American Predator

The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century

Formats and Prices


Trade Paperback


Trade Paperback

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 9, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Ted Bundy. John Wayne Gacy. Jeffrey Dahmer. The names of notorious serial killers are usually well-known; they echo in the news and in public consciousness. But most people have never heard of Israel Keyes, one of the most ambitious and terrifying serial killers in modern history. The FBI considered his behavior unprecedented. Described by a prosecutor as ‘a force of pure evil,’ Keyes was a predator who struck all over the United States. He buried ‘kill kits’ – cash, weapons, and body-disposal tools – in remote locations across the country. Over the course of fourteen years, Keyes would fly to a city, rent a car, and drive thousands of miles in order to use his kits. He would break into a stranger’s house, abduct his victims in broad daylight, and kill and dispose of them in mere hours. And then he would return home to Alaska, resuming life as a quiet, reliable construction worker devoted to his only daughter. When journalist Maureen Callahan first heard about Israel Keyes in 2012, sh



The rarest form of murder is serial. Despite what we see on CSI or Mindhunter or the films and procedurals that dominate popular culture, people who kill randomly and for no reason are extremely uncommon. It's why they loom so large in our collective mindscape.

It's also why many of us think we know of every such American killer.

But the subject of this book was unlike anything the FBI had ever encountered. He was a new kind of monster, likely responsible for the greatest string of unsolved disappearances and murders in modern American history.

And you have probably never heard of him.


This book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the special agents on this case. Passages where someone's thoughts are described are based on information they gave directly.

In some cases, FBI interrogations have been condensed and edited for clarity.



On the side of a four-lane road, obscured by snowdrifts five feet high, sat a small coffee kiosk, its bright teal paint vibrant against the asphalt and gray big-box stores. Drivers passing by could see the familiar top peeking above the piles of snow, this cheerful but lonely little shack.

The night before, eighteen-year-old Samantha Koenig had been working this kiosk alone. Now she had vanished. She had been on the job for less than a month.

She was reported missing the morning of Thursday, February 2, 2012, by the first barista to show up at the coffee kiosk that day. That barista felt something was not right—Samantha was usually very responsible about closing the kiosk properly, but this morning things were out of place and the previous day's take was gone.

What little the Anchorage Police Department had learned about Samantha in one day left them with almost no leads. She was a popular high school senior who sometimes cut class and maybe had a history with drugs. She got along with everyone, not just the cool kids. She had two main people in her life: her boyfriend, Duane, who she'd been dating for almost a year, and her single father, James.

So: What to make of this scene? Yes, Samantha could have been kidnapped, but to investigators, it seemed more likely that she had gone off on her own. The police found no signs of a struggle. Inside the kiosk was a panic button, and Samantha hadn't hit it. She'd been using her cell phone before and after she had gone missing—fighting with Duane, texting him to leave her alone, fighting over her certainty he was cheating on her.

Then again, she had also called her dad, asking him to stop by the kiosk with some dinner.

Why do that if she was planning to run away?

To the sergeant of the Anchorage Police Department, this seemed like a good test run for field training a novice. He decided to give the case to Detective Monique Doll, a third-generation cop, thirty-five years old, working her first day in homicide. Doll had spent ten years in narcotics, four of those undercover with the DEA. She had a lot to recommend her.

Doll stood out, too, as one of the most glamorous officers in Anchorage. She looked like her name, blonde and beautiful, though she answered to the androgynous nickname Miki. She was married to another star at APD, the handsome Justin Doll, and they were something of a local power couple.

So the sergeant told Doll: You're lead on this. Suspicious circumstance, he called it.

Across town, FBI Special Agent Steve Payne was tying up a drug case when a friend at the police department called. This is common practice in Anchorage, a big city that runs like a small town. Cops, FBI agents, defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges—everyone knows everyone. It is the paradox of being Alaskan: This state is home to rugged individualists who nonetheless know there will come a time, amid the cold, unpitying winters, when they will need help.

Payne was told that an eighteen-year-old girl had disappeared early the night before and had sent some angry texts to her boyfriend. One emerging theory had Samantha stealing the day's take to fund a day or two off on her own. Happened in Anchorage all the time.

