Review of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann

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Killers of the Flower Moon

The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

by David Grann
read by Ann Marie Lee, Will Patton, and Danny Campbell

Random House Audio, 2017. 9 hours, 5 minutes.
Review written May 10, 2024, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Once again I’m late to the party, but I’m enjoying listening to books that are hugely popular at Fairfax County Library. Obviously, this one got a second wind from the movie, but both the adult version and the young adult version still have long holds lists.

This book is a true crime historical murder mystery. Or rather killing spree mystery. There are three parts to this book, and the first section is about an Osage woman named Molly Burkhart in the 1920s. Like many of her Osage neighbors, Molly was incredibly wealthy because their tribe had retained rights to the oil under their land — the land the nation was given because the white folks thought it was worthless.

But there was an oil boom in the 20s, and enrolled members of the Osage nation received monthly checks that were enormous in those years. However, the government had a hard time believing Indians were competent to handle that much money, and Molly, like many others, was appointed a guardian who had to give permission for her to spend any of her own money.

But that’s not the worst of it. Beginning with her sister, one by one the people in Molly’s family began to die. Her sister from a bullet through her head. Another apparently poisoned. Another sister and her husband had their entire house blown up. And Molly’s family weren’t the only Osage people being killed. Dozens, maybe hundreds of people were murdered, with many of those murders covered up.

And that brings us to the second part of the book. At the time, there wasn’t a reliable police force. They could and did hire private eyes, but those weren’t always reliable either. But that was the time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was being formed, and the next part of the book features Tom White, a federal agent trying to get to the bottom of the murders and bring the perpetrators to justice.

It turned out that finding out who was responsible was much easier than bringing anyone to justice. The white man responsible for killing Molly’s family had plenty of connections with people in power, and had killed so many that everyone was afraid to testify against him.

The third part of the book is about the author doing some investigation almost a hundred years later and finding about even more deaths in the Osage nation. All of these murders were about greed — people wanting a piece of that enormous oil wealth, and not valuing Indian life, and taking advantage of prejudice against the Osage people.

This book tells a tremendously sad story of great injustice and harm. As well as highlighting how badly our government treated people of the Osage nation. But the story is dramatic and riveting. May the light it sheds on that darkness help us all to change our ways.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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