‘Whodunnit’ Massachusetts Murder Case Has Generated a Following

The Karen Read murder trial, which began in April, has amateur sleuths piecing together clues as lawyers talk about conspiracies and coverups.
‘Whodunnit’ Massachusetts Murder Case Has Generated a Following
Karen Read (L) leaves Norfolk Superior Court with her attorney Alan Jackson after the opening day of her trial in Dedham, Mass., on April 29, 2024. (Charles Krupa/AP Photo)
Alice Giordano
Updated:
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A mystery-laden Massachusetts murder trial has gained local, cultlike status and some international attention.

The trial in Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham involves Karen Read, who has been accused of murdering her boyfriend, Boston police officer John O'Keefe, on the night of Jan. 29, 2022.

Until recently, the trial that began in April generated mostly local headlines. But it’s now making national and even international headlines and has gone viral on social media.

Evidence in the case has created a nationwide armchair symposium of online sleuths with thousands sharing theories on social media and in podcasts.

It is now nearly impossible to get a seat in the courtroom, as it was during the O.J. Simpson murder trial almost 30 years ago.

Mr. Simpson, who recently died, was accused of stabbing to death his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. The eight-month-long Simpson trial, which was televised nationally, drew 150 million daily viewers. It ended with Mr. Simpson’s acquittal, leaving a nation divided over whether the verdict was fair.

The Simpson trial set the benchmark for sensational, real-life courtroom dramas.

While the Karen Read trial certainly hasn’t drawn anywhere near as much attention, several media outlets are now carrying daily updates and some platforms are providing livestreams.

There is even a movement to wear pink, Ms. Read’s favorite color, to show support for her.

There is also a daily encampment with people wearing shirts saying “Free Karen Read” and holding signs in support of the 46-year-old former college lecturer.

Some have posted on social media about making lifelong friends at the encampment. One couple flew from the United Kingdom to Massachusetts. Dressed in pink, they went to the Norfolk County Courthouse and joined friends they had made online.

Why So Popular?

With murder trials a dime a dozen, expert analysts in high-profile murder trials recently gave The Epoch Times their opinion about what’s causing the outsized interest in the Massachusetts trial.

Galina Davidoff, a Boston-based trial consultant, and Richard Gabriel, a Los Angeles-based jury consultant who has worked on several high-profile cases including the O.J. Simpson trial, both noted that Ms. Read’s physical attributes are likely playing a role.

“She’s attractive and she’s white,” said Mr. Gabriel, pointing to similar popular murder trials. The Casey Anthony case involved a white mom accused of killing her toddler daughter Caylee in Orlando, Florida in 2008. She was found not guilty in 2011. Scott Peterson, a handsome white husband, was convicted of the killing of his pregnant wife Laci in 2002 in the affluent suburban city of Modesto, California.

Ms. Davidoff noted that Ms. Read is a “good-looking woman” who appears educated with no history of drugs.

“People can relate to her,” she said, likening the trial’s growing popularity to the 1997 trial of young English nanny Louise Woodward, who was accused of killing a baby, Matthew Eappen, by shaking him to death.

The Woodward trial, which also took place in Massachusetts, had unanswered questions including viable alternative suspects that got a “whole world” speculating about evidence, said Ms. Davidoff.

She and Mr. Gabriel also said the Read trial is unfolding against the backdrop of a “nasty” and “toxic” political climate in the United States and abroad.

“The world is looking for a distraction,” said Mr. Gabriel.

“There’s so much international news that is depressing, our entertainment option is kind of to sit at home and watch a variety of TV series, then comes this real-life suspense story. ... You can actually go down to the courthouse and see the crowds. ...It is a unique, strange type of entertainment.”

While he said he didn’t think the Karen Read trial will reach the popularity level of the O.J. Simpson trial, he said he was “impressed” that talk about it had reached the West Coast.

He said it reminded him a bit of the days when villagers would gather to watch public hangings. “It was seen as entertainment,” he said.

Ms. Davidoff said the Read trial also has a “uniting” element because people can agree to disagree over evidence and the credibility of a witness, without it becoming personal.

“As awful as it might sound, people are bonding over this the way they used to over issues that now divide us,” she said.

The case involves a love triangle among Ms. Read, a Boston police officer, and an Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent. There are also many odd details, such as inexplicably missing video footage from a Ring camera. Also, a Google search about cold weather morbidity that suggests a potential conspiracy and cover-up.

“You’ve got yourself a real-life whodunnit,” said Mr. Gabriel.

