In with the Devil: A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption [NOOK Book]

Overview



Featured on Dateline and CNN, the true story of a young man destined for greatness on the football field—until a few wrong turns led him to a ten-year prison sentence. He was offered an impossible mission: Coax a confession out of a fellow inmate, a serial killer, and walk free.

Jimmy Keene grew up outside of Chicago. Although he was the son of a policeman and rubbed shoulders with the city’s elite, he ended up on the wrong side of the law ...

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In with the Devil: A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption

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Overview



Featured on Dateline and CNN, the true story of a young man destined for greatness on the football field—until a few wrong turns led him to a ten-year prison sentence. He was offered an impossible mission: Coax a confession out of a fellow inmate, a serial killer, and walk free.

Jimmy Keene grew up outside of Chicago. Although he was the son of a policeman and rubbed shoulders with the city’s elite, he ended up on the wrong side of the law and was sentenced to ten years with no chance of parole.

Just a few months into his sentence, Keene was approached by the prosecutor who put him behind bars. He had convicted a man named Larry Hall for abducting and killing a fifteen-year-old. Although Hall was suspected of killing nineteen other young women, there was a chance he could still be released on appeal. If Keene could get him to confess to two murders, there would be no doubt about Hall’s guilt. In return, Keene would get an unconditional release from prison. But he could also get killed.

A story that gained national notoriety, this is Keene’s powerful tale of peril, violence, and redemption.


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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Reads like a fast-paced suspense novel.” —Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune

“[A] fascinating view of life behind bars.” —Kirkus Reviews

“An amazing story.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Structure[d] like a mystery novel . . . Fascinating [and] suspenseful.” —Booklist

Kirkus Reviews

Set a thief to catch a thief—or, in this instance, a drug dealer to ferret out a murderer's secrets.

Keene enjoyed a sterling youth, his parents pillars of the community, himself a football hero and, in early adulthood, the owner of several businesses. "Wherever I stayed," he writes, "the latest Corvette was always in the driveway, with a crotch rocket and a Harley in the garage and a hot girl in the bedroom." Fortunately, the rest of the book is better written, doubtless through the agency of veteran journalist Levin (Grand Delusions: The Cosmic Career of John DeLorean, 1983, etc.). Keene owed much of his material success to a friendly, business-savvy sideline as a drug dealer. When the law finally caught up to him, however, an especially vigorous prosecutor saw to it that he earned a ten-year prison term. A year later, the authors recount, that prosecutor came calling with a curious offer, asking Keene to cozy up to a convicted murderer to find out where he had buried one of his victims and secure evidence to link him with some 20 unsolved killings. In exchange, Keene would be released from prison. As Keene eventually learned, that killer, suitably deranged—"Sometimes I dream about killing women," he told a police interrogator—had more victims to his credit than anyone had yet realized, but getting that information was a challenge, not just because of the legal requirements of the job but also because the killer was cagey. His hatred of the prosecutor helped, and in time Keene was able to gain the killer's trust, learning of his carefully thought-out methods and getting "a solid confession out of him."

A low-key but fascinating view of life behind bars that deserves a wide audience, if only as a deterrent to crime.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429965590
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 317,753
  • File size: 458 KB

Meet the Author


James Keene was the son of a former police officer who went from high-school football star to convict. Besides working on a book and movie about his life, he is also involved in producing, writing, and consulting for other film and book projects. Hillel Levin has been an investigative reporter for The Nation, New York magazine, Metropolitan Detroit, Playboy, and editor for Chicago magazine. He is the author of Grand Delusions and coauthor of When Corruption Was King.

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Read an Excerpt

1.
Fathers & Sons
 
IT’S THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT IT’S THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT that the defendant be committed to the custody of the attorney general of the United Sates or her authorized representative for the minimum guideline term of one hundred twenty months.
When Jimmy Keene first heard the judge pronounce his sentence in July of 1997, he says, “The life went right out of me.” It was exactly the term that prosecutor Larry Beaumont had recommended, and when Keene went before the bench to make a presentencing statement, he told the judge, “I know I did something wrong, but not to ruin my whole life. Ten years will ruin my life.”
But only moments later, with sickening finality, he would hear those words—“one hundred twenty months”—from the judge’s own lips. Jimmy was hollow and numb. It was, he thought, like hearing a doctor’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. He felt helpless and hopeless in a way that he’d never felt before.
The worst was yet to come. His mother sobbed hysterically somewhere behind him, but when the marshals grabbed his arms to lead him out of the court, he first scanned the spectators to find his father—his idol and his best friend. A tall, brawny man with a mustache and full head of dark hair, Big Jim looked a decade younger than his sixty years. But now, upon hearing the sentence, he, too, was stunned, his face pale and eyes unfocused. “Like he was lost,” Jimmy says.
As soon as Big Jim could, he went to see his son at Ford County jail. They looked at each other through the thick bulletproof glass of the visiting room, and Jimmy says, “We cried like babies.”
 
