Killers of the Flower Moon

by

David Grann

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David Grann Character Analysis

The author and narrator of Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann is a journalist who finds himself transfixed by the story of the Osage Reign of Terror and by the fact that—despite its brutality, its integral role in the formation of the FBI, and its lessons about the forces of entitlement, greed, and corruption which have governed the fraught and imbalanced relationship between Native Americans and whites since settlers first arrived in the new world—many people living in America today have never even heard of what happened in Osage County between 1918 and the mid-1930s. Grann explores themes of racism and greed, family, legacy, and trauma as he delves deeper into the story of the Reign of Terror and reconstructs through a combination of imagination and historical record the lives, thoughts, hopes, and fears of Tom White, Mollie Burkhart, J. Edgar Hoover, William K. Hale, and more. He also explores the fight against the warped annals of history for the truth—all the while coming to terms with the profound and upsetting discovery that the FBI and others actually attempted to cover up and lesson the devastating effects of the Osage murders, shortening the timeline of the Reign of Terror and leaving unsolved hundreds of suspicious Osage deaths.

David Grann Quotes in Killers of the Flower Moon

The Killers of the Flower Moon quotes below are all either spoken by David Grann or refer to David Grann. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism and Exploitation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Killers of the Flower Moon published in 2018.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The public had become transfixed by the tribe's prosperity, which belied the images of American Indians that could be traced back to the brutal first contact with whites—the original sin from which the country was born. Reporters tantalized their readers with stories about the “plutocratic Osage” and the “red millionaires,” with their brick-and-terra-cotta mansions and chandeliers, with their diamond rings and fur coats and chauffeured cars. One writer marveled at Osage girls who attended the best boarding schools and wore sumptuous French clothing, as if “une tres jolie demoiselle of the Paris boulevards had inadvertently strayed into this little reservation town.”

At the same time, reporters seized upon any signs of the traditional Osage way of life, which seemed to stir in the public's mind visions of “wild” Indians. One article noted a “circle of expensive automobiles surrounding an open campfire, where the bronzed and brightly blanketed owners are cooking meat in the primitive style.” Another documented a party of Osage arriving at a ceremony for their dances in a private airplane—a scene that “outrivals the ability of the fictionist to portray.” Summing up the public's attitude toward the Osage, the Washington Star said, “That lament, 'Lo the poor Indian,' might appropriately be revised to, 'Ho, the rich redskin.”'

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker)
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Lizzie relied on Mollie to deal with the authorities. During Lizzie's lifetime, the Osage had become dramatically unmoored from their traditions. Louis F. Burns, an Osage historian, wrote that after oil was discovered, the tribe had been “set adrift in a strange world,” adding, “There was nothing familiar to clutch and stay afloat in the world of white man's wealth.” In the old days, an Osage clan, which included a group known as the Travelers in the Mist, would take the lead whenever the tribe was undergoing sudden changes or venturing into unfamiliar realms. Mollie, though she often felt bewildered by the upheaval around her took the lead for her family—a modern traveler in the mist. She spoke English and was married to a white man, and she had not succumbed to the temptations that had hurt many young members of the tribe, including Anna. To some Osage, especially elders like Lizzie, oil was a cursed blessing. “Some day this oil will go and there will be no more fat checks every few months from the Great White Father,” a chief of the Osage said in 1928. “There'll be no fine motorcars and new clothes. Then I know my people will be happier.”

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), Mollie Burkhart, Anna Brown, Lizzie
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 27-28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

The Osage had been assured by the U.S. government that their Kansas territory would remain their home forever but before long they were under siege from settlers. Among them was the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who later wrote Little House on the Prairie based on her experiences. “Why don't you like Indians, Ma?” Laura asks her mother in one scene.

“I just don't like them; and don't lick your fingers, Laura.”

“This is Indian country, isn't it?” Laura said. “What did we come to their country for, if you don't like them?”

One evening, Laura's father explains to her that the government will soon make the Osage move away: “That's why we're here, Laura. White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick.”

