We Keep the Dead Close

A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence


By Becky Cooper

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Named One of The Best Books of 2020 by NPR's Fresh Air * Publishers Weekly * Marie Claire * Redbook * Vogue * Kirkus Reviews * Book Riot * Bustle

A Recommended Book by The New York Times * The Washington Post * Booklist * The Boston Globe * Amazon * Goodreads * Buzzfeed * Town & Country * Refinery29 * BookRiot * CrimeReads * Glamour * Popsugar * PureWow * Shondaland

Dive into a "tour de force of investigative reporting" (Ron Chernow): a "searching, atmospheric and ultimately entrancing" (Patrick Radden Keefe) true crime narrative of an unsolved 1969 murder at Harvard and an "exhilarating and seductive" (Ariel Levy) narrative of obsession and love for a girl who dreamt of rising among men.

You have to remember, he reminded me, that Harvard is older than the U.S. government. You have to remember because Harvard doesn't let you forget.

1969: the height of counterculture and the year universities would seek to curb the unruly spectacle of student protest; the winter that Harvard University would begin the tumultuous process of merging with Radcliffe, its all-female sister school; and the year that Jane Britton, an ambitious twenty-three-year-old graduate student in Harvard's Anthropology Department and daughter of Radcliffe Vice President J. Boyd Britton, would be found bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment.
Forty years later, Becky Cooper a curious undergrad, will hear the first whispers of the story. In the first telling the body was nameless. The story was this: a Harvard student had had an affair with her professor, and the professor had murdered her in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology because she'd threatened to talk about the affair. Though the rumor proves false, the story that unfolds, one that Cooper will follow for ten years, is even more complex: a tale of gender inequality in academia, a 'cowboy culture' among empowered male elites, the silencing effect of institutions, and our compulsion to rewrite the stories of female victims.
We Keep the Dead Close is a memoir of mirrors, misogyny, and murder. It is at once a rumination on the violence and oppression that rules our revered institutions, a ghost story reflecting one young woman's past onto another's present, and a love story for a girl who was lost to history.


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For we live in several worlds, each truer than the one it encloses, and itself false in relation to the one which encompasses it. […] Truth lies in a progressive dilating of the meaning […] up to the point at which it explodes.

—Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques


The primary characteristic of the deepest reaches of the past, especially for the sort of observer whose paramount concerns are those of the present, is the accommodating silence found there. The quieter an epoch on its own terms, the more loudly it can be made to speak, in the way of a ventriloquist's dummy, for ours.

—Gideon Lewis-Kraus, "Is Ancient DNA Research Revealing New Truths—
or Falling into Old Traps,"
New York Times Magazine

Part One

The Story

Morning of Generals

IT WAS THE WARMEST IT had been in more than a week, but Bostonians turning on their morning radio broadcast woke up to gale warnings along the coast. In Cambridge, across the Charles River, the day was equally grim. A wintry mix of fog and rain and snow hung over the city, and the streets of Harvard Square were quiet.

A delivery person piled stacks of that day's Harvard Crimson inside the undergraduate houses. The front page was a black-and-white picture of a girl curled up in fetal position on the floor of one of the campus libraries. Her head was propped on a book. Her feet were bare. She had on jeans and a sweater and looked more like a body than a person. The caption read, "There was the girl who fell asleep on her book and dreamed, and there was the boy who dreamed of the girl asleep on her book, and…Don't let the times get you down."

January 7, 1969, was the second day of reading period. For most students, with eleven anxious, prolonged days to study before finals, those first mornings were for sleeping. But for a subset of the anthropology doctoral students, that morning was the most nerve-racking one all year.

By 9 a.m., they were packed into a lecture hall at the top of the Peabody Museum. The five-story red-brick building with its grand European-style black doors served as home base for the university's Anthropology department. Founded in 1866, the museum's history as an institution, its docents proudly remind visitors, is the history of American anthropology.

The students were there to take the first of three parts of their general exams. They had been studying for months, and the stakes were high. If they failed, they risked getting moved off the PhD track into a "terminal" master's, a gloved way of saying "kicked out."

