How Jimmy Keene Helped The FBI Put Suspected Serial Killer Larry Hall Behind Bars For Good

Published April 22, 2024
Updated May 8, 2024

Jimmy Keene was serving a 10-year prison sentence on a conspiracy charge in 1998 when the FBI asked him to go undercover and get Larry Hall to admit to murder.

Jimmy Keene

JimmyKeene.infoToday, Jimmy Keene discusses his experience on talk shows and at seminars.

The story of Jimmy Keene is immortalized in several books, magazines, and even a popular miniseries. His transition from a high school athlete and one of Chicago’s most lucrative drug business operators to an FBI operative for a high-profile case is something reminiscent of a Hollywood thriller.

Keene’s participation in extracting a confession from suspected serial killer Larry Hall in 1998 would land the brutal murderer in jail for life and thrust Keene into the spotlight. Today, Keene is an author, motivational speaker, and film producer.

This is his story.

From High School Athlete To Chicago Drug Business Operator

Born on New Year’s Eve 1979 in Kankakee, Illinois, Jimmy Keene was an average American child. His father was a police officer in the town, and his mother owned and operated a local restaurant.

He was one of four children and became responsible for feeding his family following his parents’ divorce when he was 10 years old.

“We were dirt poor at that point, not to mention that I’m from the south side of Chicago, which had the highest crime rate in the nation through this era, and when I was growing up it had the highest unemployment rate in the state,” Keene told news.com.au in a 2023 interview.

Tight finances led Keene to explore Chicago’s drug scene, and by 17 years old, Keene was making a killing. While attending high school and playing for the football team, Keene was operating an underground marijuana business that raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Young Jimmy Keene

JimmyKeene.infoA photo of Jimmy Keene (right) with his father.

“It wasn’t even a conscious thought at that age — if I’m making half a million, a million a year, and eventually way more, why would I walk away from the business when I could just go to college here in Chicago and build up my savings?” he said. “I went to college and had a blast and the weed business grew and grew.”

But the business fell apart after Keene caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1996.

Operation Snowplow, a police operation tackling drug offenses that resulted in more than 170 arrests, upended Keene’s involvement in a drug operation and left him with a 10-year prison sentence.

Despite losing his business and ending up behind bars, Keene stayed motivated and hoped for a miracle that would grant him his freedom.

“I still had four appeal options, and they knew I was probably going to get something reversed back on appeal, get some time knocked off my sentence. They knew I’d find a way to get out of there,” he told news.com.au.

And a miracle did come for Jimmy Keene in the form of the same agency that had landed him in prison in the first place.

The FBI’s Deal With Jimmy Keene

About seven months into Keene’s sentence, FBI agents and federal prosecutors approached him to become an operative for a controversial case.

Federal prosecutor Larry Beaumont revealed to Keene that Larry Hall, a suspected serial killer believed to have killed dozens of girls and young women, had recanted his confession and was at risk of going free.

Mugshot Of Larry Dewayne Hall

Wikimedia CommonsLarry Hall may have killed more than 40 women and girls in the 1980s and ’90s.

The plan was three-fold: move Keene to Hall’s maximum-security prison in Missouri and then have him befriend him and extract a confession. In exchange, authorities would expunge Keene’s record and set him free.

At first, Keene wanted nothing to do with the dangerous plot; his crimes were non-violent, and he wasn’t sure he had the stomach for it after viewing the crime scene photos from Hall’s suspected victims. But then, his father suffered a stroke.

“I broke down and cried — this man was superman to me for my whole life, I thought… I have to do something,” he said to news.com.au. Keene ultimately accepted the deal in hopes of spending more time with his aging father.

How Jimmy Keene Helped Take Down Larry Hall

The FBI debriefed Keene on Larry Hall’s case and briefly trained him in agency interrogation tactics before transferring him to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners under an alias. The way Keene would gain the killer’s trust was purely up to him.

Keene decided on a casual approach, “accidentally” bumping shoulders with the killer and asking for directions to the prison library.

“I slapped him on the arm and said, ‘Thanks a lot, I appreciate it coming from a cool guy like you,’ and he said, ‘You think I’m cool?'” Keene recalled.