It was not the first time that they had been in jail together. As a thirteen-year-old in 1976, Jimmy tagged along with his father, then a police officer, when he was called to the Kankakee station house to deal with an unruly prisoner in the holding cells. “As soon as we walked in the station, we heard screaming and yelling. It sounded like a riot. When we went into the cellblock, we could see this huge, crazy black guy whipping everyone into a frenzy. All the guards seemed scared to death, but my father knew him and called him by name. He walked right up to his cell and very calmly said, ‘Choo Choo, you’ve got this whole cellblock out of hand. If I have to unlock that cell door and get in there with you, it won’t be a pretty thing.’ And Choo Choo said, ‘I don’t want no problems with you, man,’ and then completely settled down. It was like watching Superman. When we left the station, the desk sergeant said to me, ‘That’s what we love about your dad.’ ”
Big Jim’s bravery did not stop with the police. He also joined the fire department and, for five years, was a ranking officer in both forces. Jimmy has a favorite newspaper clipping that shows Big Jim rushing a frail little girl into the back of an ambulance. He had passed her burning house on his way home, heard the cries of her mother on the sidewalk, and rushed inside without a helmet or any other gear. Another time, when Jimmy was a teenager, he and some friends had stopped their car by a burning building when they saw his father on the roof. “Just then we heard kaboosh, and we watched the whole building collapse. Everyone on the roof dropped down inside and they were trapped there for hours. A few of them even died. But somehow, my dad got out alive.”
Big Jim was larger-than-life. He had the macho magnetism that drew both men and attractive women. At the age of twenty-six, he married one of those women, a raven-haired beauty named Lynn Brower. Jimmy arrived the next year, with a face that had both his father’s Irish square jaw and his mother’s blue eyes. Although Big Jim never rose above the rank of lieutenant in either the police or fire department, he still hung out with some of the most important people in town: Kankakee’s longtime mayor, Tom Ryan, who was his best friend, and Tom’s older brother, George, who would go on to become governor and—like two of his predecessors—would also end up in prison. But such was the Kankakee pedigree of power and corruption, dating back to the days of Al Capone. Scarface made the riverside town—an hour south of downtown Chicago—his summer getaway and kept most of the local politicians firmly in his pocket.
In many ways, when Jimmy was born in 1963, he embodied his hometown’s moral ambiguity: Big Jim may have been in law enforcement, but Jimmy’s maternal grandfather was a driver for Capone. Keene grew up listening to his Italian grandmother’s tales of the fancy supper clubs and the fast guys who ran them. “She was a high-fashion mink-stole lady,” Jimmy says, “with some serious Mafia connections.”
His father had no reservations about meeting with his in-laws’ friends. One Mafia princess even became Jimmy’s godmother. It all added to Big Jim’s aura as a man who worked both sides of the street. But his political friends were no different and were shameless in exploiting their clout. When Jimmy tagged along to his father’s bull sessions with the local big shots, he heard them dole out government contracts like chips in a poker game. To cash in on these connections, Big Jim started a construction business on the side. Meanwhile Lynn saved the money to finally open her own bar and grill. In addition to Jimmy, they also had another son and a daughter, living just outside of town where they could afford a large house on a big lot. From all appearances, the attractive couple led a storybook lifestyle.
But behind closed doors, a completely different plot played out for Jimmy. Like the song “Jumping Jack Flash,” he says, “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane.” His parents argued constantly—mostly about money. Despite Big Jim’s side businesses, he could not give Lynn all the trappings of wealth to keep up with their fancy friends. Then there was Lynn’s nighthawk lifestyle. “My dad had an old-world mentality,” Jimmy remembers. “He wanted his wife in the kitchen with dinner on the table. She never went along with that.” Sometimes she was still not home when Big Jim was ready to start his morning shift. He would jump back in the squad car and tear over to the restaurant, where the two would empty the bar with their screaming. But nothing bothered him more than her flirting. “She was always a glamour queen,” their son says. “Guys would flock to her, and as far as my father was concerned, she was too nice to them.”
Big Jim’s worst suspicions ultimately panned out when he caught Lynn outside a motel in a car with one of his business partners. His parents divorced when Jimmy was eleven, in 1974, and his childhood came to an abrupt end. Not only did he lose the father he idolized, but a few months after the separation he was forced to live in the same house with the man who had torn his family apart and married his mother.
Sports became Jimmy’s escape from this domestic turmoil. He had grown into a compact version of his father with both strength and blazing speed. Against his mother’s advice, he enrolled in Kankakee’s Eastridge public high school just so he could stick with the football players he had grown up with. Their team ultimately went all the way to a state championship game with Keene as the star running back. He would also letter in wrestling and track. His father never missed a game or a meet.
Although Jimmy was one of the few white students in a tough inner-city school, Big Jim never worried about his safety. He had sent his son, from the age of five, to martial arts schools, where he would earn black belts in karate, kung fu, and tae kwon do. Ironically, Jimmy faced as much danger in his mother’s house as on the streets. One night after wrestling practice, the fifteen-year-old returned home to find Lynn and his stepfather drinking in the kitchen. Words with her quickly escalated into a fistfight with him. “He came barreling after me,” Keene remembers. “When he took a swing, I ducked out of the way and punched him in the face.” Jimmy didn’t stop punching until he had his stepfather on the floor, with two black eyes.
If nothing else, the fight gave him an excuse to live with his father, but just then Big Jim was settling into bachelor life. When women came to visit, they were surprised to find his teenage son knocking about. Keene says, “I could tell it was cramping his style and mine, too.” He returned to his mother’s house, doing his best to stay confined to the basement and away from his stepfather.
With his good looks and limited parental supervision, Jimmy was sleeping with multiple girlfriends by the time he was fifteen. It was the late seventies, an era still on the cusp of AIDS awareness, and sex had never been more casual. He can drive through most neighborhoods in town and point to a home where one of his conquests had lived—from the tightly packed bungalows to the mansions by the river. His athletic success in high school had brought admiration from the boys, but so did his willingness to fight anyone at any time. His experience in both martial arts and wrestling made for a lethal combination. His one-man rumbles against three or four assailants at a time became school legend. He was often in demand as much for protection as companionship at the wild parties hosted by Kankakee’s wealthiest kids. If their parents were out of town, their keggers could last all weekend.
Increasingly, as Keene ran with the rich crowd, he became self-conscious about his own comparatively modest means. “My buddy would show up to a party with a brand-new Ford Bronco. At the dock behind his house, he had matching jet boats—red and white—that his parents gave him for his sixteenth birthday. And then here is Jimmy with his junky little Toyota Celica. The only thing I had was sports.”
He felt that stigma grow when Big Jim was suddenly dragged into a well-publicized drug sting. Big Jim and some friends did nothing more than listen to a paid informant boast that he could arrange for a shipment of cocaine to Kankakee, but the state’s attorney still brought charges against them. Although the case was thrown out before it ever came to trial, the stain remained on Big Jim and, by extension, his sons. No amount of fighting could stop the whispers. “My mom was losing her restaurant and my dad was going broke on a fireman’s salary,” Keene recalls, “and everybody thought I was the godfather’s kid.”
As high school students kept approaching Jimmy for dope, he started to wonder if it would be such a bad thing to oblige them. Kankakee’s depressed industrial economy had already made it a hotbed for drug dealing and other criminal activity. “It was a way for me to make money,” he says, “but it was also a reason for me to keep hanging with the rich kids. The fact that I could be the guy with the sources and connections to get them their party goods made me the man of the hour.”
