By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A confessed serial killer who admitted to a string of murders before killing himself in an Alaska jail died after he slashed his wrist with a disposable razor hidden in a pencil and strangled himself with a strip of bedding, authorities said on Wednesday.
Israel Keyes, a 34-year-old contractor, had been awaiting trial for the kidnapping and killing of an 18-year-old barista who disappeared from an Alaska espresso stand in February and whose body was later found in an iced-over lake.
Alaska State Troopers said it remained unclear whether the razor cut, strangulation or a combination of both was the primary cause of death. The state Department of Corrections was trying to determine how Keyes, who was isolated in his Anchorage cell for 23 hours each day, succeeded in killing himself.
Keyes had been alone in his cell, and was considered to be an especially high-risk prisoner after he attempted to escape during a May court hearing in Anchorage, said Kaci Schroeder, a corrections department spokeswoman.
"He was in segregation," she said.
Authorities said Keyes had been on suicide watch during part of his detention but was not on such a watch at the time of his death.
Before his suicide, Keyes admitted to investigators to kidnapping, raping and killing Alaska barista Samantha Koenig, then dismembering her body and dumping her remains in a hole he cut in ice covering a lake near Palmer, Alaska, prosecutors say.
Keyes also admitted to abducting and killing a Vermont couple, Bill and Lorraine Currier, in 2011. Their bodies have not been found. He further admitted to killing other people, whom he did not name, and disposing of up to four bodies in Washington state and one in New York, according to prosecutors.
After his weekend suicide, the FBI set up a tip line to collect information about other potential victims of Keyes' admitted cross-country murder spree.
CONNECTIONS TO NEW YORK, WASHINGTON STATE
Keyes, an Army veteran who moved to Alaska in 2007 from Washington state and who owned a home and land in upstate New York, traveled extensively in the Lower 48 states, officials said.
The Washington state victims Keyes discussed appear to have been a couple, killed between 2001 and 2005, and two individuals, murdered in 2005 or 2006, the FBI said. The person whose body was disposed of in New York State was murdered in 2009, according to Keyes' statements, the agency said.
Those victims may not have been originally from Washington or New York, according to the FBI. Keyes' practice was to fly to a destination and drive hundreds of miles to more remote sites to commit his murders, officials said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis said that Keyes had also admitted to raping an Oregon teenager in the 1990s, before the killings began, but let her live. The rape does not appear to have ever been reported.
"He did admit to us an incident, before he had ever killed anybody, in which he sexually assaulted a teenager near the Deschutes River," Feldis said. "He had intended to kill her, and then I think the things that she said to him caused him to change his mind and let her go."
Keyes had plans for additional murders, according to officials. The FBI said he had established hiding places in various spots around the nation where he stored weapons, money, equipment and supplies that he planned to use to dispose of victims' bodies.
So far, the FBI has discovered two of those caches - one in Eagle River, an Anchorage suburb, and the other in Blakes Falls Reservoir in New York.
Keyes' arrest last March in Texas, where he was found with Koenig's bank card and cellphone, was his first for any of the murders he confessed to having committed.
(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Xavier Briand)