The late Mr. O'Keefe has been described by many as an exemplary police officer. The 44-year-old served 16 years in law enforcement. When his sister and her husband died, he took in his niece and nephew.

“People talk about someone who would give you the shirt off their back but that was truly who John was, and it is heartbreaking for us to suddenly be talking about him in the past tense,” his family said in a statement after Ms. Read was accused of murdering him.

Pieces of Evidence

According to the prosecution, on a blizzardy winter night—after some heavy drinking—Ms. Read and Mr. O'Keefe, along with others in law enforcement, went to the Canton home of fellow Boston police officer Brian Albert and his wife Nicole for an afterparty.

The prosecution said Ms. Read and Mr. O‘Keefe never made it inside the home. Instead, they got into a fight and Ms. Read rammed her car into Mr. O’Keefe, ran him over, and then left him for dead in heavy snowfall, the prosecution alleges. The prosecution presented texts between the couple showing their relationship was strained.

Ms. Read, who suffers from Crohn’s Disease, has always maintained that she dropped off Mr. O'Keefe outside the Alberts’ home because she wasn’t feeling well.

The defense has argued that Mr. O'Keefe was killed inside the Albert home in a fight between him and ATF agent Brian Higgins, who was identified during the trial as a friend of Mr. Albert.

As part of the allegations, the defense presented an exchange of flirtatious texts between Mr. Higgins and Ms. Read.

The defense also presented texts showing that Mr. Higgins had invited Mr. O'Keefe to the afterparty. Several witnesses also testified seeing him practicing sparring at the bar where they all were earlier.

The defense also asserted that deep puncture wounds on Mr. O‘Keefe’s arms were caused by the Alberts’ German Shepherd dog when she attacked Mr. O’Keefe during the altercation.

A prosecution expert said the wounds were not consistent with dog bites, but the Alberts did acknowledge under cross-examination that they “re-homed” their dog out of state after Mr. O'Keefe was found dead outside their home.

The defense’s theory is that after realizing Mr. O‘Keefe was mortally wounded, Mr. Higgins, the Alberts, and others in the house dragged Mr. O’Keefe outside and left him there.

As part of the theory, the defense presented evidence that at 2:23 a.m. Nicole Albert’s sister Jennifer McCabe, who was at the afterparty with her husband—also a Boston cop—googled “hos [sic] long to die in the cold.”

The timeline is critical because witnesses including the McCabes said they saw Ms. Read arrive at the Alberts about two hours earlier and leave without getting out of her SUV. They also said they never saw Mr. O'Keefe get out of the car.

The prosecution countered the evidence with testimony from a computer analyst saying the search could have been part of a computer search tab that Ms. McCabe opened at 2:23 a.m. but that she did not specifically search for how long it took someone to die in the cold until hours later.

During her direct testimony, Ms. McCabe said it was Ms. Read who asked her to search for how long it takes to die around 6 a.m. when they found Mr. O'Keefe lying on the ground at the Alberts’ home.

Adding to the mystery behind the Google search is evidence the defense presented that Mr. Albert made a phone call to Mr. Higgins around 2:30 a.m.,  around the same time that the defense alleges Ms. McCabe researched how long it would take for someone to die in the cold. Mr. Albert testified that the call was a butt dial [an unintended call].

Mr. Higgins, Ms. McCabe, and the Alberts all have denied any involvement in Mr. O'Keefe’s death and said they never saw him enter the Alberts’ home that night.

Another major sticking point that has garnered worldwide attention is pieces of a tail light found by Massachusetts state trooper Michael Proctor, who served as the lead investigator. He said he had found it at the Alberts’ weeks after Mr. O'Keefe’s body was found there.

Camera footage presented by the defense appears to show Ms. Read’s tail light intact after she is alleged to have hit Mr. O'Keefe.

Testimony in the trial showed that the state trooper had personal relationships with both the Alberts and the McCabes and some of their family members and that some of their children were also friends. Among texts Mr. Proctor sent out in a group chat about the investigation, he wrote that Brian McCabe was “not going to get any [expletive] because he’s a cop.”

The defense also presented texts the state trooper sent to others making crude comments about Ms. Read. Some of the jurors could be heard gasping in response.

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey called the texts “disgusting,” which gave fuel to critics who have called for Mr. Proctor to be fired.

Both Mr. Gabriel and Mr. Davidoff say that allegations of a police cover-up have also likely played a major role in the growing popularity of the trial.

The case is continuing with ongoing testimony.

Alice Giordano is a freelance reporter for The Epoch Times. She is a former news correspondent for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and the New England bureau of The New York Times.
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