Killers of the Flower Moon

David Grann


“Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” is a gripping true crime masterpiece by David Grann that transports readers back to the early 20th century, revealing a chilling sequence of events that unfolded in Osage County, Oklahoma. 🕵️‍♂️📚 David Grann, a distinguished journalist and author known for his deep-dive investigations and compelling narrative style, masterfully recounts the sinister plot against the Osage Nation—a story of greed, racism, and the birth of the American investigative agency we now know as the FBI.

Set in the 1920s, the book unfolds the harrowing tale of the Osage Indians, who, after discovering vast oil reserves beneath their land, became some of the wealthiest people per capita in the world. This newfound wealth, however, drew the sinister attention of opportunists and criminals, leading to a series of murders that came to be known as the Reign of Terror. Grann’s meticulous research and narrative flair shed light on a largely forgotten chapter of American history, painting a vivid picture of the time, the people involved, and the formation of the FBI as it took on one of its first major investigations.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” sits at the intersection of true crime, historical non-fiction, and a detective story, offering readers a haunting journey through one of the most nefarious crimes in American history. Through this book, Grann not only tells the story of the Osage murders but also explores broader themes of racism, exploitation, and the struggle for justice, making it a must-read for anyone fascinated by the dark corners of American history and the evolution of crime investigation. 📖💡

Plot Summary

“Killers of the Flower Moon” intricately weaves together the series of events surrounding the Osage murders, starting from the discovery of oil on Osage land to the subsequent investigation by the then-nascent FBI. Here’s a breakdown of the main events:

Exposition — The story sets the stage in the early 1920s in Osage County, Oklahoma, where the Osage Indian Nation resides atop oil-rich land. Due to the immense wealth garnered from oil, the Osage people become prime targets for exploitation, manipulation, and ultimately, murder.

Rising Action — With the Osage people dying under mysterious circumstances, the local and state authorities fail to solve the crimes, leading to more deaths. The escalating violence and the evident lack of justice attract the attention of the federal government, prompting the involvement of the Bureau of Investigation, later known as the FBI.

Climax — The investigation intensifies under the guidance of a young J. Edgar Hoover and lead investigator Tom White. The team employs undercover operations and modern forensic techniques, uncovering a chilling conspiracy that implicates local and powerful figures in the systemic murders of the Osage people for their wealth.

Falling Action — As the investigation unfolds, several conspirators are arrested and tried, revealing a network of greed and corruption that had led to the murders of countless Osage individuals. The exposure of these crimes shocks the nation and brings about a public demand for justice and reform.

ResolutionThe trial of the perpetrators marks one of the first major successes of the FBI, setting a precedent for federal involvement in crime investigation. However, the resolution is bittersweet, as the Osage Nation grapples with the trauma and loss inflicted upon them, and many of the crimes against them remain unsolved or inadequately addressed.

Through meticulous detail and a compelling narrative, David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” offers a stark examination of the intersection of wealth, racism, and corruption, while highlighting the resilience of the Osage Nation and the formative years of the FBI’s investigative practices.

Character Analysis

In “Killers of the Flower Moon,” David Grann presents a vivid cast of real-life characters, each contributing significantly to the unfolding of the Osage murders and the subsequent investigation. Here’s a closer look at some of the main characters:

  • Mollie Burkhart — A member of the Osage Nation, Mollie is directly affected by the Reign of Terror, witnessing the murder of her family members. Her experience is central to the narrative, embodying the personal toll of the broader tragedy. Mollie’s character evolves from one of vulnerability to resilience as she navigates through loss and the quest for justice.
  • Tom White — An FBI agent assigned to lead the investigation into the Osage murders. White embodies the transition of law enforcement from rough-and-ready justice to a more methodical, forensic approach. His determination and innovative tactics are crucial in unraveling the conspiracy against the Osage people.
  • William Hale — The mastermind behind many of the murders, Hale is a powerful local figure who exploits his social and economic status to orchestrate the killings for financial gain. His character represents the dark side of American ambition, manifesting in greed and utter disregard for human life.
  • J. Edgar Hoover — The ambitious head of the Bureau of Investigation, who sees the Osage murder case as an opportunity to solidify his agency’s reputation. Hoover’s involvement highlights the federal government’s growing role in law enforcement and the evolution of investigative techniques.
  • Ernest Burkhart — Mollie Burkhart’s husband and William Hale’s nephew, Ernest finds himself caught between his loyalty to his wife and his allegiance to his uncle. His character explores themes of manipulation, betrayal, and moral conflict.

