This story experienced the 1997 version of going viral. How big of an impact did the Weekly’s exclusive interviews with fugitive Richard Keyes, who at the time of the interviews was on the run and on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list really have? Big … really big.
“This story took off like nothing I’ve ever written,” says Weekly editor Joel Dyer. “Let’s put it this way, a bunch of us from the Weekly flew to Montreal for the AAN [Association of Alternative Newsweeklies] conference in Canada that year. When we got off the plane, there was our ‘On the run’ story above the fold staring at us from the newsstands of Montreal’s daily paper. Then, before we could get out of the airport, I got hit with a subpoena to testify before a Senate subcommittee on terrorism. It was crazy.
“But the funniest part was that after three or four weeks in a row as a lead story on Good Morning America and the other network morning shows, The Daily Camera finally couldn’t ignore the story, so they bought our story off the Mother Jones wire and ran it. I actually appreciated that they were willing to run my stuff, but the comical part was that they edited it so that I became a ‘Boulder journalist’ instead of the editor at Boulder Weekly. In fact, they managed to run the whole story without ever mentioning the Weekly. I’m pretty sure that the humor wasn’t lost on anybody in town. That part was funny, but the story itself was a deadly serious one.”
Richard Keyes was a 21-year-old anti-government adherent who was involved in the kidnapping of a couple of people who lived down the road from the Republic of Texas Compound near Fort Davis, Texas. The kidnapping led to a six-day standoff with Texas rangers and federal authorities.
“I remember I was at home and my wife Ellen answered the phone and listened for a few seconds. Then she looked at me and said, ‘Some guy named Richard Keyes says the Republic of Texas has gone proactive and has taken hostages and I can hear gunshots. Do you want to talk to him?’ I grabbed the phone and our series of exclusive stories started right there in my living room.”
Eventually, all of the Republic of Texas members decided to surrender except for two, Richard Keyes and fellow Republic member Mike Matson, who both escaped from the surrounded compound into the rugged backcountry of the granite boulders of the Davis Mountains. After two days of searching, authorities shot and killed Matson, but they couldn’t find Keyes anywhere. After a few more days they declared that they were sure he had died in the Texas backcountry. Then Dyer’s phone rang again and all heck broke loose around the Weekly.
Keyes had met and done interviews with Dyer a number of times prior to his escape from authorities. The two had met in both Kansas and at the ROT compound in Texas. And while Keyes was certainly suspicious of media, he trusted Dyer to tell his story accurately, and that’s how Boulder Weekly ended up with one of the biggest exclusive scoops in its history.
Keyes gave details of his escape and described how he had actually been hiding only a few feet away from Matson when he had been killed by authorities. Keyes also told Dyer the names of specific people he intended to kill to get even.
Then something odd happened. The authorities, in particular the Texas Rangers, who had been embarrassed by not getting their man, went on national television and declared that Dyer and Boulder Weekly were lying about doing interviews with Keyes and that Keyes was almost certainly dead. TV news loves drama, and now the Weekly was in the thick of it.
For six weeks Good Morning America and the Today Show kept the story burning hot. They called Keyes the new D B. Cooper (the guy who jumped out of a passenger plane over the Northwest with a bunch of money, only to never be seen again). Every time Dyer spoke with Keyes and wrote another story in the Weekly, the morning shows would interview him about his most recent conversation, followed by a segment with Texas Rangers calling Dyer and the paper liars.
“It was really crazy, we never knew who was listening to our phone calls back then,” recalls Dyer. “One time the FBI was actually at the paper when Keyes called. So I told him, ‘Richard, there’s an FBI agent standing next to me so you may not want to talk right now.’ Keyes hung up, and it’s safe to say that the FBI guy was a little pissed off. But I wasn’t working for the FBI. I never actually knew where Keyes was located because I told him I didn’t want to know. At one point he told me that he had escaped the Fort Davis back country with the help of members of a New Mexico militia and that he was in a compound armed to the teeth. So that I wrote.”
Eventually, some six weeks after his escape from the ROT compound, authorities captured Keyes in East Texas, walking down a road to get water. Keyes then confirmed that he had been in regular contact with Dyer and that the Boulder Weekly stories were accurate.
And no, Dyer nor the Weekly ever received an apology from the Texas Rangers for having been repeatedly called liars on national television. Richard Keyes was eventually sentenced to 40 years in prison.