The story of William O’Neal features prominently in the newly released movie Judas & the Black Messiah, which just hit theaters and some streaming services and features the death of Chicago Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton.
The movie, which is based on real life, tells the story of the life and death of Hampton and the role William O’Neal, an FBI informant and one-time car thief, played in it all. It’s a true story; O’Neal really was an FBI informant who gave the feds the floor plan to Hampton’s apartment, according to the Chicago Reader.
The Chicago Tribune called O’Neal a “key federal government informant who infiltrated the Black Panthers in the late 1960s.” Hampton and another Black Panther leader, Mark Clark, were killed during a law enforcement raid. Some consider it an assassination; the FBI director had instituted a counter intelligence movement in an attempt to break the back of the Panthers and other revolutionary groups.
The movie’s release has some people wondering: What happened to William O’Neal? Where is he today?
O’Neal is no longer alive. He died after being run over by a car on January 15, 1990.
Here’s what you need to know:
O’Neal Took His Own Life on Martin Luther King Jr. Day
The story ended very tragically for all involved. In the case of O’Neal, it was determined that he died of suicide. The Chicago Tribune reported in a 1990 story that the Cook County Medical Examiner had officially ruled O’Neal’s death a suicide.
In 1990, shortly after O’Neal’s death, the Chicago Reader wrote a story called, “The Last Hours of William O’Neal.”
The Reader described how O’Neal was drinking beer with his uncle Ben Heard on Martin Luther King Jr. day.
“We were just sitting around drinking beer,” Heard told The Reader, “talking to some friends of mine. We had company. The company left and that’s when he started acting kind of strange.”
At 2:30 a.m., O’Neal, then 40, ran out of the apartment “across the westbound lanes of the Eisenhower Expressway, and was struck by a car and killed. His death was ruled a suicide,” the Reader reported.
According to Heard, O’Neal “was forever tortured by the guilt.” Heard told The Reader that he heard the “deeply shaken driver tell how O’Neal had jumped out in front of him waving his arms. He tried to swerve, but it was too late.”
The Tribune reported that O’Neal had run in front of a car before but was only injured that time.
O’Neal Was Living Under a False Name
According to the Tribune, O’Neal was living under a new identity – William Hart.
The Tribune reported that, in real life, O’Neal ended up in the Federal Witness Protection Program in 1973 after infiltrating the Black Panther Movement. He was pinched as a car thief, which gave the FBI leverage over him, and he obviously became a controversial figure when his actions were revealed.
“He was always a mysterious guy,” an official who knew him told The Tribune. “He could play all the roles, every part they (FBI agents) needed. I think he never got it out of his system and was confused.”
According to the Tribune, he spent some time living in California. He came back to Chicago about four years before his death.
In a 1989 interview with Eyes on the Prize, O’Neal was asked whether he felt regret. He said:
I didn’t feel like I had done anything. I didn’t walk in there with guns. I didn’t shoot him. FBI didn’t do it. I felt somewhat like I was betrayed. I felt like if anyone should have known it was going to be a raid that morning, I should have known, also. I felt like I could have been caught in that raid. I was there that night, and I felt like if I’d have laid down I probably would have been a victim, so I felt betrayed, I felt like, I felt like I was expendable. I felt like, like perhaps I was on the wrong side. Yeah, yeah, I had my misgivings. I’m not going to, I, no, I’m not going to sit here now and take the responsibility for the raid, you know, I’m not going to do that. I didn’t pull the trigger. I didn’t issue the warrant. I didn’t put the guns in the apartment. So I’m not going to take the responsibility for that, but I do feel like I was betrayed. I felt like I should have known the raid was coming down. I felt like it was probably excessive. You know, I felt like it was a surgical strike, you know, and I was really angry for quite a few days. Quite a few days.
READ NEXT: Biden’s Heartbreaking Words About Son Beau