Movies & TV Shows

The True Story Of Black Bird Explained

Apple TV’s new hit TV show Black Bird tells the unbelievable true story of disgraced footballer Jimmy Keene and the serial killer he befriended.

Apple TV’s hit show Black Bird tells the incredible true story of one man’s attempt to uncover evil. The six-episode mini-series follows the story of Jimmy Keene and the serial killer Larry Hall, in a faithful adaptation of Keene and journalist Hillel Levin’s memoir In with the Devil: A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption. The show’s twists and turns may seem unbelievable, but as the memoir reveals, it’s all true. The real-life events that inspired Black Bird happened more than 20 ago and involved a serial killer who is still alive today.

Taron Egerton stars in Black Bird as James Keene, a successful high school football player who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegal gun possession and drug dealing. He’s joined in the show by Paul Walter Hauser who plays the mysterious and unsettling Larry Hall, an alleged serial killer. The cast is rounded out by several brilliant actors stepping into the shoes of real-life people. Jake McLaughlin as Gary Hall, Larry’s twin brother; Greg Kinnear as Brian Miller, an FBI agent determined to uncover the true extent of Hall’s crimes and keep him in prison; and a final on-screen appearance from Ray Liotta, who gives a heartfelt performance as Keene’s father James “Big Jim” Keene.

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Only three episodes of Black Bird have been released so far but they’ve been met with critical acclaim. Critics have praised the authenticity of the script and the talented ensemble cast. It has scored an approval rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and is the latest in an increasingly impressive list of Apple TV streaming shows, including Severance, Ted Lasso and Pachinko. The serial killer genre has been around for decades – most recently hitting a high with the now cancelled Mindhunter – and it’s not difficult to find a new thriller centered around law enforcement chasing serial killers. Much like the acclaimed killer/thriller Netflix show Mindhunter, the difference that elevates Black Bird is that it is all completely true.


Is Black Bird Based On A True Story?

Black bird what happened to larry Hall

Black Bird is based on incredible true events. In 1995 Larry Hall was sent to USMCFP Springfield for kidnapping Jessica Roach, a 15-year-old girl who went missing in 1993. The conviction was based off Hall’s original confession to the murder, despite his attempts to recant it. This would turn out to be somewhat of a trend for Hall, who continued to frustrate the FBI with fake stories and multiple confessions he then went back on. Hall was born in Wabash, Indiana and is a twin. His brother Gary Hall was the “normal” one, and while originally defending his brother, Hall eventually helped the FBI draw confessions out of Larry. Despite being sent to prison for the kidnap of Roach, the FBI believed Larry Hall was a serial killer who had murdered many more young women and were determined to get him to confess and keep Hall behind bars. To do that the FBI really did decide to recruit a disgraced ex-football star to befriend Hall in prison.


Was Jimmy Keene Really Sent To Befriend A Serial Killer?

Taron Egerton as Jimmy Keene in Black Bird

Jimmy Keene was a promising young football star and the son of a police officer. He fell from grace after being caught up in a huge drug bust in the ’90s called Operation Snowplow. During the bust police found illegal firearms in Keene’s property and he therefore got given a 10-year sentence in prison. While serving his sentence Keene was approached by the FBI and in 1998 he was given a choice; serve his full sentence or try to befriend the alleged serial killer – Larry Hall – in a maximum-security prison for the criminally insane. If he was to be successful with the second choice he would be offered his freedom.


Keene went for the second option and after months of gaining Hall’s trust, Keene was somewhat successful on two counts. First, Hall confessed to Keene about the murder of Roach and Hall revealed details only the FBI and the killer would know. Secondly, Keene found Hall with a map identifying several locations. Keene surmised this was a map to the additional bodies and sent a message to the FBI. This unfortunately came to nothing, as Keene confronted Hall and was thrown into solitary confinement. The FBI never got his message and after his release from solitary the map was gone.

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Was Larry Hall Ever Convicted For Murder?

Larry Hall sitting in court in a scene from Black Bird.

Despite recanting his confession for the murder of Roach in both the Black Bird TV show and in real life, and appealing his initial sentence, Hall’s story was too accurate and he was found guilty and given life without parole. However, he wasn’t convicted for murder but only kidnapping. The fact that the kidnapping led to a death is the only reason Hall’s sentence ended up being life without parole. Hall is now is now 59 and serving his sentence in Butner, North Carolina. In the years following his interaction with Keene, Hall confessed to several other murders, including that of Tricia Reitler. However, he has also recanted every single one of his confessions and it remains a mystery to this day how many people Hall killed. The FBI have estimated that it could be as many as 40 young women.

How Long Was Jimmy Keene In Prison?

Black bird taron egerton james keene

Despite Taron Egerton’s Keene and the real Keene being technically unsuccessful in drawing any further confessions out of Hall, he was still given his freedom after his time in USMCFP Springfield. He passed a polygraph test that confirmed Keene truly did befriend Hall and try and elicit information from him. All in all Keene spent less than a year in prison, having served ten months for the drug conviction before heading to USMCFP Springfield. In the show and in real life, Keene’s father was dying while Keene was in prison, and it was one of the reasons Keene took the risk of heading into a maximum-security prison. After being released as a free man, Keene was able to spend five years with “Big Jim” before he passed away. He went on to write his memoirs with the help of a journalist and the subsequent story has now been adapted into the critically acclaimed Black Bird – an unbelievable, but completely true story.


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