Oregon State Police said Friday that her identity unravelled after her secret slipped in a bar and word eventually reached the RCMP.
Mounties in Minnedosa, Man., launched an investigation and were able to identify the woman based on a previous impaired-driving arrest in Canada.
The Canadian Border Services Agency arrested her in the town in April.
Last month, Jean Terese Keating, 54, was transferred to U.S. officials after a deportation hearing and she is once again back in Oregon.
"I felt that it was about time that they finally found her," said Ron Anderson, son of the woman who died in the crash. "I knew she had to be someplace.
"She couldn't be missing forever."
Jewel Oline Anderson, who was 65, was pronounced dead at the scene after her vehicle was side-swiped and she lost control on Interstate 5 in 1997.
It was on a Sunday, Ron Anderson remembers, and his mother was driving from her home in Dexter up to Salem to visit her sister.
Anderson, who lives in Dexter, found out about the crash that afternoon when he noticed a police car driving up and down the street past his mother's house. He flagged down the officer, who told him his mother was dead. His son, who was seven, was with him at the time.
"She was always there, always helping. She helped other people in the community, too. She'd pull alongside the road and give them rides," Anderson said of his mother, who had five children.
"I think that the biggest thing is all the grandkids and great-grandkids who didn't get to spend that much time with their grandma."
Police said Keating was awaiting trial in March 1998 on charges of manslaughter, driving under the influence and recklessly endangering another person when her lawyer advised that he had lost contact with her. Police said the lawyer was concerned that his client had "flown the coop," so a warrant was issued for her arrest.
Years passed, but police never gave up looking for her. Five years ago, an Oregon State Police arson and explosives investigator, Det. Howard Greer, was having a slow day and asked fellow officers if there were any cases he could help with. They handed him the Keating file.
Greer examined databases and followed lead after lead, but nothing panned out. At one point, he said he'd reached out to Canadian immigration officials and heard about a possible match for a woman in Victoria, but it wasn't Keating.
It was a long and tedious case with dead ends until he learned of the arrest in Canada, which he called a "stroke of luck."
"I just about fell out of my chair. I thought it was a prank phone call," said Greer, speaking by phone from Albany, Ore.
Oregon police said Keating's fingerprints matched ones obtained by police in Canada.
RCMP Cpl. Miles Hiebert says Keating had been living in Minnedosa under the name Jean McPherson.
A woman in Minnedosa who wouldn't give her name says she knew Keating — as McPherson — and she was married to a man in the town and was a housewife. The woman says she never suspected anything about Keating's criminal charges. She says the arrest hasn't caused much of a stir among the people of Minnedosa.
"A lot of them don't know. Or say they don't know," she added.
Greer says Keating had a son and a daughter with a man in Oregon. The children were both with her at the time of the crash that killed Anderson, Greer says. The boy was an infant and the girl was a toddler.
Greer says the father of the children was still paying child support to Keating even after she disappeared, but strict privacy laws prevented him from getting information about where the money was going.
Lisa White, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Border Services Agency, said their investigation revealed that Keating was in Canada illegally. It has not been determined how she entered the country.
She was arrested April 4 and White said a deportation order was issued April 18. Keating was held in custody until she was handed over to U.S. authorities on June 12 because officials considered her a flight risk.
The news of Keating's arrest has been the talk of the town in Dexter, where Anderson says his mother was well known. He says people were talking about with him Friday morning when he stopped for coffee at a local gas station.
"They're glad because the community really thought a lot of her. A lot of people really knew her well."
— By Rob Drinkwater in EdmontonSuggest a correction