THE serial killer’s Achilles’ heel is the very thing that makes him so fascinating: His urge to repeat himself.
He either stages his murders as rituals, thus providing clues to why he is enraged with the world, or he falls into patterns, because devising a new modus operandi for each killing calls for unsustainable levels of creativity and flexibility.
But what if a serial killer has enough wits and self-control to fashion an amorphous MO?
What if he reads and learns from FBI profiles of fiends like himself and from fiction such as The Silence of the Lambs?
What if the very serialism of his “work” escapes notice?
And what if he defies the stereotype of serial killers as sullen loners by being a family man?
All these exceptions were true of Israel Keyes, the subject of Maureen Callahan’s riveting book American Predator.
And Keyes had something else going for him: He barely left a trace. “No property records,” Callahan writes. “No documentation of parents or siblings. No address history, no gun licenses, no academic transcripts. … He had left nearly no digital footprints, no paper trail – and this was a guy with an unusual name.”
Later it came out that Keyes had never even applied for a Social Security card, though he had done military service.
Callahan, an investigative journalist, begins her narrative with the murder that spelled the beginning of the end for Keyes.
In February 2012, a high school senior named Samantha Koenig went missing from the kiosk where she worked as a barista in Anchorage.
A security-camera video showed her leaving with an unknown adult male.
But the transaction looked so ordinary that at first the cops wondered whether the girl hadn’t “staged [her own] abduction, and the man in the video was her accomplice.”
The man had shown so little of himself to the camera that “tall and athletic” was as much of a description as could be gleaned.
The first break in the case came when someone began using Koenig’s ATM card to make cash withdrawals in Texas.
Then an alert small-town Texas cop reported seeing a car parked near an ATM at 2.23am.
Callahan hones in on the nerve-racking moment when a highway patrolman spotted the same make and colour of car only to realise he lacked probable cause to pull it over.
“Find a reason,” the cop’s superior insisted over the radio.
He did: The driver exceed the speed limit – by a measly two miles, but that was enough.
At the wheel of the stopped car was Israel Keyes.
Kidnapping is a federal crime, and the FBI had been directing the case from Anchorage.
Taken there, Keyes admitted to killing Koenig and to having done this sort of thing before, though how often and who his victims were he wouldn’t say.
Nonetheless, the other interrogators pieced together how Keyes got away with so many murders.
He wasn’t picky. With the exception of young children, whom Keyes claimed to have left alone, he would just as soon target a portly middle-aged couple as he would a young woman such as Koenig.
This randomness, along with Keyes’ vanishingly low profile, enabled him to kill undetected for years.
American Predator is a fine book – exhaustively researched and candid without being prurient – that should be as illuminating to law-enforcement as it is fascinating to the general reader. – Text by The Washington Post