The museum sometimes smelled like the mummies casually stored on its fourth floor: spicy and musty, though not altogether revolting. But that winter morning, all the smells had stilled. Now it was just elbows propped on desks, hands moving across blue books, pens filling in short-answer essays. Between the nerves and the number of students, only a few people noticed that one student had failed to show up: Jane Britton.

2018: Apthorp House

MY ROOM IS ON THE third floor of a mansion called Apthorp House, a part of Harvard's Adams House dorms. Apthorp, shaped like a wedding cake, is jonquil, that distinctly New England shade of daffodils and buttercream. My bedroom is a cross between a bunker and a tree house, and the ceilings are so low I regularly hit my overhead lamp when I throw my hands up excitedly. From the front door, I can see the room I lived in my sophomore year, as well as the fire escape I used to climb when I locked myself out of that room. It's the same rickety ladder a crush surprised me by scaling that fall. The same landing I sat out on and listened to sad Bob Dylan and wished I smoked when things ended a month later. Some days I catch myself forgetting that ten years have gone by.

Apthorp, everyone agrees, is haunted, and we're pretty sure the ghost is General Burgoyne, a British officer who was held captive in the house during the Revolutionary War. We have, inexplicably, a life-size cutout of him in the basement. I can't decide whether it's a joke or an educational tool—And here you have the boots that make those clomping sounds—but there's a touch of cruelty in his continued entrapment.

I share Apthorp with the faculty deans of Adams House who are in charge of house life—dances, the housing lottery, the annual Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas read—as well as three recent Harvard graduates. The four of us are called Elves, which means we get room and board in exchange for baking cookies for the undergraduates' monthly teas. It makes about as much sense to me as it does to you, but it's one of those quirks you get used to at Harvard. Like Norm the French translator with a cotton-candy puff of hair who graduated from Harvard in 1951 and never really left Adams House; or Father George, a fixture in the dining hall for reasons I don't quite understand, who seems to have as many degrees in the hard sciences as he has jokes. Of course, you quickly learn you have to say.

Elves are usually students straight out of graduation. So when Lulu, one of the other Elves, heard I was turning thirty this year, she looked at me like a messenger from the other side. "Is it true," she started in her super-earnest tone, "that when you turn thirty, all your friends leave you because they get married, and your body falls apart?" I hugged my knees, bandaged from a fall that afternoon, to my chest. "Mhmm," I nodded to Lulu.

Boston, especially Harvard Square, is a transient place, remade every fall when a new wave of people washes through. The heavy brick of the buildings only emphasizes the impermanence of everything here but the institution itself. When I told friends in Brooklyn that I was moving back to Boston, one quipped, "Does anyone do that voluntarily?"

I hadn't. When the undergraduates ask, I tell them that I'm here writing a book about archaeology in the 1960s. "Anything in particular," they ask, eager to make some kind of connection. "Not really," I say. "Oh, cool," they say, meaning, You left your job for this?

I don't tell them what I'm working on because I'm unwilling to turn it into small talk. It's too weird, too obsessive, too personal. I don't tell them about the bulletin boards in my tree-house room with theories and photos, a map of Iran, a blueprint of an apartment building, all stuck to my cork boards with dissection needles. I don't mention my shelf topped with talismans—a sherd of milky Ramah chert; Kodachrome slides of a farm out in Bolton; a profile gauge for drawing pottery. I try to laugh off the ribbed metal baton on my key chain when it clunks on the dining-hall table. I definitely don't mention that a Harvard police officer gave it to me and taught me how to wrap my fingers around it and lift it over my shoulder, ready to jam down in the soft triangle of flesh between someone's clavicle and shoulder blade, like an ice pick.

I'm here because, for the past ten years, I have been haunted by a murder that took place a few steps away. It was told to me my junior year of college like a ghost story: A young woman, a Harvard graduate student of archaeology, was bludgeoned to death in her off-campus apartment in January 1969. Her body was covered with fur blankets and the killer threw red ochre on her body, a perfect re-creation of a burial ritual. No one heard any screams; nothing was stolen. Decades passed, and her case remained unsolved.

Unsolved, that is, until yesterday.

