It takes an identity thief

By JACLYN TROP  |  April 27, 2010

“She tried to schmooze-talk me out of it, saying it was all a big mistake.” When that didn’t work, says Blair, “she tried to flirt with me, telling me I was good-looking. When she saw that I wasn’t going for it, she cried and said everything was a big mistake and that she’d be able to fix it.”

At her arraignment the next morning, Keester appeared so sweet and frail that the judge asked Blair, “How can a woman like that steal money?”

The charges were dismissed after she claimed that the situation was a misunderstanding, alleging that she had a stroke several years earlier that clouded her thinking.

Helsel was skeptical — “What I saw was a clear mind, a mind that thought things out well in advance” — but Keester’s first lawyer believed it.

“Listen,” the defense attorney told Helsel. “She had a stroke. Look at how she walks. She just made a bad mistake with those checks. She’s not who you think she is.”

‘The good twin’
Over the next six months, investigators found that the victim list grew and the money trail expanded. They compiled a five-inch stack of master subpoenas, “which tells you this was just crazy,” says Helsel. “She moved so fast we could barely keep up with her — she was no stranger to this.”

A subpoena of Keester’s phone records explained how she secured so many jobs with access to privileged information. “We saw she owned her own phone for the person giving the recommendation,” says Helsel. “In that way, she was getting great jobs because she was getting great recommendations.”

Her résumé listed numerous fictitious companies, and she sometimes used the name Michelle, claiming to be “the good twin” to Karen’s evil one if anyone recognized her.

Durette’s team of investigators decided to freeze her bank accounts and waited for her to attempt to withdraw funds. They soon found security tapes that showed Keester in a panic at an ATM, banging on the glass with a quarter to get the attention of the clerks inside. “Where’s my money?” she’d shout in a phony British accent. “You can’t hold my money!”

“It’s hard to figure what she did with the money,” remembers Durette. “She didn’t appear to spend crazy amounts.” She seemed to have no addictions or vices to fund. “She was just kind of hoarding it, I think,” he notes. “Maybe she was trying to get wealthy. Maybe she just thought it was easy. She must have had some mechanism in her brain that enabled her to do it.”

Meanwhile, Keester continued to hang out around Beacon Hill, becoming a regular at both the Kinsale and the Hill Tavern on Cambridge Street. She had a reputation for being ubiquitous but elusive, a bartender at the Hill recalls: “I knew she came in, but she never really talked to anybody.”

After her eviction, she relocated to nearby Joy Street. Gersch still saw her around the neighborhood, but one of them would always cross the street to avoid the other.

Keester didn’t spend all of her time on Beacon Hill. She traveled out to a bar called JJ McCoy’s in Westland, where she befriended a local man who spent six years with the Coast Guard.

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