Jump Street

Once ruled a suicide, Phoenix finance chief Kevin Keogh's leap to his death on a busy thoroughfare is a true medical mystery

She seemed to be saying that the worms — if they ever had been in Keogh's brain — might have been driving him crazy, but hadn't necessarily caused him to jump.

On December 21, 2004, Dr. Hsu officially concluded that the manner of Kevin Keogh's death was suicide.

Her other choices had been homicide, accidental, or undetermined.

Maricopa County's former chief medical examiner Dr.  Philip Keen changed Kevin Keogh's manner of death to "undetermined."
Maricopa County's former chief medical examiner Dr. Philip Keen changed Kevin Keogh's manner of death to "undetermined."
This plaque dedicated to Kevin Keogh hangs in the lobby of the old City Hall in downtown Phoenix.
Tony Blei
This plaque dedicated to Kevin Keogh hangs in the lobby of the old City Hall in downtown Phoenix.

After that report became public, stories now suggested that the stress-laden environment at Phoenix City Hall, not parasites, had pushed Keogh over the edge.

Still, the creepy worms-in-the-brain theory continued to interest national media.

In early 2005, USA Today published a piece titled "Exotic Travel, Deadly Mementos."

The writer said of Kevin Keogh's death, "A leading suspect is a parasite he caught on a trip to Mexico several years earlier."

But Dr. Hsu didn't change her mind that it had been suicide, even after the belatedly analyzed neuropathological tests showed the degeneration in Keogh's brain late last year.

That's where things stood until last summer, when Dr. Keen turned the case on its head by changing the manner of Kevin Keogh's death to "undetermined."

Three women are meeting with New Times at Durant's, the wonderful steak joint on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix.

"Kevin was not a warm and fuzzy guy," Karlene Keogh says. "He didn't stand for any BSer doing a song-and-dance with the city, and he was very serious about getting the best deal possible for taxpayers. And until the very end, when he got sick again, he truly loved his job."

Both of Mrs. Keogh's pals at the restaurant are high-ranking City of Phoenix officials who worked with and deeply admired her late husband.

"Kevin was definitely cutthroat at getting the best deal for the city, and he wasn't out for the glory," says Susan Perkins, an assistant city manager. "He was the most moral person I've ever met. Kevin was a man of many, many contrasts, many facets."

That description raises a smile from Mrs. Keogh, a gregarious woman with a quick laugh and sharp wit. The Phoenix native has one child from a previous marriage, a daughter who is a medical doctor in Pennsylvania. Her grandson was born a few months before her husband died.

As a couple, the Keoghs were community-minded, and not just in a lip-service way. In 2003, they started the Keogh Foundation to assist Arizonans, especially low-income women with children, with health insurance.

(The Keogh Foundation continues to thrive, and according to its Web site, helped more than 4,000 people in 2005 alone, financially and otherwise.)

"Kevin was very businesslike, but there was a lot to him that most people never saw," says Barbara Lang, one of Keogh's best friends at work for more than 20 years. "He was a very good guy who honestly thought of other people first."

Kevin Keogh was the oldest of four boys born into a middle-class Irish-Catholic family in Yonkers, New York, near Manhattan, and he always retained a touch of his East Coast accent.

Keogh worked in a bowling alley as a teen, and later took a job in Manhattan parking cars. Early on, he started a love affair with jazz music that endured.

Keogh earned his undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Political Science from Iona College, in nearby New Rochelle, and then a master's degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University.

After graduate school, Keogh found work in 1976 as a management intern with the City of Phoenix. His diligence to detail and brilliance with numbers revealed themselves as he worked his way up the City Hall ladder.

Not outgoing by nature, he won over supervisors and colleagues by dint of dogged work habits and a good attitude.

Starting in 1979, Keogh worked closely with Barbara Lang (then Alvarez), managing the city's growing bond program and handling other fiduciary duties. Lang reported directly to Keogh for two decades, and the bond between them was always strong.

"He was great to work with and for, and he never let me down," she says. "I think that's saying a lot."

After hours, Keogh often enjoyed a glass of red wine, listened to his jazz, and studied contemporary and Mexican art. Until he started dating Karlene Arnold in the late 1990s, Keogh seemed destined to remain a bachelor.

"We were very good friends for 15 years before we ever dated," Karlene Keogh recalls. "He'd never been married before. I had been. I asked myself, 'Do I really want to fall in love with my friend?' Well, I did. He loved me for who I am. Kevin was the love of my life, and vice versa."

The couple got married in 2000 at Mrs. Keogh's home in Arcadia, and enjoyed their honeymoon in beautiful and remote Monument Valley, on the Arizona-Utah border.

Back in Phoenix, Kevin Keogh took up cactus gardening, and over time tended to more than 200 desert plants at his new residence.

Keogh seemed to be on top of the world, personally and professionally, when he and Karlene vacationed in rural Mexico in late August 2001.

Kevin and Karlene Keogh traveled together whenever their cramped schedules would allow it.

They didn't mind going off the beaten path, and the trip to San Cristobal, in the rugged Mexican state of Chiapas, was one of those times.

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