The Fable

WHEN I FIRST HEARD THE story, the body was nameless. It was 2009, the spring semester of my junior year, and one of those first warm days in Cambridge that almost erased how long the winter had been. I had just turned twenty-one. My fears that Harvard would be an ugly, mean place had been buried under the awe of getting to know my fellow undergraduates. For every new classmate I met, I tried to come up with a backstory that was more interesting than the truth. I invariably lost. Isaac turned out to be a unicycle-riding astrophysicist; Sandy was a violinist for Cirque du Soleil; my roommate Svetlana was leading a tuberculosis study in Siberia. For the most part, we were all just a bunch of driven weirdos, convinced we could work hard enough to change some corner of the world.

It still occasionally felt surreal that this institution had welcomed me in. I had grown up in a tiny apartment in Jamaica, Queens, in a family where ordering a drink with dinner was considered an unnecessary indulgence. My parents loved me fiercely, but it had been a lonely journey finding my way into a world that was bigger than they could imagine.

At Harvard, I could talk about philosophical pragmatism over breakfast and spend hours picking apart David Foster Wallace with my tutorial leader. I learned, while trying not to let on that I was learning, that I was supposed to choose courses based on professors as much as on the course content; that professors who were leaders in their field were called superstars; that I should say my first and last name when introducing myself at the Hasty Pudding social club. I had almost gotten used to my teachers breezily referencing, by first name, the people we were reading about in the textbooks. I was on full financial aid, but no one cared about my past. Instead, I ate baked Brie and drank sherry and was courted by a boy whose family practically owned a palace in London. Everything felt abundant, and everything felt within reach. It was exhilarating and seductive. By the time I heard the story about the murdered student, I felt, for the moment, that I had left Queens far behind.

That afternoon, my friend Lily was propped on her picnic blanket, her long blond hair almost blowing into the sweet potato sandwiches we had taken to go. We were in John F. Kennedy Park, a stretch of grass near the Charles River, across the street from one of the dorms. The University Road building that would come to shape my next decade lurked, unnoticed, just a block away. Lily and I had been friends since the beginning of sophomore year, but she had the tendency to fall in love dramatically, and in those phases, I would lose her to whoever was on the other end of her breathless love letters. This was the first time I had gotten her alone since she and Morgan had started dating that winter.

Morgan Potts had already graduated, but he had quit his job and moved back to Cambridge for Lily. We had mutual friends, so I knew two things about him: that he was a great storyteller and that he was in the Porcellian Club. The PC, as everyone called it, was considered the most elite of the all-male final clubs—our version of a fraternity. I had a complicated relationship with these clubs. On the one hand, the power dynamic made me uncomfortable. They controlled the parties and the alcohol and the invitations; it was common to see hired bouncers name-check lines of girls standing outside the front doors on Friday nights. But I had to admit there was a security in knowing my name was on the list. And I had been pleasantly surprised to find that the PC guys were more eccentric than snotty. Back then, I was blind to the idea that an institution could still be destructive even if its members were good people.

Halfway into our lunch, Morgan entered the park. Lily shrugged apologetically. We scooted on our blankets, and he sat down. I understood what Lily saw in him: He had green eyes and an Australian accent and a brain that could simultaneously retain the most specific of historical facts and spit them out with a romantic spin. If he was going to interrupt our lunch, he could at least share a classic Morgan tale in exchange. I tried to bait him with a ghost story, some half-remembered lore involving an old fire truck that stood guard in Harvard Yard near the turn of the century.

"You want to hear a really crazy Harvard story?" he asked and launched into his version of a macabre legend like a well-worn fairy tale.

In the late 1960s, a beautiful young graduate student in archaeology was found murdered, bludgeoned to death. The rumor was she'd been having an affair with her professor. It started on the dig they were on together in Iran, and when they got back, she wouldn't give it up. The professor couldn't have the university find out about their affair, and he went to her apartment one night. They talked, and he struck her with an archaeological stone tool he had taken from the Peabody Museum. Neighbors heard nothing.

He picked up her body and hid her under his coat. He walked ten blocks back to his office in the Peabody Museum, and lay her on his desk. He stripped her naked and lay three necklaces that they had found together in Iran on her. He transformed her into the princess of their dig site, the one that they had uncovered months before. He sprinkled red ochre powder over her.

Police found her the next day and questioned the professor. The school forced the Crimson to change its article about the murder. They couldn't have it point to one of their own. A version ran that morning, and by that afternoon, there was no record of it. Suddenly, everything was hushed up. The press stopped writing, the family never investigated, and the police never arrested anyone.

