It takes an identity thief

How Karen Keester made off with $250,000 — and became one of Boston's most accomplished con artists
By JACLYN TROP  |  April 27, 2010

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STEALING BEAUTY: In her most recent run-in with the law, Karen Keester was charged with trying to steal a woman's identity in 2008. Since coming to Boston, she’s fleeced neighbors, landlords, and other acquaintances of more than $250,000.

In late April 2006, shortly before the hearing to evict his tenant Karen Keester, Lee Gersch received a phone call from Keester’s twin sister, Michelle. She had just gotten divorced, Michelle claimed, and needed to move to Boston from Arkansas for a new job. She suggested that she and her cat could move right into Keester’s Beacon Hill flat.

“Wow,” thought Gersch. “This is perfect — Lee, you really lucked out this time.” It was not going to be easy to fill the ground-floor apartment at 40 Grove Street that time of year, a full month before the summer rush began. Renting the place without the expensive, time-consuming search for a tenant would be a boon to Gersch, who was busy managing six other buildings on the Hill.

He was about to suggest that Michelle meet him at the apartment the following Monday, but he paused. Even for a twin, there was something too familiar about Michelle’s flat Ozarks-bred intonation.

Though Karen Keester had moved out — or “voluntarily vacated,” in real-estate parlance — that week, Gersch still had a judgment against her for $5600 in unpaid rent. He knew his tenant to be eccentric, impatient, and aloof, but didn’t think she was vindictive. So he was surprised when he found she had stolen the racks from the dishwasher and refrigerator, peeled the finish off the kitchen counter, and left a mound of cat food in the middle of the dining room.

Keester had stopped paying rent several months earlier — claiming that Gersch’s accounting numbers were incorrect and that the stress of the situation was endangering a “high-risk pregnancy” she had just begun. Gersch would frequently see the Oklahoma-born Keester trawling the Hill’s streets — usually dressed in 19th century style clothing, high-necked woolen collars and lots of layers, even in summer — often “wild-eyed” and always alone.

Gersch wasn’t the only one chasing Keester. In March, a repossession officer arrived at the apartment looking for both of her Honda Civics. When the officer confronted her, Gersch recalls, Keester said that “she was not Karen Keester but that, if the officer would wait a minute, she would remove her personal items from Karen’s car.”

Gersch was relieved when Keester didn’t show up to the Grove Street eviction hearing that April (“Easier that way,” he says), but he returned to work to receive another surprise: a subpoena from William L. Durette Jr., chief financial investigator for the Special Prosecutions Unit of the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, just blocks away, near the city’s Financial District. The subpoena required that he turn over all records related to business conducted with Karen Keester, Karen Kester, Karen M. Keester, K. Michelle Keester, or Michelle Keester.

“This subpoena,” it read, “is related to an ongoing criminal investigation, please keep this request confidential and do not reveal this request to any individual or entity not required in order to comply with the subpoena.”

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