true crime

A successful woman, police officer boyfriend and a murder trial that tore a town apart.

If you're into true crime, TikTok, or the endless rabbit hole that is an amalgamation of both, CrimeTok, chances are you've heard the name Karen Read. 

It's the name of a woman central to a murder trial that has played out in real time over the past eight weeks and it has all the ingredients of a binge-worthy TV serial.

What happened to Karen Read's boyfriend, John O'Keefe?

On January 29, 2022, 44-year-old Karen Read went out drinking with her boyfriend John O'Keefe, a Boston police officer. After a rowdy night spent with John's friends, whom the couple met at the bar, it was decided that the group would keep the party going at the home of fellow BPD officer, Brian Albert.

Karen, deciding to head home, dropped her boyfriend at the afterparty first. 

By her own account, she was drunk. 

At 4:23 am on the morning of January 30, John's niece, who lived with him and of whom he had guardianship, called another friend who had been at the bar  - Jennifer McCabe, the sister-in-law of Brian Albert, whose house Karen had dropped him at. She said Karen was worried that he hadn't yet come home, and couldn't remember details about having dropped him off due to being so inebriated.

Jennifer said she had no idea where John was either and about an hour after the phone call, Karen met up with Jennifer and another friend in order to hit the streets to look for him. Outside, it had been snowing. The temperature read -7 degrees Celsius, and the group knew it was dangerous for anyone to be outside in that kind of weather.

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As they drove back to the home of Brian Albert, where Karen had last seen John, she spotted his lifeless body outside the house in the snow. Running to sweep the snow off his face and body, Karen tried to warm her boyfriend's icy body by lifting his shirt and laying on top of him. She began CPR while another friend called emergency services, but to no avail - John was dead.

He had blood around his mouth and nose, and his right eye was bruised and swollen. He was missing one of his Nike trainers and the baseball hat he had been wearing. John's official cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma coupled with hypothermia, and in the chaos that ensued, Karen Read became the number one suspect.

Karen Read's boyfriend, Boston police officer John O'Keefe. Image: AAP.

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Why is Karen Read on trial?

The trial, which began in April of this year, has quickly become divisive - both in the small town of Canton, Massachusetts where the alleged crime occurred, and online, where debates continue to rage about whether or not Karen, an equity analyst and adjunct professor at Bentley University, is responsible for John's death.

Central to the prosecution's case is the theory that Karen, after dropping John at Brian's home, hit her boyfriend with her car. The evidence put forward by the prosecution included testimony from first responders that in the immediate aftermath of discovering John's body, Karen repeatedly cried, "I hit him, I hit him", while speaking to EMTs. They also cite a smashed tail light on the car, John's DNA, found on the car, as well as text messages that point to their relationship going through a rocky patch in the days preceding John's death.

Is Karen Read guilty of her boyfriend's murder?

Karen's defence counters that while John O'Keefe's DNA is on the vehicle as it would be expected to be, an independent federal review found the damage to the tail light to be "inconsistent" with having hit John.

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The defence alleges that not only did Karen have nothing to do with John's death, but that he was actually beaten inside Brian Albert's home, then left in the snow to die, with the people involved - including Brian, another police officer - framing her for the murder.

This theory began to emerge when Karen's lawyer, David Yanetti, claimed he received a tipoff shortly after his client's arraignment on manslaughter charges (these charges were later upgraded to second-degree murder).

According to Boston Magazine, a tipster who initially used a fake name, told Yanetti in a phone call: "Your client is innocent. John was beaten up by Brian Albert and his nephew. They broke his nose, and when O'Keefe didn't come to, Brian and a federal agent dumped his body on the front lawn." (A lawyer for the man Yannetti identified as the tipster denies Yannetti's version.)

Karen Read claims she was aware there had been bad blood between Colin Albert (Brian's nephew) and her boyfriend, and investigations by her defence team found a witness who told them Colin had indeed been present the night John died.

The defence claims injuries on John's arms are consistent with being bitten by a dog, beaten up and thrown outside.

According to CBS News, a search made at 2:27 am on Jennifer McCabe's phone (remember - she's Brian Alberts' sister-in-law), hours before Karen raised the alarm about John being missing, read: "hoe [sic] long to die in cold". Jennifer claims she made the search hours later after John's body was found at 6:23 am, because Karen had asked her to. She claims the reason for the earlier timestamp is that she used a tab that was already open on her phone.

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Watch: Karen Read speaks up about her murder trial for her boyfriend's death. Post continues after video.


Video via ABC News.

A town divided.

While speculation about the trial might have all the irresistible elements of a true crime podcast in the making (and you'd best believe, there are several podcasts and YouTube channels that have covered the case daily), for the residents of Canton, Massachusetts, it's far more sinister than online gossip.

On Reddit forums and Facebook groups, the fallout in local circles is evident. The middle-class town, with a population of just over 24,000 people, is fractured along the lines of whether they believe Karen Read is guilty, or whether they believe the assertions of her defence team that a very sinister coverup has occurred, hinting at corruption running through Canton's power brokers.

One woman, born and raised in Canton, told Boston Magazine, "It's like bringing up Donald Trump at a dinner party. It could just explode. People don't want people to know which side they're on. Because, like politics, they don't want to deal with the fallout."

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Karen Read's mistrial. 

On Monday, after thrice failing to come to a unanimous decision, the jury in the case was forced to relay to the judge that they could not reach a verdict. As a result, Norfolk County Superior Court Judge Beverly Cannone declared a mistrial.

According to CBS News, The Norfolk County District Attorney's Office said they intend to re-try the case, while Karen's lawyers may appeal to have the case dismissed. A status hearing is scheduled for later this month when the details will be decided.

As Karen Read's fate still hangs in the balance, the lead police officer involved in the investigation has been relieved of his duties as an internal investigation into his alleged misconduct (which the defence says included manipulating evidence and sending a series of vulgar messages about Karen Read to his friends and colleagues) continues.

In summary: get thee to TikTok - because there is so much more to this still-unfolding saga.

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Feature image: AAP. 

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