Morgan stopped. You'd think I would have memorized his face, or Lily's, or created some trace that I could follow to how I felt at the time. But all I remember is that I heard the story, and it was sunny, and she was nameless.

"But the detail that really gets me," Morgan added, "is that when police found her body, they found cigarette butts burned into her stomach. In some sort of ritualistic pattern that also had meaning at the site. Think about it," he emphasized, "he'd have to have stayed and smoked all those cigarettes in order to do what he did. A hundred cigarettes, they said. How do you do that? How do you sit calmly and do that?"

James and Iva

FROM THE MOMENT I HEARD the story about the murder, so much about it barbed me. It wasn't because I believed it—it seemed outlandish and obviously embroidered—but because I could believe it. The very things that made me love Harvard—its seductiveness, its limitlessness—also made it a very convincing villain. Harvard felt omnipotent.

That omnipotence, on most days, was an amazing thing: It manifested as a sense that anything was possible. As an undergrad, I felt like I got three wishes. I had to do my own work, and find my own hidden opportunities, but there was a sense that if I dreamed it, nothing was too big an ask. There was always an expert coming through town, or a professor who was friends with your heroes, or some dream research opportunity that a friend happened to mention.

The power also manifested as benign glimpses of Harvard's ability to skirt the rules. Sure, there were drinking laws in Massachusetts, but on Thursday night "Stein Clubs" at the houses, you didn't necessarily need to be twenty-one. Harvard had its own police force with its own amnesty policy. If you were from a country for which the US had strict visa requirements, Harvard could write you a letter.

So imagining that power having a dark side—one that could silence an unflattering story, control the press, guide the police—wasn't too hard. My freshman seminar professor had warned our class that Harvard was an institution on a scale we could not imagine: "Harvard will change you by the end of your four years, but don't expect to change it." It wouldn't be surprising if an institution that prided itself on being older than the US government might have behaved as though it were accountable only to itself.

But the story lived, filed in my head, as a fable.

Until it came up again.

It was the summer of 2010, more than a year after that picnic conversation, and I was early for a guidance chat with my adviser, James Ronan.i James was a doctoral candidate in archaeology, and he had been my resident tutor. He often left his door open, and our chats—about his archaeological digs, or psychogeographic maps, or microbreweries—always made me feel better when Harvard got to be too much.

The meeting was in the Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering, a shiny building in the part of campus I never went to—a little glass-and-steel enclave between the brick of the Yard and the brick of the Peabody and the Geological Museums. It was largely for engineers and biochemists, but it had a nice café in the lobby, which was pin-drop quiet. People didn't leave their labs very much.

James saw me loitering awkwardly near the front of the café trying to kill time and waved me over. He was in the middle of a meeting with someone I had seen around campus. I didn't know her name, but I knew her big, wavy hair and contagious laugh from the dining hall.

"Becky, Iva;ii Iva, Becky," James said.

There were only two seats at their table, so I stood in front of them as they wrapped up their discussion, unsure whether they really wanted me to listen in. Near the end of their chat, I heard enough to piece together that they had moved on to lighthearted speculation about Indiana Jones. Legend at the school was that the character was based on Samuel Lothrop, a former Peabody Museum curator who had doubled as a spy for the US government. "It wasn't rare for archaeologists to be spies," they said, turning to include me. For decades, they explained, archaeology provided one of the most convenient covers for espionage, especially during the First and Second World Wars.

Intrigue, secrets, double identities. I couldn't help myself. For the first time since Morgan told me the story of the murdered archaeology student, I began to retell it. By the time I got to the implausible dragging of the body back to the museum—How could no one see the body?—I already regretted starting the tale. But I finished anyway. "And nothing happened to the professor."

They stared at me.

"I think," I backtracked. "I mean. It's just a story I heard."

Finally James said something: "It was in her apartment, not the Peabody."

"And he's still here," Iva said.




The Body

THE GENERAL EXAMS FINISHED JUST after noon. As the students packed their bags, a few speculated on where Jane Britton might be. Jane was known for her morbid humor and for her disappearing spells––the kind of girl to blurt out in the middle of a perfectly happy get-together, "Christ, the only reason I get up in the morning is because I hope a truck will run over me." She seemed to enjoy getting a rise out of people. Like the other time when, after an unexplained absence, she appeared in the Peabody smoking room and announced to those present: "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." People knew she was fundamentally a good student, one of the few who had gone directly from Radcliffe, Harvard's sister school, into Harvard's PhD program. Missing Generals would have been out of the question.