Keene himself had little use for drugs or alcohol because of their effect on his athletic performance, but he had several pot-smoking friends who introduced him to their local sources. Jimmy quickly realized that he was perfectly suited to build a “sales” network. He could recruit his buddies who were wrestlers and football players as dealers. They were fearsome on their own, but if they encountered any tough customer who refused to pay, Jimmy was their ultimate enforcer. Everyone in school knew about his black belts, and those who had seen his fights were terrified of him. Quickly his sales force reached into the community beyond just high school students, and Keene was dealing directly with Kankakee’s biggest pot supplier, a Mexican who lived in a big house on the river and had a matching set of $40,000 jet boats.
When it came time to graduate in 1982, most Eastridge High School football fans thought Jimmy Keene would soon be a running back for a major university. Instead, he chose to attend Triton, a community college in a suburb of Chicago. The football program was locally renowned but was nothing on the national radar. He explained to Big Jim that he wanted to remain close to Kankakee.
In fact, he was making too much money and having too much fun to leave his drug operation behind, and it clicked into high gear once he hit the Windy City. Before long, Keene says, “My mind was straying from sports and school.” He continued to recruit fellow football players and wrestlers to join his other “team,” but he was more careful to insulate himself from direct contact with the customers. Instead, he concentrated on the “connections” who could supply the drugs to his burgeoning sales force. To pay them off, he’d set up meetings, always careful to use pay phones instead of his home phone. He would casually walk into a restaurant with a briefcase packed with cash, take a seat opposite the supplier’s courier, then just as casually leave the briefcase behind when he got up to go.
The heaviest connections soon valued Jimmy as much as he did them. “Being a drug dealer is a bigger job than anyone thinks,” he explains. “Everything is high risk. You have the cops breathing down your neck. You have to meet people living in areas that could be detrimental to your health. You have to collect money from some customers who don’t want to pay. It’s the kind of job nine out of ten people would fail at.”
For a time, his biggest suppliers were an Italian father-and-son team deeply involved with Chicago’s mob. They owned several legitimate businesses in Cicero as fronts to launder cash. They quickly picked up on Keene’s Italian roots, and the father, who had experience as a barber, loved cutting his thick black hair. Afterward, they would all sit down to a home-cooked Italian meal.
The son talked Jimmy into extending his product line into cocaine. “I don’t know why you fuck with the pot,” the son told him. They had to haul in truckloads of marijuana to equal the street value of a few suitcases of coke. Keene discovered he could sell the powder to many of his existing customers. After he had lucked into meeting a real Mexican drug lord, he became the Cicero mobsters’ supplier.
With a crew of eight dealers, his total sales exceeded a million dollars a year, and he was netting as much as $400,000 of it. “I realized I could put the college education on hold,” Keene says, “and become a millionaire very quickly.” He had already left the football team, and by 1984, after his sophomore year, he’d stopped attending classes,
He had too much cash to safely deposit in a bank without getting reported to the Feds, so instead he spent it on “stupid shit” that he didn’t really need. “Everything was in excess,” he remembers. “One motorcycle or Corvette wasn’t enough, I had to have two. I had hundreds of leather jackets. If I wanted a music collection, I’d go into a record store and buy everything in sight. If I went to a restaurant or bar, I’d buy a bunch of booze for everyone there.”
With all of his party connections, Keene was invited onto the Chicago set of The Color of Money when it was filmed in 1985. He instantly hit it off with Tom Cruise, who maybe saw a little of himself in Jimmy—or the more macho, muscular self he wanted to be. They hung out and even went shopping for cars together. Jimmy was an extra in a few scenes, and before he left town, director Martin Scorsese told him that he could have a career in Hollywood. It was something Big Jim never let him forget. He could have been a star. But for Jimmy, even movie money seemed like chump change compared to that of his booming business. He would buy another stash house on Chicago’s Gold Coast that had a lakefront view, as well as a vacation home back in Kankakee.
Never for a moment had Keene been tempted to use any of the merchandise he sold. He says, “I don’t think I ever understood what people meant when they talked about having addictions to dope or alcohol or gambling. But the money was something different for me. Once I saw all that cash coming in—rooms full of it—that became my addiction.”
Nothing made Keene feel better about his newfound wealth than helping Big Jim. His father had retired around the time that Jimmy had left college. Big Jim had always fancied himself to be an entrepreneur and decided to devote himself full-time to his myriad business ventures. But it didn’t take long for all of his deals to crumble around him. Once impossibly boyish, he now wore a full beard that had gone completely gray. He had become like a hulking Hemingway in winter. One day in 1986, Jimmy stopped by the house his father owned on a hill overlooking the river. He found him hunched over some papers on the kitchen table, sobbing. It broke Jimmy’s heart. Superman wasn’t supposed to cry.
Big Jim was on the verge of eviction. His treasured Corvette, Chevy 4 ? 4, and Harley had already been repossessed. Worse yet, if all of his assets were liquidated, it could raise questions about the other notes he had signed. To add to the humiliation, his ex-lover was telling everyone in town that her new boyfriend was about to buy Big Jim’s things from the sheriff’s auction. The next morning, Keene arrived at his father’s door with a big bag. Inside was $350,000 in cash. First, they paid the entire mortgage on the house, then they reclaimed everything that had been repossessed. All Jimmy wanted in return was that his father not ask any questions.
This was the first of many cash infusions into Big Jim’s affairs—a sort of reverse trust fund. Big Jim trusted that the source of money wasn’t too bad. The son trusted that his father could somehow leverage the ill-gotten gains into a legitimate moneymaking enterprise.
Jimmy had tried on his own, investing in an adult-video company with a male childhood friend who had become a porn star. Along the way, as a fringe benefit, Keene had a brief fling with Samantha Strong, then the reigning XXX queen. They met when he happened to sit next to her at a party. “First,” Keene says, “she asked, ‘Um, what movies are you in?’ and then I told her, ‘Well, I haven’t been in any movies.’ We just hit it off from there and ended up having our own little private party later that night. For a while, we were seeing quite a bit of each other. She’d fly me out to Vegas while she did all her shows. She wanted me to be her travel companion, but I was just too busy for that kind of relationship between all my legitimate businesses and the crooked business.” Meanwhile, his partner proved too flaky to run the adult-video business. As Jimmy remembers, “All he wanted to do was party, party, party.” Keene ended up losing more than $300,000 before he shut the business down.
If nothing else, Jimmy’s capital investment put the life back into Big Jim. He shaved off his beard of woe and was once again riding high with an attractive new lady on his arm. They had season tickets to Bears games and regular nights out at Chicago’s finest restaurants. Keene himself wasn’t living so large, but he never begrudged Big Jim his expensive tastes. “My dad was everything to me,” Jimmy explains. “I would have done what ever I had to do to make his life better and more enjoyable for him. It pushed me that much harder on the street.”
Big Jim never intended to force his son into selling drugs, but every legitimate place where he sunk Jimmy’s money proved to be a dry hole, from trucking to real estate to—most improbably—a line of Italian frozen food. “He was spending it as fast as I could make it,” Keene says. “It was like I was on a treadmill.”
If Big Jim had any illusions about the real source of his son’s wealth, they were surely dispelled in 1992 when both Jimmy, now almost thirty, and his younger brother, Tim, were busted as they drove two vans packed with 150 pounds of pot. The deal had been set up by Tim, who was making his own bones in the trade. Although it looked as if he had a reliable source, he had been snared by a sting instead. Jimmy helped engineer the deal and pushed to complete it when Tim became suspicious about his connection. The older brother even offered to help drive at the last minute. After the arrest, the Keenes were hauled to the county jail, but when directed to a pay phone to make his one call, Jimmy did not dial up his lawyer. Instead, he called his live-in girlfriend. As quietly as possible he said, “I’m not going to be coming home tonight.” When she asked what had happened, he replied, “It is what we’ve always worried about.” Then, just as calmly, he told her how to lift up the floorboard in the laundry room where he had stashed six kilos of cocaine and $150,000. “Put what you find in the laundry basket and cover it with a bunch of clothes,” he told her, “and get the hell out of there.”
 
