In The 1920s, A Community Conspired To Kill Native Americans For Their Oil Money

On the FBI’s investigation

J. Edgar Hoover … was the new director, and it became one of the FBI’s first major homicide cases that it ever dealt with. … The bureau initially badly bungled the case. … [Hoover] turned the case over to a frontier lawman at the time who finally put together an undercover team that included … probably the only American Indian agent in the bureau at the time. They went undercover. … They were able, through some dogged investigation and at great danger, to eventually capture some of the ringleaders. And those ringleaders included not only Mollie Burkhart’s husband, it also included [his] uncle, a man who was seen as this great protector of the community.

On what the FBI missed in their investigation

The bureau was so anxious to wrap up the case that they ignored many, many other unsolved crimes and many, many other killers. … When you begin to look at the documents and you begin to collect the evidence from the Osage, it becomes abundantly apparent. …

I pulled some of the guardian papers and there was this little booklet that came out. It had a little fabric cover. All it was was essentially identifying the name of a guardian and which Osage they were in charge of. And when I opened up the book, I could see the name of the guardian and when I began to look at the names of the Osage under them I could see written next to many of them simply the word “Dead. Dead. Dead.” It was almost like a ledger; it was like this forensic, bureaucratic accounting.

But when you’re looking at it, you’re beginning to realize you’re looking at hints of a systematic murder campaign, because there’s no way all these people died in a span of just a couple years. It defied any natural death rate. The Osage were wealthy, they had good doctors. … And then when you begin to look into each of those individual cases, you start to find trails of evidence suggesting poisonings, a murder. You start to try to trace the money … and where the wealth went. And what you begin to discover is something even more horrifying than the bureau ever exposed.

Radio producer Taylor Haney, radio editor Shannon Rhoades and digital producer Nicole Cohen contributed to this story.

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