In the pre-dawn hours of January 29, 2022, a man was found dead in a blizzard outside a house in suburban Boston. He was wearing two shirts, blue jeans, socks and one black Nike sneaker. On the blanket of snow near his body were shards of glass and splotches of blood.
His name was John O’Keefe, and he was a Boston police officer.
O’Keefe and his girlfriend of two years, Karen Read, had been on a bar crawl earlier that night. Shortly after midnight, according to court documents, they climbed into her black Lexus SUV and headed to an afterparty at the home of a fellow Boston police officer on Fairview Road in Canton.
About six hours later, O’Keefe’s body was spotted in the front yard of the house, covered in snow. But what happened during those six hours has sharply divided Canton, a town of 24,000 people about 15 miles southwest of Boston.
Residents of the town and neighboring suburbs have spent months debating two potential scenarios: Was O’Keefe beaten inside the house and tossed outside to die in the snow? Or did his girlfriend fatally strike him with her car?
Local prosecutors have made their position clear, charging Read with second-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and leaving the scene of a collision. She has pleaded not guilty, and her trial is set for March.
With both the trial and the two-year anniversary of O’Keefe’s death looming, debate over the case has torn apart the tight-knit town.
Residents have stormed city council meetings, demanding answers. Some have accused the local police of a cover-up to protect those at the party on Fairview Road. Others have visited Facebook group pages and local blogs to discuss intricacies of that fateful night, turning what began as a local homicide case into a broader sensation.
At the heart of the controversy is a key question: Did O’Keefe enter the house on Fairview Road that night? The prosecution says no. The defense says yes.
“Those who’ve heard of the case have pretty much picked a side,” said longtime Canton resident Jonathan Comeau, who recently moved to a nearby suburb. “There is the ‘She is guilty’ side and the ‘There was a fight in that house’ side. There is pretty much no one on the fence.”
What Karen Read says happened that night
Read, 43, is out on bail awaiting her trial.
In court documents and in media interviews, she’s said that she and O’Keefe went to two Canton bars that night. They mingled with friends, drinking beers and vodka sodas, before going to the home on Fairview Road.
Read said she dropped off O’Keefe outside the house, then returned to his place because she wasn’t feeling well. She called and texted him throughout the night, she said, but there was no response.
About 4:30 a.m., Read woke up screaming when she realized O’Keefe had not come home, court documents said.
She called two female friends, including Jennifer McCabe, who had been drinking with her that night. Together, the three women drove through the streets of Canton in near white-out conditions, looking for O’Keefe and calling his name, court documents said.
As the three women approached Fairview Road, Read said she caught a glimpse of O’Keefe lying on his back in the yard. McCabe told authorities that Read jumped out of the car in a panic and performed CPR on him, but he was not responsive.
The women called 911. It was so dark, officers who responded to the scene said they needed to use a spotlight attached to a police cruiser to find the women, court documents said.
A medical examiner later determined that O’Keefe suffered multiple skull fractures, consistent with blunt-force trauma that led to bleeding in the brain. He also had two swollen black eyes, several abrasions on his right arm as well and blood around his nose and mouth. Hypothermia was a contributing factor in his death, the autopsy ruled.
Read and her legal team, which includes attorneys Alan Jackson and David Yannetti, have said she’s being framed to protect the real killers.
“We know who did it. We know. And we know who spearheaded this coverup. You all know,” Read told reporters after a court hearing in September. “I tried to save his life. I tried to save his life at 6 in the morning, I was covered in his blood. I was the only one trying to save his life.”
Jackson told CNN that he believes O’Keefe entered the Fairview Road house that night and got into an altercation with someone inside.
“I think that confrontation got physical, and he was beaten to a point of unconsciousness,” Jackson said. “This was a coverup … he was murdered inside that house and his body placed outside.”
The owner of the house at the time, Brian Albert, has not responded to CNN’s requests for comment.
In Read’s charging documents, Albert and his wife told police that O’Keefe and Read joined their group at Waterfall Bar & Grille, the second bar in Canton. The Alberts said they invited some people from the bar to their house but were not aware O’Keefe and Read were coming over. The Alberts added they didn’t know O’Keefe or Read that well but wouldn’t have minded if they’d come.
