American Predator by Maureen Callahan
Published by Viking on July 2, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg: 4.11 (as of 2019-10-10)
Most of us have never heard of Israel Keyes. But he is one of the most ambitious, meticulous serial killers of modern time. The FBI considered his behavior unprecedented. Described by a prosecutor as “a force of pure evil,” he 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 and over the course of fourteen years, 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, resuming life as a quiet, reliable construction worker devoted to his only daughter.
When journalist Maureen Callahan first heard about Israel Keyes in 2012, she was captivated by how a killer of this magnitude could go undetected by law enforcement for over a decade. And so began a project that consumed her for the next several years–uncovering the true story behind how the FBI ultimately caught Israel Keyes, and trying to understand what it means for a killer like Keyes to exist. A killer who left a path of monstrous, randomly committed crimes in his wake–many of which remain unsolved to this day.
American Predator is the ambitious culmination of years of on-the-ground interviews with key figures in law enforcement and in Keyes’s life, and research uncovered from classified FBI files. Callahan takes us on a journey into the chilling, nightmarish mind of a relentless killer, and the limitations of traditional law enforcement, in one of America’s most isolated environments–Alaska–when faced with a killer who defies all expectation and categorization.
Wow, this one was definitely a doozy. I picked up American Predator for week one of the #FridayFrightAThon 2019, hosted by Melanie, Amy, Jen, and Chelsea. It hadn’t really been on my radar before that, but I thought it sounded intriguing and decided to participate. And oh boy, intriguing doesn’t even begin to cover it!
The book starts with a deep dive into the disappearance of Samantha Koenig, who had gone missing in Anchorage, Alaska. Detailing the investigation start to finish, Callahan reels us right into the story. Police finally tracked down Israel Keyes, who reveals to them his extensive history of crime. The story becomes more and more compelling as we learn about Keyes’ past, motives (or lack thereof?), and methodology.
I got literal chills reading this because it was so impossible to fathom someone this cold-blooded and calculated really existing. As the blurb mentions, it is truly amazing that Keyes is not more well-known! He is a fairly recent serial killer (arrested in 2012) and is frighteningly intelligent and good at what he does. Honestly, if not for a few slip-ups, it’s hard to say whether he would have ever been caught. There is even information hinting that he possibly “[began] biohacking his own body in his quest to become the perfect serial killer” through surgeries he traveled all the way to Mexico to receive.
While it sometimes comes up that law enforcement has not revealed all aspects of Keyes’ crimes, that’s never the sense the reader gets. Callahan so smoothly fills in the gaps that it is difficult to feel like anything is missing — even if there are questions unanswered, that often seems to come from Keyes himself rather than a barrier the author is unable to overcome.
Callan begins her conclusion by stating, “Any one of us could have been a victim of Israel Keyes.” And that’s the sense one gets while reading this. He criss-crossed the country and he committed crimes well beyond the bounds of the United States. He was smart and he was confident, taking people in broad daylight and in well-traveled areas. He is truly far more than your run-of-the-mill serial killer, if such a thing exists. It is clear that not much was an obstacle for him.
Overall, this was a chilling and fascinating read that I’ll be recommending left and right.