Killers of the Flower Moon - The Investigation

Feb 25, 2019

Oklahoma and Indian Territories
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Hi, y’all. I am Eli Wilkerson, a Certified Fraud Examiner and US Army Veteran (Afghanistan ‘10’/11). I have served 10 years in Texas Law Enforcement and have earned a Master of Business Administration.

Take a trip with me back in time to the 1920s. To a time of booms and busts, to an era of glitz and greed, which built a powder keg of crime, corruption, and murder? We won’t even have to travel to Chicago.

Let’s take a short drive to the rolling plains of North Eastern Oklahoma. Let’s turn the pages of Killers of the Flower Moon, By David Grann

Like all true crime stories here is The Investigation:

The 1920’s, Osage County, City of Pawhuska, Okla., wealthy members of the Osage Tribe that own oil ‘head rights’, have been dying or escaping death under questionable circumstances. Some members of the Osages had been poisoned with illegal moonshine, others escaped bombings, and some had come down with mysterious illnesses.

Then there are the members that went missing, later found with a bullet hole in the back of their head. Members of the Osage tribe began to live in fear. Their advocates and wards (the persons appointed by the courts to manage the Osages assets) began to show concern.

Wanting answers Osages and concerned persons asked for assistance from the County Sheriff’s Offices, The State of Oklahoma, and the federal government. At first, the requests for assistance fell on deaf ears, so The Osages and concerned persons contracted Pinkerton Detective Agency and the William J. Burns International Detective Agency.

Both of these early private investigation businesses had some success with sending their agents undercover into the oil fields and towns to gather information and track down leads. Sometimes the leads went cold or the clients ran out of money to continue paying for the investigations. Historical records discovered later show at times the agents were paid to look the other way or to stop the investigations.

The state of Oklahoma eventually sent an agent from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate. Ultimately, it was discovered that the agent was corrupt and the investigation into the Osage murders hit another dead end.

Eventually, in 1925,  the Bureau of Investigation (later called the Federal Bureau of Investigation) sent Special Agent Tom White from Houston, Texas to Osage County, Okla. to investigate the Osage murders. White was a former Texas Ranger and basically given the green light from J. Edger Hoover to bring the Osage Killers to justice.

In an Eliot Ness and the Untouchables fashion, Agent White assembled a team of investigators that had undercover backgrounds that ranged from being cowboys to merchants. While these Agents worked Osage County undercover gathering information, Agent White picked up where the private eyes and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation had stopped.

Agent White and his team picked up the trail and began to build a case against the killers. Their main suspects were Ernest Burkhart and William K. Hale. Mr. Burkhart was the husband of Molly Burkhart. Molly Burkhart was a full blood Osage with oil ‘head rights’ and her ward was Ernest Burkhart. Mr. Hale was a cattleman, notable county government influencer, and a ward, as well. Agent White and his team uncovered a conspiracy to manipulate the assets of Molly Burkhart and her family.  Then, systematically murder the family one by one to receive the oil ‘headrights’.

But were Ernest Burkhart and William Hale the killers?

The challenges the investigators faced then are at times faced by today’s investigators. Resources, time, political influence, bias, and bigotry towards certain types of people were challenges then and can be challenges still today.