Killers of the Flower Moon

by David Grann

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Killers of the Flower Moon Characters

The main characters in Killers of the Flower Moon are Mollie Burkhart, William K. Hale, Ernest Burkhart, Tom White, and J. Edgar Hoover.

  • Mollie Burkhart was an Osage woman at the heart of the case who saw several members of her own family killed.
  • William K. Hale was the outwardly charismatic but deeply cruel mastermind behind the Osage murders. 
  • Ernest Burkhart was Mollie Bukrhart’s husband and William Hale’s nephew and accomplice.
  • Tom White was the Bureau of Investigation agent whose team solved the case of the Osage murders.
  • J. Edgar Hoover was the first chief of the Bureau of Investigation.


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Last Updated on August 24, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1053

Mollie Burkhart

Mollie Burkhart is arguably the most tragic character in Killers of the Flower Moon. A full-blood Osage, Mollie straddled two worlds: that of her Native American heritage and that of the white American culture. Mollie was forcibly enrolled in a boarding school as a child, where she learned the English language and American customs and became Catholic. She married a white man, Ernest Burkhart, whom she sincerely loved, and she was devoted to her Catholic faith. Yet Mollie also maintained her Osage customs, incorporating Osage rituals into her sister’s funeral and seeking treatment from medicine men for her mother. Mollie was not a white woman and never would be, even though she had adopted many white ways.

Mollie was her family’s caregiver. She patiently coped with her sister Anna’s drunkenness and her mother Lizzie’s constant needs with a long-suffering patience. Mollie was the responsible one, the one who took other people’s burdens upon herself. Yet Mollie’s family members were soon taken from her one after another—first Minnie, then Anna, then Lizzie, then Rita. Mollie grieved deeply but stoically.

When Mollie finally discovered the truth—that her own husband was partly responsible for the deaths of her loved ones—she at first refused to believe it. Her love for Ernest would not allow her to grasp his betrayal. Yet as she attended his trial, she realized that she could no longer deny Ernest’s involvement. She began to react with horror when anyone spoke his name, and finally she knew she must let him go. Mollie’s ability to love, however, had not been permanently damaged by her experiences, for she remarried and experienced what her granddaughter called “a good marriage.”

William K. Hale

William K. Hale, the self-styled “King of the Osage Hills” and best friend of the Osage people, was in reality a deceitful, callous, and manipulative man completely lacking in remorse. Hale was driven by greed and a strong desire for power. People meant nothing to him other than as tools he could use to achieve his purposes. He ordered for nearly two dozen people to be murdered seemingly without a second thought. His goal was to attain control of their headrights or to cash in on their deaths in some fashion, and he would go to any length to achieve that goal with no thought to the consequences or to the pain he caused.

Yet Hale was also charismatic. He put on an excellent show. Mollie was convinced that he truly wanted to help her solve Anna’s murder even though Hale was actually working to cover up the crime. Hale also created a vast network of people under his influence. He moved them like puppets, whether through promises, fear, or shared motives. He seemed to know exactly how to control each person, and he did so with great confidence.

In fact, Hale was shocked when he was convicted of murder. His system of bribery and intimidation had failed for the first time. Yet he admitted no guilt and continued to scheme his way through the appeals process and in prison.

Ernest Burkhart

Ernest Burkhart, Mollie Burkhart’s husband, was a man of weak character. Completely under the control of his uncle, Bill Hale, Ernest betrayed his wife in a despicable fashion by colluding in the murders of several of her family members in order to gain control of the family’s headrights. Unlike Hale, Ernest felt remorse for what he had done, and even though he recanted his confession under his uncle’s influence, his guilt again caught up with him, and he changed to a guilty plea at his trial, admitting to everything and accepting his punishment. After his parole, Ernest reached out to his son, and they shared a troubled yet somewhat regular relationship.

Tom White

Tom White was an agent for the Bureau of Investigation during the investigation of the Osage murders. As a man of integrity, perseverance, and courage, Tom White was the right agent to take a leading role in the investigation. Raised by a lawman, White was invested with principles of fairness, truth, thoroughness, and practicality. He thought deeply and critically both about his personal principles and about the Osage case. White left no possible lead, witness, or source of information unattended. When an opportunity failed to develop, he applied his creativity to new avenues, seeking, for instance, information from the criminal elements of society. 

White was also committed to caring for his team of agents. Although many of them were deep undercover, White protected them to the best of his ability. He also strove to protect jury members, victims’ families, and prisoners as much as possible. White exhibited these same qualities in his role as a prison warden. He treated all prisoners alike—even Hale and Ramsey when they came under his authority—and he worked hard to better the conditions at Leavenworth. Even after the botched escape attempt and his own kidnapping and injury at the hands of the escapees, he refused to retaliate. The recaptured prisoners were to be treated like all the rest.

White was never fully recognized by the Bureau of Investigation for his steadfast and efficient work, yet he did not seem to worry about his own prestige. Rather, he was concerned that the Osage murder victims and his agents would be forgotten. To that end, he prepared a manuscript documenting these events, though it was never published.

J. Edgar Hoover

As chief of the Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover was determined to make a name for the Bureau and for himself. Hoover was meticulous, rule-oriented, bureaucratic, and strict, yet his efforts were largely directed toward self-promotion. Hoover wanted everything exactly as he commanded it to be, demanding particular clothing and behavior from his agents. He was determined to bring his progressive ideas into full fruition in the Bureau and in his own life.

Hoover’s self-centered focus, however, led him to questionable actions, such as promoting a somewhat false image of the Bureau, emphasizing all the positives while brushing the negatives out of sight. He even fictionalized his cases to provide the Bureau with status and glamor, and he failed to properly acknowledge and reward the hard work and risks of his agents, including Tom White.

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