Yet Payne wasn't so sure. Planning to disappear requires long-range strategy and sophistication. Samantha seemed like a young girl with very little money. Payne was a regular at these roadside coffee kiosks and could only guess how little the baristas were paid, these young girls who often worked alone, were made to wear bikinis in the summer. It was not an easy life.

Besides, where would a teenage girl go by herself on a dark and freezing Wednesday night? The weather had been brutal, just over 30 degrees, snow covering the ground. Samantha didn't have her pickup truck that night; her boyfriend Duane did. Anchorage isn't a walkable city. Samantha just wandering off, alone and on foot, made no sense. If she had gone to a friend's house, as she'd told Duane in texts last night, chances were the police would already have found her.

He offered to help.

"We've got enough people," came the reply. "We think we know what this is."

Payne hung up. This didn't sit right. As he well knew, the first rule of any investigation was to keep an open mind. You didn't try to fit a personal theory to a possible crime.

He had heard that the police never even taped off the kiosk earlier that morning, when Samantha was reported missing, and her fellow barista then spent the morning serving customers. If the kiosk was in fact a crime scene, it had already been contaminated.

Unbelievable, Payne thought. This was basic stuff, knowing that the first hours of an investigation are everything, presenting as they do the freshest leads, the most telling witness interviews. Crucially, investigators themselves are at their most curious and engaged, confronting a brand-new mystery with brand-new players. This sets the tone for everything to come. With missing people—especially a child, and Payne considered Samantha a child—these earliest moments, handled correctly, will give investigators the best chance of finding them alive and well.

He didn't want to overstep, but he couldn't help himself. He called APD, leaving messages, waiting all afternoon for a reply.

Finally, at eight o'clock that night, Payne's phone rang. It was Detective Doll.

"Some things have changed," she said.

Payne made the twelve-minute drive from the FBI's Anchorage field office over to APD. He was six years older than Doll and had been with the Bureau for sixteen years, born and raised in Anchorage, a rarity. Most folks who live here, like Doll, are expats from the Lower 48. Payne understood the psyche of the city. He understood the bias police could have when it comes to Anchorage's poor and troubled, the lost causes. He didn't want to see Samantha dismissed.

Payne's outward appearance gave little hint of his mettle. No one would ever guess he was a special agent who had worked drugs and violent crime his whole career. Small features, slight frame: He looked like an accountant. Yet Payne was a born investigator, a self-described obsessive-compulsive whose devotion to casework cost him his first marriage. He was a perfectionist who always fell back on the homicide investigators' credo: Do it right the first time. You only get once chance.

He got teased at the Bureau for a few of his favorite sayings—"cause for pause" whenever he found a clue or some kind of useful information, "Murphy's Law" when a case was on the verge of resolving only to fall apart. Payne thought of Murphy as his personal boogeyman.

Doll gave Payne a quick overview of what she'd learned so far. They had just gotten a look at the surveillance video from the kiosk, which the kiosk's owner, nearly twenty-five hundred miles away, had obtained eight hours earlier. This was shaping up to be what Payne had feared—the low prioritizing of an at-risk teenager. Samantha's father had spent the past night calling Samantha's cell phone to no avail, and spent that next day standing outside the kiosk during his daughter's next scheduled shift, from 1:00 to 8:00 P.M., hoping she'd come back.

"Show me the video," Payne said.

Just before eight o'clock, Samantha appears on-screen in her lime green top, her long brown hair worn down. She is relaxed, chatting with a customer through the kiosk's window as she makes coffee.

She looks like a sweet girl, Payne thinks. Happy.

Whoever is outside remains out of camera range. Samantha works very casually and then, two minutes and six seconds into the tape, she suddenly turns off the lights.

There's no audio.

