In September of 1926, one of White’s operatives learns from a Fairfax woman that William Hale “control[s] everything in these parts”—and that he once torched his own land for insurance money. White looks into more suspicious matters having to do with Hale—namely, how he became the beneficiary of Henry Roan’s $25,000 life insurance policy, and why, despite having the most obvious motive for wanting Roan dead, he was never questioned throughout the murder investigation.
It is becoming clearer and clearer to White and his team that William Hale benefits from the protection his well-established reputation affords him—so much so that he has avoided even routine questioning, a fact which heightens White’s suspicion even further.
White talks to the salesman who sold Roan the insurance policy back in 1921 and discovers that Hale—claiming that Roan owed him a sum between ten and twenty thousand dollars—pushed for Roan to take the expensive policy and make him the beneficiary. The salesman, close with Hale, demanded no proof of the debt, simply wanting to make the sale. A doctor who examined Roan ahead of securing the policy was similarly someone recruited by Hale.
Hale has seemingly organized a grand scheme to secure access to Henry Roan’s life insurance policy through a coordinated network of tightly-controlled lackeys.
White discovers that when the first insurance company rejected Roan’s application, Hale went to another company—and this time, produced a trumped-up creditor’s note to prove that Roan owed him money. (White’s analysists would later find that the note was, though signed by Roan, altered to make Hale’s claim look more legitimate.) When Hale took Roan back to the doctor to pass yet another exam, the doctor jokingly asked whether Bill was planning to “kill this Indian”—Hale reportedly answered, while laughing, “Hell, yes.”
Hale’s methods of securing access to Roan’s funds are shown here to be positively labyrinthine—he has involved so many different people and abused his power in so many different ways that it is very hard to trace the origins of his deception. Yet White manages to uncover seriously incriminating evidence and testimony which points to Hale having a much darker side.
White learns that local lawmen actively tried to build a case against Roy Bunch, the man who had been having an affair with Roan’s wife, rather than even look for a moment at Hale as a suspect. Hale even approached Bunch and warned him to get out of town as many thought he was guilty, offering him money for his journey. Bunch’s friends, however, advised him not to take it, as it would make him look guilty. As White continues to investigate the claims against Bunch, he comes to believe that they were false and ungrounded.
Hale has been the one manufacturing evidence against various individuals throughout the reservation—both white and Native—in order to throw lawmen off the trail and keep his name out of the investigation.
White has gathered circumstantial evidence that implicates Hale in the murder of Henry Roan, but has no concrete proof in the form of fingerprints or eyewitnesses. As White continues to study the case, looking for something to clinch it, he finds a strange detail: before obtaining the life-insurance policy on Roan, Hale sought to purchase Roan’s headright—his share in the tribe’s mineral trust. When he was barred legally from doing so, White comes to believe, he turned to the life-insurance murder plot.
Hale has been wily, but not wily enough—he has left a trail, albeit a hard-to-find one, of his previous maneuvers and attempts at securing various Osages’ fortunes.
There is one legal way, White knows, that a person who is not a member of the Osage tribe can obtain a headright: inheritance. As White examines the murder victims’ records, he notices that more and more headrights are being passed down to one person: Mollie Burkhart, who is married to Hale’s nephew Ernest—and who, one of White’ agents writes, is “absolutely controlled by Hale.”
White realizes, when he follows the money, that everything ends with Ernest—he comes to realizes that Ernest and Hale must be in on the plot together, conspiring to profit off Mollie’s family’s demise.
White sees now that the chronology of the murder is part of a ruthless plan to leave Mollie as the sole inheritor of a large group of headrights—so that when she is at last offed, all of her family’s wealth will be up for grabs. Anna Brown—divorced and without children—bequeathed all her wealth to her mother, Lizzie, whereas Lizzie willed her headrights to her surviving daughters, Mollie and Rita. Rita was the third target, along with Bill, because their wills stipulated that if they died at the same time, their headrights would be passed on to Mollie (however, because Bill survived the blast and willed most of his headright to his own family, this one part of the plot failed). Still, the bulk of the family’s headrights now rest with Mollie—whose wealth is controlled by Ernest, who is allegedly under his uncle Hale’s control.
As White uncovers the chain of events Hale designed in order to secure the largest amount of money in the fewest possible steps, he sees that Hale relied on his invincibility within the town to get away with a series of murders so obviously orchestrated that anyone could see the plot, if only they took time to look. This means that Hale is completely confident in his ability to pull the scheme off—which worries White, who knows what is coming next.
What White can’t figure out is whether Ernest’s marriage to Mollie, four years before Anna’s murder, was part of the plot all along—or whether Hale, at some point, “prevailed upon” Ernest to betray her.
Not being sure of whether Ernest is a good man turned bad or a bad man through and through symbolizes White’s larger confusion about how corruption, racism, and greed take hold of a person.