The killings of both Anna Brown and Charles Whitehorn are quickly sensationalized in the local newspapers. Because both were killed by gunshots from a .32-caliber pistol—and both were wealthy Osage Indians in their thirties—the murders are thought to be the work of a repeat killer.
The deaths of Anna and Charles are too similar and too quick in succession to be a coincidence, and as news spreads, people begin to wonder what is happening on the Osage reservation.
Lizzie relies on Mollie to deal with the authorities—during her lifetime, the older woman has been “unmoored” from the way of life she once knew and has “nothing familiar to clutch and stay afloat in the world of white man’s wealth.” Mollie has taken the lead for her family—as a speaker of English married to a white man, she has ventured into realms once unfamiliar to her people, but has not been tempted or hurt by the ways of life that have compromised some younger members of the tribe—like Anna. An Osage chief said, in 1928, that he feared his tribe would not know peace and happiness until the “fat checks […] and fine motorcars and new clothes” that had come to characterize their lives had evaporated.
As Mollie and her family’s lives begin spinning out of control, the maelstrom of grief and trauma they must face is compounded by the fact that the Osage are loathed and envied in their own community due to their vast wealth. Separated from tribal customs and old ways by years of forced assimilation—and the advent of such marvelous wealth—many Osage are overwhelmed by the changes and seek the relative simplicity they once lived in.
The racist authorities have little concern for a “dead Injun,” and so Mollie turns to Ernest’s uncle, William Hale, a “powerful local advocate for law and order.” Hale, once a scrappy cattleman, has worked his way up from nothing to become a distinguished man of good repute and a reserve deputy sheriff in Fairfax. He is so wealthy and powerful that local politicians court his support, and Mollie is among many members of her tribe who consider him Osage County’s greatest benefactor—Hale himself once stated that he was, and would always be, “the Osages true Friend.” At Mollie’s behest, Hale vows to obtain justice for Anna.
Mollie and her family fear that they will never be able to obtain justice for Anna—but William K. Hale, the “king of the Osage hills,” vows to see that justice is done. Mollie and her family feel that Hale’s benevolence is a blessing, and are grateful for his wealth, power, and influence in such a trying time.
Mollie, Bryan, and Ernest are all questioned about the last time they saw Anna. As Bryan was the last person to see her before her death, he and Ernest are detained and questioned further, but soon turned loose. Ernest’s testimony states that he knows of no “enemies she had or anyone that disliked [Anna.]”
Everyone in Mollie’s family offers their help to the investigation—or at least they seem to.
Officials theorize that Anna’s killer, whoever he was, came from outside the reservation. Organized crime and lawlessness are rampant throughout Osage County, where the prospect of striking it rich in oil has “drawn every breed of miscreant from across the country.” Outlaws and fugitives hide out in the Osage Hills—such as the dangerous Blackie Thompson and the notorious Al Spencer (leader of a gang of outlaws.)
Local officials recognize the atmosphere of chaos, lawlessness, and greed which pervade their community. A combination of racist opportunism and general wild-West anarchy have become normalized and ubiquitous.
Another theory about Anna’s death is that someone on the reservation committed the crime and is “living among them in sheep’s clothing.” Mollie begins to suspect Anna’s ex-husband, Oda Brown, a no-good carouser, who was shut out of a chance at Anna’s inheritance after the divorce. Brown has, since Anna’s death, hired a lawyer to try to contest her will.
More frightening than the idea of an outsider infiltrating the reservation is the thought that someone Mollie and her family know well could be responsible for such heinous, personal violence.
Several weeks after Anna’s funeral, Frea receives a letter from a man who has been arrested in Kansas for check forgery—the letter states that Brown paid him $8,000 to murder Anna and describes the specifics of the murder. A posse of lawmen arrest Oda Brown, but within days, authorities have debunked the claims presented in the forger’s letter and released Brown.
Because policing protocol and law and order are so backwards in the vestigial areas of the wild West, false claims and wild accusations—often made in the name of a reward or in exchange for leniency—are tough to distinguish from honest confessions.
Hale, who has close ties with the county prosecutor (after effectively securing the election for the man,) confers with him and other local officials about Anna’s murder. The county prosecutor, wanting to search again for the bullet, obtains an order to disinter Anna, but even after digging up her grave and having the Shoun brothers search again for the bullet—cutting up Anna’s head with a meat cleaver—nothing can be found.
The fact that though Anna was definitively shot with a .32-caliber weapon—but no bullet is found in her skull despite lack of an exit wound—increases suspicion when the Shoun brothers, twice, can’t turn up a bullet.
By July of 1921, the justice of the peace has closed his inquiries and declared Anna’s death a mystery—just as he did with Whitehorn’s. Lizzie, meanwhile, has grown sicker and sicker, and despite Mollie seeking the help of Osage medicine men, Lizzie dies in July, just two months after Anna’s murder.
This passage makes it clear that local officials don’t care about the deaths of the members of the Osage tribe. They fail to solve Anna’s murder, and, even more worryingly, a third member of Mollie’s family dies suddenly.
Mollie’s brother-in-law Bill Smith—a “bruising bulldog of a man”—expresses his deep frustration over the authorities’ investigation, wondering whether there is something “curious” about Lizzie’s death. He begins taking matters into his own hands, and soon comes to believe that Lizzie died of poisoning. Bill is certain that all three deaths—Lizzie’s, Anna’s, and Whitehorn’s—are all connected to “the Osage’s subterranean reservoir of black gold.”
Though it seems fairly obvious, Bill Smith is the first person to vocalize what perhaps everyone in the family might have been thinking—that there is an active, methodical campaign of violence against them in an attempt to steal their fortunes.