“I said, ‘F—ck yeah man, I knew right when I saw you that you were the kind of guy I could relate to.'”

Over the next few months, Keene got cozy with Hall.

“I played buddy with him and protected him in a few situations, and I’d go sit in his cell at night and make small talk, making it seem as if I was interested in him as a friend,” he said. Keene took note of Hall’s affinity for reading his hometown’s local paper.

During one of their conversations, Keene noted that his mother was from a town near Hall’s birthplace, and he used that information to his advantage.

One day, Keene confronted Hall about his crimes, stating, “You told me you were in here for weapons charges, and my mom said she had been reading the news — the same paper you’re reading right now — and it says you killed all these girls. I don’t want to be friends with someone who lies. I don’t care what you’ve done, I just want you to be honest.”

This scared Hall, and he spilled his guts to Keene, telling him information about some of the suspected cases that only the FBI and the killer would know.

Jessica Roach

Jessica Roach Memorial/FacebookLarry Hall admitted to killing 15-year-old Jessica Roach in 1993 — but then he recanted his confession.

Then, Keene’s big break in the case came when he walked into the prison workshop to find Hall sitting over a suspicious map. “It was a map with red dots over Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. And he covered it up really fast,” Keene told CNN in 2011. These were the very states where Hall was suspected of murdering his victims.

What’s more, Hall had carved wooden falcons that he positioned to overlook the map. When Keene asked what they were for, Hall responded that he’d placed them there to “watch over the dead.”

Assuming he had all the evidence he needed to fulfill his end of the deal with the FBI, Keene angrily confronted Hall. However, due to a miscommunication with Keene’s FBI handler, he ended up in solitary confinement for two weeks — long enough for Hall to get rid of the map and falcons.

Still, federal prosecutors were able to use the information Jimmy Keene had collected during Larry Hall’s appeal hearing, ultimately leading to its rejection. Finally, the FBI had what they wanted, and Keene became a free man after 17 months in jail.

The Legacy Of Jimmy Keene, FBI Operative

After his release from prison, Jimmy Keene went home to his father and spent five more years with him before his passing.

He has since launched several — legal — business ventures, including writing novels about his experience, starting a real estate company, and producing shows. However, his most proud achievement is still preventing a serial killer from taking more victims, according to his personal website.

True Story Of Black Bird Jimmy Keene

Jimmy KeeneJimmy Keene at the premiere of Black Bird in June 2022.

“I’m not convicted of anything anymore. It happened, I paid the price and got out completely scot-free. I did a good deed for society. Larry Hall will never, ever be able to kill any other young girls again, and that’s what’s really important, for people to understand my heroism and bravery — at any time I could have said I didn’t want to do this and relied on appeal instead [to get out of jail],” he wrote.

“I was happy as could be. And it was a very bizarre rollercoaster that I went on. It was… I mean, redemption at its best,” Keene said in 2011.

Keene’s remarkable story has been covered in several documentaries. Most recently, producers turned his experience taking down Larry Hall into the miniseries Black Bird. Keene himself makes a cameo in the last episode.

Scene From Black Bird

TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock PhotoPaul Walter Hauser (portraying Larry Hall) and Taron Egerton (portraying Jimmy Keene) in a scene from Black Bird.

Nearly 30 years later, Keene is still proud of his accomplishments and discusses his experiences openly to anyone willing to hear them.

“The best we could do was stop Hall getting out to kill again, and what I succeeded in doing makes me some kind of a hero, it certainly does make me brave, the things I accomplished,” Keene said.


After reading about Jimmy Keene and his role in putting Larry Hall behind bars for life, discover the true story of White Boy Rick, the FBI’s youngest informant. Then, dive into the stories of the 33 worst serial killers in history.

author
Amber Morgan
author
Amber Morgan is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
editor
John Kuroski
editor
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Morgan, Amber. "How Jimmy Keene Helped The FBI Put Suspected Serial Killer Larry Hall Behind Bars For Good." AllThatsInteresting.com, April 22, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/jimmy-keene. Accessed May 23, 2024.