'Inside the harrowing true story behind Killers of the Flower Moon'
‘Inside the harrowing true story behind Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon’
- Killers of the Flower Moon sees director Martin Scorsese team up with Di Caprio
- It tells story of the Osage tribe, who became wealthy thanks to oil on their land
This is the true story behind director Martin Scorsese’s latest partnership with Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio, in the new film Killers of the Flower Moon, which was released in the UK on Thursday October 18.
In the town of Fairfax, Oklahoma, the fact that life was good for the Osage Indians in the late 1800s might have seemed to some like sweet justice.
For the reservation they had been shunted to decades earlier had turned out to be brimming with oil, and the tribe put it good use by building mansions, buying cars and sending their children to private schools.
But, by the time the 1920s came around, at least two dozen of them had been murdered by being shot, poisoned and blown up – and no one knew who was responsible.
This is the true story behind director Martin Scorsese’s latest partnership with Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio, in upcoming film Killers of the Flower Moon.
Ernest Burkhart, husband of Mollie Kyle Burkhart is played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the new film Killers of the Flower Moon
New movie Killers of the Flower Moon explores the harrowing true story of the ‘reign of terror’ that left two dozen Native Americans dead. Pictured: Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart
In what was the first major murder case of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), agents ended up tracing the killings to a disgruntled group led by ‘cattle king’ William Hale, who was jailed for more than two decades for his part in the murders.
He had encouraged his nephew to marry into the Osage tribe as part of a plot to win their oil rights.
The new film about the spate of murders is based on author David Grann’s book of the same name, which was published in 2017.
Scorsese’s drama, which will be released in October, received a rapturous nine-minute standing ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday.
The Osage tribe had become stunningly wealthy after finding oil that earnt them more than $30million in annual revenue at the peak of the boom.
Subsurface minerals within the Osage Nation Reservation were tribally owned and held in trust by the government.
Mineral leases earned royalties that were paid to the tribe as a whole – with each allottee receiving one equal share also known as a headright.
But these headrights could only legally be attained by outsiders if they married into the tribe.
It was during this time that rancher Hale, a native of Greenville, Texas, encouraged his subservient nephew Ernest Burkhart to wed Osage member Mollie Kyle (later Mollie Burkhart).
Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and wife Mollie, played by Lily Gladstone, lived in Fairfax with Mollie’s mother Lizzie Q.
The Osage tribe (pictured with President Coolidge) became wealthy almost overnight after oil was discovered beneath their land
William Hale, played by Robert De Niro (right), was accused of bribing and intimidating others to do much of his dirty work on his way to achieving money and power
Lizzie was a mother-of-four and in May 1921, the decomposed body of one of her other daughters, Anna Brown, was discovered in a remote ravine in northern Oklahoma.
She was found with a bullet hole to the back of the head but, because Brown had no known enemies, the case went unsolved.
Just two months later Lizzie herself died under suspicious circumstances from suspected poisoning, although no proof was ever found.
Then another member of the family, Lizzie’s nephew Henry Roan, met a similar fate in January 1923 with Hale, played by Robert De Niro, fraudulently naming himself as the beneficiary of his $25,000 life insurance policy.
But deaths within the family did not end there.
In March 1923, another of Lizzie’s daughters Rita Smith, along with Rita’s husband William Smith, and their housekeeper Nettie Brookshire were all killed when their home was destroyed by an explosion.
And, following their deaths, Burkhart and Mollie inherited a fortune from her mother’s and sisters’ estates.
But the murders extended beyond the one family. It is estimated that 24 Osage Indians died in violent or suspicious deaths throughout the early 1920s with newspapers at the time branding it as a ‘reign of terror.’
Her decomposed body was found in a remote ravine (pictured) in the Osage Hills in northern Oklahoma
Martin Scorsese arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere of Killers Of The Flower Moon at Dolby Theatre on October 16, 2023 in Los Angeles, California
By this time, authorities had begun to grow suspicious and an alarmed Osage Tribal Council sought the help of the US Government.
Hale’s name came up early in the investigation as the mastermind behind the killings.
The so-called ‘King of the Osage Hills’ was accused of bribing and intimidating others to do much of his dirty work as he sought to achieve money and power.
The murders subsided after Hale, along with accomplices including his nephew, were arrested in 1926.
Four FBI agents went undercover as an insurance salesman, cattle buyer, oil prospector and herbal doctor to uncover evidence.
Whilst the Osage locals had initially refused to talk to the authorities through fear of reprisals, the agents earned their trust.
Eventually, Ernest Burkhart talked and then others confessed.
Reporting on the gruesome killings in January 1926, the Daily Mail said: ‘The wildest Wild West fiction is outmatched by the story revealed to-day by the arrest at Tulsa, Oklahoma, of wealthy cattle king, W.K. Hale, popularly known as the “King of the Usage Hills,” his nephew, Ernest Burkhart, and six others.
‘They are charged with conspiracy to exterminate a small tripe of Osage Indians in whom are vested oil allotment rights valued at £500,000.
‘For three years Osage territory has been the scene of a series of terrible murders.
‘Altogether twenty prominent Indians have been murdered, with the result that Mrs Mollie Burkhart, the Indian wife of the white nephew of “the King of the Osage hills,” is now the sole possessor of the tribe’s oil rights.
‘The Osage tribe is the richest in America.’
Anna Brown was among the nine wealthy Osages who met death in a suspicious manner
Hale was formally convicted for his involvement three years later, after the authorities proved that he had ordered the murders of Anna Brown and her family to inherit their oil rights; cousin Roan for his insurance policy and others who had threatened to bring him to justice.
He was paroled in 1947 after serving two decades of his sentence.
At the time, investigators also discovered that the killers had already started poisoning Mollie in what would have been the last piece of the crook’s masterplan.
Fortunately, she recovered and divorced her murderous husband following the trial.
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