Killers of the Flower Moon

by David Grann

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Chapters 8–11 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on August 24, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1119

Chapter 8

In the summer of 1925, J. Edgar Hoover, the chief of the Bureau of Investigation, contacted special agent Tom White with an urgent message. White, a former Texas Ranger who joined the Bureau in 1917, hurried to Washington, D.C.

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The bureau was formed in 1908 as an organization of fact-gathering, unarmed agents with limited jurisdiction. However, White, his brother Doc, and several other Western agents continued to carry their guns. They may not have been scientifically trained agents, but they were honest and practical. The bureau itself was plagued by corruption and scandal in its early days, as were other areas of government. Hoover took over the bureau in 1924 in order to reform it and turn it into an efficient law-enforcement organization.

Previous bureau attempts to solve the Osage murders had ended in failure and even tragedy, such as when outlaw Blackie Thompson escaped bureau surveillance and killed a police officer. Hoover was now looking for success without scandal, and White was to head up the investigation. White accepted the task, even though he understood the danger.

Chapter 9

White began by reviewing the case files, looking for anything other investigators might have overlooked. He noticed a pattern of wealthy Osages as targets, and he wondered why agents had not spoken to Mollie. He also observed that these murders lacked a signature or routine that tied them together. The mastermind behind them employed henchmen, White believed, but he was a “connoisseur of plots,” methodical and calculating. White further recognized that previous agents had uncovered numerous leads, often from untrustworthy sources, that they had failed to thoroughly investigate. White knew that he needed an “unbroken chain of evidence.”

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White then put together his team, a “squad of Cowboys,” who could work deep undercover. Among them were a former sheriff, a former Texas Ranger, a former insurance agent, and Texan Frank Smith. They would enter the community as cattlemen, a rancher, an insurance salesman, and an Indian medicine man. The last was Native American agent John Wren, who was skilled in handling investigations in Native American areas. White would retain agent John Burger to work openly with him.

Chapter 10

The undercover agents soon began their investigation, becoming friendly with Bill Hale, questioning suspects, and, in Wren’s case, entering into the Osage community. White struggled with a lack of preserved evidence and missing records. He looked at Anna’s skull and realized that there was no way the bullet could have been missed. Someone had deliberately taken it.

White’s primary goal was to “separate the facts from the hearsay.” He began by confirming suspects’ alibis and thereby ruled out certain suspects, including Oda Brown. White also recruited the reluctant help of informant Kelsie Morrison to rule out Rose Osage as Anna’s murderer. The witness against Rose admitted that she was forced to make her statement even though she knew it was not true. White realized the depth of the conspiracy he was facing. Evidence had disappeared, and false evidence had been manufactured to take its place.

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Latest answer posted June 1, 2019, 7:30 pm (UTC)

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Chapter 11

Meanwhile, Hoover had theories of his own, even though he was not directly involved in the investigation. He thought that Necia Kenny, a white woman married to an Osage, might be extremely important. Kenny had implicated A. W. Comstock as a member of the conspiracy, and Hoover believed she was right. Kenny, however, had mental health issues, and White could not find any evidence to support her claims. Moreover, Comstock seemed to genuinely want to aid the investigation.

White was now focusing on Bryan Burkhart. Bryan’s story seemed “airtight,” but Burger visited Bryan’s aunt and uncle, who were with him the night of the murder, to corroborate his story. They did so, but White was still suspicious, and his undercover agents went to work in the nearby town of Ralston. They found witnesses who had seen Bryan and Anna together. Other witnesses reported that a third man had joined Bryan and Anna in a speakeasy near Fairfax. White was left with the questions of Bryan’s motive and the identity of the third man.

Analysis

Grann includes plenty of small yet vivid details in his narrative. These details add color and interest to his story but also provide readers with the inside knowledge that invests them in the lives of the characters and the events of the story. For instance, Tom White’s appearance may not seem especially necessary, but Grann quotes a fellow agent who described White as “an impressive sight in his large, suede Stetson, and a plumb-line running from head to heel would touch every part of the rear of his body.” He commanded “reverence and fear,” the agent continued, yet there is “a kindly and understanding gleam” in his “steel-gray eyes.” This is an effective description that gives readers important insights into Tom White’s character, allowing them to picture White in detail but also providing the opportunity to see beneath the surface to the man under the Stetson.

Grann even uses minor details to help him characterize Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover, again to give readers a fuller sense of his character. He notes, for example, that Hoover was, at this time, a slim man with a tightly held jaw and lips that pressed together sternly. His eyes were watchful. Hoover was quite short, and this irritated him so much that he installed a dais behind his desk to give him the appearance of greater height. Further, Hoover spoke in “staccato bursts” to hide his stutter, and he was terrified of germs and even installed a filtration system in his home.

Technically, readers need none of these details to appreciate the intricacies of the Osage murders and their investigation or even to understand the Bureau of Investigation in itself, yet Grann includes them to provide readers with a deeper sense of Hoover and his personality. He was a proud, determined, focused man, with a commitment to meticulousness in himself and in others. He wanted everything to be just right, and these traits extended into his management of the bureau in a way that affected his agents, including Tom White.

Further, these precise details set up a contrast between Tom White and J. Edgar Hoover that explains why they handled the Osage murders investigation so differently. White was a man of action and deliberation as well as calm logic and straightforward conduct. Hoover, on the other hand, sometimes allowed his personal preferences and biases to affect his opinions and his investigations—as with Necia Kenny and A. W. Comstock, for instance. Readers get a strong sense of which of the two men was better suited to solving the mystery. Indeed, small details can make large statements.

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Chapters 4–7 Summary and Analysis

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Chapters 12–15 Summary and Analysis