Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann

Oil, money, murder and the birth of the FBI.

Publisher:London : Simon & Schuster, 2017.
ISBN:9780753539798 (ISBN10: 0753539799)
Characteristics:339 pages : illustrations, map, portraits ; 25 cm.
Source:Yarra Plenty Library Service

I think the movie Killers of the Flower Moon was excellent, telling a true story from the early 20th century that was long forgotten. The long movie does a thorough job, starting from when the Osage Indians acquire their wealth from a lucky oil discovery on their land. And after seeing the movie I had to read the book to learn more.

As is often the case, the book provides much more detail and background to the story. The book is well written, highly detailed, and it keeps your interest from start to finish. It was good to see the unusual inclusion of printed images in the book, which helps puts the reader in the era.

Oil and the Osage Indians

For the Osage Indians the money flows slowly at first, but after a while it becomes significant; making the Osage men and women irresistible targets for swindlers and murderers, especially the women. One tribe leader was quoted saying that they would have been better off without the money.

The movie follows Ernest Burkhart and Mollie from when they meet. The film gives the impression that Ernest was manipulated by his uncle William King Hale into marrying Mollie and stealing her wealth. The book tells a different story, revealing Ernest as an accomplice in the Osage Indian murders.

At his murder conviction trial Mollie, even though she once loved him through so much, she could no longer bear to look at him. Thankfully, she recovered her health and remarried. Sadly, the damage to her health caught up with her, and she passed away aged 50.

Birth of the FBI

Tom White, a Bureau of Investigation agent, played a key role in bringing justice to the Osage. With forensic science in its infancy, most of the evidence was alibi’s and witnesses. Tom and his team took great risks interviewing and seeking witnesses. A number of agents had been slain when they got too close to the truth.

The case trial proved difficult, with much trouble with witnesses, who probably feared they would be murdered next. What made the conviction stick was Ernest Burkhart. He could no longer stand the guilt and finally broke down, revealing all against his uncle.

The success of the trial gave the Bureau of Investigation credibility and standing with the nation. In 1935 the Bureau of Investigation was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation, marking its birth.

Sadly, even today, many Osage murders remain unsolved, as the author discovered when he interviewed Osage descendants.


The author says J. Edgar Hoover was a right wing protestant and took much of the credit for convicting the killers of the flower moon, not giving any public credit to his dedicated agents. Hoover proved very controversial later on with his relentless pursuance of alleged communist citizens.


A fascinating but sad story that should not be forgotten. The book is a highly satisfying read, and the movie is well worth seeing as well.

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