John Keegan

PEABODY — A man convicted in one of the most infamous murders in Peabody history has died in prison.

John Keegan, 43, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 27-year-old Kristen Crowley in 1996, was found unresponsive in his cell at MCI Norfolk in the early morning hours of Aug. 28, according to a Department of Corrections spokesman. He was taken to Norwood Hospital and pronounced dead at approximately 5:05 a.m.

The Norfolk County District Attorney’s office and State Police detectives are investigating the death.

Keegan and co-defendant Timothy Dykens dragged Crowley, a newlywed, away from her door at the Ledgewood Condominiums in the early morning hours of June 2, 1996. The pair had stalked Crowley after spotting her at a nearby market. She was forced into the woods where Dykens tried to rape her before bashing her head with a 47-pound rock.

Dykens was sentenced to life in prison without parole; Keegan was serving a sentence of 15 years to life. He applied for parole in 2011, but his request was denied.

When he was found unresponsive in his cell, he was given CPR and other emergency aid, according to a Department of Corrections spokesperson. The Norfolk Fire Department responded and took him to the hospital.

“He was found beside his bunk,” said David Traub, spokesman for the Norfolk County district attorney.

An autopsy showed no evidence of foul play, Traub added, but the medical examiner is withholding any ruling until a toxicology report is completed “in a couple of weeks.”

Keegan claimed that he never touched Crowley and never followed Dykens into the woods. Witness accounts contradicted this, however, and Keegan admitted diverting other people who might have intervened. This came in 2011 when Keegan made an unsuccessful effort to gain parole, only to find himself facing more than two dozen family members and friends of Crowley.

Crowley’s mother, Susan Gove Ramunda, asked how Dykens could have managed to dig up a 47-pound landscaping boulder by himself while holding Crowley down.

The Parole Board suggested Keegan was trying to minimize the role he played in the death. “I could have saved Mrs. Crowley’s life,” the inmate said at one point. “I could have prevented the entire crime had I followed my conscience.”

In prison Keegan got a bachelor’s degree from Boston University, became a minister and prison reform activist, while marrying a woman he met through the website

Last June Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt led officials in dedicating a section of the city bike path, the Independence Greenway, in Kristen Crowley’s name.

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