Though, in the book, the Ingallses leave the reservation under threat of being removed by soldiers, many squatters began to take the land by force. In 1870, the Osage-expelled from their lodges, their graves plundered-agreed to sell their Kansas lands to settlers for $1.25 an acre. Nevertheless, impatient settlers massacred several of the Osage, mutilating their bodies and scalping them. An Indian Affairs agent said, “The question will suggest itself, which of these people are the savages?”

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

The accounts rarely, if ever, mentioned that numerous Osage had skillfully invested their money or that some of the spending by the Osage might have reflected ancestral customs that linked grand displays of generosity with tribal stature. Certainly during the Roaring Twenties, a time marked by what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “the greatest, gaudiest spree in history,” the Osage were not alone in their profligacy. [An] oil baron [named Marlan] who found the Burbank field had built a twenty-two-room mansion in Ponca City, then abandoned it for an even bigger one. With an interior modeled after the fourteenth-century Palazzo Davanzati in Florence, the house had fifty-five rooms (including a ballroom with a gold-leaf ceiling and Waterford crystal chandeliers), twelve bathrooms, seven fireplaces, three kitchens, and an elevator lined with buffalo skin. The grounds contained a swimming pool and polo fields and a golf course and five lakes with islands. When questioned about this excess, Marland was unapologetic.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker)
Page Number: 83-84
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

When Hoover met with White, his grip on power remained tenuous, and he was suddenly confronting the one thing that he'd done everything to avoid since becoming director: a scandal. The situation in Oklahoma, Hoover believed, was “acute and delicate.” Even a whiff of misconduct coming so soon after Teapot Dome could end his career. Only weeks earlier, he'd sent a “confidential” memo to White and other special agents, stating, “This Bureau cannot afford to have a public scandal visited upon it.”

As White listened to Hoover, it became evident why he'd been summoned. Hoover needed White—one of his few experienced agents, one of the Cowboys—to resolve the case of the Osage murders and thereby protect Hoover's job. “I want you,” Hoover said, to “direct the investigation.”

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), J. Edgar Hoover (speaker), Tom White
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

This so-called Indian business, as White discovered, was an elaborate criminal operation, in which various sectors of society were complicit. The crooked guardians and administrators of Osage estates were typically among the most prominent white citizens: businessmen and ranchers and lawyers and politicians. So were the lawmen and prosecutors and judges who facilitated and concealed the swindling (and, sometimes, acted as guardians and administrators themselves). In 1924, the Indian Rights Association, which defended the interests of indigenous communities, conducted an investigation into what it described as “an orgy of graft and exploitation.” The group documented how rich Indians in Oklahoma were being “shamelessly and openly robbed in a scientific and ruthless manner” and how guardianships were “the plums to be distributed to the faithful friends of the judges as a reward for their support at the polls.” […] An Osage, speaking to a reporter about the guardians, stated, “Your money draws 'em and you're absolutely helpless. They have all the law and all the machinery on their side. Tell everybody, when you write your story, that they're scalping our souls out here.”

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), Tom White
Page Number: 165-167
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

White and his men felt a growing sense of progress. A Justice Department prosecutor sent Hoover a note, saying that in the few months since White had assumed command of the investigation, "many new angles of these cases were successfully developed" and a "new and enthusiastic spirit seemed to pervade the hearts of all of us."

Still, White faced the same problem with the investigation of Mollie Burkhart's murdered family that he did with his inquiry into Roan's death. There was no physical evidence or witnesses to prove that Hale had carried out or ordered any of the killings. And without an airtight case White knew that he'd never be able to bring down this man [Hale] who hid behind layers of respectability—who called himself the Reverend—and who used a network of patronage to influence the sheriff's office, prosecutors, judges, and some of the highest state officials.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), Tom White, Mollie Burkhart, William K. Hale
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

White was feeling pressure not just from Hoover. In the short time that White had been on the case, he had seen the lights burning each night around the homes of the Osage, and seen that members of the community wouldn't let their children go into town alone, and seen more and more residents selling their homes and moving to distant states or even other countries like Mexico and Canada. (Later one Osage called it a “diaspora.”) The desperation of the Osage was unmistakable, as was their skepticism toward the investigation. What had the U.S. government done for them? Why did they, unlike other Americans, have to use their own money to fund a Justice Department investigation? Why had nobody been arrested? An Osage chief said, “I made peace with the white man and lay down my arms never to take them up again and now I and my fellow tribesmen must suffer.”

