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Karen Read woke up in a panic when she realized her boyfriend, Boston police officer John O’Keefe, wasn’t at home in the early hours of Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. She made frantic phone calls and enlisted two women to help her retrace their steps to a house in Canton, Massachusetts, where the couple had been invited to join friends for drinks after leaving a local bar. It was around 6 a.m. when she spotted O’Keefe’s snow-covered body in front of the home, leapt screaming from her friend’s car, and tried desperately to warm him as she began performing CPR.
The medical examiner who performed the autopsy would later report that O’Keefe, 46, had suffered multiple skull fractures that caused bleeding in the brain, and that hypothermia was a contributing factor in his death. Investigators reviewed evidence at the scene and spoke to Read and the couple’s friends, with prosecutors ultimately alleging that O’Keefe got out of Read’s black Lexus SUV after they argued. Read was accused of hitting him while making a three-point turn, then returning home to leave him to die in the snow. She was charged with second-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and leaving the scene of a collision.
The case has also become known as the “taillight murder,” a reference to the broken right taillight of Read’s SUV. Authorities said it was damaged when she struck O’Keefe, and that they had discovered pieces of plastic near where O’Keefe was found consistent with those missing from the SUV. Her defense attorneys claim, however, that Ring footage from O’Keefe’s house shows Read striking his car, on her right rear side, as she backed out of the garage early Saturday morning to go search for him.
Karen Read appears in Norfolk County Superior Court for a pretrial hearing on May 3.. She is being charged with the murder of her boyfriend, John O'Keefe.
Read, 43, has pleaded not guilty, and as she awaits trial, a counternarrative is being pushed by her attorneys and a surprising cadre of community supporters, led by Aidan Kearney, a local blogger who portrays himself as a type of gonzo journalist. Using the hashtags #FreeKarenRead, #JusticeForJohnOkeefe and #JusticeForKarenRead, they allege that O’Keefe actually went inside the house, owned by another Boston police officer, where he was brutally beaten, attacked by the owner’s dog and then taken back outside to die of his wounds. In forums like the Facebook group Justice For John O’Keefe & Karen Read (Mass corruption), which has 26,000 members, people dissect what they say is evidence that exonerates Read, implicates others, and points to a massive cover-up and conspiracy by law enforcement to protect members of their ranks.
A legal defense fund for Read has so far collected more than $150,000 in donations. A billboard reading “Free Karen Read” with a QR code linking to the fund was set to debut Friday near Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots play. (The NFL team’s home opener is Sept. 10.)
Their speculation — which includes analyzing photos of O’Keefe’s autopsy and comparing his wounds to dog attacks as well as outlining family and political connections within the small town of Canton — prompted Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey to make an almost unprecedented 5-minute video statement condemning what he characterized as the harassment and intimidation of witnesses based on “false narratives and accusations.” In response, a couple of dozen protesters lined a road leading to a campaign event for Morrissey, brandishing signs including “Free Karen,” “Where Is Chloe?” (the name of the reportedly “rehomed” dog), and “Framed” below a framed photo of Read and eliciting honks of support from passing cars.
This undated photograph provided by the Boston Police Department shows officer John O'Keefe, 46, of Canton, Massachusetts. O'Keefe died after being found lying in the snow unresponsive with multiple skull fractures.
“I hit him, I hit him” vs. “Did I hit him?”
Read’s statements, as recalled by witnesses at the scene as well as relatives, paramedics and authorities, about what happened were inconsistent and sometimes contradictory. For example, a paramedic said that Read repeatedly told her, “I hit him, I hit him, I hit him.” In a preview for an upcoming “Dateline” episode, Read said she had framed it as a question: “Could I have hit him?” She told something slightly different to ABC’s “Nightline,” that she had said, “Did I hit him?”
Her father, William Read, told Boston’s 25 News about a conversation he had with his daughter the morning O’Keefe was found. “‘Dad, I think I struck something,’” Read said. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ This was in the hospital, she says, ‘I remember backing up and hitting something, but I can’t say what it was,’ and at this point, she’s frantic.”
Read and O’Keefe had been dating for a couple years at the time of his death. After briefly seeing each other in their 20s, Read said, they reconnected on Facebook. By then, O’Keefe had become the guardian of his sister’s two children, after she and their father both died eight years earlier. Read often stayed at O’Keefe’s house, and had planned to stay the night of Jan. 28 after they went barhopping. Authorities said in a narrative document obtained by HuffPost that according to witnesses and surveillance footage they reviewed, Read and O’Keefe went to two bars that night, C.F. McCarthy’s and the Waterfall, where Read consumed up to nine drinks.
