While on the road, Keyes paid in cash and took the battery out of his cell phone to lessen his chances of being tracked. In addition to the money he made as a contractor, he said he funded his travel through bank robberies. Authorities corroborated that he robbed banks in Tupper Lake, New York, and Azle, Texas, in April 2009 and February 2012, respectively.

Keyes studied the work of FBI profilers and learned about serial killers like Ted Bundy. Maureen Callahan’s 2019 book, American Predator, noted that Keyes was fitted with a gastric band and had visited a plastic surgery clinic in Mexico. She speculated that Keyes might have been trying to become a better killer: A lap band could mean he wouldn’t get hungry as often, and he might have changed his fingerprints or removed body hair to lessen the chances of leaving evidence behind.

Arrest and Trial

After Samantha Koenig’s family paid a ransom that Keyes had staged, the killer used her ATM card to withdraw funds in Alaska. He then continued these transactions while traveling in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. During a visit with his mother and some siblings in Texas, one of Keyes’ sisters tried to get him to reconsider his atheism. A pastor at the time said that Keyes answered, “You don’t know the depths of darkness that I’ve gone to. You don’t know what I’ve done.”

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Keyes disguised his appearance when stealing Koenig’s ransom money, but a security camera recorded an image of his rental car in Arizona. Texas law enforcement was notified and, in March 2012, stopped Keyes. A search of his vehicle revealed Koenig’s license, among other incriminating items

Keyes was arrested and eventually brought back to Alaska. Confronted with evidence tying him to Koenig’s disappearance, he confessed to the crime. The killing was at odds with his usual careful planning, but he told law enforcement that he’d been feeling out of control and noted, “Back when I was smart, I would let them come to me.”

While in custody, Keyes shared some details about his crimes with investigators, though he seemed to enjoy limiting the flow of information. He offered details about the Currier killings as a bargaining chip with law enforcement, though he largely stopped cooperating after his identity was released and discussed in the media. He had said he didn’t want his mother or his daughter to suffer because of his crimes. Despite not being sentenced or even having gone to trial, Keyes expressed his desire for a quick execution date, saying he dreaded languishing behind bars for years.

In May 2012, Keyes tried to escape from the courtroom after breaking his leg irons during a routine hearing. However, authorities were able to subdue him with a stun gun then restrain him. His last interrogation session took place a few days before his death. Some of his interrogation recordings have since been shared with the public.

Keyes had been awaiting a March 2013 trial and had been assigned a public defender in Alaska. His trial would have likely been delayed, however, as federal prosecutors were thinking of pursuing the death penalty.


Keyes’ body was discovered in his Anchorage, Alaska, jail cell on the morning of December 2, 2012. His death was the result of suicide. Despite warnings not to provide him with a razor blade, 34-year-old Keyes had been given one. He slit his wrist and also strangled himself with a sheet while lying in bed.

Along with the skulls Keyes had drawn in his blood, authorities found a four-page suicide note beneath his body. Throughout the oft-rhyming message, Keyes criticized American consumerism and the banality of daily life and seemed to celebrate his murders. “You may have been free, you loved living your lie, fate had its own scheme, crushed like a bug you still die,” Keyes wrote in one section.

The hand-written note was sent to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis. FBI Special Agent Mary Rook later shared that “the writings do not offer any investigative clues or leads as to the identity of other possible victims.”

Keyes’ mother, four sisters, and three brothers-in-law were the sole attendees at Keyes’ funeral on December 8, 2012.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors, call or text 988 to get help from the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Documentaries & TV Specials

Keyes and his crimes have been documented in several TV shows, specials, and books. In 2018, Oxygen released the documentary special Method of a Serial Killer. Elsewhere, the TV series Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer, Dark Souls, Very Scary People, and Signs of a Psychopath have all done episodes on Keyes.

Devil in the Darkness: The True Story of Serial Killer Israel Keyes (2016) by JT Hunter and American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century (2019) by Maureen Callahan are two books written about Keyes.

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Israel Keyes: A Calculating and Cruel American Serial Killer (2024)
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