Samantha's hands go up. Now, all that's visible outside the kiosk is a shadowy figure and what might be the muzzle of a gun pointed at Samantha through the window. The aim is high and the window is low to the ground, so whoever this is must be tall. Samantha moves gingerly to the counter, her back to the figure outside. She gets on her knees. She stays that way for over a minute, fidgeting, and then, three and a half minutes in, she gets up, walks over to the register, and scoops out money from the drawer. The video is so grainy it's hard to tell if she hands it over or puts it down. She returns, calmly it seems, to a kneeling position. Then something else has clearly been said because Samantha wobbles to the window, stops, then turns her back to it.

Here, at the 5:19 mark, a large male figure leans halfway inside. It's hard to see for sure, but it looks like he is tying her arms behind her back.

Two more minutes elapse, which sounds like nothing until you realize that a man with a gun is outside a very popular kiosk that sits between the parking lot of a huge gym and a well-trafficked road. In this context, two minutes is extremely long.

Whoever this is, Payne thinks, either knows what he's doing or knows Samantha. This kiosk is tiny, maybe nine feet by five feet, barely propped up off the ground. The wide-open serving window makes these young girls extremely vulnerable. How odd that no one ever noticed that before.

Seconds later, Payne watches as the man pounces like a cheetah, pushing his way through the window in one swift movement, stomach arcing inward, arms extending, landing gracefully on Samantha's right. It happens so fast.

Now it is clear: The man is very tall. He is also very composed. He looks out the window, seems to shut it, and talks to Samantha. Things seem fairly normal between them.

He picks something up and opens it, showing it to Samantha. It looks like her purse, and it looks like it's empty.

Now, at 8:55, he is kneeling. His broad back is to the camera, his right arm tight around Samantha. There is white lettering visible on the back of his black hoodie, but it is impossible to read. He is so close to Samantha that they look like one melded figure.

He helps her to her feet.

Samantha and the man hesitate, look back, then find themselves facing another surveillance camera. He moves Samantha straight ahead through the kiosk's small door, and the outdoor footage shows her and the man slowly walking away, his arm around her shoulder, through the fresh white snow.

Payne didn't know what to make of the video. Once again, he offered the FBI's assistance, but Doll declined. This might have been her first day, but she was lead and this was APD's case.

Also assigned by APD was Jeff Bell, whose youthful appearance belied a storied seventeen-year-long career in law enforcement: US Marshals federal task force, SWAT, senior patrol officer, and three years with the FBI's Safe Streets Task Force, which gave him top-secret clearance with the Bureau. Bell would be considered the most naturally gifted of the team—a clinical, logical thinker with the charisma to engage the gang members, drug runners, meth addicts, pimps, rapists, and murderers who so gamely contribute to Anchorage's standing as the most crime-ridden city in Alaska.

At APD and the Bureau, Bell was known as the Metrosexual. That was not necessarily a compliment. He was a handsome guy with dark features who kept his hair cut high and tight, military style, and his weight in check. He was always well dressed.

Bell was admired by his colleagues; he had the forthrightness and friendliness so common to his native Midwest. He wound up in Alaska after following his college sweetheart, a native, and here they were married. Long ago Bell came to identify, as nearly everyone here does, as an Alaskan rather than an American; the rest of the country, everywhere else, was Outside. Bell knew Anchorage as Payne did. Nearly every street corner held some kind of memory for him: a robbery, an arrest, a body.

Yet even Bell was stymied by the video. Yes, Samantha put her hands up, and yes, the figure looked like a man, but what was really happening? It was too dark to really see. Why was the conversation taking so long? Bell timed the activity in the video. This man had been outside the kiosk for at least seven minutes and clearly inside for a little over ten. Seventeen minutes total.

What in the world, Bell thought, were they talking about?

These seventeen minutes led to the department's first working theory: Samantha was likely not a victim. They weren't going to tell the press that, but their response made that clear, because APD didn't plan to go public with Samantha's disappearance.

That took another two days, the department's hand forced by Samantha's frantic father.


James Koenig was standing outside the Common Grounds kiosk on Friday afternoon, his daughter now missing almost forty-eight hours. This was the kind of shock known only to a parent, the sheer inability to believe that your child is somehow, suddenly, nowhere to be found.

How is such a thing possible?