Excerpted from In with the Devil by James Keene with Hillel Levin.
Copyright © 2010 by James Keene with Hillel Levin.
Published in September 2010 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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First Chapter

In with the Devil

A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption
By James Keene

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 James Keene
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312551032

1.
Fathers & Sons
 
IT’S THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT IT’S THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT that the defendant be committed to the custody of the attorney general of the United Sates or her authorized representative for the minimum guideline term of one hundred twenty months.
When Jimmy Keene first heard the judge pronounce his sentence in July of 1997, he says, “The life went right out of me.” It was exactly the term that prosecutor Larry Beaumont had recommended, and when Keene went before the bench to make a presentencing statement, he told the judge, “I know I did something wrong, but not to ruin my whole life. Ten years will ruin my life.”
But only moments later, with sickening finality, he would hear those words—“one hundred twenty months”—from the judge’s own lips. Jimmy was hollow and numb. It was, he thought, like hearing a doctor’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. He felt helpless and hopeless in a way that he’d never felt before.
The worst was yet to come. His mother sobbed hysterically somewhere behind him, but when the marshals grabbed his arms to lead him out of the court, he first scanned the spectators to find his father—his idol and his best friend. A tall, brawny man with a mustache and full head of dark hair, Big Jim looked a decade younger than his sixty years. But now, upon hearing the sentence, he, too, was stunned, his face pale and eyes unfocused. “Like he was lost,” Jimmy says.
As soon as Big Jim could, he went to see his son at Ford County jail. They looked at each other through the thick bulletproof glass of the visiting room, and Jimmy says, “We cried like babies.”
 
