Confessed serial killer commits suicide in Alaskan jail cell

Israel Keyes confessed to at least seven murders before killing himself.

Until this weekend, the only thing the public knew about Israel Keyes was that he was being held in jail in Alaska for the kidnapping and killing of 18 year-old barista Samantha Koenig. Now we learn that A) he was a confessed serial killer responsible for at least seven other deaths, and B) he committed suicide in his jail cell.

When 18 year-old barista Samantha Koenig went missing from a parking lot espresso stand last February, few could have guessed where she would eventually be found: in a frozen lake north of Anchorage in late April. Koenig was the final victim of serial killer Israel Keyes, who admitted to kidnapping and killing her, and led police to the location of her body. Koenig had cut a hole in the ice with a chainsaw in order to fit her body under the ice.
Keyes also admitted to killing several other people across the United States, although these deaths have yet to be verified. He claimed to have murdered William and Lorraine Currier in Vermont and left their bodies inside an abandoned house. When police went to investigate the location, they found that the house had been bulldozed. They were unable to find any evidence of bodies at the location. However, the FBI says that they were able to corroborate enough information about the Curriers (who went missing in June 2011) to believe that Keyes was indeed their killer.
Keyes was a self-employed carpenter and Army veteran who had been stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington State until 2007. According to Keyes' testimony, he killed four people in Washington state, and one in New York. But he was also a frequent traveler, and chose his victims at random. His M.O. was to "fly someplace, rent a car, then drive hundreds of miles away, the FBI said." 
In the end, Keyes was caught because he started using Koenig's ATM card to withdraw money in Texas. Police were able to get a description of his rental car from the ATM photos, and were able to track his movements in nearly real time. A Texas police officer spotted Keyes' car on the highway and pulled him over to make the arrest.
Although Keyes leaves behind dozens of hours of confessions, it may not be enough to resolve all of his crimes. It's hard to be sad that such a horrible human being is dead, but it's too bad that it happened before the authorities could extract all of the information out of him that they needed.

Must-see Alaskan marvels

Fancy a trip up north? Jot these must-see places down!

My aunt and uncle just returned from a trip to Alaska, and I heard that it was just as gorgeous and amazing as I’ve always dreamed it would be. Part of me really, really wants to travel there—even live there—someday, while another part of me thinks that humans should just leave the place alone to help preserve its beauty and wonder (not to mention all of the wildlife who call it home).

If I do ever end up going, here are a few things that I really want to see. How about you?

The Northern Lights. I’ve been in love with these ever since I heard about them. I’ve even painted them (very poorly) once. How cool would it be to see them? There’s nothing like that at all where I live, and from what I know, not in most places in the world, either.

A moose. Okay, this isn’t exclusive to Alaska, but it’s on my daughter’s summer bucket list (and I have no idea how we’re going to fulfill it here in Missouri!), and I would love to see one, too—just not too close up!

Whale watching. I know this is probably one of the most touristy things you could do in Alaska (the other things on my list probably are, too), but whales are pretty big in my family. Okay, they’re big everywhere. But my mom raised us to love and respect animals, and whales are her favorite, which makes them pretty special to the rest of us. I’d love to see one in the wild—but again, I think we should just leave them alone, and I worry about a cruise ship disturbing them, or people throwing more trash overboard that would kill them.

Mount McKinley. I certainly don’t want to attempt climbing it—or even walking to it, ha!—but I’d love to take a photo of it from a distance. I saw mountains from a distance while in Spain (and traveled over some as well) and that was one of my favorite memories, just walking from my dorm to town or class and back and seeing those amazing mountains in the distance. I have friends who climb mountains and I am certain it’s a thrilling, life-altering experience—but if I were to even try such a thing today, I’d just roll down and cause an avalanche or something! No, I’d be happy to just see one from afar.

Myths About Winter

As I recall, there is often some truth to myths…

Though I’ve always prided myself as being a scientifically-minded person, I must admit that these winter myths threw me for a loop. What do you mean that technically not all snowflakes are different? I just passed on that piece of misinformation to my six-year-old yesterday! And you’re telling me that wintertime isn’t the best time for some extra sleep and indoor play? Well, I’ll have to disagree with you there; not only are you not citing scientific evidence, you’re also forgetting about our own natural body rhythms. We are mammals, are we not? I am not suggesting that we loaf around on the couch all winter, of course—the indoor recreation centers are open, after all, to curtail that. But I also think we’re simply not meant to be as active in the winter months, just as I don’t think it’s right for us to eat, say, bear or alligator when they are higher up on the food chain than we are just because we have guns.

