As apathetic investigators in Osage County fail to look into Lizzie’s suspicious death—and make no headway in either Anna Brown or Charles Whitehorn’s murder investigations—both families turn to the only means at their disposal: money. Mollie offers up a $2,000 cash reward for any information leading to the arrest of those responsible for Anna’s death, and the Whitehorn family offers $2,500. William Hale promises his own reward as well. When Sheriff Freas is charged with willfully “failing to enforce the law” by the Oklahoma attorney general (for his permission of bootlegging and gambling), Hale decides to take things into his own hands and hires a private eye.
Despite the suspicious nature and sinister implications of Anna and Charles Whitehorn’s deaths, the local powers that be do almost nothing to find answers for their families. The Osage, as always, have to take responsibility for their own people, unable to rely on the white authorities which are supposed to guard them.
Hale recruits a “brooding” detective from Kansas City who goes by the name of Pike. Anna’s estate, meanwhile, is being administered by Scott Mathis, owner of the Big Hill Trading Company. The U.S. government, believing that most Osage are incapable of handling their own money, has, over the years, required the Office of Indian Affairs to determine which members of the tribe are capable of handling their own trust funds and assign local white guardians to the remaining members. Mathis, on behalf of Anna’s family, hires his own team of private eyes, as does Whitehorn’s guardian. William J. Burns, a former Secret Service agent referred to by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself as the “American Sherlock Holmes,” takes the case.
The Osages’ white neighbors show interest in the case and begin trying to help out both the Burkhart family and the Whitehorse family—but knowing about the racism, prejudice, and corruption in town, even their help seems suspect.
Over the summer of 1921, the investigators hired by Mathis descend upon Osage County. They begin questioning Anna’s servants as well as Bryan Burkhart, and looking into Anna’s phone records from the night of her disappearance. One of the investigators remains suspicious of Oda Brown, but when operatives go searching for him throughout Oklahoma, they struggle to track him down. When one investigator finally finds Brown and attempts to talk to him without revealing his identity as a private eye, Brown reveals that he was having a relationship with another woman and was not even in the area at the time of Anna’s death.
The investigators begin doing their jobs as thoroughly as they can, but have difficulty finding any leads that lead to any real answers. The attention the cases are starting to receive, however, foreshadows the later involvement of the FBI.
Back in Osage County, a woman named Rose Osage admits to killing Anna after Anna tried to seduce her boyfriend, Joe Allen. The operatives follow the lead, but are unable to corroborate her story, and believe she is simply lying to get the reward. Sheriff Freas urges the private eyes to investigate “two hard-boiled characters from the oil camps.”
Even members of the Osage tribe seem to have fallen victim to greediness and corruption as the investigation continues.
The private detectives share their information with Bill Smith, who is married to Mollie’s sister Rita and is conducting his own investigation. Before “attaching himself to an Osage fortune,” Smith was a horse thief. He married Mollie’s sister Minnie first, but when she died of a “wasting illness” in 1918, he remarried—to Rita. Bill often hits Rita, and Mollie has long suspected him of having been responsible in some way for Minnie’s death. Hale does not trust Bill either, and even tells one attorney that he believes Bill is using marriages to Osage women for financial gain.
Everyone is a suspect—and the closer a white person is to a member of the Osage tribe, the more likely it seems that they are using their relationship with that person for some kind of corrupt personal gain.
Bill takes a private detective to talk to a tailor who is rumored to have some information about Anna’s death—the tailor is still spreading the rumor about Rose Osage. The private detectives install a listening device to eavesdrop on Rose and her boyfriend but are unable to hear anything incriminating or even useful. Meanwhile, detectives make another important discovery: Anna, at the time of her death, had confided in several people the news that she was pregnant, but no one knows who the father was.
Investigators vacillate between breakthroughs and stall-outs, unable to make heads or tails of much of the information they’re receiving about Anna Brown. The news that she was pregnant adds yet more tragedy and intrigue to her murder.
One day, A.W. Comstock—a local attorney and the guardian of several Osage Indians’ fortunes—shows up to offer his assistance to the investigation. Because the man has numerous contacts among the Osage, the private eyes accept his offer. Comstock tells investigators that he has heard “chatter” about the fact that Whitehorn’s widow, Hattie, had coveted her husband’s money—and was jealous of his relationship with another woman. Wondering if Whitehorn could have been the father of Anna’s child, investigators begin tailing Hattie—but encounter no new developments.
Again, even those who have intimate relationships with the murdered parties are suspected of being false, corrupt, and only in it for the money.
By February of 1922, the investigations of both cases seem to have stalled—Pike, the eye hired by Hale, has moved on, and Freas has been expelled from office. One night that month, however, a twenty-nine-year-old Osage, William Stepson, receives a call at his house in Fairfax and goes out. When he returns home to his wife and children, he is visibly ill, and dies within hours. Authorities believe that Stepson has been poisoned, though no coroner is trained in forensics. A month later, another Osage woman dies of a suspected poisoning, and then, in July, yet another Osage man dies after drinking poisoned whiskey.
The investigations seem to come to an unsatisfying halt even as the danger on the reservation continues to increase, and more and more Osage Indians are murdered. It becomes clear that the authorities cannot be trusted—they have no interest in solving these crimes, or are being bought off, or are responsible themselves for the violence. This new string of poisonings also suggests that Lizzie indeed had been poisoned earlier as well.
In August of 1922, as the suspicious deaths have mounted, the tribe begs Barney McBride, a wealthy white oilman, to go to Washington, D.C. and plead with the federal authorities to investigate. McBride was once married to a Creek woman and is a trusted ally of the Osage. When McBride checks into his rooming house in the capital, he finds a telegram waiting for him—it warns him to be careful. That evening, after playing billiards at the Elks Club, he is kidnapped; the following morning, his body is found in Maryland, stripped naked and stabbed upwards of twenty times.
Even white friends and neighbors who attempt to shed light on the Osage murders are killed—it becomes clear that whoever is behind these killings is not done yet and is desperate to make sure no one stands in the way of their continued assault of the Osage.
News of McBride’s murder quickly makes its way back to Oklahoma, and his death is recognized not as just a murder but rather a “warning.” The Washington Post reports on the incident under the headline “CONSPIRACY BELIEVED TO KILL RICH INDIANS.”
At last, what is happening on the Osage reservation is called by its true name: a conscious, orchestrated conspiracy.