Jane's boyfriend, Jim Humphries, had called her twice that morning before he left for the Peabody Museum. He was taking the exam that day, too. Jim, twenty-seven, was a few years older than Jane. Canadian and six foot seven, with sandy-blond hair, parted to the side, and horn-rimmed glasses, Jim looked more like an engineer or architect than the archaeologist he was training to be. He was a quiet person, reserved to the point of brooding, whose face wasn't expressive even at the best of times. He was known around the Peabody as The Gentleman, for doing old-fashioned, courtly things like helping girls with their coats and writing thank-you notes for dinner parties.

Jane and Jim had met in the spring of 1968, during a seminar to prepare for a summer expedition in Iran. The site was called Tepe Yahya, and the dig was led by a young Harvard professor named Clifford Charles Lamberg-Karlovsky. Graduate students called him Karl or CCLK, or, more covertly, Count Dracula, due to his rumored Eastern European aristocratic background and air of mystery. The young professor was a rising star in the department and an emerging leader in Near Eastern archaeology. The success of the '68 season only enhanced this reputation. Not long after the expedition crew returned to the States, the Boston Globe hailed Lamberg-Karlovsky as the discoverer of what appeared to be Alexander the Great's lost city of Carmania.

It was on this dig in southeastern Iran that Jane and Jim's relationship blossomed. "They had a chance to feel for each other's loneliness," a fellow digger would later tell reporters. Recently, Jane had talked to her friends about the possibility of marriage. She liked to joke that it would be held at the Church of the Unwarranted Assumption.

Jane hadn't answered either call, which Jim thought was odd, but he assumed she couldn't sleep and had gone over to her neighbors' place for breakfast. He had seen her the night before and, other than being nervous about the test, she had seemed fine. But when she wasn't in the exam, either, he knew something had gone wrong—she was sick or had slept in. He didn't let himself consider worse.

After turning in their tests, a group of graduate students headed for lunch, and they invited him along. Jim politely declined and went outside and across the road to call Jane one more time. He didn't want to use the telephone in the museum because he knew everyone would be listening. Again, Jane didn't answer.

Jim started the fifteen-minute walk from the museum to Jane's apartment, a four-story walk-up, a short block past the Square, on a side street that connected Mount Auburn Street to the Charles River (where John F. Kennedy Park would eventually sit). Her address—6 University Road—was one of five entrances to a red-brick-and-limestone building known as The Craigie. It took up a full square block and was commissioned by Harvard in the late 1890s to provide a less expensive housing option for students.

The suites were small, but the building was full of lovely touches—natural wood trim, a large courtyard, and corner bay windows. Over the years, however, particularly as Harvard's housing system developed and provided undergraduates with on-campus accommodations, the building had fallen into disrepair.

The surrounding area had also deteriorated. It became a kind of no-man's-land of Harvard Square, home to parking lots, a trolley yard, and an alley that led to the river. Before developers turned those lots into the upscale Charles Hotel in the '80s, the only reason to walk to that part of town was the Mount Auburn post office across the street and Cronin's, a watering hole with a small TV screen and cheap beers.

But the rents were low—Jane's was $75 a month—and the building was centrally located, so it was still real estate coveted by graduate students, particularly in the Anthropology department, where units were passed down from one generation to the next. Jane had secured her apartment thanks to her now next-door neighbors, Don and Jill Mitchell, who were students specializing in Pacific Island anthropology.

Besides, Jane wasn't bothered by the building's shabbiness. While the Mitchells always used their dead bolt, Jane almost never locked her door. She seemed to live with a sense of invulnerability.

Jim reached University Road around 12:30 p.m. He pushed in the front door and walked up the stairs, flooded by the gray winter sun from the skylight. The stairwell dead-ended at the fourth-floor landing. The hallway walls were apple green and peeling. Jim walked past the Mitchells' place. Jane's, the smallest of the three apartments on this floor, was at the end of an alcove. It was unmistakable. Blue, green, and yellow polka dots decorated the left side of her hallway, and on her front door, which she had painted gold, was a piece of typewriter paper with a quote she had found amusing. Police would later remove the paper as evidence:

"Maybe," said Mrs. Kylie, "(she's) an archaeologist because (she) didn't have a sandbox when (she) was little." September, 1968.