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), Tom White, William K. Hale, J. Edgar Hoover
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

According to his sworn statement and other testimony, sometime in early 1923 Grammer told Ramsey that Hale had “a little job he wanted done.” When Ramsey asked what it was, Grammer said that Hale needed an Indian knocked off. Ramsey, who referred to the plot as “the state of the game,” eventually agreed, and he lured Roan down into the canyon, promising him whiskey. “We sat on the running board of his car and drank,” Ramsey recounted. “The Indian then got in his car to leave, and I then shot him in the back of the head. I suppose I was within a foot or two of him when I shot him. I then went back to my car and drove to Fairfax.”

White observed the way Ramsey kept saying “the Indian,” rather than Roan's name. As if to justify his crime, Ramsey said that even now “white people in Oklahoma thought no more of killing an Indian than they did in 1724.”

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), Henry Grammer (speaker), John Ramsey (speaker), Henry Roan
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

Despite the brutality of the crimes, many whites did not mask their enthusiasm for the lurid story. OSAGE INDIAN KILLING CONSPIRACY THRILLS, declared the Reno Evening Gazette. Under the headline OLD WILD WEST STILL LIVES IN LAND OF OSAGE MURDERS, a wire service sent out a nationwide bulletin that the story, “however depressing, is nevertheless blown through with a breath of the romantic, devil-may-care frontier west that we thought was gone. And it is an amazing story, too. So amazing that at first you wonder if it can possibly have happened in modern, twentieth-century America.” A newsreel about the murders, titled “The Tragedy of the Osage Hills,” was shown at cinemas. “The true history of the most baffling series of murders in the annals of crime,” a handbill for the show said.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker)
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:

Many people in the gallery gossiped about an Osage woman who was sitting on one of the benches, quiet and alone. It was Mollie Burkhart, cast out from the two worlds that she'd always straddled: whites, loyal to Hale, shunned her, while many Osage ostracized her for bringing the killers among them and for remaining loyal to Ernest. Reporters portrayed her as an “ignorant squaw.” The press hounded her for a statement, but she refused to give one. Later, a reporter snapped her picture, her face defiantly composed, and a “new and exclusive picture of Mollie Burkhart” was transmitted around the world.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), Mollie Burkhart, Ernest Burkhart
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

There was one question that the judge and the prosecutors and the defense never asked the jurors but that was central to the proceedings: Would a jury of twelve white men ever punish another white man for killing an American Indian? One skeptical reporter noted, “The attitude of a pioneer cattleman toward the full-blood Indian... is fairly well recognized.” A prominent member of the Osage tribe put the matter more bluntly: “It is a question in my mind whether this jury is considering a murder case or not. The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder—or merely cruelty to animals.”

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker)
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

For Hoover, the Osage murder investigation became a showcase for the modern bureau. As he had hoped, the case demonstrated to many around the country the need for a national, more professional, scientifically skilled force. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote of the murders, “Sheriffs investigated and did nothing. State's Attorneys investigated and did nothing. The Attorney General investigated and did nothing. It was only when the Government sent Department of Justice agents into the Osage country that law became a thing of majesty.”

Hoover was careful not to disclose the bureau's earlier bungling. He did not reveal that Blackie Thompson had escaped under the bureau's watch and killed a policeman, or that because of so many false starts in the probe other murders had occurred. Instead, Hoover created a pristine origin story, a founding mythology in which the bureau, under his direction, had emerged from lawlessness and overcome the last wild American frontier.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), J. Edgar Hoover, Blackie Thompson
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

There was another dramatic change in Mollie's life. She and the Osage had fought to end the corrupt system of guardianships, and on April 21, 1931, a court ruled that Mollie was no longer a ward of the state: “IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED BY THE COURT, that the said Mollie Burkhart, Osage Allottee No. 285, ... is hereby restored to competency, and the order heretofore made adjudging her to be an incompetent person is hereby vacated.” At forty-four, Mollie could finally spend her money as she pleased, and was recognized as a full-fledged American citizen.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), Mollie Burkhart
Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:

Hoover ensured that the identity of the bureau was indistinguishable from his own. And while presidents came and went, this bureaucrat, now thick around the waist and with jowls like a bulldog, remained. “I looked up and there was J. Edgar Hoover on his balcony, high and distant and quiet, watching with his misty kingdom behind him, going on from President to President and decade to decade,” a reporter for Life magazine wrote. The many details of Hoover's abuses of power would not be made public until after his death, in 1972, and despite White's perceptiveness, he was blind to the boss man's megalomania, his politicization of the bureau, and his paranoid plots against an ever-growing list of perceived enemies, among them American Indian activists.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), J. Edgar Hoover
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

The most dramatic photograph in the museum spanned an entire side of the room. Taken at a ceremony in 1924, it was a panoramic view of members of the tribe alongside prominent local white businessmen and leaders. As I scanned the picture, I noticed that a section was missing, as if someone had taken a scissors to it. I asked Red Corn what happened to that part of the photograph. “It's too painful to show,” she said.

When I asked why, she pointed to the blank space and said, “The devil was standing right there.”

She disappeared for a moment, then returned with a small, slightly blurred print of the missing panel: it showed William K. Hale, staring coldly at the camera. The Osage had removed his image, not to forget the murders, as most Americans had, but because they cannot forget.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), William K. Hale, Kathryn Red Corn
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

By the time Margie drove on, the prairie was shrouded in the dark of night. Only the beams from the headlights illuminated the dusty road. Margie said that her parents first told her what Ernest and Hale had done when she was a child. “l used to worry whenever I did something naughty, ‘What if I'm the bad seed?’” Margie recalled. She said that occasionally The FBI Story would air on local television, and she and her family would watch it and cry.

As she spoke, I realized that the Reign of Terror had ravaged—still ravaged—

generations. A great-grandson of Henry Roan's once spoke of the legacy of the murders: “I think somewhere it is in the back of our minds. We may not realize it, but it is there, especially if it was a family member that was killed. You just have it in the back of your head that you don't trust anybody.”

Page Number: 275
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26 Quotes

Though the bureau estimated that there were twenty-four Osage murders, the real number was undoubtedly higher. The bureau closed its investigation after catching Hale and his henchmen. But at least some at the bureau knew that there were many more homicides that had been systematically covered up, evading their efforts of detection. An agent described, in a report, just one of the ways the killers did this: “ln connection with the mysterious deaths of a large number of Indians, the perpetrators of the crime would get an Indian intoxicated, have a doctor examine him and pronounce him intoxicated, following which a morphine hypodermic would be injected into the Indian, and after the doctor's departure the [killers] would inject an enormous amount of morphine under the armpit of the drunken Indian, which would result in his death. The doctor's certificate would subsequently read ‘death from alcoholic poison.’” Other observers in Osage County noted that suspicious deaths were routinely, and falsely, attributed to “consumption,” “wasting illness,” or “causes unknown.” Scholars and investigators who have since looked into the murders believe that the Osage death toll was in the scores, if not the hundreds.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker), William K. Hale
Page Number: 307
Explanation and Analysis:

In cases where perpetrators of crimes against humanity elude justice in their time, history can often provide at least some final accounting, forensically documenting the murders and exposing the transgressors. Yet so many of the murders of the Osage were so well concealed that such an outcome is no longer possible. In most cases, the families of the victims have no sense of resolution. Many descendants carry out their own private investigations, which have no end. They live with doubts, suspecting dead relatives or old family friends or guardians—some of whom might be guilty and some of whom might be innocent.

Related Characters: David Grann (speaker)
Page Number: 310-311
Explanation and Analysis:
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David Grann Character Timeline in Killers of the Flower Moon

