Jean Keating, accused of causing a fatal car crash in 1997 in Oregon, lived illegally in a small town for over 15 years — until barroom chatter undid her alias.
MINNEDOSA, MAN.—For more than 15 years, Jean Keating, an Oregon woman accused of causing a fatal car crash in 1997, lived illegally under an assumed name in this small town in western Manitoba.
But boasting in a bar about getting away with manslaughter was apparently her undoing.
Keating, then 38, was facing manslaughter and drunken driving charges when she stopped contacting her lawyer and vanished. Police believe she crossed the Canadian border with her children, ages 1 and 3, in 1998.
For more than a decade, she built a new life in this town of 2,500, but still trouble followed her. She was arrested several times in Canada, including once on a charge of impaired driving.
Despite these brushes with the law, she kept her past a secret for years. Then several months ago an RCMP constable started to hear rumours about a woman named “Jean McPherson” who was bragging about getting away with manslaughter in the U.S.
He contacted the Canadian Border Services Agency, which informed him there was no “Jean McPherson” living as a legal immigrant in Canada. The next step was to see if an identity could be gleaned from the fingerprints taken when “Jean McPherson” was arrested earlier on the impaired driving charge. That led to a match for Keating back in Oregon.
The Canadian Border Services Agency arrested her in Minnedosa, 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg, on April 4 and issued a deportation order two weeks later. Keating, 54, was detained in Winnipeg until June 12 because of flight risk and was then deported to North Dakota.
Lisa White, a spokeswoman for Canada Border Services Agency, said Keating has been barred from ever entering Canada again. It’s not known how she entered Canada, said White, but it was not customary for U.S. citizens to show a passport when crossing into Canada in the late 1990s.
Keating was returned last week to Oregon, where she is accused of manslaughter, driving under the influence and recklessly endangering another person in connection with the 1997 death of 65-year-old Jewel Anderson.
Police allege Keating sideswiped Anderson’s car on Interstate 5 near Albany, Ore., sending it careening through the centre lane and into another car. Anderson died at the scene. “I felt that it was about time that they finally found her,” said Ron Anderson, son of the dead woman. “I knew she had to be someplace. She couldn’t be missing forever.”
Police said Keating was awaiting trial in March 1998 when her lawyer advised the court that he had lost contact with her. There was concern she had “flown the coop,” so a warrant was issued for her arrest.
Years passed, but police never gave up looking for her. Five years ago, Det. Howard Greer, an arson and explosives investigator with the Oregon State Police, was having a slow day and asked fellow officers if there were any cases he could help with. They handed him the Keating file.
Greer examined databases and followed lead after lead, but nothing panned out. At one point, he reached out to Canadian immigration officials and heard about a possible match for a woman in Victoria, but it wasn’t Keating.
It was nothing but dead ends until he learned of the April 4 arrest in Canada, which he called a “stroke of luck.”
“I just about fell out of my chair. I thought it was a prank phone call,” said Greer.
A woman in Minnedosa who wouldn’t give her name says she knew Keating — as McPherson — and she was married to a man in the town and was a housewife. The woman says she never suspected anything about Keating’s criminal charges.
Of Keating’s two children, the oldest is more than 18 and it’s unclear who was assigned custody of the younger child. Greer said the father of the children was still paying child support to Keating even after she disappeared. Strict privacy laws prevented him from obtaining any information about where the money was going.