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Retired NYPD Chief of Detectives John Keenan, who led the team that found and arrested ‘Son of Sam’ serial killer, dies

2019-09-20

Retired NYPD Chief of Detectives John Keenan, who led the team of investigators that tracked down and arrested “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz, has died, officials said.

Keenan, a resident of Long Island, was just three months shy of his 100th birthday when he died Thursday.

The World War II veteran served with the NYPD for 30 years before leaving the department in 1978, a few months after Berkowitz had been arrested. He then served as Vice President of Operations for the New York Racing Association.

The NYPD mourns the passing of retired Chief of @NYPDDetectives John Keenan, who took the confession of “.44-cal killer” David Berkowitz: “I went up to him, & he said, ‘I know you. You’re detective – Chief Keenan.’ And I said, ‘Yeah? Who are YOU?’ He said, ‘I’m the Son of Sam.’” pic.twitter.com/4UMSE7xjPB

Both NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill and current NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea mourned Keenan’s passing on Twitter.

O’Neill said Chief Keenan “took the confession of ‘.44-caliber killer David Berkowitz” after Berkowitz’s arrest in August 1977. The serial killer was ultimately convicted of killing six people and wounding seven.

“I went up to him, (and) he said, ‘I know you. You’re a detective – Chief Keenan,” Keenan said about meeting Berkowitz, a conversation he often recalled, according to O’Neill’s tweet.

“‘Yeah? Who are YOU?” Keenan asked the murder suspect.

“I’m the Son of Sam,” Berkowitz replied.

Besides overseeing Berkowitz’s apprehension, Keenan was the first chief of detectives to assign women police officers to the department’s perennially male homicide squads.

At the time he said adding women to the homicide teams was “more than just a trend of women’s lib” and that women “can upgrade the work of investigation squad,” according to a 1977 article in the New York Times.

He also added that women on other detective assignments had shown a high degree of “tenacity and inquisitiveness — qualities that are especially important in homicide work.”

Truly saddened to learn that former Chief of Detectives John Keenan has passed. A life of epic heroism, he stormed Normandy on D-Day, fought in the Battle of the Bulge & later, as the NYPD Chief of D’s, took the confession from the Son of Sam. We salute you, sir. #FidelisAdMortem pic.twitter.com/mJq0U0b04u

Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea on Friday touted Keenan’s contributions the department, and the war hero’s victories on the battlefield.

"Truly saddened to learn that former Chief of Detectives John Keenan has passed,” Shea wrote on Twitter. “A life of epic heroism, he stormed Normandy on D-Day, fought in the Battle of the Bulge & later, as the NYPD Chief of D's, took the confession from the Son of Sam. We salute you, sir. #FidelisAdMortem"

Services for Keenan will held Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Reposing Macken Mortuary in Rockville Centre. A funeral mass will be held at St. Agnes Cathedral on Monday at 11 a.m.