Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders True Story and Changes Explained

Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated Western crime epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, boasts an all-star cast. It is based on a chilling true story about the Osage murders.

Scorsese and Robert De Niro reunion is here!! Other collaborators to join Scorsese include the legendary Leonardo DiCaprio and the talented Lily Gladstone, Brendan Fraser, John Lithgow, and many others.

Clocking in at almost three and a half hours, the film delves deep into the dark and disturbing events of the “Reign of Terror” that shook Osage County, Oklahoma, and the entire United States.

A constant rise in the body count of the Osage Indian Nation marked the early 1900s. The FBI’s first major homicide investigation was launched, revealing the shocking and tragic reality of this heinous crime spree.

The Osage murders are a haunting tale that has been etched into the fabric of American history. It is a harrowing true-crime story marred by a twisted conspiracy that continues to shock and horrify.

Despite time, the knowledge of these heinous acts remains woefully limited. The devastating toll of greed and racism on innocent lives is a tragedy that cannot be ignored.

But with the release of Killers of the Flower Moon, a glimmer of hope emerges. This film, with its stellar cast and gripping storyline, promises to bring the truth to light and expose the despicable crime ring responsible for so much pain and suffering.

The film provides us the opportunity to learn about the injustices faced by the victims and their families for decades.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders True Story and Changes Explained
Lily Gladstone, Janae Collins, and Jillian Dion in Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) | Source: IMDb

1. Killers Of The Flower Moon is based on a book about The Osage Murders

Killers of the Flower Moon is a riveting tale based on the non-fiction work of the same title by acclaimed American journalist David Grann.

This captivating book focuses on some members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. Back in the 1920s, these individuals happened to be the wealthiest people per capita in the world, all due to the oil reserves discovered beneath their land.

They thrived in opulence, resided in grand mansions, were transported in chauffeur-driven vehicles, and could afford the highest quality education in Europe for their children. Interestingly, they owed this lifestyle to land granted to them by Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century, which had once been thought to hold no value.

Believing that the Osage community lacked the skills to manage their wealth, a program was established to oversee their finances. This program was comprised entirely of Oklahomans who closely monitored the minor expenses, such as toothpaste requiring approval for each purchase.

At that time, the FBI was still in its stages. However, due to the deaths of those who attempted to investigate these murders, a young J. Edgar Hoover took on the case as the bureau’s major murder investigation.

Hoover formed a team consisting of Texas Ranger Tom White and one of the Native American agents in the bureau. Their mission was to identify and bring justice to those for these killings.

2. Killers Of The Flower Moon’s timeline

The movie adaptation of “Killers of the Flower Moon” doesn’t provide a timeline for how much time passes before its conclusion. However, these devastating murders continued over the years within the Osage Nation community.

The movie does not explicitly state what year it takes place, but Ernest Burkhart’s time in Oklahoma began around 1920 or 1921.

He quickly reconnects with his uncle William King Hale, and meets his future wife Mollie Kyle. The timeline of events that unfold from here happens over five or six years, depending on when exactly Ernest arrives in Oklahoma, leading up to the trial that takes place in 1926.

3. How many people were charged for The Osage Murders?

Unfortunately, a significant number of the Osage murders were not brought to trial. However, a few individuals were convicted, including William Hale, a cattle baron. He ordered Kelsie Morrison to murder Anna Brown in an attempt to gain control over her oil rights. Hale led a crime ring known as the “King of the Osage Hills,” along with his nephews Byron and Ernest Burkhart.

Their collective goal was to acquire the rights of members. In 1924, the Department of the Interior charged members of the Osage guardian program after they had swindled their charges out of millions of dollars.

However, each of them settled out of court of facing justice. It is clear that individuals like Hale and his accomplices, along with those involved in the Osage guardian program and even lawmakers who shielded them, were aware of the nature behind these murders but chose to remain inactive.

Hale and others like him had come from Texas and surrounding states to work in the oil fields of Osage County and, finding the Osage so fabulously wealthy, sought to take it for themselves.

