By last August, residents of Essex, Vermont — a small community of just 19,000 — had come to accept that their beloved neighbors, Bill and Lorraine Currier, would not be coming back.
Nearly 15 months had elapsed since the Curriers were last seen leaving work at 5 p.m. on June 8, 2011. Bill, 49, and Lorraine, 55, both worked in health care: Bill in animal care at the University of Vermont, and Lorraine in patient financial services at a practice in Burlington.
They had been married since 1985. They had no children but loved animals and often let their birds fly through their modest home, a single-story structure with white siding and a dark green door. The Curriers were typical Vermonters: Lorraine with her long red hair, parted down the middle and no makeup; Bill with his love of Simon and Garfunkel and playing guitar.
Bill and Lorraine were also notoriously punctual and rarely took vacation. So when neither showed up to their respective jobs that next day, a Thursday, their co-workers were concerned. Lorraine’s colleagues called over to Bill’s office, and by the middle of the day, word got to Bill’s sister, Diana, who called Essex police.
By 10 that night, cops were all over the Curriers’ house.
At the scene, cops admitted confusion. “It’s a real puzzler,” said Lt. George Murtie.
The Curriers’ car, a Saturn sedan — dark green, like the accents on the home’s facade — was missing from the garage. Bill was a big guy — at 6 feet, he weighed 220 pounds — and had chronic health issues that required daily medication, as did Lorraine. Their medicine was untouched.
The cops made no attempt to downplay the urgency of the search or the likelihood that something awful had happened to Bill and Lorraine.
“We’re treating the home,” Lt. Murtie said, “like a crime scene.”
It wasn’t until a year later, in June 2012, that Murtie got an unexpected call from law enforcement in Anchorage, Alaska. They finally knew what happened to Bill and Lorraine, and they had never heard of anything like it.
A DARK NIGHT IN ALASKA
On the evening of Feb. 1, 2012, a 34-year-old construction worker named Israel Keyes waited outside the Common Grounds Espresso Stand on East Tudor Road in Anchorage — a tiny shack of a store, with teal-blue siding, that sat in the parking lot of a local gym. It was already very dark — the sun had set at 5:06 p.m. — and snowing heavily. Keyes was waiting for the shop to close at 8 p.m., for the truck he knew was on its way.
Then he changed his mind.
Keyes was a patient, deliberate, methodical man. Born in Utah, he had grown up Mormon, and at some point during his childhood his family moved to Washington state, where they lived comfortably. In 1998, Keyes enlisted in the Army and served for two years, stationed at Fort Hood and in Egypt. In 2007, he relocated to Alaska, where he started his own construction business, living with his girlfriend and young daughter in a white, two-story house on a cul-de-sac in Turnagain, where they liked to entertain friends and family.
On this night in February, Keyes walked up to the drive-thru and asked the lone barista on duty for an Americano, then shimmied his way inside the window. He was wearing a mask and a hoodie and he had a gun, and there’s little chance 18-year-old Samantha Koenig was able to absorb what was happening. Keyes worked in seconds, and before she knew it Koenig was subdued and zip-tied and down on the floor of the shack with Keyes.
They stayed there, like that, for a bit. Koenig’s boyfriend, Duane Tortolani, was due to pick Samantha up at closing time. Keyes had been bored with going after lone targets and had recently begun challenging himself with couples, but something this night made him reconsider. He grabbed Koenig and pulled her up, and though the shack sat adjacent to a six-lane highway and there was little in the way of vegetation or construction or anything, really, that could obscure this armed kidnapping from view, only the shop’s security cameras caught the masked man taking Koenig away.
Keyes was that good, and he knew it.
Two weeks later, the Koenig family had hope: Duane received a text message with directions to a specific site at a local dog park, where he could expect to find a ransom note. He did. On one side was a photo the abductor had taken of Samantha, tied up, with a copy of the Anchorage Daily News dated Feb. 13, 2012 — proof of life. On the other side was a typed-out note, a demand for $30,000, to be deposited directly into Samantha’s account.
The Koenings complied.
By now, all of Anchorage’s 380 cops were on the case, as was the FBI. The ransom note was good news: A demand for money delivered electronically meant the abductor would soon be leaving digital footprints, and just before midnight on March 8, 2012, Samantha’s ATM card pinged for the first time from the Lower 48, from a bank in Willcox, Ariz.
And somewhere in Willcox, an FBI agent got the call, jumped out of bed and raced to that location — where he would find nothing, because just after midnight on March 9, 2012, Samantha’s ATM card pinged again, this time from a bank in Lordsberg, NM, a one-hour drive away.
