In May of 2013, Grann arrives at the Constantine Theater in Pawhuska to view a video recording of a performance of the Osage ballet Wahzhazhe, which chronicles the history of the Osage—including the Reign of Terror. A statement projected before the start of the showing states that today, members of the Osage tribe feel their hearts “divided between two worlds,” and are still learning how to walk through both. The ballet itself evokes this tension, and Grann finds himself moved. Afterwards, in the lobby, Grann runs into Kathryn Red Corn, who asks how his research is going. When he mentions looking into H.G. Burt, Red Corn urges Grann to come see her at the museum in the morning.
Despite the trauma their tribe has faced, the Osage people have found ways to reconcile their difficult past with their hopeful present and acknowledge the burden of assimilation as well as the importance of honoring tribal culture. For the Osage, the past is fraught territory: to return to it is to return to unimaginable pain and loss, but to forget it is to dishonor the suffering of those who have been lost.
When Grann arrives, she shows him a letter signed “W.K. Hale.” It is a letter Hale sent from prison to a member of the tribe, and a descendant of its recipient has just donated it. The letter is “buoyant,” and, in it, Hale writes that he hopes to return to the reservation when he gets out of jail. He insists in the letter that he will “always be the Osages true Friend.” Red Corn and Grann are stunned by the letter’s hypocrisy. Red Corn then tells Grann a story about her own grandfather, who was slowly poisoned by his second wife—a white woman—back in 1931. Red Corn asks Grann to investigate her father’s death and tells him that there were a lot more murders during the Reign of Terror than anyone realizes.
With each visit to Oklahoma, Grann encounters more and more suffering and deeper, more painful truths about the Osage’s past. Many people have come to rely on Grann, grateful for his commitment to revealing a truth that so many have tried to obscure.
Grann’s office back in New York City has become a “grim repository” for thousands of pages related to the Reign of Terror, but despite the darkness of the material, each new discovery he makes gives him hope that he can bear witness to—and perhaps even solve—the deaths of many members of the Osage tribe that were cruelly swept under the rug.
Grann has shouldered the burden of bringing to light the full truth—or at least as close as he can get to the full truth—of the Reign of Terror, knowing that his work has value and can really bring change to people’s lives.
Grann decides to look into the murder of Charles Whitehorn more closely. The murder, to Grann, bears all the markings of a “Hale-orchestrated hit,” but despite his extensive research he hasn’t found any evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, tying Hale to Whitehorn’s death. The reports written by private eyes assigned to the case are “bracing in their clarity,” and reveal a “crystalline theory” which points to Whitehorn’s widow as the culprit—she wanted his headright and fortune.
Grann, now suspicious of all official reports, tries to see past the truth that has been constructed for him—and for others—and get at the heart of what really happened to Charles Whitehorn.
However, after Hattie secured the inheritance, her second husband stole a chunk of it and ran off to Mexico, while a third man named Faulkner insinuated his way into Hattie’s life and began blackmailing her with information she’d revealed to him about her role in the murder. Hattie then became sick with a peculiar illness—when she went to the hospital, away from Faulkner’s influence, she recovered almost miraculously quickly.
Hattie may have had a role in Whitehorn’s death—but got a taste of her own medicine if she did, and became the intended victim of a mad, greedy grab at her husband’s fortune even if she didn’t.
Grann writes that the bureau “all but dropped” the Whitehorn case—it did not fit in with their dramatic theory that a lone mastermind was behind all the killings. Grann asserts, though, that the Whitehorn case reveals something even more sinister—it revealed that the evil of Hale was not an anomaly.
Grann begins to understand that the FBI manipulated case files in order to maintain a “neat” narrative which would point to their victory, rather than placing the truth above all else, as their job supposedly demands.