Mollie (right) with her sisters Anna (centre) and Minnie. David Grann /

By Mark McConville

RARE images have revealed the intriguing murder mystery that captivated a nation as the FBI stepped in for the first time in history to solve a case.


Mollie (right) with her sister Anna and their mother Lizzie. David Grann /

The black and white pictures show the Native American tribe that were being killed off one-by-one after oil was discovered underneath their land.

The Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma, USA were the richest people per capita in the world in the 1920s and had built mansions, rode in chauffeured automobiles and sent their children to study in Europe.

The press claimed that whereas one out of every eleven Americans owned a car, virtually every Osage had eleven of them. David Grann /

The true-life murder story, which became one of the FBI’s first major homicide investigation, is chronicled in a new book, Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann and published by Simon and Schuster.

“It was a story I had never heard about, never read about in any history book,” he told Wired.


The ravine where Anna Brown’s body was found. David Grann /

“An historian had mentioned it to me, and I decided to go out to the Osage nation, which still exists in northeast Oklahoma. I got there and I went to the museum. At the time I didn’t know the museum director, Kathryn Red Corn.

“There’s a large panoramic photograph on the wall, taken in 1923, but it’s missing a panel. I’d said to Kathryn, ‘what happened to that panel?’ And she’d said, “it was too painful to look at”. She pointed to the missing panel and she said, “the devil was standing right there”.


Al Spencer Gang members jokingly hold up others in their crew. David Grann /

“They had a copy of the missing panel, and she brought it up and she showed it to me. And there, in the corner, she identified one of the killers of the Osage. And that’s when I decided: OK, I want to know who that devil was.”

The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target and her relatives were shot and poisoned.


William Hale competing in a roping contest when he was a cowboy. David Grann /

More and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances and even many people who dared investigate the killings were murdered.

The Bureau of Investigation, later renamed the FBI, took up the case as the death toll climbed but turned to a former Texas Ranger for help as badly bungling the investigation.


An Osage camp on the new reservation. David Grann /

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover asked Tom White to unravel the mystery. Mr White put in place an undercover team, who alongside the Osage, exposed a chilling conspiracy.

In its undercover investigation, the FBI found that several murders in one family were found to have been committed by a gang led by William “King of Osage Hills” Hale.


A transformed William Hale standing with his daughter and wife. David Grann /

His goal was to gain the oil royalty headrights and wealth of several tribe members, including his nephew’s Osage wife, the last survivor of her family.

Three men were convicted and sentenced in this case, but most murders went unsolved.


Lawmen seize a moonshine still in Osage County in 1923. David Grann /

The investigation also uncovered extensive corruption among local officials involved in the Osage guardian program.

As a result of the Reign of Terror, as it was known, and the subsequent investigation Congress changed the law to prohibit non-Osage from inheriting headrights from Osage with half or more Native American ancestry.


Ernest Burkhart. David Grann /

Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann, is published by Simon and Schuster.