It was a whispered secret that made the rounds at Harvard for decades: A professor beat to death his student in 1969 in her university apartment, then sprinkled red ochre dust on her body in a macabre postmortem ritual.
At least that was the story Becky Cooper heard when she was a sophomore there in 2009, exactly 40 years after the unsolved slaying. The motive, she was told, involved a lovers quarrel. The suspect had seduced his victim, 23-year-old Jane Britton, then killed her to keep their affair hidden.
But the professor was never charged and he continued to teach at Harvard all this time later, a tenured faculty member in the university’s elite anthropology department, Cooper learned.
So she vowed to solve the crime, launching a nine-year probe she chronicles in “We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence” (Grand Central), out now.
Cooper read up on the sensational case, which