It was not the first time that they had been in jail together. As a thirteen-year-old in 1976, Jimmy tagged along with his father, then a police officer, when he was called to the Kankakee station house to deal with an unruly prisoner in the holding cells. “As soon as we walked in the station, we heard screaming and yelling. It sounded like a riot. When we went into the cellblock, we could see this huge, crazy black guy whipping everyone into a frenzy. All the guards seemed scared to death, but my father knew him and called him by name. He walked right up to his cell and very calmly said, ‘Choo Choo, you’ve got this whole cellblock out of hand. If I have to unlock that cell door and get in there with you, it won’t be a pretty thing.’ And Choo Choo said, ‘I don’t want no problems with you, man,’ and then completely settled down. It was like watching Superman. When we left the station, the desk sergeant said to me, ‘That’s what we love about your dad.’ ”
Big Jim’s bravery did not stop with the police. He also joined the fire department and, for five years, was a ranking officer in both forces. Jimmy has a favorite newspaper clipping that shows Big Jim rushing a frail little girl into the back of an ambulance. He had passed her burning house on his way home, heard the cries of her mother on the sidewalk, and rushed inside without a helmet or any other gear. Another time, when Jimmy was a teenager, he and some friends had stopped their car by a burning building when they saw his father on the roof. “Just then we heard kaboosh, and we watched the whole building collapse. Everyone on the roof dropped down inside and they were trapped there for hours. A few of them even died. But somehow, my dad got out alive.”
Big Jim was larger-than-life. He had the macho magnetism that drew both men and attractive women. At the age of twenty-six, he married one of those women, a raven-haired beauty named Lynn Brower. Jimmy arrived the next year, with a face that had both his father’s Irish square jaw and his mother’s blue eyes. Although Big Jim never rose above the rank of lieutenant in either the police or fire department, he still hung out with some of the most important people in town: Kankakee’s longtime mayor, Tom Ryan, who was his best friend, and Tom’s older brother, George, who would go on to become governor and—like two of his predecessors—would also end up in prison. But such was the Kankakee pedigree of power and corruption, dating back to the days of Al Capone. Scarface made the riverside town—an hour south of downtown Chicago—his summer getaway and kept most of the local politicians firmly in his pocket.
In many ways, when Jimmy was born in 1963, he embodied his hometown’s moral ambiguity: Big Jim may have been in law enforcement, but Jimmy’s maternal grandfather was a driver for Capone. Keene grew up listening to his Italian grandmother’s tales of the fancy supper clubs and the fast guys who ran them. “She was a high-fashion mink-stole lady,” Jimmy says, “with some serious Mafia connections.”
His father had no reservations about meeting with his in-laws’ friends. One Mafia princess even became Jimmy’s godmother. It all added to Big Jim’s aura as a man who worked both sides of the street. But his political friends were no different and were shameless in exploiting their clout. When Jimmy tagged along to his father’s bull sessions with the local big shots, he heard them dole out government contracts like chips in a poker game. To cash in on these connections, Big Jim started a construction business on the side. Meanwhile Lynn saved the money to finally open her own bar and grill. In addition to Jimmy, they also had another son and a daughter, living just outside of town where they could afford a large house on a big lot. From all appearances, the attractive couple led a storybook lifestyle.
But behind closed doors, a completely different plot played out for Jimmy. Like the song “Jumping Jack Flash,” he says, “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane.” His parents argued constantly—mostly about money. Despite Big Jim’s side businesses, he could not give Lynn all the trappings of wealth to keep up with their fancy friends. Then there was Lynn’s nighthawk lifestyle. “My dad had an old-world mentality,” Jimmy remembers. “He wanted his wife in the kitchen with dinner on the table. She never went along with that.” Sometimes she was still not home when Big Jim was ready to start his morning shift. He would jump back in the squad car and tear over to the restaurant, where the two would empty the bar with their screaming. But nothing bothered him more than her flirting. “She was always a glamour queen,” their son says. “Guys would flock to her, and as far as my father was concerned, she was too nice to them.”
Big Jim’s worst suspicions ultimately panned out when he caught Lynn outside a motel in a car with one of his business partners. His parents divorced when Jimmy was eleven, in 1974, and his childhood came to an abrupt end. Not only did he lose the father he idolized, but a few months after the separation he was forced to live in the same house with the man who had torn his family apart and married his mother.
Sports became Jimmy’s escape from this domestic turmoil. He had grown into a compact version of his father with both strength and blazing speed. Against his mother’s advice, he enrolled in Kankakee’s Eastridge public high school just so he could stick with the football players he had grown up with. Their team ultimately went all the way to a state championship game with Keene as the star running back. He would also letter in wrestling and track. His father never missed a game or a meet.
Although Jimmy was one of the few white students in a tough inner-city school, Big Jim never worried about his safety. He had sent his son, from the age of five, to martial arts schools, where he would earn black belts in karate, kung fu, and tae kwon do. Ironically, Jimmy faced as much danger in his mother’s house as on the streets. One night after wrestling practice, the fifteen-year-old returned home to find Lynn and his stepfather drinking in the kitchen. Words with her quickly escalated into a fistfight with him. “He came barreling after me,” Keene remembers. “When he took a swing, I ducked out of the way and punched him in the face.” Jimmy didn’t stop punching until he had his stepfather on the floor, with two black eyes.
