Book Review: American Predator by Maureen Callahan

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Who was Israel Keyes? You’re probably googling the name right now. And if you’ve not heard of him, don’t feel bad. The FBI hadn’t either. Israel Keyes has been rated as one of the most prolific serial killers the FBI has come across in the 21st century. Maureen Callahan tells of the capture of the man who terrified the FBI in her novel American Predator. And after reading it, I can certainly see why. This guy’s laugh literally haunts me. I stayed up way too late watching his interrogation interviews with the FBI and other documentaries.

To the untrained eye, Israel Keyes was your average Alaskan single father. He was a doting father to his daughter. He owned his own construction company in Anchorage and was quite successful. But aside from that, no one truly knew the real Israel Keyes. He’d only lived in Anchorage for a few years. No one knew that he was a dangerous predator that has been preying on victims across the United States since 1997 or 1996. Had it not been for his mistake in breaking his own rule of not killing where he lived, he may have never been caught.

Similar to the methods of Ted Bundy, Keyes had a way of covering his tracks through travel. He had made what he called ‘kill kits’ and stashed them in remote areas around the country. Keyes threw off any chance of a viable eyewitness with the use of rental vehicles and various disguises in his travels. He picked victims at random and discarded them in the next state over. This made it difficult for the FBI to track down other victims of his after Keyes’ arrest. The FBI knew that they were dealing with someone who’d been training to kill for a very long time.

Samantha Koenig

In February of 2012, high school senior Samantha Koenig was reported missing. She worked at a local Anchorage coffee kiosk and lived with her single father James and boyfriend, Duane. Samantha had only been working at the kiosk for about a month and was a reliable employee, girlfriend, and daughter. On February 1, Samantha worked the kiosk alone. The next morning, the opening barista found that none of the closing duties had been completed and the cash register was empty. She wouldn’t have run off without telling someone. And she certainly wouldn’t have robbed the kiosk. The barista reported her missing. Her father and boyfriend received a text message from Samantha’s phone saying :

“I am going to spend a couple days with friends need time to think plan acting weird let my dad know”

They knew this wasn’t Samantha. And that Samantha was in danger.

Samantha’s father went to the police, insisting that his daughter had been kidnapped.

Common Grounds Coffee Kiosk ~ Last place Samantha was seen alive.

The kiosk manager checked the security tapes and found that Samantha had indeed been kidnapped after what looked like an attempted robbery. The suspect approached the kiosk around 8pm and ordered a coffee, which Samantha prepared. When she returned to the window she was taken by surprise by something that was not given to the camera and her demeanor changed from confident to panic.

Security camera stills from Common Kiosk

Keyes had not planned to kidnap Samantha Koenig that night. But the opportunity arose. He knew that there would be no witnesses. Samantha was a victim of opportunity, Keyes’ preferred type. He had ordered her to turn off the lights and then to kneel by the window with her back to him and he reached through the window to zip tie her hands behind her back. He then jumped through the window and took the money from the register.

It wasn’t until he led her from the kiosk that Samantha believed she was in any real danger. He forced her into a white truck. He told her the plan to collect the ransom and then let her go and tried to act like a normal person. He let her out to use the bathroom and to share a smoke with him. She was scared but calm.

Israel Keye’s House in Anchorage, Alaska

Once at home, Keyes took Samantha to the back shed he had built himself. He tied her to a pole and restrained her head using a U-shaped bike lock. He enjoyed the control. After tying her up, he collected her phone and ID from the coffee kiosk. He went to her house to collect her debit card, which she shared with her boyfriend and etched the solicited pin on the back of the card. The debit card was in her truck that was parked just outside the house (not pictured). Duane had even gone outside and saw someone near the truck but did not mention it to the police until later.

Back at the shed, Keyes told Samantha that the ransom was set in motion and her dad would be sending the money soon, which was of course a lie. The only correspondence he’d had with any of Samantha’s family was the obscure text he had sent Duane. Keyes was planning for a trip with his live-in girlfriend and his daughter and scheduled a cab to come to pick them up and take them to the airport around 6am. He had a small window of time to work with and had to use it wisely.

Keyes went on his trip as planned. He enacted his sadistic desires and violated Samantha in every possible way before strangling and stabbing her. He rolled her up in some plastic and tucked her in a wooden cupboard. He turned off the heater he had set up for her short stay and locked up. And from the looks of it, he had a good vacation. There was no way to tell on the seven-day cruise that he had just kidnapped and murdered a young girl. His family had no clue that he was the subject of a major man-hunt back in Anchorage, where James Koenig, family, and loved ones were hoping that their Samantha would be returned to them, unharmed.

Keyes, in Hawaii (2012)

Upon return from his well-deserved trip, Keyes knew he had to deal with the body. He also needed to address his financial issues and decided to collect on the ransom. But how was he to do that with Samantha already dead? He had let Samantha thaw. She had maintained well during his absence, thanks to the cold temperatures of Anchorage. With a bit of make-up, a sewing kit, and some tape, Keyes was able to get a convincing photo of a living Samantha.

February 24th, 2012 Duane gets a text message from Samantha’s phone that read:

Police and James Koenig rush to Conner Park, where there was indeed a note taped to the sign under a lost dog poster for Albert. The note included instructions for depositing the money into Samantha’s account and a polaroid picture of Samantha with makeup and her hair braided (She never wore her hair like that). A newspaper from February 13th was held in front as a timestamp for proof of life, and a way to taunt the police, who had no clue that Israel Keyes was behind all of this, nor who he even was. Little did FBI and local Anchorage Police know was that Keyes was about to take them on a wild goose chase across the United States…

Read more about this thrilling case in Maureen Callahan’s American Predator

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since the creation of the Behaviour Analysis Unit of the FBI, criminal investigators have not seen a more meticulous serial killer that scared them like Israel Keyes.
Israel Keyes is the Serial Killer we never heard of, until now. Why? Because he wanted it that way.
But it’s important to know that the days of serial killing are not over. In fact, just as the FBI is getting smarter, so are the predators. What does a 21st-century serial killer look like?
Meet Israel Keyes.

In Maureen Callahan’s chilling retelling of the crime that unraveled Keyes and his reign of terror, you will find a killer that will surpass the talents of Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. A man who has lived under the radar for more than half his life and can kill without blinking an eye. I recommend this to anyone who is new and interested in the true crime genre.

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2 responses to “Book Review: American Predator by Maureen Callahan”

    • It is seriously one of the best I’ve read so far. It haunted me. When I was watching the interviews for this post, I heard his laugh and now that haunts me forever. I heard someone laugh like him at work and I literally got chills.

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