Black Bird spoilers follow.
New Apple TV+ prison drama Black Bird tells the real-life story of drug dealer Jimmy Keene, as played by Taron Egerton, and is based on his book In with the Devil: A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption.
Faced with a 10-year prison sentence in 1996, Jimmy agreed to a deal with the FBI – he would be transferred to a maximum-security prison in Springfield, Missouri in order to befriend suspected serial killer Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser).
Larry was in prison for the abduction and murder of a 15-year-old girl, but there was a concern that one day he could be released, even though the FBI suspected him of numerous other murders. The deal was simple – if Jimmy could get Larry to confess to more crimes and reveal the locations of the bodies, Jimmy would be allowed to go free.
The six-episode series follows Jimmy as he takes the FBI deal and attempts to befriend Larry, and also focuses on a pair of law enforcement agents (Greg Kinnear and Sepideh Moafi) as they attempt to uncover more evidence of Larry’s crimes.
Of course, the most interesting character in Black Bird is Larry Hall himself (in part thanks to Hauser’s mesmerisingly creepy performance), and the series weaves in his story – including childhood flashbacks – as Jimmy gets to know him.
Much of what appears on screen is true, but there is more to the story of Larry Hall than is told in the series.
The real Larry DeWayne Hall was born on December 11, 1962 in Wabash, Indiana, along with his twin brother Gary. According to a research paper written by the psychology department of Radford University in Virginia, Larry was antisocial in school, had a low IQ and was teased for being slower than other children, and also for having a speech impediment.
As Black Bird depicts, Larry – and his brother Gary, although the series doesn’t show this – regularly helped their father Robert Hall dig graves when they were children, before Larry took a job as a janitor after leaving school.
The Radford University document also reveals that, as a teenager, Larry was suspected of committing acts of arson, vandalism and various petty crimes in his hometown of Wabash. And it also reports that Larry is the suspect in more serious crimes from that time – including the abduction of two young girls in Michigan and Indiana who went missing when Larry was just 18 years old, and whose bodies have never been found.
As he grew up, Larry became fascinated with Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactments, and between 1980 and 1994 travelled across the Midwest to attend and participate in them. According to TheCinemaholic, authorities believe that he may be responsible for at least 40 disappearances and possible murders of young women that took place during this time.
It was only when the remains of 15-year-old Jessica Roach were found in late 1993 that Larry finally came under suspicion. Jessica had vanished less than half a mile away from her home in Georgetown, Illinois on September 20, 1993, when she was out riding her new bike.
Her remains were found on November 8, and shortly after a witness came forward saying they had seen a man walking out of the cornfield where her body was found, and that he left in a van. Months later, this led the police to Larry, whose Dodge van had been reported following young girls in the area on various occasions in 1993 and 1994. One girl had noted down the licence plate for the van and told police, who discovered it belonged to Larry Hall.
“That plate came back to Larry Hall, who we had never heard of at that time,” Gary Miller, the chief investigator for Vermilion County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois told CNN.com. Miller brought Hall in for questioning, and showed him a photo of Jessica.
“He immediately flinched,” said Miller. “He turned to his right and put his hand up over his face like he didn’t want to see the picture. And he told me he didn’t think he’d ever seen that girl.”
Hall later confessed to the murder of Jessica. “I tied her up, but I can’t remember with what. I took her pants off,” CNN reported that he told investigators. “I laid her up against a tree and put a belt around her neck and she stopped breathing.”
As in the series, he also mentioned other missing girls. “All of the girls looked alike. I cannot remember all of them. I picked up several girls in other areas, but I can’t remember which ones I hurt.”
Unfortunately, Hall recanted everything he had said – which also included a confession to murdering university student Tricia Reitler – the next day, and investigators began to wonder whether they had arrested a serial killer, or a serial confessor.
Hall was eventually convicted of Jessica Roach’s kidnapping following evidence found in his van, but investigators believed he was responsible for many more murders, so enlisted the help of prisoner Jimmy Keene to befriend Larry.
According to CNN, Larry did admit to Jimmy in prison that he had killed Tricia, but he didn’t say where her body was. Sometime later, Jimmy found Larry in the prison workshop with a map. He was carving wooden falcons and placing them on it.
“It was a map with red dots over Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. And he covered it up really fast,” Keene told CNN.com. The falcons were, according to Hall, placed on the map to “watch over the dead”.
It’s here where the Black Bird depiction slightly strays from real life events. In the series, Larry goes into far more detail, voluntarily showing Jimmy the map and boasting about his crimes, while Jimmy pleads with him to give the families peace by revealing where the bodies are buried.
When Larry refuses, Jimmy snaps and calls Larry a monster, thus ending their ‘friendship’.
In real life, Keene – believing he would be freed immediately once he told the FBI about the map – also stopped pretending to be Hall’s friend, blowing his own cover.
“I told him he was a… sicko,” he told CNN. “I told him that he was insane. I said that ‘You are one of the most despicable forms of human life on this planet.'”
“People probably wouldn’t understand the mounting pressure, that kettle is ready to boil over at any time, you know, and it just felt good to unload on the guy,” he later said to Dateline, as reported by msn.com.
In Black Bird, following his confrontation with Larry, Jimmy finds himself unable to contact the FBI and the people who know why he is really in Springfield prison, and he is locked away in solitary confinement while Larry posts the map and falcons to his family (his father is seen burning it).
The same thing happened to the real Jimmy Keene, although what really happened to Larry’s map and wooden carvings is unknown. In the interview with Dateline in 2012, as reported by msn.com, Keene admitted that his confrontation with Larry Hall meant that the vital map evidence was lost.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t wait a day or two at least, I should have waited a few more days,” Keene said. “I wish I could have done more for them [the families] but I did all I could do, and I feel in my being that I did all I could do.”
Keene’s outburst with Larry Hall sadly meant that there are many families – including the parents of Tricia Reitler – who do not know whether Hall killed their missing children, or where the bodies are.
In 2009, Tricia’s mother, Donna, told Cleveland.com, “I’m not interested in punishment or retribution. I just want to find out where my daughter is and bring her home. Sixteen years later, we’re still sitting by the phone waiting for information. This constant up-and-down is painful. We’ve never been able to grieve.”
Since he was imprisoned, Larry Hall has confessed to more 15 murders, and then recanted each confession. He also claimed in an interview with the Associated Press in 2011 that he had abducted 39 women between 1980 and 1994.
Now 59 years old and incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution Butner Medium II in North Carolina with no possibility of parole, it is believed that Hall isn’t just responsible for the 21 murders referred to in Black Bird, but that he could have committed more than 50 murders.
This would make Larry Hall one of the most prolific serial killers of all time in the US.
Black Bird is available now on Apple TV+, with new episodes airing weekly.
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