Slideshow | No way out: Search for suspected killer ends with death inside Rattlesnake Ridge bunker
May 1, 2012 · 1:17 PM
The man who police say shot his family, torched his home and fled to an underground lair on Rattlesnake Ridge, is dead.
When SWAT teams blasted their way inside North Bend resident Peter A. Keller’s log-built bunker on Saturday morning, April 28, they found the suspect’s body, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot.
At a press conference near the Rattlesnake trailhead, King County Sheriff Steve Strachan praised the detective work and citizen response that led up to a siege of Keller’s bunker. Unable to fathom Keller’s motives, the sheriff hoped it would have ended without another death.
“To try to apply some sort of rational reason is futile,” Strachan said.
Keller’s “behavior is irrational, combined with a high level of preparation and intelligence. It’s a very unusual case,” Strachan said.
On Monday, April 30, the King County Medical Examiner confirmed that Keller was the bunker's occupant, and that he died from a self-inflicted pistol shot.
The search for Peter Keller had began six days earlier, the reaction to a tragedy that started with the report of a fire at the Keller family’s rental home, at 47227 S.W. 159th Street, on Sunday, April 22.
Responding to a fire that had been deliberately set with gasoline, firefighters discovered the bodies of Lynnettee Keller, 41, and her daughter, Kaylene, 18, both dead from .22 caliber gunshot wounds to the head. Husband and father Peter Keller was nowhere to be found, but police did discover spent shell casings, scattered bullets and empty gun boxes in his room.
Also found at the home were the family dog and cat, both dead. The County Medical Examiner X-rayed the animals and found that each had been shot.
Arson investigators found someone had placed a one-gallon plastic gas can in a skillet on the electric stove, and turned the burner on. The fumes ignited and the fire quickly spread, causing damage to the roof and a partial collapse in the kitchen. A five-gallon gas can on the floor had melted from the heat, causing the liquid to spill out, igniting the floor of the kitchen within 30 minutes.
Two more five-gallon gas cans and three two-gallon cans had been set throughout the home. They expanded almost to the point of failure when firefighters removed them from the home.
Officers found Peter Keller’s car, a Toyota Corolla, a few hours later near the North Bend Library. The car was empty, with all the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. It showed no signs of having been stolen from the home and abandoned.
At first named “a person of interest,” Keller became the prime suspect Wednesday, April 25, as the investigation deepened.
The evidence against Keller, described in the charging documents, suggests that he had been planning something for some time. He reportedly withdrew $6,200 in cash from an Issaquah branch of Chase Bank on Friday, April 20, and turned off his cell phone the following evening. He had scheduled the Monday, Thursday and Friday before the murders off from his job in Preston. A co-worker told detectives that he’d asked Keller when he’d be back to work, and “Peter replied that he may not come back next week, the week after that, or maybe never,” the document stated.
Court papers state that another co-worker listed some of the firearms that Keller owned, including high-powered rifles with scopes, and silencers. The co-worker said that Keller had not told his wife about the purchase of the silencers, because they were too expensive. Two empty boxes for silencers were found on the floor of the master bedroom, where Lynnettee Keller was found. Also on the floor were a box of .22 caliber bullets scattered around the room, empty firearms boxes, and spent .22 shell casings.
Family members and acquaintances described Keller as an avid outdoorsman, who frequently hiked alone in the woods.
Court documents described detectives’ conversations with Kaylene’s boyfriend, and with members of Lynnettee’s family, which showed Keller to be a survivalist, recluse, and gun collector. He also owned body armor, according to a co-worker.
Detectives reported in the court papers that Kaylene’s boyfriend had heard from her that Keller was preparing for the end of the world, and building a stockpile of weapons and supplies at a “fort” in the woods. The boyfriend also stated that Keller had purchased a new laptop computer within the last two weeks. The laptop was not found at the home, according to the charging papers.
Members of Lynnettee’s family said Keller was reclusive, “had a fascination with trains and guns; that he had a survivalist mentality and distaste for authority,” according to the court documents. Members of Keller’s family reportedly hadn’t heard from him since November.
By Friday, police were converging on Keller’s Rattlesnake Ridge hideout, located on a hillside above North Bend.
Meeting with members of the media that afternoon, Sheriff Strachan related how teams carefully made their way into position around the well-hidden lair in an early-morning operation.
Sheriff’s detectives found clues to the whereabouts of the bunker after processing the crime scene at the Keller house.
Keller’s own photos showed the interior of the bunker, as well as a view over North Bend from the entrance. Sophisticated work with those photos allowed detectives to narrow down the location.
“The plan was that this evidence would have been destroyed by the fire” that Keller is alleged to have started at his home, Strachan said.
“The neighbors called too quickly, and the fire department came too quickly. That was critical to what led us here today,” he added. “We asked for tips from the public, and they came through.”
Detectives also received tips from citizens who had seen Keller’s truck at the Rattlesnake Ridge trailhead over the past year.
Before dawn Friday, county and Seattle Police SWAT teams began a systematic search, combing the steep, heavily wooded area. Officers smelled it first, detecting smoke from the bunker before they could see it.
Police set up an inner and outer perimeter around the bunker, “so he can’t get out and nobody can get in,” the sheriff said. “We want to make sure, with this violent person inside, the way he’s prepared, that our deputies are safe.”
Deputies sealed off the terminus of North Bend Way Friday morning, and asked media to stay quiet about the operation, but passersby who noticed the convergence of television camera trucks quickly guessed that Keller had been found.
Based on the photos detectives discovered of the bunker at the crime scene, Keller is believed to have been building it since 2004. The bunker was fortified by logs and dirt, and goes about 20 feet back into the hillside.
When gas was unsuccessful, the sheriff’s TAC 30 SWAT team used an explosive to breach the bunker roof. Inside, they found Keller’s body, many guns and a gas-powered generator. Investigators will be going through everything found in the bunker in the coming weeks.