Survelliance video from both banks showed little. The figure seemed to be a man, but he was wearing layers upon layers of clothing — likely to make himself look heavier — as well as a full-face mask and glasses. Only one vehicle, however, was caught on tape at both locations within this time frame, and so the FBI knew they were looking for a man of average height driving a white 2012 Ford Focus, likely headed east on the I-10 corridor.
On March 13, up in Anchorage, Alaska, Officer Jeff Bell got a call. Electronic alerts had gone out to cops in the south and southwest, and a police officer had spotted a white 2012 Ford Focus in the parking lot of a Quality Inn in Lufkin, Texas. An undercover had since been sitting on that vehicle round-the-clock. The driver was a white male, 30s, average height, average build.
Police were ordered to tail the car and pull it over at the first possible opportunity, and when they did, for speeding, they found Israel Keyes, who had been asked to produce his driver’s license: Alaska. The cops also found Samantha Koening’s ATM card and cellphone, along with the mask, a gun and a dye pack. Keyes had robbed a bank in Texas a few weeks back.
‘HE HAD DONE THIS BEFORE’
Bell and his partner, Detective Monique Doll, were immediately booked on the red-eye. By the time they reached the courthouse where Keyes was to be arraigned, they had been up for almost 50 hours straight. Bell and Doll walked into the interview room where Keyes was handcuffed and waiting.
“He definitely gave you a chilling feeling,” says Bell, a 17-year-veteran who is also a member of the FBI’s Safe Streets task force and the Anchorage SWAT team. “Detective Doll and I both had that sense — the hair on the back of your neck stands up. We knew Samantha likely did not have a good outcome.”
Doll, who was the lead detective on the case, spoke first. She presented Keyes with information that made it clear they knew Keyes had kidnapped Samantha. Doll was confident he’d realize there was no way out. She asked him question after question.
“There’s nothing I can do to help you,” he said.
Israel Keyes didn’t confess to the abduction of Samantha Koening until sometime around March 30, when he was back in Alaska, in custody. State prosecutors presented Keyes with overwhelming evidence: They searched his house and seized his computer, which contained news footage of Koening’s disappearance and the ongoing search.
“I just needed to sit down in a room with him and say, ‘We know you did this, we’re going to convict you of this,’ ” says prosecutor Kevin Feldis. “To explain to him why he’s going to go away for federal kidnapping.”
Within a matter of hours, Keyes confessed. He’d taken Samantha that night and threw her in his truck, stashed her in the shed near his driveway, then sexually assaulted and strangled her.
Keyes left her body there for two weeks, while he went on a cruise out of New Orleans. When he returned, he took that photo of Samantha holding the newspaper dated Feb. 13, having preserved her remains so expertly that he fooled even the FBI. Then he dumped her body in a lake.
“You could see the adrenaline coursing through his body” as he recounted the murder, Feldis says. “This didn’t seem to be the case of someone who had never done this before.”
A KILLER’S TWO LIVES
Investigators had also found news coverage of the Currier case in Vermont on the same computer, but it took weeks for Keyes to confess to that killing.
He expressed great concern for the privacy and well-being of his friends and family, and though it sounds odd, it did not surprise investigators: Most serial killers have not only friends and family but a kind of love, however deformed and utilitarian, for them.
“In some respects, serial killers really aren’t that different from the rest of us,” says Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston. “Most of us compartmentalize and draw lines between people we love and respect and people we don’t. Why do serial killers select strangers? Easy: to dehumanize. An organized serial killer” — as in the case of the fictional Dexter — “can live with a wife and children, but he reserves his thrill for those he doesn’t know.”
Levin says that in 99% of these cases, family and friends are shocked to learn the truth — serial killers, in daily life, present as utterly normal.
Keyes, as are most serial killers, was highly interested in control, and once he made plain his Achilles’ heel — keeping his girlfriend and daughter away from the media — prosecutors used that as leverage. He especially expressed concern about his daughter, in the near future, Googling his name, what she might discover. “We let him know that if he told us these things, we would be in a better position to keep the publicity under control,” Feldis says. “We tried to encourage that control.”
And that’s why the world has only just heard of Israel Keyes.
Once Keyes was convinced his family would be protected, he revealed himself to be a whole new kind of monster; for all he had in common with the typical profile of a serial killer, Keyes was an aberration, the kind of nightmare that we like to think lives only in horror movies or Stephen King novels.
