Killers of the flower Moon By David Grann

Best true crime books 2018

The Osage Indian Nation had the misfortune of having their dwindling piece of land, the reservation that was given to them in a desolate part of Oklahoma,  sit on top a massive reserve of oil. By 1920 when the pumps started spewing black gold, it made the Osage multimillionaires overnight. And after money comes power, doesn't it? Well not for the Osage, those unlucky people, after centuries enduring loss of their ancestral land to the white man and being regarded as uncivilized savages, became the victims of one of the most despicable racist and criminal campaigns in US history.
The US government concluded that the Osage were not capable of managing their immense wealth. In a fateful decision, they issued the decree that the Osage had to have a 'guardian,' somebody to control their spending, often chosen from the ranks of the upstanding white citizens in town.
All mayhem broke loose; resulting in what newspapers called the Reign of Terror; during which more than 20 Osage Indians died under suspicious circumstances, all of them murdered.  And as David Grann later in the book revealed 24, the total count the FBI arrived at, might be a very conservative number, the victims were more likely in the hundreds.
It began with common swindling, charging the Indians too much for goods, trying to con them, etc., but soon it turned into a diabolical pursuit of the headrights of the oil fields. You could only inherit a headright, and this meant that the Osage would be betrayed and murdered by those closest to them.
Killers of the Flower Moon and the birth of the FBI starts his story with Molly Burkhart; her sister Minnie died a few years before, and now her other sister Anna is found dead, shot in the head. David Grunn reconstructs conversations, the fear, the doubts, the panic spreading through the Oklahoma town, when a second, a third, and many more murders followed. Some poisoned, some shot, some thrown of a pair of stairs, but also some as gruesome as the murder of another of Molly's sisters, who died when her house blew up.
The thing running through my head while reading this first part of the story, through the victim's eyes, is how David Grann exactly came to reconstruct entire conversations, how he knew what Molly, said or did on a particular day. Reading on I understood how meticulously researched this book is. I haven't read interviews with him, but I will so, because I am fascinated by his ability to bring his protagonists to life. What liberties did he take, he must have had qualms about accuracy? How did it feel to crawl in Molly's skin, to honor her, knowing that he had to get it right?
What is clear as day is the horrific abuse the Osage Indians had to endure. This is where the FBI comes into the story. I always love a story involving Edgar Hoover, and a young Hoover sends his agents in, then still freewheeling cowboys, nothing like the perfect scientific specimens he envisioned to clean up the mess that no one wanted to touch. It was 1925, and the murderers were long ignored, but when entire houses started to blow up something had to be done.
Using informants, infiltrating Osage Country's society, putting pressure on witnesses and co-conspirators the lead investigator and his men find the men responsible for these atrocities; one of the most powerful men in town and round up his co-conspirators. Indeed some of these despicable men and women even went as far as marrying an Osage Indian to kill them, to profit off of them.
When Grann wraps his story about the FBI investigation up, he isn't done yet. He steps out of the shadows and tells his account; the reaction to his investigation and the need to find an explanation for many more unresolved murders.
He manages to give some of the surviving families some relief, but their despair, bitterness, justified paranoia is immensely tragic. This story will make you mad, the systematic infantilization of the Osage is so arrogant and despicable, and hopefully, it serves to uncover the perception some people have of the Other. Of course, you can draw all kinds of parallels to present time and the situation in the US. It indeed shows that the person who thinks they know better what is right for you is almost always the evilest of all.