Several men married Osage women to obtain their headlights and then slowly poisoned them to death, their murders covered up by coroner reports that indicated they had taken their own lives.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders True Story and Changes Explained
Robert De Niro and Brendan Fraser in Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) | Source: IMDb

4. How Killers Of The Flower Moon’s Osage Murders changed U.S. Law?

In 1925, a law was passed by the United States Congress to protect the Osage people. It prohibited individuals who were not of Osage descent and had, then, American ancestry from inheriting headlights from Osage individuals. Meanwhile, the government continued to oversee the management of Osage royalties from their oil lands.

Years later, there have been ongoing disputes between the Osage Nation and the Department of the Interior regarding the mismanagement of overdue royalties.

Recently, in 2011, a settlement was reached where the Department of the Interior agreed to pay $380 million and make improvements to the trust system.

The Osage murders were portrayed in a G Men episode in 1935 with cooperation from the FBI. However, by the 1940s and 1950s, public memory of these murders had already begun to fade. Even Jimmy Stewarts’ movie “The FBI Story,” in 1959, which mentioned the Kyle family murders, did little to raise awareness.

Despite being the subject of other novels, Grann’s work has done the most to draw attention to the true story of the Osage murders that still cast a shadow over the Osage people today.

5. Was Leonardo DiCaprio’s Killers Of The Flower Moon character a real person?

Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Ernest Burkhart in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The nephew of cattleman William Hale inspires his character. Hale convinced his nephew to marry Mollie Kyle, a member of the Osage tribe, before orchestrating the murders of Mollie’s mother, sisters, brother, and cousin, Henry Roan.

This sinister plot was intended to help Ernest acquire the family’s headlights and collect insurance money.

By the time the FBI initiated their investigation, Mollie had already been suffering from poisoning for quite some time. Over the years in the 1920s, Ernest and others faced trial for their involvement in this conspiracy.

Ultimately, Ernest pleaded guilty. This role presents a challenge for DiCaprio, known for his ability to portray ambiguous characters in films such as “Wolf of Wall Street” and “Django Unchained.” It allows him to showcase his skills as a performer again.

That Ernest Burkhart’s actions were so deplorable and his sentencing so ultimately lenient will make him very unsympathetic. Still, DiCaprio tries to humanize him with a performance that could garner him consideration in early predictions for Oscars 2024.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders True Story and Changes Explained
Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) | Source: IMDb

6. Which real-life characters appear in Killers Of The Flower Moon?

Killers of the Flower Moon has several real-life characters including William Hale (Robert De Niro), his nephew Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), Ernest’s wife Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone), her mother Lizzie Q (Tantoo Cardinal), Texas Ranger Tom White (Jesse Plemons), Legislative Assembly member W.S. Hamilton (Brendan Fraser), and Prosecutor Leaward (John Lithgow). Supporting characters include Mollie’s sister, Anna Brown (Cara Jade Myers), her cousin Henry Roan (William Belleau), and petty criminal Kelsie Morrison (Louis Cancelmi).

Grann outlines the diligence of FBI officer Tom White and other members of his undercover team as the reason that William Hale and other members of his crime ring were brought to justice. The case helped legitimize the FBI in the eyes of the rest of the nation and successfully modified Hoover’s future leadership.

Its corruption, apparent from the beginning, however, would be something that dogged its reputation for several more decades to come.

7. How Killers Of The Flower Moon changes the true story?

Killers of the Flower Moon largely adheres to the story and the corresponding book it was inspired by. The most noticeable distinctions arise from how the book paints the story through Tom White’s investigation.

However, Scorsese pivoted the film’s focus towards Ernest and Mollie’s lives. This alteration was carefully made to steer clear of the ‘white savior’ narrative that situates Tom White as the hero. Instead, Killers of the Flower Moon keeps its spotlight firmly on the Osage Nation and the catastrophic impact of these murders while also delving into the mental state of Ernest Burkhart.

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8. About Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon is a 2023 American epic revisionist Western crime drama film directed and produced by Martin Scorsese, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Roth, based on the 2017 book of the same name by David Grann.

Its plot centres on a series of Oklahoma murders in the Osage Nation during the 1920s, committed after oil was discovered on tribal land.  Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone lead an ensemble cast that includes Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, and Brendan Fraser.

It is the sixth feature film collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio and the tenth between Scorsese and De Niro and the eleventh and final collaboration between Scorsese and his musical partner, Robbie Robertson, who passed away two months before the film’s release; the film is dedicated to Robertson.


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