Here’s a summary table of the main characters:

Mollie BurkhartResilient, empatheticSeeking justice for her family, survivalGrows from vulnerability to strength amid tragedy
Tom WhiteDetermined, innovativeSolve the Osage murders, establish the FBI’s competenceEvolves as a leader, adapting new methods of investigation
William HaleGreedy, manipulativeWealth, power, control over Osage oil rightsRevealed as the antagonist, embodying corruption and greed
J. Edgar HooverAmbitious, calculatingEstablish the FBI’s authority, modernize crime investigationUses the case to promote himself and his agency
Ernest BurkhartConflicted, manipulatedLoyalty to family versus moral righteousnessStruggles with his conscience, ultimately facing the consequences of his actions

These characters, along with the rich detail provided by Grann, offer a complex view of the historical events, reflecting the various human dimensions involved in the tragedy of the Osage Nation.

Themes and Symbols

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to its depth and complexity, painting a broader picture of American history, societal issues, and human nature.

Greed and Exploitation — Central to the narrative is the theme of greed and its devastating effects. The systematic murder of the Osage people for their wealth is a stark illustration of how greed can drive individuals to commit heinous acts. This theme also explores the exploitation of Native Americans and their resources, a recurrent issue in American history.

Racism and Prejudice — The book delves into the racial prejudices faced by the Osage Nation, not only from the murderers who sought to exploit them but also from the broader societal structures that facilitated such exploitation. The racial dynamics of the time are a backdrop against which the events unfold, highlighting the intersection of racism and criminal justice.

The Evolution of Justice — Through the investigation of the Osage murders by the FBI, Grann examines the evolution of the American justice system, particularly the shift towards more scientific and methodical investigative techniques. This theme reflects on the growth of the FBI and the changing nature of law enforcement in response to complex crimes.

Corruption and Power — The manipulation of legal and financial systems by powerful figures to exploit the Osage Nation underscores the theme of corruption. The book exposes how individuals in positions of power can perpetrate and cover up crimes for personal gain, raising questions about accountability and the susceptibility of institutions to corruption.


  • The Osage Murders themselves symbolize the broader exploitation and violence inflicted upon Native American peoples throughout American history, serving as a microcosm of the systemic injustices they have faced.
  • Oil is a powerful symbol in the book, representing both the wealth and the curse it brought to the Osage people. It stands for the double-edged sword of natural resources—bringing prosperity on one hand and attracting greed and violence on the other.
  • The FBI’s Investigation symbolizes the dawn of a new era in crime solving, with an emphasis on forensics and methodical investigative work. It also represents a turning point in the federal government’s involvement in protecting citizens’ rights, regardless of race or status.

These themes and symbols intertwine to tell a story that is not just about a series of crimes, but also about the American society, its values, and its shortcomings. David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” offers a compelling narrative that prompts reflection on the past and its implications for the present and future.

Writing Style and Tone

David Grann’s approach to narrating “Killers of the Flower Moon” is marked by a meticulous blend of investigative journalism and compelling storytelling. His writing style and tone play a crucial role in how the story is conveyed, ensuring that readers are not just informed but are also emotionally engaged. Here’s how these elements contribute to the book’s mood and atmosphere:

