If you were nailedBlack Bird and immediately googled whether it was a true story or not – you’ve come to the right place.
Jimmy Keene, who was busted for drug dealing and sentenced to 10 years behind bars, actually got his freedom in exchange for coaxing a confession from suspected serial killer Larry Hall. You can find all the details in Keene’s book (co-authored with Hillel Levin) or in this transcript of the CNN report. Below you’ll find key details, including accounts and quotes that may appear in episodes of the show that haven’t aired yet.
Warning: Although Black Bird is based on a true story, do not scroll down if you want to avoid spoilers.
Who was the real Jimmy Keene?
The charismatic golden boy who grew up to be the popular jock in high school? The real James Keene fits the description.
Keene grew up in Kankakee, Illinois, raised by his father, local police officer “Big Jim”. Keene had his nickname on the football field – “the assassin”, for throwing players out every game. “Everybody knew who I was with my athletic ability,” Keene told CNN. “I was voted the most popular guy in school.”
What crime did Jimmy Keene commit?
Despite his popularity, there was one thing Keene didn’t have in spades: money. To keep up with his wealthy classmates, Keene began selling drugs. By the time he was 20, he was reportedly earning a million dollars a year. Not only was he able to support his financially ruined father, but he was more popular than ever, throwing big parties and living in a mansion. “It’s hard to walk away from that kind of money, especially a 20-year-old,” Keene said.
But in 1996, the DEA and FBI came knocking. “I heard the front door rattle and I thought it was just the wind,” Keene said. “It was November. And the next thing you know, boom, the whole door just blew off its hinges. And then they flew in a straight line with drawn pistols and black uniforms. ‘Move, we’ll blow your head off. We will do this. Just move once, blah, blah, blah.'”
After allegedly refusing to give up other drug dealers, Keene was sentenced to 10 years.
Who was the real Larry Hall?
Larry Dewayne Hall was born in 1962 in Wabash, Indiana. He did have an identical twin brother named Gary, “the more dominant, outgoing twin,” Gary told CNN. On the other hand, Larry Hall said in an interview obtained by CNN, “I know, when I was born, my mother told me I was blue, that I didn’t have enough oxygen for me or something.”
The brothers grew up next to the cemetery where their father worked. At age 12, Gary and Larry also started working there. Best friends, the brothers became hobbyist Civil War reenactors, which led to Larry raising mutton.
What crime did Larry Hall commit?
In 1994, Larry Hall was convicted of kidnapping 15-year-old Jessica Roach, who was last seen in 1993, riding her new bicycle near her home in rural Georgetown, Illinois. She was found dead six weeks later.
Hall admitted in a police interview to killing Roach, Tricia Reitler and two other women, but retracted his statement, claiming to investigator Gary Miller (who goes by the name Brian Miller and played by Greg Kinnear on the show) that he was only thinking about his dreams.
However, federal prosecutor Larry Beaumont found Hall guilty of kidnapping Jessica Roach. “In the federal system, if you’re guilty of kidnapping and that kidnapping resulted in death, then under the sentencing guidelines it’s a mandatory life sentence,” Beaumont said.
Did Jimmy Keene Really Try to Befriend Larry Hall?
While Jessica Roach’s case was closed, the disappearance of 19-year-old Tricia Reitler remained unsolved. To give her parents some semblance of peace, prosecutor Beaumont hatched a plan.
In 1998, 10 months into his sentence, Jimmy Keene was visited by Beaumont, the same prosecutor who sent Keene to prison. Beaumont made Keene a shocking offer: transfer to a maximum security prison, befriend alleged serial killer Larry Hall, and find out where Tricia Reitler is buried. In return?
“If you get a solid confession out of him and you can help us locate the bodies that are still missing, we’re willing to clean your record completely,” Beaumont said, according to Keene.
It was a life-threatening operation that Keene was reluctant to accept. But then his stepmother informed him that his father had suffered a stroke. However, on the way to the prison in Missouri, Keene caught a cold. “I looked at the U.S. Marshal and said, ‘Listen.’ I said, ‘How do we know Beaumont will keep his word?’ Everyone assured me that they would. I said, ‘I’m not sure if I can do it’.”
But there was no turning back.
Was Keene successful?
Keene managed to befriend Hall. His descriptions of his exchanges with Hall are fascinating.
“I made it a point to bump shoulders together, and as we gently bumped shoulders, I turned around and said, ‘Excuse me.’ I said, ‘Listen’ — I said, ‘I’m new here,’ and I said, ‘You wouldn’t happen to know where the library was, would you?’
“I just reached over and gave him a little tap on the shoulder and said, ‘Thanks a lot. I appreciate it from a cool guy like you.’
Keene watched Hall diligently from his cell across the hall.
And I walked up to him and I said, “Hey, here’s where I am.” I said, “Are you in this area here.”
And he says, “Yes, I’m here.” And knocks his eyes out of his head.
I said, “Well, that’s great.” I said, “You’re right about me.” I said, “You know what? I told you you’re a cool guy, and I’m glad you’re around,” and all that and that. And then he basically offered me sometimes if I ever wanted to have breakfast with him and his friends.
Keene beat up a “real big guy” for changing the TV channel from a show Hall was watching. Believing Keene, Hall told him the truth about what happened to Tricia Reitler, admitting that he had suffocated her and buried her in the woods.
Still needing an exact location, Keene thought he had hit the jackpot when he found Hall with a map covered in red dots over Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. On the edges of the map stood a row of a dozen wooden falcons. “They watch over the dead,” Hall said, according to Keene.
Believing he had everything to gain his freedom, Keene delivered his true opinion of Hall in a barrage of insults. Hall responded by saying, “Beaumont sent you, didn’t he? Beaumont sent you, didn’t he?” according to Keene. In addition to exposing his mask, Keene was sent to solitary confinement for the outburst. The map and the falcons are gone.
Despite gathering details about the murder of Tricia Reitler and several others, Keene was unable to locate her body. Fortunately, Beaumont decided to give Keene credit for time served. “I arranged for him to take a polygraph test just to confirm that what he was telling us was true, which he passed. And he made a legitimate effort to do what we sent him down to do,” Beaumont said.
Where is everyone now?
After becoming a free man, Keene was able to spend another five years with his father, Big Jim, before he passed away.
Hall continues to serve a life sentence in prison, but has never been charged with crimes against anyone other than Jessica Roach.
After Keene’s book In with the Devil was published in 2010, renewed attention on Hall led to the reopening of cold cases, putting pressure on Gary Hall, Larry’s brother, to stop defending him.
“I went with the Indianapolis detectives to try to get my brother to confess,” Gary said.
Larry Hall confessed to 15 serial murders, but later recanted. Hall is now suspected of having as many as 40 victims. Tricia Reitler’s family is still waiting for answers.
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