Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Written By: David Grann

Published By: Doubleday

Reviewed by Jessica Behrens

            Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is a riveting – and horrifying – account of the systematic murders of members of the Osage Indian nation in the 1920’s and the creation of the FBI. This true crime story recounts what began as the mysterious murders of tribe members, which were soon discovered to be part of a much larger – and diabolical plot – to murder the Osage for access to their oil headrights  

The discovery of oil under Osage tribal lands in Oklahoma at the beginning of the twentieth century led to members of the tribe becoming some of the wealthiest people in the world. Congress soon after passed a law requiring many of the Osage to have a “guardian” oversee their wealth. Most guardians were local white lawmen and businessmen, many of whom took advantage of those in their charge.  

The murders began to occur in 1921, and it soon began to appear that the family of tribe member Mollie Burkhardt were being particularly targeted. Family members were shot, poisoned, and bombed in their home. Other Osage were also killed during this time, and it was only after multiple botched and corrupt investigations, which took place even as the murders continued, that the federal government stepped in. Grann recounts how J. Edgar Hoover drove the investigation from Washington, sending a former frontier lawman to Oklahoma with a team of undercover agents

Grann recounts the FBI investigation and its results in great detail, but the story doesn’t end there. Grann’s research took him to Oklahoma, to the various locales where this terrible ordeal took place. He spoke to relatives of the victims and researched local archives. You’ll be surprised to learn what Grann uncovers which wasn’t part of the long-ago FBI investigations.  

If you love history and an engaging story, you’ll enjoy this book. The book jacket of my copy states that it is “utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating.” I couldn’t describe it any better myself. Grann’s account is well-researched and hard to put down, but it’s devastating to read – not just about the murders and the greed that led to them, but the far-reaching prejudices that allowed justice to be thwarted for so long.


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