Keyes Investigation Highlights Lack Of National Missing Persons Database

If you have tips on the Israel Keyes case call 1-800-CALL-FBI and follow the prompts for info on Israel Keyes 

Israel Keyes
Israel Keyes

The serial killer who committed suicide in an Anchorage jail late last year confessed to murdering at least 11 people across the country. But Israel Keyes didn’t name names. And as investigators try to figure out who he killed, they’re running into a surprising stumbling block: There is no congressionally mandated national database for missing adults.

In a dimly lit back office at the Anchorage Police Department, a team of investigators is trying to figure out serial killer Israel Keyes’ movements. They’ve laid out a map showing where he traveled and where he may have killed other people. Because Israel Keyes killed himself, they’re trying to make this map speak for him, but it’s difficult because of the kinds of victims Keyes picked. APD officer Jeff Bell interrogated Keyes extensively. He says Keyes believed had a special power.

“He claimed that he could look at people and just look like they would be more missed than others.”

With three exceptions, Keyes took the names of his victims to the grave. From their hours of interrogation, the team knows that Keyes killed at least 11 people. From what he told them, they believe there are at least 8 others.

Bell points to the large map of the United States, on his wall detailing the places that Keyes traveled to over nearly a decade. Places like Oakland, Seattle, Indianapolis, Mobile, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, where he may have killed people.

“On this map of the United States, there’s probably a dozen trips or so since 2007 that he took that we were able to determine where he flew into and that he rented a car.”

Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Map hanging in Officer Bell’s office tracking Israel Keye’s movements since 2004. Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

The names that they know about are a couple in Essex, Vermont and Samantha Koenig of Anchorage, a girl who was selling coffee at an espresso cart when Keyes abducted and killed her. To find the other victims, the investigators take a location Keyes flew to. If he rented a car there, they ask the rental car company how many miles he put on the car. Bell says then they draw a circle on the map to indicate where he could have driven:

“That a good example in Texas. There’s 2,600 miles on the car. He’s there for about 13 days. and if you do 1,300 miles from Houston, Texas, you encompass 13,14 – 15 states. So we have to then, look in all of those states for victims.”

Close up view of map tracking Keye's movements in Washington and Oregon. Photo by Daysha Eaton.
Close up view of map tracking Keye’s movements in Washington and Oregon. Photo by Daysha Eaton.

But potential victims aren’t easy to find. There are all kinds of different databases investigators have to search. Bell went to them looking for leads and what he got back was a huge stack of paper.

“I remember getting the list of missing people and it was depressing because it was a list of papers that was at least three inches thick.”

Bell isn’t alone. The FBI’s lead agent on the Keyes case, Jolene Goeden, says she wishes there was a better option:

“Unlike children, where you have a the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. There is no such thing for adults.”

Goeden says if a comprehensive national database for missing adults existed, it could be a game changer in the Keyes case.

“It would have been huge because we, we have a very good timeline of Keyes’ travels and his whereabouts. Like for example, we know that in April of 2009 he committed a homicide and the victim is buried in upstate New York. We know that, we have a general idea of where that victim was taken from in terms of geography. And without that type of database, we’re literally going from state to state or county to county.”

It’s a frustration for law enforcement across the country, whenever they have to look for missing adults.

It’s also frustrating for family members. Samantha Koenig, was likely one of Keyes’ last victims, Koenig’s father, James, a burly man with icy blue eyes holds back tears as he talks about the time his daughter was missing.

Samantha Koenig, one of Israel Keyes' known victims.
Samantha Koenig, one of Israel Keyes’ known victims.

“I miss her laugh and her smile and her eyes and hearing daddy come out of her mouth. That’s one of the greatest things to hear is my name called from her voice. That’s the hardest part of my days anymore is waking up and reliving it everyday in the hopes its a nightmare and she’s gonna come walking through the door any minute.”

Todd Matthews helps run the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NAMUS database — out of the University of North Texas. NAMUS is grant-funded by the National Institute of Justice and Bell and Goeden say it’s the best database they’ve found in their investigation into who else Keyes may have killed. But Matthews says, it doesn’t have long-term funding and is not required by Congress.

“A federal mandate would help to bring the compliance and force people to do what they need to do to get the cases into the system. You know, a one-stop shop.”

A one-stop shop, that officer Bell says offers the best hope for solving the mystery of who else Keyes killed.

“I still look, I still look at home. You know I’ll be at home at night … You always feel like you’ve missed something or that you … I go back through his computer – agent Goeden and I both, thinking that we missed something and that there’s gonna be an obvious clue that stands out that we missed.”

In Alaska alone, there are more than 200 open cases of missing persons, both children and adults. Some estimates put the number of unidentified missing people in the whole U.S. at around 40,000. Somewhere among them are Keyes’ other victims.

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Officer Bell in his Anchorage office. Photo by Daysha Eaton.
Officer Bell in his Anchorage office. Photo by Daysha Eaton.
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Daysha Eaton is the News Director at KBBI in Homer. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.