With the mini-series, Black Bird drawing to a close, DDW takes a look at who the real Jimmy Keene is, and where he is now.
In case you haven’t noticed, Taron Egerton has been delivering another career-defining performance in the mini-series, Black Bird (2022), created by Dennis Lehane. Exchanging Spy tropes and chivalrous behaviour for a more gritty and demanding role in that of Jimmy Keene. A top American football prospect turned drug runner, turned FBI operative.
The show which premieres its finale tonight, is based upon the 2010 autobiography ‘In with the Devil: a Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption‘, written by James ‘Jimmy’ Keene himself.
The autobiography and mini-series adaptation, tells the story of James Keene, a young college American Football player who had a very bright future ahead of him. Unable to keep up with his peers’ spending habits, Jimmy, went down a different path than his privileged classmates. Entering the world of drug running. Starting small, Keene’s business venture rapidly expanded from a small-time hobby to running an empire. With Keene becoming a household name as a marijuana and blow dealer.
In 1996. After an extensive investigation, led by both the DEA and FBI, Jimmy Keene was arrested with his property searched under a warrant. Here, the FBI discovered millions of dollars and 2 firearms in Keene’s possession. Initially arrested on illegal possession charges. Jimmy Keene and his legal team were able to refute the claims, proving legal firearm ownership.
As this was Jimmy Keene’s first run-in with the law, his attorneys had advised him into agreeing to a plea bargain that would see him receiving probations to 18 months. However, At this moment in time, Keene had become one of the biggest independent drug dealers in Chicago.
Wanting to make an example out of Keene, the US attorney had lied about the potential plea deal, instead, adding a hearsay conspiracy charge which saw the defendant sentenced to 120 months in federal prison. With no chance of parole or early release. James Keene’s legal team refuted the new charges with evidence proving said claims to be illegitimate.
During the tenth month of his ten-year sentence, Jimmy Keene was approached by FBI Special Agent Janet Butkus and Federal prosecutor Lawrence Beamount with the two offering the drug lord a shot at redemption.
Butkus and Beamount, wanted Keene to go undercover and relocate to the Maximum security prison MCFP in Springfield, Missouri. In the aim of soliciting a confession from the suspected serial killer Larry Hall. If Keene was successful in doing so, his criminal record was to be completely cleared – this meant, no conviction, no parole, no fines and no remaining prison time. He would be set free with a completely clean record.
In 1993, suspected serial killer Larry Hall had been arrested and given a life sentence for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Jessica Roach. The catch being, Hall’s imprisonment was based on an arguably coerced confession with no physical evidence to back up said charges.
Fast forward back to 1998. Hall is five years into his life sentence, with his attorneys in the midst of an appeal. The only thing more troubling was the fact that Hall was actually suspected of killing and raping up to 20 more minors. With the FBI unable to find any physical evidence connecting Hall to any of the victims.
If Keene was to relocate to Springfield and get details of the murders from Hall himself, details that would match Hall up to one if not more of the murders. Keene’s record, as aforementioned, would be wiped completely clean. Upon agreeing to the deal, Keene was moved to MCFP under a new identity. After only a few weeks, Keene had managed to rub shoulders with Hall at one of the prison’s workshops.
It was here that Keene discovered Hall’s obsession with carving falcons out of wood. Which he would then place on random locations in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin on a map he kept in his cell. Keene became convinced that the falcons indicated the locations of Hall’s victims, especially as Larry often praised the birds as they watched over the dead. Protecting them.
Keene decided to prematurely cut ties with Hall, relaying the information back to the FBI. Unfortunately, the locations on the maps were too vague and not specific enough for the investigative team to pursue.
With no other options, Keene was forced to befriend Hall yet again. From there, the two continued visiting workshops together, hanging out in communal areas and visiting each other’s cells. Keene had become a brotherly figure for Hall, acting as his confidante and protector.
The more they got to know one another, the more convinced Keene became. Whether it was the extreme and troubling things Hall spoke about, his obsession with death or the collection of pornographic books Hall kept and drew satanic figures on. Something never quite sat right.
Finally in late 1999, exactly a year and a half into Keene’s sentence. Jimmy had managed to collect over six months of recorded confessions from Hall. Confessions which detailed the murders of Jessica Roach, Tricia Reitler as well as 19 other girls.
The magnitude of evidence obtained from Hall foiled the serial killer’s appeal. Keeping him long behind bars. Where he rightly belonged. In an interview with Dateline in 2012, the real Jimmy Keene discussed his involvement in the prosecution of Hall, saying
“I did a good deed, and I did a lot of good things. That’s where I feel the redemption comes in. I’ve done something good for the things that I did wrong.”
Since his release, Jimmy Keene has made a handful of television appearances sharing his experiences and hopes for a brighter future. As well as releasing the aforementioned 2010 autobiography. Now, back as an executive producer of Black Bird. Keene has expressed his content for finally being able to tell the story in the most honest interpretation
Since 1993, the real Larry DeWayne Hall, has since been serving a life sentence in a medium security federal prison, located in Butner, North Carolina.
Only ever prosecuted for the Jessica Roach case, it is believed that Hall could be responsible for anywhere between 20 to 40 kidnappings and murders from 1986 to 1993.
In 2011, Hall confessed to another murder, admitting his participation in the abduction and murder of Laurie Depies. Tonight’s finale of Black Bird is set to see the mini-series wrap up all remaining events, with the real Jimmy Keene set to make a surprise cameo alongside co-star and acting tour-de-force Taron Egerton.