Courts & Crime

Israel Keyes told investigator he let his first victim go

This undated photo provided by the FBI shows Israel Keyes. Keyes committed suicide in an Alaska jailhouse Sunday, leaving behind an incomplete picture of a loner who traveled the country for more than a decade, picking victims at random and methodically killing them.
This undated photo provided by the FBI shows Israel Keyes. Keyes committed suicide in an Alaska jailhouse Sunday, leaving behind an incomplete picture of a loner who traveled the country for more than a decade, picking victims at random and methodically killing them. AP

Back in the 1990s when he was a teenager, Israel Keyes picked his first victim, a teenage girl in Oregon, he later told investigators.

It was summer, sometime between 1996 and 1998, FBI special agent Jolene Goeden said in an interview Tuesday.

He admitted to "very violently sexually assaulting a young girl there," Goeden said. He thought she was 14 to 16 years old.

Investigators have not been able to find a report of that rape. They believe authorities were not alerted at the time.

"He had the intention, he said, of killing her but did not. And he did let her go," Goeden said.

Goeden is one of the lead investigators wading through an awful morass of crimes spanning more than a decade that were left unresolved by Keyes' apparent suicide in an Anchorage jail this week. He admitted to eight killings, including that of Samantha Koenig of Anchorage and William and Lorraine Currier of Vermont, and said there were others.

The assault of the girl appears to be the first serious crime committed by Keyes, according to statements he made in numerous interviews spread over months, according to the FBI.

He was a methodical, cold killer who described himself as two different people to investigators. He didn't view his victims as human beings, investigators said. He read up on other serial killers and said he could relate to Ted Bundy, said Jeff Bell, an Anchorage police officer who repeatedly interviewed Keyes along with Goeden and others. Keyes also robbed banks and burglarized and burned down a home in Texas, he told investigators.

Investigators still are working to learn the names of the suspected five additional homicide victims, and others he only hinted of, as well as more details about their deaths.

Four were killed in Washington state but may have come from elsewhere, investigators said. Another whose body was dumped in New York was abducted from a nearby state in 2009.

At least some of the disappearances resulted in news stories, Keyes told investigators. But because he often looked for victims in campgrounds, remote trails and boating areas, the cases weren't flagged as suspicious, Bell said.

Authorities are asking for the help of family and friends of people who went missing in the Lower 48 as well as local law enforcement to solve the grisly mysteries Keyes left behind. The FBI has released a timeline showing his general travels from 2004 on. The FBI wants anyone with information to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.


Keyes was found dead early Sunday in his Anchorage jail cell. The state medical examiner "has yet to make a final determination on exactly how Israel Keyes committed suicide," Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said Tuesday.

Keyes was isolated from other inmates in a security classification reserved for "the ones that are considered the most dangerous in the facility and the highest security risk," said Bryan Brandenburg, director of institutions for the Department of Corrections. Keyes, whose security classification was elevated after he tried to escape a federal courtroom in May, was in a single-bunk cell. Two officers had to escort him if he left the cell, and his ankles and wrists had to be shackled, Brandenburg said.

Keyes was on suicide watch a couple of months ago then was taken off, said Kevin Feldis, head of criminal prosecutions for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage.

He was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, said Brandenburg. He would not address whether Keyes earlier was considered a suicide risk, saying that was part of an internal investigation. In determining which inmates to monitor constantly for risk of suicide, he said, "we look not only for verbal indicators but also for behavioral indicators."

Keyes was the second inmate to commit suicide in Alaska this year. Since 2008, 12 have killed themselves, according to the Department of Corrections.

Jail logs indicate an officer checked on Keyes according to procedure Sunday morning, Brandenburg said. Checks are supposed to happen about every 30 minutes, though a check within 45 minutes is acceptable, he said.

Lights came on at 6 a.m. and breakfast trays were slid into the segregation cells, he said. There's no requirement for inmates to get out of bed. State troopers, who investigate deaths in prisons, were alerted of the death at 6:23 a.m.


FBI agents and Anchorage police aren't saying much about Keyes' background. He came from a big family, Goeden said. He was home-schooled.

An article posted Tuesday on a blog of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that investigates hate groups, cited unnamed sources in giving a brief biography of Keyes. The article said that he was born in Utah to Mormon parents and grew up in rural Stevens County, Wash.

His neighbors growing up were Chevie and Cheyne Kehoe, racist brothers, the article said. Chevie Kehoe is in prison serving three life sentences for the kidnapping and murder of a gun dealer and his family, according to news reports.

Bell said Keyes never said he was Mormon. Investigators haven't confirmed his religious upbringing, Goeden said.

He has a school-age daughter who appeared to be living with him and his girlfriend at the time of his March arrest in Texas in connection with Koenig's abduction and death. The girl is now with family, the investigators said.

While he was on the run in the Southwest after killing Koenig, getting cash with her debit card to pay his way, he attended a family event in Texas, the investigators said.


By 2007, Keyes, an Army veteran, was working as a self-employed carpenter in Anchorage.

Before he killed Koenig, he targeted others in Alaska then backed off at the last minute, the investigators said.

"Either there were additional people that were around, traffic, they had a dog. In one situation, APD pulled up, " Goeden said.

That was last year at Point Woronzof, Bell said.

Around the country, in Texas, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington, New York and Vermont, he buried caches of weapons, money and items he could use to restrain people or dispose of bodies, according to what he told investigators. At the North Fork Eagle River recreation site, he buried a cache that included a shovel, trash bags and Drano.

When he did kill, there didn't seem to be a trigger, the investigators said.

"He talked about having the thoughts, having the urges to do it. He would commit a crime and that would satisfy that thought or that urge for a while," Goeden said. "And then it would come back again."

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