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Originally published Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 9:02 PM

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Trying to unlock serial killer’s secrets

In 40 hours of interviews over eight months, serial killer Israel Keyes told authorities in Alaska about many killings; they believe there were nearly a dozen. Keyes traveled from Vermont to Alaska hunting for victims. He said he buried “murder kits” around the country so they would be r

The Associated Press

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ANCHORAGE — The suspect, hands and feet shackled, fidgeted in his chair, chuckling at times as he confessed to a brutal killing.

Israel Keyes showed no remorse as he described in merciless detail how he’d abducted and strangled an 18-year-old woman, then demanded ransom, pretending she was alive.

As prosecutors Kevin Feldis and Frank Russo and investigators from the FBI and Anchorage police listened that day in early 2012, they came to a consensus:

Israel Keyes wasn’t talking just about Samantha Koenig. He’d killed before.

In 40 hours of interviews over eight months, Keyes talked of many killings; authorities believe there were nearly a dozen. He traveled from Vermont to Alaska hunting for victims. He said he buried “murder kits” around the country so they would be readily accessible. These caches — with guns, zip ties and other supplies used to dispose of bodies — were found in Alaska and New York.

At the same time, incredibly, Keyes was an under-the-radar everyday citizen — a father, a live-in boyfriend, a respected handyman who had no trouble finding jobs in the community.

Keyes claimed he killed four people in Washington state, dumped another body in New York and raped a teen in Oregon. He said he robbed banks to help finance his crimes; authorities corroborated two robberies in New York and Texas. He confessed to burning down a house in Texas.

Though sometimes specific, he was often frustratingly vague. Only once — other than Koenig — did he identify by name his victims: a married couple in Vermont.

Keyes wanted to be in control. Of his crimes. Of how much he revealed. And, ultimately, of his fate.

In December, he slashed his left wrist and strangled himself with a sheet in his jail cell. He left two pages of bloodstained writings. And many questions.

Investigators are left searching for answers, but they face a daunting task: They’re convinced the 34-year-old Keyes was a serial killer; they’ve verified many details he provided.

But they have a puzzle that spans the U.S. and dips into Mexico and Canada — and the one person who held the missing pieces is dead. FBI agents on opposite ends of the country, joined by others, are working the case, hoping a timeline will offer clues to his grisly odyssey.

But they know, too, that Keyes’ secrets are buried with him — and may never be unearthed.

Alaska slaying

Authorities aren’t certain when Keyes’ crime spree began or ended. But they have a haunting image of his last known victim.

Snippets of a surveillance video show the first terrifying moments of Koenig’s abduction.

Keyes is seen as a shadowy figure in ski mask and hood outside Common Grounds, a Anchorage coffee hut then partially concealed from a busy six-lane highway by mountains of snow.

It’s Feb. 1, 2012, about 8 p.m., closing time. Koenig is shown handing Keyes a cup of coffee, then backing away with her hands up, as if it’s a robbery. The lights go out and Keyes next appears as a fuzzy image climbing through the drive-thru window.

Keyes was arrested on March 13, nearly 3,200 miles from Anchorage, when police in Lufkin, Texas, saw him driving 3 mph above the speed limit.

Inside his car was an incriminating stash: Rolls of cash in rubber bands. A piece of a gray T-shirt cut out to make a face mask. A highlighted map with routes through California, Arizona and New Mexico. A stolen debit card. And Samantha Koenig’s phone.

Washington roots

Authorities suspect Keyes started killing more than 10 years ago after completing a three-year stint in the Army at what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma.

Sean McGuire, who shared a barracks with Keyes, says they developed a camaraderie during grueling training in Egypt. But he says he was disturbed by a dark side that sometimes surfaced.

When Keyes was offended by his buddy’s comments, he’d drop his head, McGuire recalls, knit his brow, lower his voice and say, “ ‘I want to kill you, McGuire.’ ”

Keyes, the second eldest in a large family, was home-schooled in a cabin without electricity near Colville, Stevens County, in a mountainous, sparsely populated area.

The family moved in the 1990s to Smyrna, Maine, where they were involved in the maple-syrup business, according to a neighbor who remembered Keyes as a nice, courteous young man.

After leaving the Army, Keyes worked for the Makah Indian tribe in Washington, then moved to Anchorage in 2007 after his girlfriend found work here. A self-employed carpenter and handyman, he was considered competent, honest and efficient.

“I never got any bad, weird, scary, odd vibe from him in any way, shape or form,” says Paul Adelman, an Anchorage attorney who first hired Keyes as a handyman in 2008.

Keyes’ live-in girlfriend also was floored to learn of his double life, according to David Kanters, her friend. “He had everyone fooled,” Kanters told The Associated Press in an email. “THAT is the scary part. He came across as a nice normal guy.” (She did not respond to numerous requests for comment.)

Keyes blended in easily. “He was not only very intelligent,” says Monique Doll, the lead Anchorage police investigator in the Koenig case. “He was very adaptable and he had a lot of self-control.”

“He liked what he was doing,” says FBI Special Agent Jolene Goeden. “He talked about getting a rush out of it, the adrenaline, the excitement.”

Goeden says Keyes provided information for eight victims, some more specific than others. He also alluded to other victims, and said he killed fewer than 12 people altogether. In one case, he claimed a body was recovered and the death ruled accidental.

Investigators say they independently verified almost everything he told them.

They tried to get Keyes to identify more victims. But he balked at even providing their gender.

There was an exception.

Shortly after Keyes confessed to Koenig’s murder, the prosecutors told him they knew he’d killed others and said his computers were being searched.

Bill and Lorraine Currier, a couple in their 50s, had disappeared 10 months earlier from Essex, Vt., and were presumed dead.

Several weeks later, Keyes was matter-of-fact in confessing by phone to Essex police how he’d killed the Curriers on June 9, 2011.

Israel Keyes never provided another name.

He was found dead Dec. 2, three months before his scheduled trial in the Koenig case.

Investigators have used Keyes’ financial and travel records to piece together a timeline of his whereabouts from Oct. 4, 2004, to March 13, 2012. He traveled throughout the United States and made short trips into Canada and Mexico.

The FBI is seeking the public’s help.

FBI agents in Seattle and in Albany, N.Y., also are working with state and local authorities to try to verify tips from people who reported seeing Keyes.

But definitive evidence? That will be hard to come by.

AP National Writer Sharon Cohen reported from Chicago. Also contributing to this report were AP reporters Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Nicholas K. Geranios in Colville and Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt.

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