Killers of the Flower Moon Characters: Victims, Killers, & White

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Killers of the Flower Moon" by David Grann. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

Who are the Killers of the Flower Moon characters? What are their names, and what did they do?

Killers of the Flower Moon is about the murders that took place during the Reign of Terror, when members of the Osage Tribe were murdered by white residents of Osage for their money.

Continue reading to learn about the Killers of the Flower Moon characters—victims, perpetrators, and the investigator.

Killers of the Flower Moon Characters: The Victims

These Killers of the Flower Moon characters are victims of the murders. Not all of the victims (and not all of the perpetrators) are included here, as the full scope of the Osage murders is unknown to this day.

Mollie Burkhart

Although Mollie Burkhart survives, she and her family suffer during the Reign of Terror. Her immediate family includes her sisters, Anna Brown and Rita Smith, and her mother, Elizabeth Kyle. Mollie is married to a white man named Ernest Burkhardt, a native of Texas who had moved to Osage County as a young man. Rita and Anna are also married to white men.

Mollie’s husband, Ernest, works with his uncle to kill Mollie’s family members. Many of the headrights of in the family had been willed to Mollie Burkhart. When all of this money came to Mollie, it would be easy for Hale to exercise control of it through his easily manipulated nephew Ernest—though it would be even easier if Mollie were to be killed, too. This was why Mollie’s family is systematically eliminated. Through oil headrights and life insurance policies, Hale and his conspirators have a direct financial stake in the deaths of many Osage.

Mollie later discovers that she was being poisoned by her husband. She suffers through the murder trial, where she’s ostracized by members of the community. Mollie loses nearly her entire family, and she’s one of the Killers of the Flower Moon characters to appear continually throughout the story.

Anna Brown

The five-year-long Reign of Terror begins in May 1921 with the discovery of the body of a murdered Osage woman named Anna Brown. Anna was married to a white man, as were her sisters, Mollie Burkhart and Rita Smith.

Kelsie Morrison confesses to her murder. Morrison and Bryan Burkhart got Anna drunk at a speakeasy before driving her out to Three Mile Creek. Bryan’s wife, Cole (who corroborates all the details of Morrison’s testimony) waits in the parked car to stand lookout. They then drag the inebriated Anna down into the ravine. Bryan props her up on a rock and holds her still while Morrison shoots her in the back of the head—with a gun that had been provided by William Hale. 

Charles Whitehorn

About a week after Anna Brown’s body is discovered, another Osage victim is found near an oil rig. This time, the corpse belongs to a man named Charles Whitehorn, who had been missing for about two weeks. Whitehorn is a well-known and popular figure in Osage County, married to a half-white, half-Cheyenne woman. Like Anna Brown, he has been shot in the head—and the bullets appear to be the same kind as the ones that had killed Anna Brown.

Henry Roan

In February 1923, the body of a 40-year-old Osage man named Henry Roan is found slumped behind the steering wheel of a Buick, a few miles outside of Fairfax. Roan has been shot in the back of the head. Local authorities notify William Hale, whom Roan had considered a close friend and benefactor.

The murder of Roan creates an atmosphere of terror and paranoia that rips the community apart. People begin to suspect their neighbors, friends, and even family of being involved in the deadly conspiracy.

Bill and Rita Smith

Bill Smith, Mollie’s brother-in-law, looks into the killings on his own, unable to shake the suspicion that his mother-in-law, Lizzie, has been poisoned. 

He and his wife Rita, Mollie’s sister, receive threats and intimidating “warnings” as Bill appears to get closer to the truth, especially after he discovers a connection between Roan’s murder and local criminal kingpin and bootlegger Henry Grammer. Bill confides to his friends that he “didn’t expect to live long.”

On March 10, 1923, the house that Bill and Rita Smith had moved into explodes in a thunderous blast, just before three o’clock in the morning. Neighbors hear the explosion for miles around, with the force of the blast blowing out windows in the neighboring town of Fairfax. Nothing remains of the house but twisted metal and burnt furniture.

Killers of the Flower Moon Characters: The Perpetrators

These Killers of the Flower Moon characters participate in the murders. More people might be part of the conspiracy, but William Hale is convicted as the mastermind of the operation. The scope of the murders is unknown, and there are likely many more conspiracies operating outside of William Hale’s orders.