The Alberts also told police they “neither heard nor saw anything outside of their home over the course of the morning,” according to court documents. The Fairview Road house was sold in April. Jackson said that the Alberts owned a German shepherd, which he believes is responsible for some of the bruises found on O’Keefe.
What prosecutors say happened that night
The prosecution’s narrative centers on what happened outside the house on Fairview Road. They allege that O’Keefe and Read got into an argument that led to him getting out of the Lexus.
They say evidence suggests a drunken Read struck him with her vehicle as she made a three-point turn, leaving him to die in the snowy cold.
Investigators said surveillance footage shows that between the two bars the couple went to that night, Read appeared to consume at least nine drinks.
The third woman in the vehicle that morning told investigators that Read appeared drunk when they were searching for O’Keefe.
Read also mentioned that her SUV’s right taillight was damaged and asked McCabe, “Could I have hit him. Did I hit him,” according to charging documents.
McCabe and the other woman in the car told investigators that as they neared the Fairview Road house, Read cried that she could see O’Keefe lying in the yard, despite the near white-out conditions and a cluster of trees obstructing the view. The two other women told police that neither of them could see O’Keefe at that point.
Read then leaped from the car, ran to O’Keefe and began trying to do CPR, they said.
In case documents and in court, Read’s attorneys have said they believe McCabe, who is Albert’s sister-in-law, is part of a coverup to protect the people inside the house and frame Read for the crime. A forensic search of McCabe’s phone revealed a Google search for the phrase, “Ho(w) long to die in cold” hours before Read called McCabe, looking for O’Keefe, according to court documents. Prosecutors dispute the timing and reason for the search.
McCabe has not been charged with a crime and did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment. Nor did her attorney, Kevin Reddington. But Reddington told local media that allegations of McCabe’s involvement in a cover-up are baseless.
“She cooperated with the police. She answered all their questions. She testified before the grand jury,” Reddington told the Sun Chronicle in April. “The next thing you know she gets smeared by the defense team.”
Canton police officers said they searched the area by O’Keefe’s body and found pieces from a broken cocktail glass and patches of blood in the snow. State police later found pieces of a taillight at the scene that appeared similar to a broken right taillight on Read’s vehicle, court documents said.
In a video statement in August, Michael Morrissey, the Norfolk County district attorney, said location data from O’Keefe’s phone showed he never entered the Fairview Road house.
“Innuendo is not evidence. False narratives are not evidence,” he said. “Eleven people have given statements that they did not see John O’Keefe enter the home … Zero people have said that they saw him enter the home. Zero. No one. … There was no fight inside that home.”
O’Keefe’s family has described him as a loving man who stepped up to raise his niece and nephew after his sister and her husband died.
“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,” the family said in a statement to local media shortly after his death.
O’Keefe’s niece and nephew, who lived with him for about eight years, told investigators that he and Read argued a lot and had expressed the need to take a break from one another. But Jackson, Read’s attorney, told CNN that she and O’Keefe had not argued that night.
Investigators dispute allegations of a coverup
Morrissey, the district attorney, has demanded a stop to the intimidation of witnesses in the case. He says allegations that a network of law enforcement agencies conspired to frame Read are not plausible.
“These people were not part of a conspiracy and certainly did not commit murder or any crime that night,” Morrisey said in his August video statement. “They are not suspects in any crime. They are merely witnesses in the case. … The idea that multiple police departments, EMTs, fire personnel, the medical examiner and prosecuting agencies are joining in … a vast conspiracy should be seen for what it is — completely contrary to the evidence and a desperate attempt to reassign guilt.”
In a statement to CNN, Canton Police Chief Helena Rafferty said investigators found “absolutely no evidence of a cover up in the tragic death of John O’Keefe.”
At a town board meeting in August, she acknowledged there’s a “mistrust for the police department” in Canton, but said it’s not as widespread as portrayed.
“However, I do acknowledge that it is there, and I hear you,” she said. “I believe the first step in bridging that trust gap is effective and healthy communication.” She did not respond to further questions from CNN on the root of the mistrust.
Last month, Canton residents voted for an independent investigation into the police department after a special town meeting that focused on Read’s case.
Rafferty told CNN she believes the $200,000 budget for the investigation would be better spent on other things.