book reviews, true crime

Repost: Lie After Lie: The True Story of a Master of Deception, Betrayal, and Murder

Here’s a review I wrote for in January 2011. It’s about master manipulator and murderer James Keown. I reposted it on the original OH blog in 2014 and am reposting it again as/is.

From 2014

Watching Dateline on OWN and they are doing a special about James Keown, a man who used antifreeze to kill his wife for insurance money.  Here’s a review I did of a book about this case.  It’s scary that $250K is worth more than a beautiful woman’s life.

About this case…

Original review from 2011

Most people who get married hope and pray the person they’re marrying is “the one”.  If he or she isn’t “the one”, then they hope that the person is at least decent.  Sadly, for some people, the person they thought might be “the one” turns out to be a liar, or worse, a murderer.  Having just finished Lara Bricker’s 2010 true crime story, Lie After Lie: The True Story of a Master of Deception, Betrayal, and Murder, I realize that even someone who really appears to be above board can turn out to be a total weasel.

The story 

In the summer of 2004, 31 year old registered nurse Julie Keown wasn’t feeling very well.  She and her husband, James, had recently moved from Jefferson City, Missouri to Waltham, Massachusetts because James had supposedly been accepted to Harvard Business School.  Julie’s career as a nurse had been going well and she was hoping to become pregnant.  But she was ailing.  Her speech was slurred and she was having trouble walking.  Doctors had told her that her kidneys were failing.  

James and Julie Keown had met in college.  He was a redheaded extrovert who had big dreams of becoming a famous talk radio host.  She was down-to-earth and kind, and aspired to become a nurse and a mother.  They hit it off and got married.  James Keown seemed to be “going places”; indeed, he even worked for ESPN radio in Chicago for a time before he and his wife came back to Missouri.  James Keown drove a very expensive car and dressed to the nines, even though in Missouri, he worked for a non-profit organization that didn’t pay especially well.  Keown never lost his ambition, though.  He ached to have the finer things in life, even though he didn’t seem to have the work ethic to achieve his dreams.

James Keown was the type of guy who tended to impress people.  He was very friendly and a fast talker; somehow, he managed to get most people to see things his way.  Those who weren’t impressed by him soon found themselves the target of his manipulative, passive aggressive tactics of getting rid of people.  Keown’s way of dealing with co-workers was sucking up to his superiors and steamrolling anyone he considered a threat.  And when he got the notion that a master’s degree from a top notch university like Harvard might pave the way to the lifestyle he craved, Keown did some double crossing and scheming to get that powerful master’s degree, even if he didn’t quite have the intellectual wattage to make it happen.

Things seemed to be going well in 2004… at least on the surface.  But Keown’s lies were starting to catch up with him.  He needed some fast money and his sweet wife, Julie, and the $250,000 life insurance policy she had, was the most likely source of it.  So Julie suddenly got sick.  And while his wife was ailing, James Keown had been very solicitous, coaxing her to drink plenty of Gatorade to help her kidneys do their job.  Julie Keown didn’t like Gatorade, but she drank it anyway.  In September of 2004, she passed away from kidney failure.  It was later determined that Julie Keown was the victim of antifreeze poisoning, having ingested lethal amounts of ethylene glycol. 

After his wife died, James Keown packed up and went back to Missouri, where he resumed life as normal and got a job working for KLIK radio.  He didn’t seem too broken up about Julie’s death; in fact, he had even started dating again.   

My thoughts

This is the kind of story that brings chills, especially considering how painful dying from antifreeze poisoning can be.  A few years ago, I read and reviewed a devastating story about a woman named Lynn Turner who murdered two husbands by slipping them antifreeze.  Apparently, antifreeze poisoning can be an easy way to off someone, since it has a sweet taste that blends well with drinks like Gatorade.  Bricker brings up Lynn Turner’s case as she explains how James Keown used the same method to kill his wife, Julie.  Incidentally, Lynn Turner committed suicide in her Georgia prison cell on August 30, 2010. 

Bricker does a fine job explaining how James Keown managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, getting away with his crime for about a year until he was finally arrested while on the air at KLIK in Missouri.  Keown was eventually sent back to Massachusetts to stand trial.  He was convicted of murder and now sits in a prison cell in Massachusetts.  

I found Lara Bricker’s writing very easy to read and interesting.  I could form a mental picture of the people involved in this case, though Bricker did not include any pictures.  She does a good job explaining James Keown’s lies and cover ups and manages to keep the story interesting without stooping to sleaze. 

The whole time I was reading this book, it occurred to me how quick some people are to believe, especially when they don’t take the time to look beyond the surface.  James Keown looked the part of a successful man.  He did his best to act the part, as well.  Most people who encountered him believed him.


I recommend Lie After Lie to anyone who likes a good true crime story.  

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