Shades of Keeler

For years, Daniel Keeler was the top detective in Boston. Now, a pair of sunglasses Threatens to end his career.
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  September 13, 2006

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ON THE STAND: Daniel “Mr. Homicide” Keeler testified in many high-profile cases that later unraveled in court.

He has survived acquittals and exonerations of the men he arrested, rebukes from judges, lawsuits, and internal-affairs investigations. He has flown in a plane with a victim’s head in a box, and plunged nearly naked into the Charles River. Now, the storied career of Sergeant Detective Daniel M. “Mr. Homicide” Keeler may finally be at an end.

Caught on security videotape apparently stealing a pair of sunglasses while investigating a robbery, Keeler has been placed on unpaid administrative leave pending a full investigation. Some are whispering that the leak of that video to local TV station WHDH (Channel 7) — a leak that quite likely came from within the Boston Police Department (BPD) — may have been part of a deliberate effort to force his resignation.

If so, it will be the final crash-landing of a reputation that has been plummeting over the past few years.

Keeler is an intense, gruff detective who once led the homicide squad in arrests; it is probably no coincidence that the unit’s arrest rate plunged to a miserable 30 percent after he left two-and-a-half years ago.

But his arrests all too often didn’t hold up. In fact, from 1998 until he left the homicide squad in April 2004, at least 14 people Keeler arrested for murder have been acquitted or have seen the charges dropped, according to a Phoenix analysis of the records. Just 27 accused killers from that period were convicted at trial or pled guilty thanks to Keeler investigations. And who knows how many of those will hold up on appeal? (Efforts to reach Keeler for comment on this article were unsuccessful.)

If the department brass is finally trying to rid itself of Keeler, they can’t say there were no warning signs along the way.

Pre-homicide years
Keeler was born in Quincy, but spent most of his life in the working-class Lower Mills neighborhood of Dorchester. After graduating Boston Technical High School, he did two years in the Marine Corps, and then worked various odd jobs, including bartending for pols on Beacon Hill. He eventually became a firefighter, and finally, in 1979 at age 28, he entered the Boston Police Academy.

According to BPD internal-affairs documents obtained by the Phoenix, Keeler got into trouble as a recruit. According to the complaints, Keeler and a BPD officer — both off-duty, drunk, and belligerent — bullied workers and patrons at the Somewhere lesbian bar on June 3, 1980. “We’re fucking cops and we’ll do what we want around here and I’ll grab whoever I want,” Keeler allegedly said. He also, according to the complaints, threatened to get city agencies to close the bar; told another woman, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to get you”; and grabbed another woman by her breasts. He received a four-day suspension, according to documents in the internal-investigation file.

His flair for the dramatic became evident soon after. That August, a man leapt from the BU Bridge in an apparent suicide attempt. Keeler stripped to his skivvies and dove off the bridge after him, dragging the man from the Charles River to safety. For his derring-do, Keeler received the first of many awards from the department.

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