If nothing else, the fight gave him an excuse to live with his father, but just then Big Jim was settling into bachelor life. When women came to visit, they were surprised to find his teenage son knocking about. Keene says, “I could tell it was cramping his style and mine, too.” He returned to his mother’s house, doing his best to stay confined to the basement and away from his stepfather.
With his good looks and limited parental supervision, Jimmy was sleeping with multiple girlfriends by the time he was fifteen. It was the late seventies, an era still on the cusp of AIDS awareness, and sex had never been more casual. He can drive through most neighborhoods in town and point to a home where one of his conquests had lived—from the tightly packed bungalows to the mansions by the river. His athletic success in high school had brought admiration from the boys, but so did his willingness to fight anyone at any time. His experience in both martial arts and wrestling made for a lethal combination. His one-man rumbles against three or four assailants at a time became school legend. He was often in demand as much for protection as companionship at the wild parties hosted by Kankakee’s wealthiest kids. If their parents were out of town, their keggers could last all weekend.
Increasingly, as Keene ran with the rich crowd, he became self-conscious about his own comparatively modest means. “My buddy would show up to a party with a brand-new Ford Bronco. At the dock behind his house, he had matching jet boats—red and white—that his parents gave him for his sixteenth birthday. And then here is Jimmy with his junky little Toyota Celica. The only thing I had was sports.”
He felt that stigma grow when Big Jim was suddenly dragged into a well-publicized drug sting. Big Jim and some friends did nothing more than listen to a paid informant boast that he could arrange for a shipment of cocaine to Kankakee, but the state’s attorney still brought charges against them. Although the case was thrown out before it ever came to trial, the stain remained on Big Jim and, by extension, his sons. No amount of fighting could stop the whispers. “My mom was losing her restaurant and my dad was going broke on a fireman’s salary,” Keene recalls, “and everybody thought I was the godfather’s kid.”
As high school students kept approaching Jimmy for dope, he started to wonder if it would be such a bad thing to oblige them. Kankakee’s depressed industrial economy had already made it a hotbed for drug dealing and other criminal activity. “It was a way for me to make money,” he says, “but it was also a reason for me to keep hanging with the rich kids. The fact that I could be the guy with the sources and connections to get them their party goods made me the man of the hour.”
Keene himself had little use for drugs or alcohol because of their effect on his athletic performance, but he had several pot-smoking friends who introduced him to their local sources. Jimmy quickly realized that he was perfectly suited to build a “sales” network. He could recruit his buddies who were wrestlers and football players as dealers. They were fearsome on their own, but if they encountered any tough customer who refused to pay, Jimmy was their ultimate enforcer. Everyone in school knew about his black belts, and those who had seen his fights were terrified of him. Quickly his sales force reached into the community beyond just high school students, and Keene was dealing directly with Kankakee’s biggest pot supplier, a Mexican who lived in a big house on the river and had a matching set of $40,000 jet boats.
When it came time to graduate in 1982, most Eastridge High School football fans thought Jimmy Keene would soon be a running back for a major university. Instead, he chose to attend Triton, a community college in a suburb of Chicago. The football program was locally renowned but was nothing on the national radar. He explained to Big Jim that he wanted to remain close to Kankakee.
In fact, he was making too much money and having too much fun to leave his drug operation behind, and it clicked into high gear once he hit the Windy City. Before long, Keene says, “My mind was straying from sports and school.” He continued to recruit fellow football players and wrestlers to join his other “team,” but he was more careful to insulate himself from direct contact with the customers. Instead, he concentrated on the “connections” who could supply the drugs to his burgeoning sales force. To pay them off, he’d set up meetings, always careful to use pay phones instead of his home phone. He would casually walk into a restaurant with a briefcase packed with cash, take a seat opposite the supplier’s courier, then just as casually leave the briefcase behind when he got up to go.
The heaviest connections soon valued Jimmy as much as he did them. “Being a drug dealer is a bigger job than anyone thinks,” he explains. “Everything is high risk. You have the cops breathing down your neck. You have to meet people living in areas that could be detrimental to your health. You have to collect money from some customers who don’t want to pay. It’s the kind of job nine out of ten people would fail at.”
For a time, his biggest suppliers were an Italian father-and-son team deeply involved with Chicago’s mob. They owned several legitimate businesses in Cicero as fronts to launder cash. They quickly picked up on Keene’s Italian roots, and the father, who had experience as a barber, loved cutting his thick black hair. Afterward, they would all sit down to a home-cooked Italian meal.
The son talked Jimmy into extending his product line into cocaine. “I don’t know why you fuck with the pot,” the son told him. They had to haul in truckloads of marijuana to equal the street value of a few suitcases of coke. Keene discovered he could sell the powder to many of his existing customers. After he had lucked into meeting a real Mexican drug lord, he became the Cicero mobsters’ supplier.
With a crew of eight dealers, his total sales exceeded a million dollars a year, and he was netting as much as $400,000 of it. “I realized I could put the college education on hold,” Keene says, “and become a millionaire very quickly.” He had already left the football team, and by 1984, after his sophomore year, he’d stopped attending classes,