Frank Russo, the assistant US attorney who worked on the case, has said that a national expert in serial killers told him that Keyes was among the top three organizational minds he’d ever come across.
“I don’t want to instill fear in people,” Feldis says. That said, “When you see Israel Keyes and talk to him about something unrelated to his criminal activity — you wouldn’t know he was a killer.”
Keyes was not only a killer: He was exceptionally ambitious, creating needless obstacles for himself along the way. Most serial killers stay close to home; their familiarity with their terrain means less chance of getting caught. Keyes, however, had small bags filled with guns, silencers, zip ties and other weaponry buried all over the country. Whenever he felt the urge to kill, he first delayed it as long as possible — staving off the gratification was a substantial part of the pleasure. Then, he would fly or drive to one of the areas he’d pre-selected, dig up his kit and choose his victims.
His rules: No children, because he was a father. Only use cash. Remove the battery from the cell whenever on the hunt.
In the case of Samantha Koening, Keyes broke almost all of the strictures that kept him off-the-radar: He kidnapped Koening even though he felt it was risky — he couldn’t control the urge. He demanded a ransom be deposited into her account, then began using her ATM card. And he killed, quite literally, in his own back yard.
“There is no one who knows me, or who has ever known me, that knows anything about me, really,” Keyes later told investigators. “I’m two different people, basically.”
Keyes was asked how long he had been that way. He chuckled softly to himself. “A long time,” he said. “Fourteen years.”
In June 2011, Israel Keyes bought a plane ticket and flew to Chicago, then rented a car and drove 1,000 miles to Vermont, where he did a little fishing while looking for the right kind of house: “off the beaten path,” in his words, one with an attached garage for undetected egress and no evidence of children or dogs.
It didn’t take long for Keyes to find the Curriers’ house, and that’s why they were targeted: not for who they were, but where they lived. This house had a layout conducive to a break-in and kidnapping, and early on the morning of June 9, 2011, Keyes executed what he called a “blitz attack”: Having cut the phone line earlier, he got in through the garage, then smashed through a window and headed straight for the bedroom, guided only by the small bulb on his headlamp. He had Bill and Lorraine zip-tied within six seconds and left no DNA behind.
Keyes put the Curriers in their car and drove them to an abandoned barn. He removed Bill first, who was fighting as hard as he could. Once in the barn, Keyes smashed Bill’s head in with his shovel, then shot him to death. He went back for Lorraine, who by now had broken free from her zip ties and was frantically running toward Route 15.
Keyes tackled her and dragged her back to the barn, where he sexually assaulted Lorraine, then strangled her. He preferred that method of killing to guns: He liked seeing his victims suffer. Keyes then put the bodies in individual garbage bags and left them in the abandoned building, which has since been demolished. Their remains have never been found, but Keyes told investigators that he’d dumped that gun in a lake in upstate Parishville, NY, which was where cops found it. In fact, everything he told investigators bore out.
HIS FINAL MYSTERY
Samantha and the Curriers — those were the only three victims Keyes would name, no more.
“We were trying to narrow down when he first killed someone, and we think it was 2001, after he got out of the military,” says Feldis.
Keyes eventually confessed to the murder of four people in Washington state and one in New York state, but he would not name those victims or say when he had killed them or where they were buried.
The one thing that investigators are certain of, however, is that Israel Keyes was not crazy. He was far too methodical and organized. Feldis says that Keyes struck him as “smart, capable, with a sense of humor” — a kind of ironic self-awareness that would not be present in a deranged individual.
“Israel Keyes didn’t kidnap or kill people because he was crazy,” Detective Doll said at a press conference. “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.”
Investigators throughout the nation are revisiting cold cases. Russo has said that in many cases, cops and family members alike have been “resorting to Googling.”
For them, there is a grim, fascinating new Facebook page, founded by Samantha’s father: “Have You Ever Met Israel Keyes?”
The last time Feldis spoke with Keyes was on Thursday, Nov. 29. On Sunday, Dec. 2, Keyes was found in his jail cell. He’d slashed his wrist with a razor — where a prisoner in solitary got hold of a razor, the Alaska Department of Corrections won’t say — then strangled himself with his bedsheet.
Before killing himself, Keyes tortured one more person — prosecutor Kevin Feldis — and kept one last secret: He had never planned to be taken alive, and he was going to control the end of his story, leaving an untold number of bodies in his wake.
“The most we could get out of him was [that he killed] less than 12 people,” Feldis says. “Eleven is what I’ve come up with.