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Murderer knew victim

by Tom Chillemi

We know what happened to Terri Lynn St. John, but we don’t know why.

Only convicted murderer Alvin Bernard Keyser knows why he strangled St. John in the hour before dawn on February 27, 2018.

In Middlesex Circuit Court last week, Keyser gave no indication of his motives. He softly uttered the word “guilty” to second-degree murder in a plea agreement that reduced the charge from first-degree murder. He also pled guilty to concealing her body.

Evidence proffered by Middlesex Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Hurd and agreed to by Keyser’s court-appointed attorney Amy Van Fossen reveals a man who tried to lie his way out of this murder. Among the evidence stipulated to were reports of Middlesex detectives that state Keyser explained the scratches on his body were the result of him running through the woods to get away from St. John’s house after her boyfriend attacked him when he went to the house about 5 a.m. But video from the 7-Eleven in Hayes shows the boyfriend was in Gloucester at 4:55 a.m., and was not at St. John’s home when Keyser pulled his van into the driveway on Mill Wharf Road in Wake.

Keyser also told detectives St. John’s boyfriend had killed her and “made him get rid of the body.” Keyser showed detectives where he had hid the body, at the boyfriend’s direction, and covered it with leaves.

When confronted with the facts of the case Keyser “hung his head and confessed that he had killed Terri and packed her mouth full of leaves,” wrote a detective in his report.

Keyser’s arrest came just two days after St. John, 23, went missing with her two children under the age of 3 left alone in her house. It was a case that gained national media attention.

Police had been called to St. John’s residence where there were signs of a struggle. Next to the driveway were found slippers, a broken gold-colored necklace and an earring. Her cell phone was found in the bushes.
Keyser, 24, knew St. John who was 23 when she was killed.

Keyser confessed to detectives that he had gone to St. John’s to confront St. John and her boyfriend who “had been running their mouth on the street about Keyser being a dope dealer,” the detective’s report states. 

During Keyser’s preliminary hearing, a detective testified that Keyser had sold cocaine to St. John.

Keyser told the detective that on February 27 St. John got into his van where an argument turned into a struggle. “She hit him and he hit her back, she clawed his eye and made him mad,” the detective wrote. “She called the cops and he kicked her out of the car (van) and she hit her head.” 

St. John’s 911 call at 5:36 a.m. was too short to get an exact location, but dispatchers determined it was in the Hartfield area. The dispatcher called the number twice, but there was no answer.

Three hours after St. John’s call on February 27, 2018, Keyser called the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office at 8:39 a.m. and asked to talk to a particular deputy, who was not there.  

Afterwards detectives got a tip and checked a Facebook photo of Keyser wearing a necklace that matched the broken necklace that had been found at the scene. 

The day after the murder, Keyser had agreed to be interviewed at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office by a detective, but changed his mind and asked for an attorney. The interview was stopped. About six hours later at 2:30 a.m. Keyser called the detective and said he wanted to talk. The detective told Keyser that since he’d asked for an attorney, he should think about it and wait until morning. At 6:30 a.m. Keyser called back and an interview took place where he made statements implicating himself in St. John’s murder.

Keyser told the detective who wrote in his notes that Keyser strangled her “because he thought that when she hit her head that he was going to go to jail for a long time, so he decided to kill her.”

After strangling St. John in her driveway, Keyser then loaded her lifeless body into his van and drove about a mile from her house and dragged her into a briar patch about 20 feet off of Barricks Mill Road. It was not a secluded area, in fact the briar patch was at the edge of one residence’s yard and across from another house. This was as far as Keyser’s van would go. The transmission had broken.

Detectives talked to a resident of Barrick’s Mill Road who lives about 100 yards from where St. John’s body was dumped. The resident told detectives that at about 6:15 a.m. on February 27, 2018, someone had knocked on the door. She looked out and didn’t see anything at first but later saw a man get out of a van and walk around to the passenger side. She took a photo of the van at 6:35 a.m. 

The autopsy states that a bone was broken in St. John’s neck. Further, it states leaves had been stuffed into her mouth and nose.

When Keyser led detectives to the spot he had dumped St. John’s body he didn’t want to look and broke down crying.

Keyser wrote an “apology letter” that was given to detectives.

Keyser’s sentencing is set for July 17, 2019 at 9 a.m. in Middlesex Circuit Court. Judge Shaw ordered a pre-sentencing report.

The maximum sentence for second degree murder is 40 years. Concealing a body carries a maximum sentence of up to 5 years.

Keyser is 24 years old. He has been in jail since his arrest on March 1, 2018.

posted 02.14.2019

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