TUPPER LAKE - Local residents have been reacting with shock this week as they learn that the man who robbed a bank here three-and-a-half years ago was murderer Israel Keyes.
"To think that there are people like that that prowl in our communities, and to think that he was in our midst and nobody knew it," village Mayor Paul Maroun said. "I'm just very thankful that the worst thing that happened in Tupper Lake was a bank robbery, not something much more tragic."
The FBI says Keyes admitted to the April 2009 robbery of the Hosley Avenue branch of Community Bank - along with a string of murders across the country, including one couple in Essex, Vt. - while he was in an Alaska jail awaiting court proceedings related to the murder of an 18-year-old barista (cafe server) from Alaska. He used the money from several bank robberies to fund his killing sprees.
Israel Keyes, brandishing a gun and wearing a fake mustache and goatee, robs the Community Bank branch on Hosley Avenue, Tupper Lake, on April 9, 2009, as seen from a surveillance camera.
Keyes killed himself in his jail cell Sunday, and since then, the FBI has been releasing information about the various crimes he admitted to.
On Tuesday, the FBI released video of one of Keyes' confessions, which Maroun watched some of.
"It's like watching a horror movie," Maroun said.
He said he found it tragic, and it made him understand why district attorneys and others in law enforcement sometimes get fed up and discouraged with their jobs.
Erin Quonce, who lives in Saranac Lake and grew up in Tupper Lake, said she actually figured out Keyes was the bank robber by comparing the photos before she heard it on the news.
She watched a press conference on the murder of the Curriers, the Vermont couple whom Keyes killed in 2011, and when officials said he funded his activities in part by robbing banks, she looked up a surveillance photo from the bank robbery and compared that with Keyes' mugshot.
"And I said, 'OK, his face - the shape is the same, the nose is the same,'" Quonce said. "So I said to my co-worker, 'That's got to be him.'"
Keyes wore a jacket with the hood up, along with sunglasses and a fake mustache and goatee, but it was clear to Quonce that the shape of his face was the same as Keyes'.
"I thought, 'I'm just going to look, just for fun,' and it was totally him," Quonce said. "I can't believe it. Very scary. You never know. You never know what's going to happen or who's around."
Quonce noted that there are still a number of unanswered questions about the robbery, including how he managed to get away. Keyes left the bank on foot in the direction of Saranac Lake and wasn't found in the hours and days afterward, despite a manhunt incorporating many law-enforcement agencies and forest rangers.
The amount of money Keyes got away with was never released, and state police have declined to release any information on the case yet, though Capt. Robert LaFountain said he will talk to the media about it when state police are ready.
Quonce said she heard that Keyes was in Vermont scouting the Currier murder for the first time in 2009, and that must have been when he robbed the Tupper Lake bank at gunpoint.
"I just think it's freaky that he was in our area, period, and that he happened to pick the Tupper bank," Quonce said.
She said it very well could have been anywhere in Saranac Lake. She noted that Keyes did a lot of research before the Currier murder, and the things he was looking for in a place to commit it are things he could have found here as well: a garage attached to a home where adults live with no children or pets.
Others felt relief that Keyes didn't decide to commit murder here as well.
"The people of Tupper Lake and the Tri-Lakes can be grateful it was money and not someone's life that was lost," said Saranac Laker Nancy LaBombard, calling the situation bizarre.
Erin Barton, who lives in Long Lake, said that she was shocked when she read the Enterprise story about Keyes being the bank robber.
"This news really creeped me out," Barton said. "It's easy to feel like you're in a bubble in the Adirondacks, but this guy was really disturbed, and seems to have been hanging around the area for a while."
Barton said that she was relieved that Keyes was caught before he could harm anyone else or return to the area.
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.