He had too much cash to safely deposit in a bank without getting reported to the Feds, so instead he spent it on “stupid shit” that he didn’t really need. “Everything was in excess,” he remembers. “One motorcycle or Corvette wasn’t enough, I had to have two. I had hundreds of leather jackets. If I wanted a music collection, I’d go into a record store and buy everything in sight. If I went to a restaurant or bar, I’d buy a bunch of booze for everyone there.”
With all of his party connections, Keene was invited onto the Chicago set of The Color of Money when it was filmed in 1985. He instantly hit it off with Tom Cruise, who maybe saw a little of himself in Jimmy—or the more macho, muscular self he wanted to be. They hung out and even went shopping for cars together. Jimmy was an extra in a few scenes, and before he left town, director Martin Scorsese told him that he could have a career in Hollywood. It was something Big Jim never let him forget. He could have been a star. But for Jimmy, even movie money seemed like chump change compared to that of his booming business. He would buy another stash house on Chicago’s Gold Coast that had a lakefront view, as well as a vacation home back in Kankakee.
Never for a moment had Keene been tempted to use any of the merchandise he sold. He says, “I don’t think I ever understood what people meant when they talked about having addictions to dope or alcohol or gambling. But the money was something different for me. Once I saw all that cash coming in—rooms full of it—that became my addiction.”
Nothing made Keene feel better about his newfound wealth than helping Big Jim. His father had retired around the time that Jimmy had left college. Big Jim had always fancied himself to be an entrepreneur and decided to devote himself full-time to his myriad business ventures. But it didn’t take long for all of his deals to crumble around him. Once impossibly boyish, he now wore a full beard that had gone completely gray. He had become like a hulking Hemingway in winter. One day in 1986, Jimmy stopped by the house his father owned on a hill overlooking the river. He found him hunched over some papers on the kitchen table, sobbing. It broke Jimmy’s heart. Superman wasn’t supposed to cry.
Big Jim was on the verge of eviction. His treasured Corvette, Chevy 4 ? 4, and Harley had already been repossessed. Worse yet, if all of his assets were liquidated, it could raise questions about the other notes he had signed. To add to the humiliation, his ex-lover was telling everyone in town that her new boyfriend was about to buy Big Jim’s things from the sheriff’s auction. The next morning, Keene arrived at his father’s door with a big bag. Inside was $350,000 in cash. First, they paid the entire mortgage on the house, then they reclaimed everything that had been repossessed. All Jimmy wanted in return was that his father not ask any questions.
This was the first of many cash infusions into Big Jim’s affairs—a sort of reverse trust fund. Big Jim trusted that the source of money wasn’t too bad. The son trusted that his father could somehow leverage the ill-gotten gains into a legitimate moneymaking enterprise.
Jimmy had tried on his own, investing in an adult-video company with a male childhood friend who had become a porn star. Along the way, as a fringe benefit, Keene had a brief fling with Samantha Strong, then the reigning XXX queen. They met when he happened to sit next to her at a party. “First,” Keene says, “she asked, ‘Um, what movies are you in?’ and then I told her, ‘Well, I haven’t been in any movies.’ We just hit it off from there and ended up having our own little private party later that night. For a while, we were seeing quite a bit of each other. She’d fly me out to Vegas while she did all her shows. She wanted me to be her travel companion, but I was just too busy for that kind of relationship between all my legitimate businesses and the crooked business.” Meanwhile, his partner proved too flaky to run the adult-video business. As Jimmy remembers, “All he wanted to do was party, party, party.” Keene ended up losing more than $300,000 before he shut the business down.
If nothing else, Jimmy’s capital investment put the life back into Big Jim. He shaved off his beard of woe and was once again riding high with an attractive new lady on his arm. They had season tickets to Bears games and regular nights out at Chicago’s finest restaurants. Keene himself wasn’t living so large, but he never begrudged Big Jim his expensive tastes. “My dad was everything to me,” Jimmy explains. “I would have done what ever I had to do to make his life better and more enjoyable for him. It pushed me that much harder on the street.”
Big Jim never intended to force his son into selling drugs, but every legitimate place where he sunk Jimmy’s money proved to be a dry hole, from trucking to real estate to—most improbably—a line of Italian frozen food. “He was spending it as fast as I could make it,” Keene says. “It was like I was on a treadmill.”
If Big Jim had any illusions about the real source of his son’s wealth, they were surely dispelled in 1992 when both Jimmy, now almost thirty, and his younger brother, Tim, were busted as they drove two vans packed with 150 pounds of pot. The deal had been set up by Tim, who was making his own bones in the trade. Although it looked as if he had a reliable source, he had been snared by a sting instead. Jimmy helped engineer the deal and pushed to complete it when Tim became suspicious about his connection. The older brother even offered to help drive at the last minute. After the arrest, the Keenes were hauled to the county jail, but when directed to a pay phone to make his one call, Jimmy did not dial up his lawyer. Instead, he called his live-in girlfriend. As quietly as possible he said, “I’m not going to be coming home tonight.” When she asked what had happened, he replied, “It is what we’ve always worried about.” Then, just as calmly, he told her how to lift up the floorboard in the laundry room where he had stashed six kilos of cocaine and $150,000. “Put what you find in the laundry basket and cover it with a bunch of clothes,” he told her, “and get the hell out of there.”
 