  • "As an undergraduate at Harvard, Cooper became obsessed with the unsolved murder of Jane Britton, an anthropology student there, in 1969. As Cooper was digging, new D.N.A. analysis eventually identified a suspect, but the real thrills of the story are the twists and turns that kept the killing a mystery for decades."—New York Times
  • We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper is a brilliantly idiosyncratic variant of generic true crime. . . While much that Cooper uncovers in her private pursuit of the case is fascinating in itself, not least her interviews with Lamberg-Karlovsky and other 'persons of interest' for whom the case of Jane Britton was never allowed to go cold, it is the revelation of the murderer that is most unexpected."—Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books
  • "Cooper's resolve to excavate the truth about Britton's murder will keep a reader engaged enough to want to follow this case to its unexpected conclusion.”—NPR
  • “[E]xhaustive and extraordinary. . .The most noteworthy element of Cooper’s book might be its reportorial ambition. . .It is a testament to her skills as a writer that she is able to connect the threads of the cold case to larger cultural issues.”—The Washington Post
  • “When Ms. Cooper describes her war room, covered with 'theories and photos, a map of Iran, a blueprint of an apartment building, all stuck to my cork boards with dissection needles,' she sounds like Carrie Mathison of Homeland, flirting with the porous boundary between commitment and mania ... [Jane] is as tantalizing and as fleeting as her smile.”—The Wall Street Journal
  • “Becky Cooper’s gripping literary nonfiction debut. . .admirably avoids this mistake and never lets us forget the lived experience of Jane Britton ... a compelling portrait of a woman’s life cut short—as well as a fascinating exposé of a prestigious enclave within the country’s most elite institution. . .an engrossing, monumental work.”—USA Today
  • "Searching, atmospheric and ultimately entrancing, We Keep the Dead Close is a vivid account of a notorious murder at Harvard that had remained unsolved for fifty years, and a meditation on the stories that we tell ourselves about violence. Cooper is a methodical, obsessive and very companionable sleuth, who ushers us through the many twists and turns in her own investigation until she arrives at a solution. In a deft touch, she interrogates not just the evidence, witnesses and suspects, but her own biases and assumptions, as well."—Patrick Radden Keefe, New York Times bestselling author of Say Nothing
  • "I defy any reader to resist the hypnotic power of this Harvard whodunit. In a tour de force of investigative reporting, Becky Cooper guides us through a maze of academic politics and personal intrigue, her sleuthing laced with uncommon sensitivity and insight. Even as it engages us emotionally, this stirring narrative, with its heart-stopping finale, forces us to ponder the very nature of historical truth. A stunning achievement."—Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
  • "Meticulously reported and sensitively written, WE KEEP THE DEAD CLOSE is top-of-the-line true crime, fortified with shrewd intellectual rigor and acute moral clarity. This case became Becky Cooper's obsession, and before long, you'll be obsessed, too."—Robert Kolker, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Hidden Valley Road
  • “[A] powerful, searching book. . .more ambitious than the run-of-the-mill true crime narrative seen so frequently these days. For one thing, Cooper is a stylish and fearless writer, relentlessly self-interrogating. She’s smart enough to examine her own motives in searching for the truth about Jane’s life.”—The Boston Globe
  • "A brilliantly constructed, wholly captivating investigation of an unsolved 1969 murder. We Keep The Dead Close has it all: Cats, capes, Ivy League politics, archeological excavation, an ax in the turtle tank. Best of all it has at its center a subtle, stubborn sleuth who reminds us not to confuse our facts with our stories. Stories are dangerous, Becky Cooper warns us, as well she should: This one is going to cost you at least one night's sleep."—Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Witches
  • "[T]his book succeeds as both a true-crime story and a powerful portrait of a young woman's remarkable quest for justice . . . An intricately crafted and suspenseful book sure to please any fan of true crime-and plenty of readers beyond."—Kirkus Review, starred review
  • "Mesmerizing debut...In addition to presenting a tense narrative, [Becky Cooper] delves into the phenomenon and morality of true crime fandom. This twist-filled whodunit is a nonfiction page-turner."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • "[A]n honest portrait of both the victim and those who loved her, as well as the cryptic, archaic world of academia.”—Vogue