James, a burly, blue-eyed man, was known to most as Sonny. He was a trucker who knew his way around Anchorage's seamier side, the bars, strip clubs, and biker gangs. He was rumored to be in the drug trade. James "Sonny" Koenig was, to some, a bad man.

But there was nothing he wouldn't do for Samantha. When she was first born, he could hardly sleep because he was so consumed by the constant worry that she would suddenly stop breathing. He'd heard people talk about how boundless a parent's love is, but now he knew. Sam was his only child, his favorite person, his world. She would never have gone missing if he'd brought her dinner that night, like she asked. Why didn't he do that? Why?

James focused on the one thing he could do: galvanize Anchorage to search for his daughter. He handed out flyers with Samantha's photo, KIDNAPPED in a big red font above, her name below. Volunteers kept coming, hugging James and taking piles of flyers as snow fell softly.

Reporters were here too. James was willing to talk all day. Samantha was taken, he said, no question.

"I called her cell phone until the battery finally died, and texted it and everything," he said. "It would ring until it just went to voice mail. And then, noon yesterday, it just went to voice mail, straight out."

James was convinced this was proof Samantha had been taken; he and Samantha texted and talked multiple times a day. But police weren't so sure. People go missing in Alaska all the time. Sometimes they wander off. Sometimes they get lost on a dark trailhead or freeze in a snowbank. Sometimes they're found in time, sometimes not. Here it's just a fact of life. For some, it's a gift.

So much of Alaska's lure is its ability to humble. This is a place first inhabited by our ancestors more than eleven thousand years ago and hardly more developed when Russia sold it to America in 1867 for two cents an acre. Yet Alaska remains the "Great Land," as James Michener called it: the closest we have to a time before man, unsullied terrain, nature so titanically overwhelming it's impossible not to be awed and a little afraid. Adventurers and loners, romantics and desperadoes, eccentrics and slow suicides—the luxuriousness of the place, its seduction and savagery, calls to the wildest among us. Alaska, the land of black moons and midnight suns.

In summer, Alaska, and Anchorage in particular, becomes the brightest place on the planet, a theme park for vacationing families engaged in outdoor activities through twenty-two hours of pure sunlight. But when winter descends and tourists depart, the mask comes off. Anchorage's true nature, her uncivilized self, is revealed. Darkness and depravity compete with a collective hunger for light and life. Never does this place feel so literally on the edge of the earth, seesawing between the temporal world and some black chasm of unknown phenomena, as the six months it sinks into near-total darkness. The isolation alone means anything goes.

It is a rough place to be a woman.

"Alaska must be viewed as having two characteristics: great beauty but also implacable hostility," Michener wrote in his 1988 novel Alaska. Her survivors, he wrote, "would always be a somewhat special breed: adventurous, heroic, willing to contest the great winds, the endless nights, the freezing winters."

This was Samantha: a special breed. She was tough, just like her dad. She had struggles with her mom and with drugs. She could easily have dropped out of high school, dead-ending to a life of low-paying jobs and dreams deferred, but she stuck it out and was now in her senior year at Anchorage West High School. She thought she might work with animals or become a nurse and join the navy. She was a nurturer who looked out for strays and misfits, who would see someone eating alone in the cafeteria or hunched off to the side at a pep rally and casually approach, make some small talk. She was kind.

Samantha had a niece she adored and two dogs she was obsessed with. For all their arguments she really loved Duane, who had moved in with her and James eight months ago. Duane too was saving up for better things, working as a dishwasher at the popular seafood restaurant Suite 100.

He had been due to pick Sam up the night she went missing. When he got there, he told police, she was gone.

Now, on Saturday, APD needed to play catch-up. Yes, to find Samantha, but also to calm the public. The story had gone national.

Lieutenant Dave Parker, out of naïveté or desperation, was far too open with the media. "They left on foot, we know that much," he said. "But beyond that, her disappearance has become a complete mystery." This only amplified the community's worry. Samantha's disappearance spoke to the specific fear of any parent of a young girl here who was working alone, in the dark, in a heavily populated place.

Samantha could have been anyone's child.