Excerpted from In with the Devil by James Keene with Hillel Levin.
Copyright © 2010 by James Keene with Hillel Levin.
Published in September 2010 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Excerpted from In with the Devil by James Keene Copyright © 2010 by James Keene. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 4, 2010

    Want a page turner? Look no further!

    In With The Devil is a true crime story that again proves that truth is so much stranger than fiction. The authors laid out the back story in a way that made me want to know what was coming next. How does one come to be a serial killer? How does one find the courage necessary to take on a task as daunting as going undercover in prison to draw information out of a serial killer? The whole story just blew my mind.

    The writing was sharp, clear and concise. It moved the story along at a rapid pace that I really liked. It's a story of terror, danger and fear, as well as redemption. I'm still thinking about it several days after I finished the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2014

    Meridell

    The once imposing castle was burnt and da<_>maged. The dark land floating in the distance was no longer there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    An excellent true story, with details that enhance the narrative

    An excellent true story, with details that enhance the narrative without glorifying crime or drug abuse.
    The book-on-tape, narrated by Robertson Dean, is well done with good production details. A good choice for a long car trip.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2013

    Interesting book and a few fantastic stories. But, I have person

    Interesting book and a few fantastic stories. But, I have personally known workers at the Springfield Prison and I am told much of what is said in the book---could NOT have happened. The story is told from the perspective of an admitted Drug Dealer, admitted Convicted Felon and admitted sometimes troublesome Prisoner. Law Enforcement and Corrections Officers will see through this book like glass.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2012

    Great

    You will not be disappointed reading Jimmys story.. this is a well written book, i feel i know Jimmy.. id love to know what hes doing today.. he put his life on the line for the innocent victims a monster killed.. Bn

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2012

    One of the most fascinating and exciting stories I have ever rea

    One of the most fascinating and exciting stories I have ever read! I highly recommend reading Jimmy Keene's story!

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    Posted October 1, 2013

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    Posted November 23, 2012

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    Posted February 10, 2012

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