Judas and the Black Messiah: What Happened to William O'Neal?

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Eliza Jackson
·3 min read
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JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH, from left: Jesse Plemons, LaKeith Stanfield, as William O'Neal, 2021.   Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH, from left: Jesse Plemons, LaKeith Stanfield, as William O'Neal, 2021. Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

In Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah, the heartbreaking true-story of Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton (portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya) being fatally deceived by William O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) is played out on the big screen. At just 21 years old, Hampton and fellow Panther, 22-year-old Mark Clark, were gunned down by police in Hampton's Chicago apartment. The murders sent shockwaves through the nation, and O'Neal was secretly at the center. How exactly was O'Neal involved and where did he end up after the tragedy? Here's a breakdown of the fate of William O'Neal.

What Role Did William O'Neal Play?

Hampton's fateful deceit began when teenage O'Neal was recruited as an FBI informant in order to avoid heavy jail time for petty crimes committed previously. The FBI was actively working on a plan to neutralize the threat they felt Hampton posed as Party Chairman of the Black Panthers. Working his way through the ranks, O'Neal eventually gained the trust of Hampton and became third in command and head of security for the Chicago Panthers Party. The position provided O'Neal with plenty of information to feed to the FBI. He even provided a detailed map of Hampton's apartment.

On the night of Dec. 4, 1969, O'Neal laced Hampton's drink with a sleeping drug and left for the evening. Later that night, the police raided Hampton's apartment and killed Hampton's security guard, Mark Clark, immediately upon entrance. As Hampton lay sleeping with his pregnant fiancé, authorities opened fire. Miraculously, Hampton was still alive, but this flicker of hope was quickly dashed as a police officer shot Hampton in the head twice to kill him. Though O'Neal did not personally fire the close to 99 bullets found at the scene, his infiltration and drugging of Hampton were instrumental in the demise of the revolutionary activist.

What Happened to William O'Neal?

After the murder of Fred Hampton, it wasn't until 1971 when details of the deadly raid started coming to light. In 1973, William O'Neal's involvement was publicly known, and he was placed in Federal Witness Protection. O'Neal used a new identity to live in California and eventually made a silent return to Chicago in 1986. Tragically, William O'Neal's controversial life came to an end when on Jan. 25, 1990, after spending the day with his uncle, 40 year-old O'Neal was killed by a car after running onto the Eisenhower Expressway. O'Neal's death was in turn ruled as a suicide. He left a wife and baby boy behind.

O'Neal's sudden death left people with conflicting feelings. After a life of so many secrets, it had to have been overwhelming for the informant. But many felt less sympathetic after remembering O'Neal's actions. With his brutally murdered brother in mind, Bill Hampton commented that ''The act (of being an informant) he committed was unjust and ignorant. It's something he tried to live with and couldn't.''

Kaluuya and Stanfield give incredible portrayals of these historical men and make Judas and the Black Messiah a great and timely watch this Black History Month.