Trigger warning: descriptions of rape, violence, death.
In this article:
- Israel Keyes is an American serial killer that murdered at least three, but possibly as many as 11 people, in the early 2010s.
- Out of all of his murders, the most famous was his final murder and the one that led to him getting arrested: the murder of Samantha Koenig.
- Keyes kidnapped, raped her, then killed Koenig before sewing her eyes open with fishing line and sending a photo of her alongside a ransom note to her family.
Serial killers are, by definition, absolutely terrifying. The idea that someone could take another human being’s life, not once, but time and time again is both the stuff of nightmares and an affront to the spirit of humanity.
For serial killer Israel Keyes, the idea is even more chilling when you consider he had no motivation beyond the fact that he enjoyed killing people. He would make that fact abundantly clear by writing a suicide note in the form of a poem, a testament to his love of murder.
During his killing spree in the early 2010s, Keyes took the lives of at least three people, though investigators believe he may have killed as many as 11.
Out of the many murders he’s believed to have committed, his last confirmed murder, the murder of Samantha Koenig, was the most heinous. And it was the crime that ultimately led to him getting caught.
One of the most terrifying things about Israel Keyes was how easily he passed as an ordinary member of society. While his childhood is littered with red flags, as an adult, he was a United States Army veteran, a father, and a business owner.
Underneath this facade, though, he was a remorseless, cold-blooded killer and rapist.
Tragically, Israel Keyes was not ever brought to justice. He killed himself in a jail cell before his trial, leaving behind some chilling mementos.
Israel Keyes Before the Murders
On January 7, 1978, in Richmond, Utah, Heidi Keyes gave birth to her second child. Both devout Mormons, Heidi and her husband John Jeffrey decided to name the child Israel, a biblical name.
The couple would end up having eight more children after Israel was born, bringing the total count to 10. All of the children were homeschooled by their parents.
However, in 1983, Heidi and John Jeffrey decided to leave the Mormon faith and move their family to an isolated plot of land in Colville, Washington, where they lived without electricity or running water.
They also started attending a church called “The Ark” where they practiced Christian Identity, a white supremacist ideology.
During his childhood and adolescence, Israel Keyes became increasingly ostracized from the other children in his community. People felt uncomfortable around him and he only made that discomfort worse by doing things like shooting cats and skinning deer alive.
Living under a strictly religious roof, Keyes felt oppressed by all of the things he was forbidden from doing, including playing music or watching movies. During his adolescence, Keyes renounced his Christian faith and began to take an interest in Satanism.
It was in the late 1990s that Keyes committed his first major crime. According to Keyes, he sexually assaulted a girl, who he believed to be been between the ages of 14 and 18. He originally planned to murder her afterward as part of a Satanic ritual but ended up letting her go instead.
Following this incident, Israel Keyes relocated to New Jersey and joined the United States Army.
From 1998 to 2001, he was moved from fort to fort around the United States and eventually ended up serving abroad in Sinai, Egypt. He even received an Army Achievement Medal for his service. When he returned home, though, it was his bloodlust that he’d be serving.
The First Murders
No one is really sure when Israel Keyes committed his first murder. Some have speculated that he murdered a mother and her daughter as a teenager while living in Colville, Washington; however, this has never been confirmed.
He did say after he was arrested that he had committed four murders in the state of Washington.
Israel Keyes is also suspected to be the “Boca Killer” from a series of murders committed in Boca Raton, Florida, in 2007. He also claimed to have killed people in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont. And to have committed burglaries and bank robberies in New York and Texas.
For the murders of Bill and Lorraine Currier he allegedly committed in Essex, Vermont, he said that he used a “murder kit” he had hidden near the family’s home two years prior. He had spent two years planning to murder these complete strangers.
However, it was his final confirmed murder that led to his arrest and that has cemented him in history as one of the most terrifying serial killers of all time.
The Murder of Samantha Koenig
On February 1, 2012, Israel Keyes drove up to Common Grounds coffee shop in Anchorage, Alaska. He walked in to find the place empty with the exception of Samantha Koenig, the 18-year-old employee who had been working that day.
Keyes ordered a coffee, Koenig served him that coffee, and then Keyes pulled out a pistol.
Keyes pushed his way behind the counter and bound Koenig’s hands behind her back with the zip ties he had brought along with him. He then led her outside and into his Ford Focus. After driving around town with her, he brought her back to the coffee shop briefly to retrieve her cellphone.
Using Koenig’s cellphone, Keyes sent a message to her boyfriend, saying, “Hey, I’m spending a couple of days with friends, let my dad know.” He then took her back to his house, tied her up, demanded to know where she lived and where her ATM card was, and then blasted the radio so no one could hear her screams.
Later, Keyes found Koenig’s boyfriend’s truck, where she had left her ATM card. When he got there, he was confronted by her boyfriend and he fled back to his home.
Before walking back out to his shed, he poured himself a glass of wine. He then went out to his shed, drank the wine, raped Samantha Koenig, and strangled her to death. Keyes’s daughter was sleeping in the house the entire time.
After raping and murdering an 18-year-old girl, Keyes went back into his house and woke his daughter up for school. He was supposed to depart for a cruise in New Orleans that day, so he pack his bag and headed to the airport. Samantha Koenig’s body was still in the shed.
Over two weeks later, Keyes returned from his vacation. In need of money, he decided that he would send a ransom note to Samantha Koenig’s family. However, he needed to prove that Samantha was still alive to do so. He took her body out of his shed, applied makeup to her face, and sewed her eyes open with fishing line.
Keyes then snapped a picture of Koenig’s body next to an issue of the Anchorage Daily Mail from four days prior. He left the photo along with a note demanding that they put $30,000 in Samantha’s debit account in a nearby park and used Samantha’s phone to text her boyfriend the location.
The family complied and deposited $30,000 which they had collected from people in the community. Law enforcement was then able to track the use of Samantha’s ATM and thereby determined that the perpetrator was driving a white Ford Focus.
Not long after, Israel Keyes was pulled over for a routine traffic stop.
Inside of his car, they found a gun, stained bills from a bank robbery, a ski mask, Samantha Koenig’s phone, and Koenig’s ATM card. Keyes was quickly arrested and brought into custody.
The Trial of Israel Keyes That Never Happened
After being arrested, Israel Keyes opened up to investigators about his crimes. He began confessing to murder after murder in great detail.
When asked why he killed these people, he simply replied, “Why not?”
In the words of Anchorage detective Monique Doll, “He didn’t kidnap and kill people because he was crazy. He didn’t kidnap and kill people because his deity told him to or because he had a bad childhood. Israel Keyes did this because he got an immense amount of enjoyment out of it, much like an addict gets an immense amount of enjoyment out of drugs. In a way, he was an addict, and he was addicted to the feeling that he got when he was doing this.”
On December 2, 2012, while he was still awaiting trial, Israel Keyes killed himself with a razor blade that he managed to sneak into his jail cell. Inside of his cell, they found a drawing of 11 skulls and one pentagram, all drawn in his blood. Some suspect that the skulls represent Keyes’s victims.
They also found a suicide note written on a piece of paper that was spattered with Israel Keyes’s blood, a series of poetic verses, a sort of ode to murder.
One passage from the note reads, “Your face framed in dark curls like a portrait, the sun shone through highlights of red. What colour I wonder, and how straight will it turn plastered back with the sweat of your blood.”