About Jimmy Keene

James “Jimmy” Keene was born in Kankakee, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, to “Big Jim” Keene and Lynn Keene. His father was a highly decorated and respected police officer, and his former-beauty-queen mother owned a popular restaurant. Jimmy Keene spent his early life in Kankakee, where he was a chess champion and a star athlete who lettered in track, football, and wrestling and served as captain of the football and wrestling teams. He was also a football and wrestling MVP throughout high school, where schoolmates called him “the assassin” and where he garnered offers from several collegiate programs. He continued football and wresting into college.

As a high schooler, Keene observed the lavish lifestyles and heavy spending of some of his teammates and fell into selling marijuana to keep up with his peers and bolster his family’s troubled finances. He moved to Chicago following high school and attended a community college to grow his profits on the side. Later he continued is education to finish is Masters.
Though never a user himself, his natural charm, good looks, and charisma made his drug business soar, and he soon had everything he thought he wanted, including wealth, the admiration of beautiful women, luxury cars, and lavish houses.

Keene ran the marijuana business in Chicago for twelve years—a perilous and high-stakes occupation in a world of glamour and corruption. He worked tirelessly to make the “big score” that would allow him to leave his drug business behind and provide for himself and his family for the rest of their lives, but it wasn’t a simple world to escape. Though his parents didn’t know about his activities, Keene remained close to his family and sought to support them financially with his profits. Keene was arrested in 1996 by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Due to having a clean criminal record previously, Keene was offered a plea deal by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Beaumont. Keene pled guilty, believing he would be incarcerated for less than two years. Instead, Beaumont sent Keene to a minimum-security prison for ten years without parole.

A few months into his sentence, Keene was unexpectedly approached by the FBI and Lawrence with a terrifying but tempting proposition that would change everything. They wanted Keene to transfer to a maximum-security prison for the criminally insane in Missouri and act as an FBI operative that would befriend and gather incriminating confessions from an inmate named Larry Hall. Keene would be embarking on a seemingly impossible mission and risking his life while living among some of the country’s most disturbed and dangerous criminals.
Larry Hall had been incarcerated for the 1993 kidnap, rape, and murder of fifteen-year-old Jessica Roach after her remains were found in rural Indiana. Investigators connected Hall’s license plate to the crime and eventually obtained a signed confession. However, Hall recanted his confession soon after, and prosecutors lacked physical evidence linking him to the crime. Authorities suspected Hall was responsible for dozens of other cold cases between 1986 and 1993, and the situation became urgent for the FBI when Hall’s attorneys filed an appeal. Beaumont was determined to keep Hall behind bars. He offered to release Keene from the remainder of his sentence and scrub his record clean should he obtain confessions from Hall.

Putting his own safety at stake, Keene was transferred to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners under a pseudonym and with the false story that he had been an arms dealer. Despite being near Hall physically, gaining his trust was not an easy task. Keene was befriended by Genovese crime family boss Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, who warned him against associating with Hall and made it difficult for Keene to build a relationship with Hall during daylight hours. Keene attempted to visit with Hall at night, and at one point, Keene beat another prisoner during a disagreement over a television set to earn Hall’s friendship. Eventually, Keene gained Hall’s confidence and painstakingly coaxed Hall into confessing that he had murdered at least fifteen women. In the prison workshop, Keene also came upon Hall with a map marked with red dots and a collection of carved wooden birds that Hall said were meant to watch over the dead. Hall’s multiple confessions earned him a lifetime in prison without parole. He is still incarcerated in North Carolina, largely due to Keene’s heroic efforts in MCFP.

FBI officials honored their agreement with Keene and released him from prison with a full pardon due to his dedicated work. Jimmy was able to spend five years with Big Jim Keene before his death in 2004, a gift of time that Jimmy treasured above any amount of wealth he had previously acquired. Keene has dedicated his life to building new and successful business ventures, living a healthy lifestyle, and making the most of the fresh start he earned in MCFP.

Jimmy Keene was irreversibly changed by his experience with Hall and has sought to tell his story and redeem his past. His story has gained national notoriety and captivated people everywhere. In 2010, Keene authored a book about his experiences titled In with the Devil: A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption. Every major news outlet, including Newsweek and CNN, has interviewed him. His story was featured in a special Dateline episode in 2012 titled “The Inside Man.” CNN released To Catch a Serial Killer, a documentary about Keene’s time with Hall, that same year.

Keene’s book was adapted as a highly acclaimed miniseries titled Black Bird by Apple TV+ in July of 2022. Keene’s second book, Black Bird, was also released in 2022. Keene served as an executive film producer on the miniseries. Taron Egerton plays Keene, and the series also stars Paul Walter Hauser, Greg Kinnear, and Ray Liotta. Black Bird was nominated for three Golden Globe awards, including Best Television Limited Series and Best Actor in a Television Limited Series (Egerton). Paul Walter Hauser won the Golden Globe and a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Limited Series for his work in Black Bird in January 2023. The miniseries earned a 98-percent, “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and website critics called it, “an absorbing prison drama distinguished by its moral complexity and elevated by an outstanding ensemble.”

Currently, Keene owns a highly successful real estate development company and several other businesses. His latest release, a third book about his life, The Chicago Phoenix: Jimmy Keene’s Untold Story, was released in 2023. His latest book details his early life, his dangerous time in living in the fast lane and life and time in a dangerous business and his rise from ruins to success after being freed with a completely cleared name. Keene is also involved in producing and consulting on various film projects. He is an accomplished martial artist, enjoys acting, and had a cameo appearance in the final episode of Black Bird. He has played the cello and saxophone for many years and Keene is a lifelong accomplished martial artist with black belts in several different styles. He has owned multiple luxury car dealerships. He splits his time between Los Angeles, Chicago.