Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fugitive's partner offers no regrets

Helped woman start new life in Minnedosa

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Jean Terese Keating, who fled to Minnedosa after being charged in connection with a woman's death, is pictured in 1997 handout photos provided by Oregon State Police.

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Jean Terese Keating, who fled to Minnedosa after being charged in connection with a woman's death, is pictured in 1997 handout photos provided by Oregon State Police.

Even though she had evaded capture for 15 years, setting up a new life -- and new identity -- in rural Manitoba, American fugitive Jean Terese Keating at times wondered when authorities might show up on the farm she shared with her Canadian common-law husband, Leonard McPherson.

"Are they comin' or what?" Keating, accused of causing a fatal crash in Oregon in 1997, would say.

Last week, authorities announced 54-year-old Keating's run from the law had ended after RCMP received a tip a woman had been overheard at a local bar boasting about her flight from justice in the U.S. Keating is back behind bars in Oregon awaiting trial.

Speaking publicly for the first time, McPherson, 65, who admits he could face criminal charges for aiding Keating, told Postmedia News he has no regrets about cohabiting with a woman on the lam, insisting Oregon prosecutors were "bullies" and police had their facts wrong. And, besides, he was head over heels in love.

"I don't regret what I did. I hope Jean doesn't either," he said by phone.

McPherson said he and Keating first locked eyes at a bar in Clackamas County, Ore., in February 1997. McPherson, an electrician in heavy industry, was in the midst of a three-year work stint in the state.

"She picked me up in a bar one night," said McPherson, who summed up Keating's personality as "domineering."

'She was a damn good mother and a damn good wife'

Two months later, on a Sunday afternoon, a terrible collision occurred on a stretch of Interstate 5. A vehicle driven by 65-year-old Jewel Oline Anderson was sideswiped by another car, police said, causing Anderson to lose control and collide with an oncoming car. Anderson, a great-grandmother on her way to church, died at the scene.

Crash investigators alleged Keating was the driver who caused the crash, and a grand jury indicted her on first-degree manslaughter, drunk-driving and reckless-driving charges.

But in March 1998, with a trial pending, Keating's lawyer reported he had lost contact with her. The court issued a warrant for her arrest.

According to McPherson, his work stint had come to an end the month before and Keating decided to cross the border -- her two children, then ages one and three, in tow -- to be with him in Manitoba.

McPherson declined to say how she crossed the border or whether he had any role in the planning, but defended her decision to flee the U.S.

"She was a damn good mother and a damn good wife. When prosecutors are bullying you, what do you do? You run," he said.

Plus, he said, Keating couldn't take the chance of going to prison for 10 years. "A mother with two kids needs a chance to raise them," he said.

Lisa White, a Canada Border Services Agency spokeswoman, said Tuesday it's not known how Keating crossed the border.

The couple and the two children settled in a rented farm just outside of Minnedosa, where McPherson was born and raised. The town of 2,500, about two hours west of Winnipeg, boasts that it is the province's "most beautiful."

While McPherson continued to work, Keating tended the farm and raised the children.

Several residents of Minnedosa and the nearby village of Clanwilliam were skittish about talking about Keating this week, but this much they shared: Keating was known by townsfolk as Jean McPherson. She was a "friendly" and "happy-go-lucky" gal, who could be seen puttering around town, dropping in at this store or that. On occasion, she'd visit the bar at the Minnedosa Inn, where she'd grab a sandwich and have a chat with other patrons.

She did have run-ins with the law in Canada, however, including a conviction for impaired driving.

Hardware store owner Kathy Lane told the Statesman Journal newspaper in Oregon that Keating would come into the store smelling of booze.

McPherson insists that for 15 years, he and Keating didn't tell a soul about Keating's legal troubles in Oregon. McPherson didn't even tell his brother, who lived 50 kilometres away. Keating didn't dare write letters to her two sisters in the U.S., for fear of getting caught. The children knew they were from Oregon, but not much more.

But authorities said it was loose lips that led to Keating's capture.

RCMP received a tip that a woman at a bar had talked about getting away with a fatal crash in the U.S. years ago. The tip was passed along to an investigator with the RCMP's Red River Integrated Border Enforcement Team. Authorities confirmed the woman was not a Canadian citizen. Her fingerprints were compared with those of Jean Keating and confirmed to be a match.

In April, CBSA inland enforcement officers arrested Keating. She was kept in detention until June, when she was deported back to the U.S.

Asked if he ever thought about turning Keating over to the authorities, McPherson didn't hesitate with his reply.

"Guess you've never been in love."

 

-- National Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2013 A5

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