If you were captivatedBlack Bird and immediately googled whether it was a true story or not – you’ve come to the right place.
Convicted drug dealer Jimmy Keene was actually offered freedom in exchange for extracting a confession from suspected serial killer Larry Hall. For full details, see Keene’s book (co-written with Hillel Levin) or this transcript of the CNN report. Below, you’ll find key details, including accounts and quotes that may appear in yet-to-be-aired episodes of the show.
Warning: Although Black Bird is based on a true story, do not scroll down 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, the local police officer “Big Jim”. Keene had his own nickname on the football field – “the killer,” for sacking players every game. “Everybody knew who I was with my athletic ability,” Keene told CNN. “I was voted the most popular boy in school.
What crime did Jimmy Keene commit?
Despite his popularity, there was one thing Keene didn’t have: money. To keep up with his wealthy classmates, Keene began selling drugs. By the time he was 20, he was reportedly taking in $1 million a year. Not only was he able to support his financially ruined father, but he was more popular than ever, throwing huge parties and living in a mansion. “It’s hard to walk away from that kind of money, especially for a 20-year-old,” Keene said.
But in 1996, the DEA and FBI came knocking. “I heard the front door slam and I thought it was just the wind,” Keene said. “It was November. And the next thing you know, boom, the whole door just flew off its hinges. And then they were flying in a straight line with guns drawn and black uniforms.” “Move, we’ll blow your head off.” “We’ll do it. Just move once, blah, blah, blah.”
After allegedly refusing to surrender to 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. Indeed, he had an identical twin 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 or something.”
The brothers grew up near the cemetery where their father worked. Gary and Larry also started working there at the age of 12. Best friends, the brothers became Civil War reenactors as a hobby, leading to Larry growing mutton chops.
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 confessed in a police interview to the murders of Roach, Tricia Reitler and two other women, but recanted his statement, claiming to investigator Gary Miller (named Brian Miller and played by Greg Kinnear in the series) that he was only referring to his dreams.
Still, federal prosecutor Larry Beaumont had Hall convicted of kidnapping Jessica Roach. “In the federal system, if you’re guilty of kidnapping and that kidnapping resulted in death, then it’s a mandatory life sentence under the sentencing guidelines,” 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. Prosecutor Beaumont devised a plan to give her parents some semblance of peace.
In 1998, 10 months into his sentence, Jimmy Keene received a visit from Beaumont, the same prosecutor who sent Keene to prison. Beaumont presented Keene with a shocking offer: transfer to a maximum security prison, befriend alleged serial killer Larry Hall, and find out where Tricia Reitler was buried. In return?
“If you can get a solid confession out of him and if you can help us find the bodies that are still missing, we’re willing to completely expunge your record,” Beaumont said, according to Keene.
It was a life-threatening operation and Keene hesitated to accept it. But then his stepmother informed him that his father had suffered a stroke. Still, on the way to the prison in Missouri, Keene got cold feet. “I looked at the U.S. Marshal and said, ‘Listen.’ I said, “How do we know Beaumont will keep his word?” Everyone assured me he would. I said, ‘I’m not sure I can do it.’
But there was no turning back.
Was Keene successful?
Keene managed to befriend Hall. His descriptions of the exchanges with Hall are fascinating.
“I made sure we bumped shoulders and when 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?'”
“And I just reached over and kind of patted him on the shoulder and said, ‘Thanks a lot. I appreciate it from a great guy like you.’
Keene watched Hall diligently from his cell across the hall.
And I went to him and I’m like, “Hey, I’m here.” I said, “Are you here in this area?”
And he says, “Yes, I’m there.” And his eyes pop 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 great guy and I’m glad you’re with me” and all that. And that’s when he basically offered me some time if I wanted to have breakfast with him and his friends.
Keene slammed a “real big fan” for changing the TV channel from a show Hall was watching. Hall trusted Keene and told him the truth about what happened to Tricia Reitler, admitting that he choked her to death 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 across Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. At the edges of the map stood a row of a dozen wooden falcons. “They watch the dead,” Hall said, according to Keene.
Believing he had everything to gain his freedom, Keene revealed his true opinion of Hall in a flurry of insults. Hall replied, “Beaumont sent you, didn’t he? Beaumont sent you, didn’t he?” according to Keene. In addition to blowing his cover, Keene was sent to solitary confinement for the outburst. Both the map and the falcon disappeared.
Despite gathering details about the murder of Tricia Reitler and several others, Keene was unable to locate her body. Fortunately, Beaumont decided to see Keene get credit for time served. “I arranged for him to take a polygraph test to verify that what he was telling us was true, and he passed. And he made a legitimate effort to do what we sent him there 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 died.
Hall continues to serve life 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 saw cold cases reopened, putting pressure on Gary Hall, Larry’s brother, to drop his defense.
“I went down 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 up to 40 victims. Tricia Reitler’s family is still waiting for answers.
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