The Harrowing Story Of Israel Keyes, America’s Unhinged Cross-Country Serial Killer

Published December 9, 2021
Updated March 28, 2022

Israel Keyes raped and murdered victims at random after stashing murder kits around the country — until he died by suicide in December 2012 before even facing trial.

Israel Keyes

Wikimedia CommonsIsrael Keyes was finally captured in 2012 — although he would take his own life before facing justice.

Serial killer Israel Keyes could have had a normal, all-American life. He was a former army infantryman who served his country proudly at Fort Hood and in Egypt. After his time in the armed forces, he started a construction company in Alaska. He even had a daughter of his own.

But behind the seemingly normal veneer of respectability lay a heart of pure darkness. It’s been confirmed that Keyes murdered three people and admitted to several other deaths — and, according to the FBI, he actually killed 11 people. But before he could face justice for his crimes, he died by suicide.

This is the horrific true story of Israel Keyes, one of the most prolific serial killers and rapists of the early 21st century.

Early Warning Signs In Israel Keyes

There are few verifiable details available about Israel Keyes’ early life. When he was arrested for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 18-year-old coffee barista Samantha Koenig, he told what he called “a version” of his life story.

According to his testimony, he was born in Cove, UT, to a devoutl Mormon family, and was the second of 10 children. When he was 3 or 4 years old, his family moved to a remote part of Washington state and disavowed the Mormon faith. Keyes also claimed he was homeschooled.

Israel Keyes began showing the first signs of psychopathy in his childhood: He would break into his neighbors’ homes, steal their guns, and even tortured animals.

What’s more, the Southern Poverty Law Center painted a more sinister picture of Israel Keyes and his early associations.

According to that organization, the Keyes family were faithful parishioners of a Christian identity church called the Ark, whose minister, Dan Henry, preached a white supremacist Gospel that had more than a few smatterings of anti-Semitism baked in for good measure.

The Keyes family were also known associates of the Kehoe family, whose sons Chevie and Cheyne were members of the Aryan People’s Republic, and who are currently serving lengthy sentences for a series of hate-crime fueled attacks and murders, including the murder of a family of three in Arkansas.

The connection to the Kehoes gave law enforcement officials pause, as they believed that this could have partially motivated Israel Keyes on his own crime spree. But it would still be a few years before Keyes began his cross-country campaign of bloodshed.

The Cruel Murders Of Israel Keyes

Israel Keyes later confessed that he committed his first crime in 1998, shortly after he enlisted in the U.S. Army. The details of that first crime are unclear, but people who served with Keyes remembered him as often drunk and withdrawn throughout his service.

In 2001, Keyes later told authorities, he began his killing spree in earnest. Keyes chose his victims at random, and said that they were more “victims of opportunity” — that is, he targeted random people all over the country with no real premeditated plan.

This was so he could avoid detection. Keyes had so-called “murder kits” stashed around the country with all the tools of his macabre trade. He also paid in cash and would take the battery out of his cell phone as he drove, to further fly under the radar. However, he had one hard and fast rule: He would never target or kill children, or anyone who had a child, because he had a daughter of his own.

But by no means was Israel Keyes showing any sort of mercy towards his victims. After deciding in his teenage years that he would rape and kill a woman and get away with it, Keyes went on to kill as few as three and as many as 11 people between 2001 and 2012.

His first confirmed kill was a Vermont couple named Bill and Lorraine Currier, whose bodies were never found. Keyes is believed to have invaded the couple’s home using weapons and tools he had stashed in one of his murder kits. He also told the FBI that he killed four people in Washington state, but never gave full details about their names or their cause of death.

Samantha Koenig Ransom Photo

TwitterThe “ransom photo” Keyes took of his victim Samantha Koenig — after he’d already murdered her.

The murder of Samantha Koenig in 2012 was, in fact, Israel Keyes’s last kill. On February 1, 2012, Keyes kidnapped her from the drive-through coffee shop where she’d worked. After stealing her debit card, he raped her, imprisoned her, then killed her the following day.

He then left her body in a shed and went off on a cruise with his family. When he returned from the cruise, he removed Koenig’s body from the shed, applied makeup to her face, and sewed her eyes open with a fishing line. Finally, he demanded a ransom of $30,000 before dismembering her body and disposing of it in a lake just outside of Anchorage, Alaska.

Israel Keyes’s Downfall

It was Keyes’s demand for ransom in the Koenig case that ultimately proved to be his downfall. After receiving the ransom payment, authorities began tracking the withdrawals from the account as moved across the United States. Finally, on March 13, 2012, Keyes was arrested by the Texas Rangers in Lufkin, Texas, after he was caught speeding.

After being extradited to Alaska, Keyes confessed to the murders and began telling authorities about all the other crimes he’d committed. In fact, he seemed to take pleasure in sharing the grisly details.

“I’ll tell you everything you want to know,” Keyes reportedly told authorities. “I’ll give it blow by blow if you want. I have lots more stories to tell.”

But in May 2012, things began to take a turn for the worse. During a routine hearing, Keyes tried to escape from a courtroom after breaking his leg irons. Fortunately, his escape attempt was unsuccessful, and authorities once again restrained him.

But that was a sign of things to come. On Dec. 2, 2012, Israel Keyes managed to conceal a razor blade in his jail cell at the Anchorage Correctional Complex in Alaska, which he used to take his own life. He left behind a note which offered no insight as to his additional victims.

But Israel Keyes’s death was not the end of the story. In 2020, Alaskan authorities released a drawing of 11 skulls and one pentagram, which they claimed was drawn by Keyes as part of his suicide note. The note, which was written in his blood, was captioned with three words: “WE ARE ONE.” According to the FBI, this is the most tacit acknowledgment by Israel Keyes of the 11 lives he took without remorse.


Now that you’ve read all about Israel Keyes, read all about Wayne Williams and the mystery surrounding the Atlanta child murders of the 1980s. Then, read all about Lizzie Halliday, the “worst woman on Earth.”

Bernadette Giacomazzo
Bernadette Giacomazzo is a NYC-based editor, writer, photographer, and publicist with a career spanning more than two decades in the entertainment industry. Her work has been featured in People, Teen Vogue, BET, HipHopDX, XXL Magazine, The Source, Vibe, The Los Angeles Times, and more. She is also the author of The Uprising Series and is the CEO of G-Force Marketing & Publicity, which has been featured in The Hollywood Reporter and has obtained film, television, radio, and print placements for blue-chip clients all over the world. She will release "In Living Color: A Cultural History" on Rowman & Littlefield Press in April 2022, and "The Golden Girls: A Cultural History" on Rowman & Littlefield Press in October 2022.