William Hale

William Hale is one of the more notorious Killers of the Flower Moon characters. William Hale is a businessman, power broker, and self-styled “True Friend of the Osage.” Hale has powerful business and political connections and supports the establishment of charities, schools, and hospitals for the Osage. Hale is more than just any local grandee, moreover—he’s the uncle of Ernest Burkhart, Mollie Burkhart’s husband. He attends Anna Brown’s funeral and even vows to the family that he’ll seek justice for Anna.

William Hale tries to influence both the investigation and the trial. Despite his efforts, on October 29, 1926, Hale is found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Ernest Burkhart

Ernest Burkhart is Mollie Burkhart’s husband and William Hale’s nephew. The Bureau agents discover that Ernest Burkhart and his brother, Bryan, are willing and active accomplices in their uncle’s murderous conspiracy—Ernest Burkhart is a party to the murder of his wife’s sisters. In piecing together the puzzle, White’s team sees that the motive for all the murders is simple: profit.

On June 9, 1926, he pleads guilty. He reads a statement before the judge and jury that he had, in fact, hired Kirby to blow up Rita and Bill Smith’s house. Accordingly, Ernest Burkhart is sentenced on June 21, 1926, to life imprisonment. For Mollie, it’s a day of devastation.

Kelsie Morrison

Kelsie Morrison is the notorious bootlegger, outlaw, onetime Bureau informant, and the man whom Ernest fingers as Anna Brown’s killer. The prosecutor brings Morrison in to take the stand. This time, Morrison decides to cooperate with the government against his former employer, Hale. Morrison confesses in open court that he was recruited by Hale to help eliminate Mollie’s entire family. He then proceeds to narrate the awful details of Anna’s final moments.

He and Bryan Burkhart got Anna drunk at a speakeasy before driving her out to Three Mile Creek. Bryan’s wife, Cole (who corroborates all the details of Morrison’s testimony) waits in the parked car to stand lookout. They drag the inebriated Anna down into the ravine. Bryan props her up on a rock and holds her still while Morrison shoots her in the back of the head—with a gun that is provided by Hale. 

Bryan Burkhart

By July 1925, investigator Tom White begins to think that Bryan Burkhart, brother of Ernest Burkhart (Mollie’s husband) and brother-in-law to Mollie and Rita, is the most likely perpetrator of Anna’s murder. He’s the last person to see her alive when he drops her off back home on the evening she disappears. Tom believes this, even though Bryan’s alibi is well-corroborated by people who claim to have been in his company at the time of the killing, including his brother Ernest and his uncle William Hale.

Bryan Burkhart is later given immunity for providing testimony against William Hale.

John Ramsey

Ernest Burkhart also links Hale directly to the murder of Henry Roan, stating that a contract killer named John Ramsey (another associate of Grammer) has been hired to kill him. Agents in the field immediately apprehend Ramsey, bring him into custody, and present him with Burkhart’s signed confession. Ramsey, in turn, confesses to getting Roan drunk and shooting him in the back of the head. 

On October 29, 1926, Ramsey is found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Killers of the Flower Moon Characters: The Investigator

One of the Killers of the Flower Moon characters worth noting is FBI agent Tom White, who is the main investigator on the case. Tom White initially enlists William Hale to help with the investigation but later determines him to be suspicious.

Tom’s career in law enforcement is relatively bloodless, and he prides himself on the fact that he has never killed anyone in the line of duty, a rarity for an officer of his time and place. His approach to law enforcement is more modern and less bloodthirsty than his background suggests, and it earns him a strong reputation within the Bureau.

Tom White enjoys an initial career boost from his work on the Osage case. In the fall of 1926, the U.S. Justice Department names him the new warden of the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. Life comes full circle for Tom, who grew up in the shadow of the county jail that his father operated in Texas. 

For someone of his background and era, Tom White is progressive in his attitudes toward convicted criminals, seeing in many of them the potential for redemption and rehabilitation. He’s personally opposed to capital punishment, although he’s occasionally called upon to oversee executions at the prison—just as his father had been.

Wrapping Up

These are just a few of the people who were involved in the Osage murders. In Killers of the Flower Moon, characters are easily swept up in the twists and turns of the story, but it’s important to remember that this story, despite its almost unbelievable murder conspiracy, was a true and tragic event in the lives of many Native Americans. The true scope of this tragedy is still largely unknown.

Killers of the Flower Moon Characters: Victims, Killers, & White

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of David Grann's "Killers of the Flower Moon" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Killers of the Flower Moon summary :

  • How the Osage tribe had vast oil wealth, but had it seized by their murderous neighbors
  • The brutal and unresolved murders of Osage Native Americans
  • The complicated history of the FBI in profiting from the Osage murders

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.