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Man held in Alaska suspect in Vt. murders month before Celina Cass went missing

New Hampshire Sunday News

July 28. 2012 7:54PM
Dozens of volunteers helped search for kidnapped barista Samantha Koenig, 18, in Anchorage on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. Koenig was abducted while working at the Common Grounds Espresso coffee stand on Tudor Road on Feb. 1. (Bill Roth/ Anchorage Daily News)

Information about a man charged in the random kidnapping and murder of an 18-year-old girl in Alaska in February has been shared with investigators in New Hampshire, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young.

The man, Israel Keyes, 34, is also reported to be a person of interest in the random abduction and murder of an Essex, Vt., couple who disappeared last year, the month before 11-year-old Celina Cass was found slain in West Stewartstown.

New Hampshire 'State Police are aware of Mr. Keyes, and they are being provided information through the FBI,' Young said.

Young wouldn't comment on whether Keyes is a suspect in Celina's murder or two other unsolved North Country cases.

'Everybody is looked at in these cases,' Young said. 'We would be remiss in our duty if we didn't follow up on any new information that came to light.'

Young made it clear she was in no way suggesting Keyes had a potential link to New Hampshire cases, but said police must examine all new information if only to rule out different possibilities.

'(State police) are aware and have been in communication with the FBI, who certainly would share any information if there was any possible link to any homicides in New Hampshire,' Young said.

Young said FBI Agent Kieran Ramsey, who works on the Celina Cass investigation with state police, is the FBI point of contact on Keyes in New Hampshire.

'Given the outstanding relationship the FBI has with state police, I am confident any information will be conveyed to them and this office,' Young said.

Ramsey, agent in charge of New Hampshire's FBI office, said he couldn't comment on whether a task force is looking into Keyes' background or the Keyes case in general.

'In context of the Celina Cass case, we are looking at every such possibility and continue to look,' Ramsey said. 'We are not eliminating anyone or turning our heads to any connection.'

Keyes came to the public's attention in New England nine days ago when Vermont's U.S. attorney, Tristram Coffin, held a news conference to say Bill and Lorraine Currier, the couple from Essex who had mysteriously disappeared in June 2011, had in fact been randomly abducted and murdered.

Coffin didn't identify the suspect, but said in a news release the alleged killer was being held on charges in another state.

'No charges have yet been brought against this person for the Curriers' murders, but charges are anticipated,' Coffin said in the news release.'

After an 11-week search of a Vermont landfill, the Curriers' bodies still haven't been found.

Burlington, Vt.-based WCAX-TV reported the suspect's identity as Israel Keyes, citing anonymous sources, according to its website. The station reported that Keyes told authorities where they could find the Curriers' bodies in Vermont while he was being questioned in Alaska about the Feb. 1 murder of Samantha Koenig, 18, in Anchorage.

Keyes, an army veteran who was a self-employed contractor, was living in Anchorage when Koenig disappeared, according to WCAX. Her body was found in a lake on April 2.

Keyes had previously lived in Washington state and has a cabin in Constable, N.Y., on the Canadian border, according to news reports.

Constable is a little more than a four-hour drive from West Stewartstown, where on Thursday townspeople turned out for a vigil, seeking justice for Celina Cass.

The 11-year-old was last seen alive July 25, 2011, inside the apartment she shared with her mother, stepfather, sister and a boarder. A week later, Celina's body was found submerged in the Connecticut River, not far from her home and not far from the Canadian border.

Authorities have not released her cause of death, but have ruled it a homicide.

Two other cases have baffled investigators in the North Country over the years,

Maura Murray was a 21-year-old University of Massachusetts nursing student when she disappeared on Route 112 in Haverhill after a minor car crash on Feb. 9, 2004. According to the New Hampshire State Police website, her disappearance is being treated as suspicious.

Louise Chaput, 52, a social worker from Sherbrooke, southern Quebec, Canada, was last seen on Nov. 15, 2001. She was reported missing when she failed to return from a scheduled hiking trip in Pinkham Notch. Her body was found a week later near the Glen Ellis Falls parking lot at Pinkham Notch. Authorities said she died from multiple stab wounds.

Keyes was indicted in April by the U.S. attorney in Alaska, accusing him of kidnapping and killing Koenig, and he could face the death penalty if convicted.

Court records provide bizarre details in which Keyes allegedly arranged to receive ransom money after he killed Koenig, and her family paid using donations made to a reward fund to find her killer.

Keyes allegedly abducted Koenig from a coffee stand on Feb. 1, took her against her will to his white pickup truck, and intentionally killed her early the next morning, according to a news release issued by the U.S. attorney in Alaska. Her body was found in a lake on April 2 in a case that drew national news coverage.

Federal authorities in Alaska allege Keyes stole a debit card and obtained the PIN number from Koenig, and sent text messages from her cellphone to conceal the abduction. Keyes then left Alaska and boarded a flight to Texas, the release said.

On Feb. 24, Keyes allegedly sent a text message using Koenig's phone demanding ransom money be placed into the bank account connected to the stolen debit card. Her family deposited money into the account using reward money contributed by community members, which Keyes withdrew using the stolen debit card from ATM machines in Alaska, and then in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, which led law enforcement to him, the release said.

Anchorage police Lt. Dave Parker said because of the brazen nature of Keyes' alleged crimes, it is likely authorities would look at other cases in other states to see whether he was connected.

'When they get a person like Mr. Keyes, they automatically start looking at any other cases in any other places they can confirm he has been for the possibility of him being suspect,' Parker said.

Crimes that include kidnapping, robbery and murder would be a red flag to investigators, he said.

'The facts of the case would cause me as an investigator to always want to go further to see if he has done anything anywhere else,' Parker said.

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