I also have to wonder about what proponents of endless outdoor snow play and winter fun have to think about those of us in danger of having our heat turned off—such as the elderly and the millions of people struggling to simply pay their bill this year—or those who have to live in it without a home. I doubt Seasonal Affective Disorder is on these peoples’ minds much as they simply try to survive the cold. I remember one year having to sleep with multiple shirts, pants, and pairs of socks and gloves on when I could not afford heat. Let me tell you something: it’s not fun.

There is also the fact that some of us have a much harder time breathing outdoors in the wintertime. My asthma acts up most during these months, and having lived with smokers for a good 20 years of my life (including those developmental nine months in utero), I also have bad bronchitis every year. If I were to spend as much time outside as this article suggests in the winter, I would be sick more often than not, despite the fact that being cold doesn’t cause colds. And with no insurance or way to get an inhaler at the moment, that’s just begging for trouble.

And while we are on the topic of cold—and those poor kids who have to stand in it while they wait for the bus each morning—there are plenty of other risks attached to it other than the mistaken one of the common cold. People can be at risk of developing frostnip within minutes, while frostbite is also a risk during these months. The latter often requires medical attention. Hypothermia is another serious concern.

I am not trying to scare anyone here, but I do want to make sure that when you read things like these “winter myths” busted, you keep some common sense in mind. Yes, play outside in the snow—it’s fun!—but don’t stay out long, and for goodness sake, bundle up well to avoid these health hazards.

Snow in Anchorage Piling Up

The snow in Anchorage, Alaska paused briefly on Black Friday.  However it resumed later on that night.  The snowfall in this area is heading towards creating a record of being the snowiest November in Anchorage's history.

Climate records which were updated at midday on Black Friday show more than 30 inches of snow for the month of November.  This makes the month the third snowiest November in history.  The last time Anchorage saw snow levels like this was in 1994 with 38.8 inches.

The National Weather Service states that it is likely it will be snowing again on Tuesday or Wednesday.  However they do not expect snowfall to reach another 8 inches by the middle of the week.  It is unlikely that November 2011 will beat the record set in 1994.

As the Christmas season draws near, more snow is expected.  This is a far cry from 2010.  Last year Anchorage residents experienced a Thanksgiving high of 42 degrees.  This is more than 30 degrees warmer than the current climate.

Anchorage residents need to be aware that visibility may be reduced to zero at times on major roads.  Due to this it is important to avoid driving during heavy snowfall.  Those who do need to drive should make sure that they are aware of their surroundings.  Most people will be spending their time indoors as it is likely to get very cold this holiday season.  Those who are working may want to arrange some time off in order to avoid sleet covered roads.

Anchorage Fireworks Laws May be Amended

"Anybody who has ever lived in a city which allows fireworks will know that there are some dangers associated with them."

For six hours on New Years Eve, Anchorage residents are legally allowed to let off fireworks.  While many people enjoy this, others want the local Assembly to put a stop to it.  Critics of this law want fireworks banned all year round.

Anybody who has ever lived in a city which allows fireworks will know that there are some dangers associated with them.  People have been injured by letting fireworks off.  Some have even been hit by fireworks which others lit.  Animals are terrified of the noise and there are more house fires this time of the year.  While these are fair complaints, the risk of these events occurring can be minimized.  Those who follow the instructions that come with the fireworks and keep themselves at a distance from them will have a smaller risk of being injured.  This will also lead to less stray fireworks which in turn will reduce house fires.  Pets should be kept inside during this time of the day.  Ideally animals will have some company so that they are less frightened.

While most people are sensible with fireworks, there are always going to be a small percentage of people who are not.  Unfortunately a law change is not going to change this.  In fact all a law change will achieve is more people letting off fireworks illegally.

The Assembly will be meeting before New Years Eve 2011 to discuss this issue.  They will also be dealing with problems such as the legality of owning fireworks after New Years Eve has passed.

Alaska Rendition of "High School Musical" Includes Sexual Advance

Alaska music teacher Christopher More is singing the jailhouse blues after admitting to having sexual relations with two girls at the Anchorage School District where he works. Mr. More is facing criminal sexual abuse charges for the inappropriate advances.

The drama is continuing to unfold as other students have come forth claiming to have also suffered at the hands of More - claims which More is currently denying . Bail for the alleged child molesting Chorus teacher has been set for $100,000.

First off, am I the only one who thinks that anybody with the last name More should automatically be a suspected rapist and barred from teaching? Second, Disney would need to make a lot of changes to accommodate this special Alaska themed "High School Musical". Third, I blame it all on that dreadful Sarah Palin. I guess I shouldn't make light seeing as it is a pretty "touchy" situation.