A forensic toxicologist said that Read’s blood alcohol levels taken on Jan. 29 were between .07% and .08%, and estimated that her BAC at 12:45 a.m. would have been between .13% and .29%. In Massachusetts, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of .08% or greater.
At the Waterfall, they socialized with Jennifer and Matthew McCabe, and as the bar was closing down, Jennifer McCabe invited the couple to join them at the house of her sister, Nicole Albert and her husband, Brian Albert, a longtime Boston police officer, where other people had gathered. When Read and O’Keefe arrived, however, they didn’t respond to Jennifer McCabe’s text directing them to park in the driveway, and instead stayed in the car on the street with the engine running. At one point, witnesses said, the car moved forward from its position by the driveway and stopped again near the spot where O’Keefe was later found. Eventually, at around 12:45 a.m., the car drove off without either of the two going into the house, authorities said they were told by several people who were there.
McCabe said Read told her that the last thing she remembered that night was being at a bar with O’Keefe, according to authorities. But now, in recent network TVinterviews, Read is adamant that she remembers the couple arriving at the Alberts’ house, arguing, seeing O’Keefe approach the door, looking up from her phone and no longer seeing him, and being irritated that he hadn’t responded to her texts after going into the house and driving home.
A photo of Karen Read and John O'Keefe was presented by the defense to the prosecution in Norfolk Superior Court on June 10, 2022.
A chaotic scene unfolded hours later. McCabe said she received a distraught phone call from Read at around 4:53 a.m. looking for O’Keefe before Read drove to the McCabes’ home, according to authorities. Another woman, Kerry Roberts, said Read had called her at about 5 a.m., according to state troopers who interviewed Roberts later that day, saying she was worried because O’Keefe had not come home, saying, “John’s dead. Kerry, Kerry, I wonder if he’s dead. It’s snowing, he got hit by a plow.”
Roberts met them at McCabe’s house and, because Read was “hysterical,” McCabe said she drove her back to O’Keefe’s home, where she had been staying, while Roberts followed, authorities said. McCabe said that during the drive, Read had said, “Could I have hit him?” and “Did I hit him?” and mentioned that the right taillight on her SUV was cracked, according to authorities. McCabe checked it when they arrived at O’Keefe’s house and confirmed that it was cracked and that pieces of it seemed to be missing, authorities said.
Roberts then drove the women to the Alberts’ house with Read sitting in the backseat, McCabe said, according to authorities. At this point it was windy and snowing heavily, so the other women were surprised when Read immediately spotted O’Keefe lying in the snow, authorities said McCabe and Roberts told them. Read screamed, jumped out of the car, ran to where O’Keefe was lying on his back covered in about 6 inches of snow, laid on top of him in an attempt to warm him and began CPR, authorities said McCabe told them. McCabe said Read yelled at her to google, “How long do you have to be left outside to die from hypothermia?” according to authorities.
View of 34 Fairview Road in Canton, Massachusetts, on Feb. 2, 2022, where state police homicide detectives arrested Karen Read on a manslaughter warrant in the death of John O'Keefe.
A “toxic” relationship
Although the people who saw the couple at the bar on Jan. 28 said they seemed to be getting along, authorities said O’Keefe’s 14-year-old niece and 10-year-old nephew told them that their uncle and Read frequently argued and that O’Keefe had wanted to break up with her. Investigators said that according to text messages and voicemails they recovered from the couple’s phones, O’Keefe said he wanted to end their relationship, which he described as “toxic.” According to authorities, Read told O’Keefe she hated him in voicemails she left in calls placed after she left the Alberts’ home.
Read doesn’t deny that their relationship was strained but insists she has no motive to kill him. Meanwhile, her attorneys claim, other people inside the house that night did: Colin Albert, Brian Albert’s 18-year-old nephew, whose father is a Canton selectman, reportedly had previous run-ins with O’Keefe. Read and her supporters allege that Colin and Brian Albert, a trained MMA fighter, fought O’Keefe, and when things went too far, framed his girlfriend for murder.
Authorities have said that Colin Albert left his uncle’s house before O’Keefe even arrived, and insist that this and many other claims by Read’s supporters are completely baseless. The Alberts are not suspects, but rather innocent witnesses like everyone else at the house that night — 11 people in all — who told authorities they did not see O’Keefe enter the home, Morrissey said in his statement.
