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Israel Keyes charged with kidnapping, killing Anchorage barista

Ben Anderson
Photo courtesy Alaska Police Department

For weeks, Anchorage law enforcement officials have said that Israel Keyes was tied in some way to the Feb. 1 abduction of 18-year-old coffee-stand worker Samantha Koenig. On Wednesday, Keyes was charged with kidnapping and killing Koenig, and the new charging documents shed some light on a mysterious case that's been subject of intense public scrutiny and occupied thousands of law enforcement man hours.

Authorities have been tight-lipped about Keyes's involvement, saying only that the 34-year-old contractor was involved, as they built their case. Since arresting Keyes on March 15 in Lufkin, Tex. on a charge of access device fraud -- for allegedly using a debit card that didn't belong to him -- police have seized an entire shed from the home in West Anchorage's Turnagain area, where Keyes had been living. They've also discovered Koenig's body in Matanuska Lake, earlier this month.

In addition to the first charge of kidnapping resulting in the death of Samantha Koenig, Keyes is also charged with receiving and possessing ransom money and is still charged with access device fraud.

"The crime of kidnapping and killing Samantha Koenig, as charged in this indictment, carries a maximum penalty of life (in prison) or death," Kevin Feldis, with the U.S. Attorney's office, said at a press conference Wednesday. Alaska does not impose a death penalty. But since Keyes is being charged in federal court, he could still face execution under federal law if he is found guilty of the charge.

The indictment, handed down by a grand jury Wednesday, more explicitly outlines the role Keyes allegedly play in Koenig's kidnapping and murder, and answers numerous questions that have gone unanswered in the months since her disappearance.

According to the indictment, Keyes allegedly kidnapped Koenig from her workplace at a Common Grounds coffee stand in Midtown Anchorage at about 8 p.m. on Feb. 1. He then took Koenig across Tudor Road to his white pickup truck, which was parked at Home Depot. Later that night, Keyes allegedly stole a debit card from a vehicle shared by Koenig.

"Keyes obtained the PIN number to the debit card from Samantha Koenig and scratched the PIN number into the card," the indictment says.

It alleges that Keyes then sent text messages from Koenig's phone in an attempt to conceal the abduction. On Feb. 2, the indictment says that Keyes killed Koenig before boarding a plane bound for Houston, Tex. He then returned to Anchorage on Feb. 17.

On Feb. 24, Keyes allegedly sent a text message from Koenig's phone asking for ransom money, to be placed in the account tied to the debit card.

"With the help of the reward money that was generously donated by members of this community, the Koenig family was able to place money into the account," Feldis said.

From there, Keyes is charged with withdrawing money from the account at ATM machines in Alaska, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, eventually taking out nearly $2,500 from the account.

Though the indictment sheds some light on the timeline of events, the night of Koenig's abduction remains somewhat ambiguous. Feldis said only that Keyes "confined … then intentionally killed" Koenig sometime in the morning following her abduction.

There are also no clues to what led investigators to dive into the frozen-over Matanuska Lake where Koenig's body was discovered. Police have previously asked for the public's help in placing Keyes's white pickup at the scene of the crime as well as the spot where her body was discovered on April 2.

Police have stated in the past that Keyes acted alone in abducting Koenig, and all indications are that Keyes and Koenig didn't know each other prior to the kidnapping, making the crime all the more inexplicable and unnerving.

Crimes rarely are so random, though not unprecedented, even in Anchorage. Police spokesman Dave Parker points to the 1994 murder case of Bonnie Craig and the 2007 murder of Mindy Schloss, both cases where the victims hadn't had previous face-to-face interaction with their killers.

Still, Parker said, "They are very rare cases. We don't want to see any more of these."

Keyes's only prior criminal record was for drunk driving in Washington in 2001, more than a decade before the kidnapping.

Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew praised all the law enforcement officers who worked on the case leading up to Wednesday's indictment. As has become the norm in the ongoing case, officials refused to answer specific questions, but Mew did say that the investigation is continuing.

Israel Keyes is expected to be arraigned on the new charges Thursday morning in Anchorage.

On Sunday, a public memorial for Koenig will be held at Anchorage’s West High School auditorium.

CORRECTION: This story initially reported that Israel Keyes was charged with murder in the death of Samantha Koenig. He has not been charged with murder. We regret the error.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com