The timeline below shows where the character David Grann appears in Killers of the Flower Moon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Vanishing
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David Grann begins Killers of the Flower Moon with a metaphor which explains its title. Every April,... (full context)
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...by, the dividends grew and grew until the tribe had collectively accumulated millions of dollars. Grann writes that in 1923 alone, the tribe took in over $30 million—the equivalent of that... (full context)
Chapter 2: An Act of God or Man?
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In the 1920s—and especially in places like Pawhuska—“lawmen were then still largely amateurs,” David Grann writes. At the time of Anna’s murder, the Osage County sheriff was a “fifty-eight-year-old, three-hundred-pound... (full context)
Chapter 10: Eliminating the Impossible
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White begins the process of methodically corroborating each suspect’s alibi—David Grann quotes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who famously stated, “When you have eliminated the... (full context)
Chapter 22: Ghostlands
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In 2012, David Grann travels to Pawhuska. Gone are many of the hallmarks of the old west: the “forests”... (full context)
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In Pawhuska, at the Osage Nation Museum, Grann meets with its longtime director, Kathryn Red Corn. She shows him some old photographs of... (full context)
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Before Grann leaves the museum, Red Corn gives him the name of several Osage who might have... (full context)
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During a later visit to Oklahoma one June, Grann attends a festival of ceremonial Osage dance—I’n-Lon-Schka. The dances take place over the month of... (full context)
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Grann arrives on a Saturday to find a pavilion constructed for the dances crowded with Osage... (full context)
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Grann, Margie, and her husband sit together and talk about Margie’s family, who have been haunted... (full context)
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Margie tells Grann that her father and her aunt, Liz, were ostracized by the tribe throughout their lives,... (full context)
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Margie offers to show Grann around the town of Gray Horse. He gets into her car with her and her... (full context)
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...Rita, Minnie, Lizzie, Bill Smith, and other victims of the Reign of Terror, Margie takes Grann over to the ravine where Anna was shot. As the sun sets on the prairie,... (full context)
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Margie takes Grann to one last stop—the place where Bill and Rita’s house once stood. Another house has... (full context)
Chapter 23: A Case Not Closed
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History, Grann writes, is a “merciless judge” which “lays bare […] tragic blunders and foolish missteps and... (full context)
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...Hale had not been connected to all twenty-four Osage murders, and many were left unsolved. Grann now wonders who was responsible for the grisly deaths of the oilman McBride and the... (full context)
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Grann has trouble turning up any leads on McBride but is able to get in touch... (full context)
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...was a man who had embezzled money from Vaughan’s estate after he died, and tells Grann that his name was H.G. Burt. Grann takes the name down in his notebook and... (full context)
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Grann visits the southwest branch of the U.S. National Archives in Fort Worth, Texas, and looks... (full context)
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Grann digs deeper into information about Burt, who moved to Pawhuska around 1910 and later became... (full context)
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For days, Grann returns to the archives again and again to try to find a financial motive for... (full context)
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Grann calls Vaughan’s granddaughter with his findings but is sure to remind her that there are... (full context)
Chapter 24: Standing in Two Worlds
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In May of 2013, Grann arrives at the Constantine Theater in Pawhuska to view a video recording of a performance... (full context)
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When Grann arrives, she shows him a letter signed “W.K. Hale.” It is a letter Hale sent... (full context)
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Grann’s office back in New York City has become  a “grim repository” for thousands of pages... (full context)
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Grann decides to look into the murder of Charles Whitehorn more closely. The murder, to Grann,... (full context)
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Grann writes that the bureau “all but dropped” the Whitehorn case—it did not fit in with... (full context)
Chapter 25: The Lost Manuscript
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In June of 2015, David Grann visits the Osage Nation again, and is shocked to see that out on the prairie,... (full context)
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Grann is in Pawhuska to continue his research but is having more and more trouble finding... (full context)
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Grann, finishing the manuscript, realizes that though the Reign of Terror—according to most historical accounts—spans from... (full context)
Chapter 26: Blood Cries Out
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Grann returns to the archives at Fort Worth, where he finds a logbook from the Office... (full context)
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Grann scours the logs and is appalled by what he finds. One guardian had eleven wards,... (full context)
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Grann confirms what he has long suspected: the number of Osage murders was undoubtedly higher than... (full context)
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Even cases known to the bureau, Grann writes, had hidden dimensions. When he meets with Marvin Stepson, the grandson of William Stepson,... (full context)
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 Grann laments that though history can often expose hidden transgressors, many of the Osage murders were... (full context)
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Before leaving Osage County to return home, Grann stops off at the home of Mary Jo Webb, a retired teacher who has spent... (full context)
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As Grann prepares to leave Webb’s house, she asks him to continue looking into her grandfather’s death... (full context)