  • "Cooper's suspenseful, intensely intimate work casts a critical lens on institutional misogyny. Sure to appeal to true crime readers, especially fans of Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark."—Library Journal
  • "This is an astonishing book: circuitous yet taut with suspense, layered yet gripping. Cooper is one hell of a detective, chasing a long-buried murder mystery not only to the victim and her killer, but to the very core of how we understand one another. Most remarkable is how contemporary and vital every bit of questioning Cooper does here feels. Jane Britton died decades ago, but in Cooper's hands, Britton's tragic murder teaches us about ourselves and the dangers of the institutions we uphold."—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, award-winning author of The Fact of a Body
  • "For decades, the acknowledged Big Three among True Crime books have been In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer. Now it's the Big Four, because Becky Cooper's We Keep the Dead Close deserves inclusion in this exalted company. It's really that special."—Jeff Guinn, bestselling author of Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson and The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple
  • "In her work of excavation, Cooper seeks ideas of power and truth, and the outer limits of our human desire to be present, somehow, in the past."—Booklist
  • “An exhaustive, cinematically constructed journalistic investigation.”—Harvard Magazine
  • "This book is as exhilarating and seductive as Harvard itself once seemed to Becky Cooper. Her examination-of a fifty-year-old unsolved murder, of her own obsession with it, and of the way our ideas about gender shape both academia and storytelling-is haunting, fascinating, and surprising. Cooper will keep you riveted."—Ariel Levy, New York Times bestselling author of The Rules Do Not Apply
  • "Becky Cooper rediscovered a baffling cold case, examined the evidence in exquisite detail, and forced new information into the light-ultimately yielding a book that is a stunning blend of academics, archaeology, eccentricity, memoir, and murder. I read this book in astonishment, grateful for fly-on-the-wall access to Cooper's narrative quest to document what happened to Jane Britton. This vivid, graceful story is as much about obsession and a search for belonging as it is about the romance of exploration, the unglamorous logistics of scientific fieldwork, the secretiveness of clans, the cruelty of chance, and the doggedness inherent to the best narrative journalism. Cooper's determination to chase every angle, track every fact, thrills and inspires me. She pursued this story with the kind of reportorial care and relentlessness that should drive all such work. Cooper reminds us that this isn't television: homicide cases involve real victims, real suffering. In pushing for clarity, she challenges powerful players-and returns, to a brilliant young woman, her voice."—Paige Williams, author of The Dinosaur Artist
  • "We Keep the Dead Close is part true crime, part memoir, part re-creation of the vast, compelling, disappointing investigative process... While the book is wide-ranging, there are no purposeless tangents. Instead, we are given a portrait of the kind of world Jane lived and died in, granting us both an understanding of Jane and the myths that her murder created."—Shelf Awareness
  • "At once a mystery, a memoir, and a look at women's experiences in hallowed halls and seems poised to become required reading in Cambridge and far beyond."—Town & Country
  • "We Keep the Dead Close is the most amazing true crime book I have read where the identity of the person responsible was not revealed until the end. It's the true crime story everyone will be talking about next year."—BookRiot
  • "[A] fascinating, haunting book, which Cooper has been working toward writing for the last 10 years, sifting through old documents, debunking baseless rumors, and compiling a picture of an academic world that is ruled by an archaic and highly gendered code of conduct, one that prioritizes ambitious men, and punishes similar women."—Refinery29
  • "A mournful and philosophical dive into a university culture that set the stage for a heinous crime, and a lyrical entry in the new subgenre of victim-focused true crime."—CrimeReads

On Sale
Sep 14, 2021
Page Count
528 pages

Becky Cooper

About the Author

Becky Cooper is a former New Yorker editorial staff member and Senior Fellow at Brandeis’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Reporting. Her undergraduate thesis, a literary biography of David Foster Wallace, won Harvard’s Hoopes Prize, the highest undergraduate award for research and writing. Research for this book was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists. She is also the author of Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers (Abrams, 2013).

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