For 16 years—and maybe even longer—serial killer Israel Keyes traveled the country, robbing banks, burglarizing homes, burying “kill kits” in Home Depot buckets, and preying upon victims who seemed to share nothing in common.
He was an investigator’s worst nightmare: a serial killer with no apparent pattern or “type.” By the time he died by his own hand while awaiting trial for the abduction, rape, and brutal murder of Samantha Koenig, he had been linked to at least 11 deaths and disappearances, and his true number of victims may never be known.
Keyes died in his jail cell on December 2, 2012, as a result of self-inflicted cuts on his wrist and strangulation. He left behind a blood-smeared, four-page suicide note that has been called an “ode to murder.” Dr. Stephen Montgomery, a forensic psychiatrist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, described Keyes’ chilling note, written partially in loosely rhyming meter, as showing “no remorse, no regard for human life.”
“It’s certainly not an ordinary suicide note,” Dr. Phil Resnick, director of forensic psychiatry at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, said after reading the haunting note. “He doesn’t talk much about his own dilemmas of being in prison or why he’s taking his own life.”
“It’s more of a final statement of contempt for the American style of life,” Dr. Resnick went on to say. “I think the other thing he emphasizes is his own superiority, that he has guile and can take advantage of people who are naïve and trusting of him.”
In his suicide note, Keyes, who was raised in a cultish survivalist family, heaps disdain upon what he perceives as the normal American way of life, and refers to one of his victims as “my pretty captive butterfly.” The skills that Keyes’ survivalist upbringing had instilled in him—along with a three-year stint in the military—proved helpful as Keyes committed his crimes while evading authorities.
“He had zero victim profile,” Maureen Callahan told A&E. Callahan is the author of American Predator, a recently released book about the life and crimes of Israel Keyes. “I think of him as an analog killer in a digital world. All he did was buy a one-way plane ticket to a major city, rent a car, drive thousands of miles. In those drives, he’d be digging up ‘kill kits’ that he’d hidden all over the U.S. The kits were Home Depot buckets that he filled with guns, ammo, rope, cash, and Drano, which he used to accelerate human decomposition. The locations were only in his mind, never documented.”
Keyes partly funded his murderous hobby by committing strings of robberies and burglaries across the country. He has been connected to several bank robberies and is suspected of having burglarized 20 to 30 homes.
“If he could,” Callahan said, describing Keyes’ modus operandi, “he’d take the bodies to another location and dispose of them so expertly that he left no trace of them or his DNA behind.” This seems to have been what happened to Bill and Lorraine Currier, the Essex, Vermont couple who vanished suddenly in 2011. Keyes later confessed to killing them using a “murder kit” that he had buried near their home two years earlier.
More than merely a methodical killer, Keyes actually studied criminal profiling in order to learn what not to do. In fact, according to CBS, "the FBI has described Keyes as one of the most meticulous serial killers in American history." He claimed to have first read John Douglas’ book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, the basis for the Netflix series of the same name, when he was a teenager. According to Callahan, Keyes stated that he “suddenly realized he wasn’t alone” after reading Douglas’ descriptions of violent offenders and their pathological urges.
Keyes was finally arrested in March of 2012. More than a month earlier, he had abducted 18-year-old Samantha Koenig by gunpoint from the coffee booth where she worked in Anchorage, Alaska. Weeks later, her dismembered body would be found at the bottom of Matanuska Lake.
In the meantime, however, Keyes went on a pre-booked, two-week cruise with his family in the Gulf of Mexico, while Koenig’s brutalized body lay in a shed back in Alaska. When he returned, he posed her body to look like it was still alive, and took a photo of it alongside a days-old copy of the Anchorage Daily News, demanding a $30,000 ransom from her family.
It was this ransom demand that eventually led to Keyes’ arrest. The money was deposited into Koenig’s account, and Keyes used her debit card to withdraw funds across the southwest United States. Authorities were able to track the withdrawals, and ultimately arrested Keyes at the Cotton Patch Café in Lufkin, Texas.
Once he was in custody, Keyes began confessing to crimes, but was never as forthcoming as investigators would have hoped. Even the top criminal profilers at the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit were “terrified of him and flummoxed by him,” according to Callahan.
“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,” Keyes himself told authorities. “I’m two different people, basically.”
As an example of this duality, on the same day that Keyes dismembered Samantha Koenig’s body and sank it in the frigid waters of Matanuska Lake, he attended a parent-teacher conference for his own daughter.
American Predator is dedicated “To the victims and their families, known and unknown.” While Keyes admitted to several murders, rapes, and other crimes while he was awaiting trial, his suicide left the total tally of his victims unknown—probably forever.
“One of my hopes,” Callahan said of why she had written the book, “is that some potentially Keyes-related missing-persons cases are reopened, to find more victims.”
Unfortunately, Keyes’ strange suicide note, written in a combination of pencil and ink on a blood-stained legal pad, provided no “investigative clues or leads as to the identity of other possible victims,” according to the FBI. In 2020, the FBI released a series of crude paintings discovered underneath Keyes' jail cell bed. The paintings depicted eleven skulls and a pentagram, and the FBI believes that the eleven skulls signify Keyes' victims. Still, the mystery endures, and the messages provide one last cryptic look into the mind of a sick and monstrous man.
“Forget the lady called luck,” Keyes wrote in his bloody final communication with the world. “She does not abide near me for her powers don’t extend to those who are dead.”