The defense team for Karen Read, seated on the right, holds up an autopsy photo of injuries sustained on John O'Keefe's arm in Norfolk County Superior Court.
In a recent court hearing, Read’s attorney Alan Jackson, a prominent Los Angeles lawyer who previously represented Kevin Spacey, displayed a poster-sized autopsy photo of O’Keefe’s injured right arm, insisting that several distinct parallel lacerations and other wounds on his biceps and forearm could not have been caused by blunt force trauma as prosecutors claimed. Instead, Jackson said, the wounds represented claw and bite marks from an animal — specifically Brian Albert’s German shepherd, he alleged, adding the dog would “likely” attack if its owner was fighting.
Moreover, Jackson said, the “deeply bruised” backs of O’Keefe’s hands are “defensive wounds” from a fight he contends occurred inside the house and caused O’Keefe’s death.
“I don’t care what their medical examiner called it,” Jackson said. “Anybody who’s seen any sort of a fight, a street fight, knows that the back of the hands, the back of the arms, get the brunt of the punches as you cover your face. Of course there were signs of a fight — not just a fight, a brutal fight.”
The autopsy images have been widely shared on social media, with people posting photos, for comparison, of documented dog bite injuries and specific dogs’ incisors, and speculating about previous incidents in which the German shepherd, Chloe, allegedly bit other people.
Read’s defense attorneys claim Chloe was “rehomed” four months after O’Keefe’s death — the same month the defense began investigating O’Keefe’s injuries.
Jackson demanded samples from the autopsy and a DNA sample from the dog so they could conduct tests of their own.
The defense team for Karen Read holds up a poster board containing information they claim exonerates their client in the murder of John O'Keefe.
“Hos long to die in cold”
According to Read’s defense attorneys in a request for additional cellphone records for Brian Albert and Jennifer McCabe, cellphone records show that McCabe searched “hos long to die in cold” at 2:27 a.m., hours before authorities said Read yelled at her to make the search while she was attempting trying to resuscitate O’Keefe. The defense also claims that the data shows that McCabe deleted the search history and call records from her phone.
Prosecutor Adam Lally argued that cellphone extraction data was “unreliable,” pointing to other data extracted from O’Keefe’s phone. Morrissey also insisted that McCabe is an innocent bystander, not a suspect, based on investigators’ findings.
Read’s defense attorneys claim that health and location data from O’Keefe’s iPhone shows him going up and down stairs, presumably inside the Alberts’ home, shortly after midnight, bolstering their theory that he was attacked in the basement. But prosecutors said in a motion filed in May that the same data shows O’Keefe taking hundreds of steps hours after he was pronounced dead — further proof that it’s unreliable.
Conspiracy theorists also do not accept that there were only patches of blood found at the scene when O’Keefe had a 2-inch laceration on the back of his head, a picture of which has been shared alongside other autopsy photos. Since most head wounds cause profuse bleeding, many of Read’s supporters are convinced he bled out in the Alberts’ basement. The medical examiner has noted, however, that O’Keefe’s clothing was “saturated with blood” and that he suffered “bleeding of the brain” from multiple skull fractures.
O’Keefe was wearing only one shoe, a black Nike sneaker, when he was found. Canton police officers didn’t immediately see the other shoe — it wasn’t found until later that day by state troopers. Because of the time lapse, Read’s supporters became convinced that the shoe and pieces of the taillight were planted to incriminate her. In part 121 of his “Canton Coverup” series, Kearney cited a defense motion noting that at least 35 pieces of taillight were collected by state troopers at the scene, none of which were spotted by local police who initially responded. Authorities have noted that investigators were hampered in their search by the extremely heavy snowfall that day, which marked the seventh biggest snowstorm in Boston’s recorded history.
Karen Read appears with her attorney Alan Jackson (right) outside the Norfolk County Superior Court after the pretrial hearing on May 3.
What does justice look like for Karen Read? That remains to be seen, but as her case drags on, her supporters’ campaign is gaining momentum — and her high-powered attorneys’ aggressive tactics are fueling the conspiracy frenzy. No trial date has been set, but with each hearing, the voices of protesters outside the courthouse are getting louder.
They’ll be there, along with the “Free Karen Read” billboard truck, at Read’s next court date on Sept. 15.