Everyone expresses grief and shock differently. But Dr. Peter Keegan’s behavior in the weeks and months after Susan’s death – at times resentful, at times celebratory, are best described as bizarre and inappropriate.
Note on sources: Much of the material in this blog comes from a series of long, rambling emails Dr. Keegan sent to a friend shortly after Susan’s death in November 2010. At first, he poured out an anger and bitterness towards Susan that seemed misplaced, considering: 1) that his wife of 32 years was dead; and 2) he was writing to one of Susan’s closest family connections. By January 2011, the tone of his emails had shifted, and he seemed almost euphoric about his new life. One thing hadn’t changed – there was no sense of grief, shock, or even surprise at her death.
His emails, and documented stories sourced from friends and family, have been turned over to authorities.
Dr. Keegan divided Susan’s ashes into seven portions on the weekend of her memorial in late November and then he distributed them to friends and family. As he poured the ashes into plastic baggies, he commented to the several people watching, “I feel just like a drug dealer.”
Later, he described what he had done, writing in an email: “Everybody got a little over a pound.”
He hung a plastic grocery store bag containing one package of Susan’s ashes on the doorknob of a long-time friend, then departed without a knock.
It was just one manifestation of insensitive behavior in the weeks that followed her death. True, the couple was engaged in a bitter divorce battle. True, bad behavior is not a measure of complicity. But still – most people who spent time around Dr. Keegan in the weeks after Susan died were struck by his casual tone. One friend commented that “he was the most upbeat and cheerful” he had appeared in years.
Immediately after Susan’s death, Dr. Keegan had told Susan’s father that there would be no memorial service and advised him not to come to California. “The boys want a memorial,” he told her father, “but I don’t give a fuck.”
He changed his mind, and by the time of the memorial, he seemed aware that some people were finding his behavior odd. To several visitors at his home, he remarked, “My brother tells me I should just shut up and act the widower.”
But Dr. Keegan continued to complain bitterly about Susan. His grievances seemed petty under ordinary circumstances, almost bizarre once she was gone: “One of the other final straws was our sleeping,” he emailed a friend a week after her death. “She liked to sleep with all the windows open… She hogged the bed and the covers, and I would wake up in the morning feeling terrible, having been freezing cold through the night.”
He also seemed obsessed with uncovering his dead wife’s private thoughts. He dug through desk drawers and boxes of old newspapers and art supplies and eventually uncovered four diaries.
He described his search for one volume as follows: “I had an appointment at the Social Security office. Susan paid in thousands, I am eligible for a one time survivor’s payment of $225, but would need to produce documentation including a marriage certificate. So the next day I went to the file cabinets to search for a wedding certificate.” That search was unsuccessful, he wrote, but it did turn up a new diary.
“What a find!” he wrote enthusiastically.
The four volumes covered various periods of time between 1978 and 2002, so the most recent was eight years before Susan’s death. Within them, Dr. Keegan claimed to have discovered the “truth” about his wife – “documenting her infidelities, lusting for the erotic, dislike for me, self loathing, suicidal thoughts.”
The actual contents are uncertain as Dr. Keegan quoted only selectively from the diaries, and refused family requests to share them. Ultimately, he claimed to have burned the diaries. “The decision to burn them, page be [sic] page, after a final reading was all mine.”
Before he did so, he asked a computer expert to hack Susan’s files to see if he could find a fifth volume. “I’ve talked to a private investigator with computer expertise and he says he can hack into stuff that is encoded or locked as long as the computers are mine,” wrote Dr. Keegan.
The hacker may have succeeded. “Meanwhile, I had our computers searched,” Dr. Keegan later wrote. “There was no Volume 5 of her diary. There was extensive correspondence which took me over 6 hours to read.”
In describing what he allegedly found, Dr. Keegan made the same unsubstantiated accusations about Susan’s supposed substance use, sexual inadequacy, infidelity, and hostility towards men that he had made to her friends while she was alive. Dr. Keegan himself acknowledged that no one found them credible. “Half her friends refused to hear me out, the other half didn’t believe me,” he complained.
Despite his continuing resentment, Dr. Keegan moved quickly into a new life. By mid-January, two months after Susan’s death, he wrote. “I am getting what I need. Life is much better and improving all the time… Had a great time… skiing at Salt Lake City on fresh powder… And watching great football games. How about them Jets!”
And a month after that: “Lots of yoga, elliptical trainer, and doing my weight lifting program at the Redwood Health Club, my new favorite place. And dancing; social dancing (cha-cha, east coast swing, foxtrot, waltz) is my new super happy time in addition to the usual contra fun.”
Let us hope the authorities have read Dr. Keegan’s emails carefully. Circumstantial evidence is a powerful tool in court, especially when combined with damning forensics.