Indeed, public pressure forced APD to show parts of the surveillance video to the press. Again, all police could say was that the suspect was wearing a dark hoodie, maybe a baseball cap, and was significantly taller than Samantha, who stood just five foot five.

"Anyone could be a suspect at this point," one detective said.

That included James and Duane.

Detective Doll had interrogated both men separately at the station on Thursday morning, within hours of Samantha's disappearance. Doll's original assessment of James was of a straightforward man. In her police report, on the 1–10 HONESTY SCALE, she wrote, "10—brutally honest."

Yet she was puzzled by what James and Duane told her.

Duane said he drove over to Common Grounds in the pickup truck he and Samantha shared at about 8:30 that night. He had been running a little behind at his own job, maybe by ten minutes.

As Duane pulled up, he said, he noticed the kiosk's inside lights were off. The whole stand was covered in darkness. He got out of the truck and looked in one of the windows. Samantha wasn't there.

"Everything was closed," he told Detective Doll. He noticed napkins strewn on the floor and towels sitting on the countertop, which he found weird. Samantha was a neat freak.

So why didn't Duane go inside?

"I didn't want to trigger an alarm and be accused of breaking in," he said. He figured Samantha got a ride with someone else. Doll asked Duane for proof of his timeline, but as he scrolled through text messages to prove his story, it became clear to Doll that he and Samantha were having significant problems.

No, Duane insisted. It was going well. Yes, things had been rocky, but they were way past that.

Doll didn't think so. She told him to scroll farther back through his texts, and there it was. Okay, Duane said. Yes, he'd been flirting with other girls. Sam knew about that. She hated it. And since detectives could subpoena his phone, he may as well admit that he'd called Samantha the night she went missing, while she was working, and when she said she couldn't talk he said, "Whatever," and hung up. He had to admit that yes, he'd been angry with her.

Doll read the text Duane finally got from Samantha at 11:30 that night.

F.U. asshole. I know what u did I am going to spend a couple of days with friends need time to think plan acting weird let my dad know.

"Acting weird"? Who was acting weird here? Doll went on the offensive.

What had Duane done? How had he been acting weird? Was he cheating on Samantha? Had she confronted him when he came to pick her up? Had he lost his temper with her, gone further than he planned? Did something happen by accident?

No, Duane said. I didn't do this.

Well, Doll asked, what happened next?

Duane said he went home to James and waited up, hoping Samantha would come home. At around three in the morning, he suddenly felt the need to open the front door and go outside.

Why? Doll asked.

Duane couldn't explain. But he said he saw a man with a mask, about six feet away, going through his and Samantha's pickup truck. They each stood there for a moment, staring at each other, and then the man closed the door and walked away.

What did Duane do next?

He went back inside and told James, he said. About an hour later, Duane searched the truck and realized Samantha's driver's license, which she always kept tucked in her visor pocket, was missing. Then he went back in the house and went to sleep. It was a pretty sound sleep. Duane didn't wake up until about 9:30 A.M.

Doll was incredulous. By this point in Duane's story, Samantha had been missing for seven hours. She had texted him and explained how upset she was. Conveniently, a few hours later a strange masked man shows up at their house. He somehow knows where Samantha lives, which vehicle is hers, finds it among all the others parked on a dark street, knows exactly where her license is and takes it, and neither James nor Duane called the police? Or thought to follow or chase this man down the street as he walked away?


If Duane and James were so worried, why didn't they call the cops? Why did they never report Samantha missing?

Duane had a simple answer: He didn't think police would do anything until Samantha had been missing for twenty-four hours.

Interesting. That was the same thing James Koenig had told Doll in his interview immediately before.

Later that night, Doll sent two officers, armed and unannounced, to James and Duane's house. Doll had some more questions, but her real motive was to get a sense of how the two would react when caught off guard.

What these officers found only made Doll more suspicious. When James came to the door, the officers reported, he wouldn't let them in. Instead, he wedged his way through the doorframe, stood outside, and shut the door firmly behind him. When they asked to speak to Duane, James went back in the same way, and Duane entered and exited the same way too.

On Sale
Jun 9, 2020
Page Count
304 pages