Only in Alaska.

Sarah Palin Doesn’t Speak for All Mama Grizzlies

Recently, Sarah Palin used her common tactic of simple metaphors mixed with animals and third grade vocabulary words to highlight her presence and that of her soccer mom followers, whom she now refers to as “mama grizzlies.” She says that when their cubs are threatened, mama grizzlies attack—which, I think, is a valid point. Unlike many of the other strange things she’s tried to claim as fact, this is true; if you mess with the cub, you mess with the mama.

However, if translating said metaphor toward a more developed species—in this case, humans—it doesn’t work the same way. If a mama bear’s cubs become human boys and girls, bringing out the claws and teeth get trickier.

Mama humans tend to fight for their wee ones a bit differently (at least, in most cases). Sure, if someone threatens our cubs physically in a direct manner, we’ll go for the jugular to ensure their safety. But other threats to our cubs—including to their health, their needs for food and shelter, and their very lives in general—do not go unnoticed by human mothers. A human mother, for example, would want to ensure that her children are absolutely ensured health care, unemployment benefits, rape kits that are paid for (God forbid such a thing happen to her children), access to reproductive freedom, and a plethora of other concepts necessary to keep her children—her cubs, by Palin’s assessment—fully healthy and protected.

You have to wonder at the things that Palin claims to be behind. Does she really wish these rights—or, rather, absence of rights—upon her own brood of children? Most mothers, it seems, would wish for their children to have a safety net after a job loss and access to medical care. Maybe she thinks that bears don’t really get sick or become unemployed, so her metaphorical cubs are good to go. Hey, she’s managed to pull off weirder lines of reasoning.

As this video aptly shows, Sarah Palin doesn’t really get the concept of mama grizzly like it pertains to humans. Allow the following mother bears to demonstrate:



Maybe Palin would be one of those hands-off mama bears who send their cubs to fish for themselves without teaching them, admiring her fur coat while she ignores their cries for hunger, their calls for help. Tough love is what she might call it. Of course, most mother bears don’t seem to practice such things. Maybe it’s one of those mavericky/made-up things she’s so famous for.

Swainson's Hawks Dive-Bomb Canadian Postal Workers in Moose Jaw

Canadian postal workers in Moose Jaw, Sask. have another reason to “Go postal.” For the second year in a row, Swainson’s hawks have dive-bombed Canada postal employees as they struggled to deliver mail to the residents of Moose Jaw.

Although it sounds like a joke, the situation with the Swainson’s hawks in Moose Jaw is so bad that all home delivery will be suspended in a four-block radius until it is safer for the postal workers to be outside delivering the mail. Before the mail was suspended in Moose Jaw, postal workers tried to protect themselves from the swooping hawks by wearing helmets, but the helmets proved inadequate. Residents in Moose Jaw noted earlier that the postal workers were the frequent targets of a male and female pair of hawks in the neighborhood. One resident told CBC that:

"They tried to confuse the hawks by both going down the same side of the street," said Pamela Peterson, a resident of Henry Street."But it didn't confuse the hawks."

Officials are uncertain how long home delivery will have to be suspended in the neighborhood `and stress that it really is quite dangerous for the carriers to deliver the mail while the hawks are defending their nests.

The residents of Moose Jaw are being told to carry umbrellas in case of a hawk attack. The Swainson’s hawks are protected by the government so residents are not allowed to shoot the birds. According to THIS,  the hawks have been protected since 1966 because they are crucial in pest control and at keeping rodent populations down.

Swainson’s hawks tend to nest in grasslands or even near farmlands, but have started to move closer to more populated locations such as Moose Jaw. The hawks usually nest in the spring and teach their newborn offspring to fly about this time of year, which is why the birds are so protective of their young offspring at the moment. Interestingly, the Swainson’s hawk chicks are not quite as protective as their parents- they often kill and eat their younger offspring so that there will be more food available for them to eat.

