Radio Talk Show Host Indicted In Wife’s Death
Julie Keown Died In September 2004
POSTED: 1:15 pm CST November 7, 2005 UPDATED: 9:49 pm CST November 7, 2005
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A Missouri radio talk show host was arrested on murder charges Monday for allegedly poisoning his wife by spiking her Gatorade with a chemical found in antifreeze.
Prosecutors said that 31-year-old James Keown began poisoning his wife over several months after the couple moved to Massachusetts in January 2004 after he lied about being accepted to Harvard Business School.
“It was pretty clear that she did not understand what was happening to her or that she was being poisoned,” Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said at a news conference.
Earlier in the morning — and more than 1,300 miles away from James and Julie Keown’s brief home in Waltham — James Keown was arrested at the radio station where’s been working in Jefferson City, Mo. Later in the afternoon, he appeared in court by videoconference and agreed to be returned to Massachusetts, where he was indicted last week for murder.
Prosecutors say he killed his wife of eight years by poisoning her over a period of months with ethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze.
Coakley said the motive for the killing may have been financial. The couple was broke, and Julie Keown had a $250,000 life insurance policy, Coakley said.
Coakley said that the couple moved to Waltham from Kansas City, Mo., in January 2004, when James Keown told his wife he would be attending Harvard Business School. Instead, he actually took one class at Harvard’s continuing education program, which he flunked, according to Coakley.
By May, Julie Keown, 31, a registered nurse, began experiencing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and had developed a rash on her leg. For several months, the symptoms came and went, Coakley said. At one point, a doctor diagnosed her condition as gastritis and prescribed medication.
On August 20, 2004, she was admitted to Newton-Wellesley Hospital, where an MRI showed her kidneys had been damaged. She was released several days later, and when her parents visited on Aug. 26, she was feeling better. On Sept. 3, she told friends she was feeling “pretty well,” but anticipating she might need a kidney transplant, Coakley said.
The next night, she was taken back to the hospital, where she slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness. She was pronounced dead four days later.
A preliminary autopsy the day after she was pronounced dead showed she had ingested a lethal dose of ethylene glycol about eight to 10 hours before she was admitted to the hospital. But it took another year of toxicological testing and investigation before prosecutors had the proof they needed to bring charges against James Keown, Coakley said.
In the meantime, he moved back to his native Missouri, where he covered the Capitol for Jefferson City radio station KLIK and hosted the “Party Line” talk show.
Keown told fellow reporters that his wife had died, but he did not say how.
He was known around the state Capitol as a friendly, outgoing and hardworking reporter. His popularity was growing and his talk show was stretched into a twice-daily event covering two hours each weekday morning and afternoon.
Officials at the radio station referred questions about James Keown to their corporate offices in Columbia, Mo., and messages left there were not immediately returned.
Coakley said that at the time of Julie Keown’s death, the couple had a negative balance in their bank account. Julie Keown had a $250,000 life insurance policy, but James Keown was never able to cash it in because her death had been under investigation.
Julie Keown was apparently unaware of the couple’s financial situation, Coakley said, and in the months before her death had told friends they had been able to save $1,500 a month since moving to Massachusetts.
Coakley said the couple moved to Massachusetts after James Keown convinced his employer, The Learning Exchange, an educational consulting company based in Kansas City, that he could work remotely from Massachusetts while attending Harvard Business School. Julie Keown then made arrangements with her employer, a medical software company, to also work remotely from Massachusetts, Coakley said.
Coakley said authorities believe James Keown mixed antifreeze with Gatorade because the sweet drink would mask the taste of ethylene glycol.
She said someone “urged” Julie Keown to drink Gatorade because it is touted as containing electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which are lost when a person vomits or has diarrhea, both symptoms Julie Keown had while she was being slowly poisoned. Coakley would not comment when asked if James Keown was the person who recommended Julie Keown to drink Gatorade.
Shawna Keown, 21, of Jefferson City, attended her brother’s hearing in Missouri and said he was innocent.
“The truth will come out,” she said. “We hope for the best and I believe in him.”
KMBC reported that the couple met more than 10 years ago when they both attended William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. One professor remembers Julie Keown as a pleasant student who worked hard.
“She wanted to be a nurse,” said Dr. Nelda Godfrey. “For some people, school comes very easily; she worked very hard while she was here.”