TWOFR: Grizzly Bear x Bonnie 'Prince' Billy

Grizzly Bear

Yellow House

(Warp Records, 2006)

Originally, Grizzly Bear was the baby of solely Ed Droste, but he has been joined by several other players to make up the current configuration of the band. For some reason or another, this album by the group has landed them on Warp Records, who’re renowned for electronic musics of varying styles. And while Grizzly Bear does employ layered recording techniques, perhaps this release signals the labels intent to branch out musically. Either way, Yellow House is a sedate affair that at times recalls the Beach Boys at their most inspired. The phrase “psych pop” or “lysergic pop” will most certainly be evoked in most reviews and why should this one be any different. Again, in keeping with the current trend of folky revivalism, there’s some banjo on a few tracks as well as other traditional style acoustic instruments. “Knife” strays from that equation to evoke the Velvets in their guitar sound and emphasizes the down beat. The vocals by Droste on this track are pretty pop accessible and go along well with the ohhhs and ahhhs in the background. The recording of the album, I suppose, is part of the reason for all the commotion regarding this band and on “Plans” as well as “Colorado” the drums sound hardly like any other set that’s been recorded. Similarly, on “Central and Remote” the many voices that make up the song have been put together in an adept manner that might explain why this release is on Warp. While there are a number of groups now attempting to play old timey instruments while utilizing newer electronic techniques, like Andrew Bird, most of them fall short. I won’t say that this is a cornerstone in a new musical movement, but it’s pretty damned well put together and just short of breathtaking.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy

The Letting Go

(Drag City, 2006)

I don’t recall exactly when being folky got to be cool again, but I’m alright with it for the most part, save for Devandra Banhart. Charlie Parr, Iron and Wine and this gentleman, BPB, have been carrying on a tradition of old timey instruments with newer production and recording techniques to varying degrees. And regardless of what music one has encountered that has involved BPB before, his latest album, The Letting Go, comes across as not only more of a singular vision, but also one that is easily applicable to any and all that listen. A gloomy violin, which acts to almost recall a silent film score begins “Love Comes to Me”. The slight guitar figure compliment the voice of BPB as the hand drums add some motion to the song. This opening track sets the tone for the album and is recalled again on a few other tracks that also study the human condition. “Cold and Wet” has a pre-war blues feeling and the vivid couplet “Shoes are wet/Our skin is cold”. But this time it’s physical and emotional pain as opposed to simply the later. Finger picking isn’t lacking on this BPB outing and on “Big Friday” the listener gets a little sample along with a nice reverb soaked slide part. If you weren’t a fan before, or were a bit apprehensive, The Letting Go might be an open door to begin falling in love with good ole Billy – swear.

Requiem for Book Cache

I have no idea why, but this morning I started thinking about Book Cache.  Having moved away from Anchorage in 1990, I am constantly surprised by all the changes.  I did a bit of research and learned that poor little Book Cache had a lot of problems in the early 90s when the big box stores came to town.  They began closing selected branches in the early 1990s, and by the late 1990s all of the Book Cache stores had closed.

When I was growing up in Anchorage in the 1970s and 1980s, on the one hand, life was a lot simpler.  If you wanted a new book, you had your choice between the Book Cache stores and a small handful of Waldenbooks stores.  If the book you wanted couldn't be found there, then you were out of luck.  What were you going to do, drive to Willow and check there?

I often think about how different my life would have been if the internet was around when I was a kid.  For one thing, it could have avoided me a lot of frustration, going from Book Cache to Book Cache, looking for that one book that I couldn't find.  It's hard to explain to people accustomed to shopping and living in the Lower 48 the terrible consequences of a store not carrying something if you were a kid in Anchorage in the 1980s.  There was no "other town," there was no eBay.  If the store didn't have it, then you didn't get it.

On the other hand, that very situation  - so much better for the consumer; so much more difficult for the small business owner - is what doomed Book Cache.  As I understand it, book shopping in Anchorage is now basically limited to big box stores.  Nothing is good news for everyone, I'm afraid.

The Book Cache that I shopped at most often was a tiny storefront next to the Carr's grocery store, at the corner of Tudor and Muldoon.  I lived nearby, and it was easy for me to pop in there after school and dawdle for a while.  I imagine it drove the cashiers mad to have a kid show up and browse every single book in the Sci Fi/Fantasy section every afternoon.

I also often visited the Book Cache at the Boniface Mall, because that's where my mother liked to shop on the weekends.  (I guess that entire mall is closed now, but really, how many malls does a city need?)  This branch was a lot bigger than the one next to Carr's, and I still remember the layout clearly in my mind.  Science fiction/fantasy, back and to the left!  My mother would usually agree to buy me one book, so I had to choose wisely.  (I remember there was also a great used book store on the second floor of the same mall, so it was like paradise if you were a nerdy, bookish little girl.)

The Book Cache which holds the most special place in my heart was in the Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall.  If I caught the bus downtown after school, I could browse there for a little while before I had to head home.  I still distinctly remember the smell, which was sickly sweet and chemical-y, and largely informed by the flavored popcorn store a few doors down.   (I imagine there aren't many of those left, either.)

Goodbye, Book Cache.  You meant a lot to me, and I will always miss you.