  • Investigative Precision — Grann’s background in journalism shines through in his attention to detail and commitment to factual accuracy. He presents a well-researched account of the Osage murders, enriched by his thorough investigation, which includes digging through archives and conducting interviews. This precision lends the narrative an authoritative tone that helps establish trust with the reader.
  • Narrative Nonfiction — While the book is rooted in historical events, Grann uses the techniques of narrative nonfiction to create a story that is as engaging as any novel. By focusing on the experiences of key characters, he brings emotional depth to the narrative, allowing readers to connect with the individuals involved on a personal level.
  • Suspenseful and Engaging — Grann masterfully builds suspense throughout the book, employing a pacing that keeps readers hooked. The way he reveals information gradually, leading up to key revelations, enhances the story’s dramatic and gripping nature. This technique ensures that the book reads like a detective novel, despite its nonfiction classification.
  • Empathetic and Respectful Tone — Throughout “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Grann maintains a tone that is both empathetic and respectful towards the Osage Nation and the victims of the murders. His writing reflects a deep understanding of the gravity of the events and the suffering of the Osage people, which is crucial in a work that deals with real-life tragedies.
  • Clear and Accessible — Despite the complexity of the events and the historical context required to understand them fully, Grann’s writing is clear and accessible. He manages to explain the intricacies of the case and the socio-political environment of the time in a way that is easy to follow, making the book appealing to a wide audience.

These elements of style and tone are instrumental in creating a book that is not only informative but also profoundly moving. Grann’s approach ensures that “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a memorable exploration of a dark chapter in American history, told with the depth and nuance it deserves.

Literary Devices Used in Killers of the Flower Moon

David Grann employs a variety of literary devices in “Killers of the Flower Moon” to enhance the narrative and deepen the reader’s engagement with the text. Here are the top 10 devices used, illustrating how each contributes to the storytelling:

  1. Foreshadowing — Grann uses foreshadowing to hint at future events, creating suspense and preparing the reader for upcoming revelations. This technique is particularly effective in a true crime narrative, where building tension is key to maintaining interest.
  2. Imagery — Vivid descriptions of the Osage reservation, the townspeople, and the landscapes of early 20th-century Oklahoma help paint a vivid picture of the setting. Imagery brings the reader into the world of the Osage Nation, making the story more immersive.
  3. Personification — Grann occasionally gives human qualities to non-human elements, such as the oil beneath Osage land, to emphasize their significance and impact on human lives. This literary device helps convey the allure and danger that the oil represented.
  4. Metaphor and Simile — Through metaphors and similes, Grann draws comparisons that highlight the greed and corruption at the heart of the Osage murders. These devices enrich the narrative by offering deeper insights into the motivations and actions of those involved.
  5. Irony — The use of irony, especially situational irony, underscores the tragic injustices faced by the Osage people. Grann highlights the ironic twist of the Osage obtaining wealth from their land, only to become targets of a deadly conspiracy.
  6. Alliteration — The use of alliteration adds a poetic quality to the prose, enhancing its readability and rhythm. Though used sparingly, it contributes to the overall texture of the narrative.
  7. Parallelism — Grann employs parallelism in structuring certain narratives, drawing parallels between different events or experiences. This device reinforces themes and connections throughout the book.
  8. Anaphora — The repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of consecutive sentences or paragraphs is used to emphasize key points or themes, making them more memorable to the reader.
  9. Juxtaposition — By placing contrasting elements close together, Grann highlights the disparities between the wealth of the Osage and the poverty of their would-be exploiters, as well as the clash between justice and corruption.
  10. Symbolism — Elements like oil and the federal investigation serve as symbols within the narrative, representing broader themes of greed, corruption, and the quest for justice.

Each of these literary devices is skillfully woven into the fabric of Grann’s narrative, enhancing the storytelling and enriching the reader’s experience of “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s explore examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann.


Example 1

The early mention of mysterious deaths before the full scope of the conspiracy is revealed.

Example 2

Hints at the systemic corruption within law enforcement before the arrival of the FBI.

Example 3

References to the future importance of the FBI in solving the case, setting the stage for its pivotal role.


Example 1

Vivid descriptions of the Osage Hills draped in fog, creating a haunting backdrop for the narrative.

Example 2

The opulent lifestyles of the Osage, contrasted with the desolation of the murder scenes.

Example 3

Detailed portrayal of the chaotic and crowded courtroom scenes during the trials.


Example 1

The oil beneath Osage land is described as a sleeping giant, hinting at its potential for both prosperity and disaster.

Example 2

Justice is depicted as blind and faltering, struggling to find its way in Osage County.

Example 3

The narrative often imbues the landscape with emotions, like the land mourning its lost stewards.

Metaphor and Simile

Example 1

The comparison of the Osage murders to a “plague,” evoking the widespread and indiscriminate nature of the tragedy.

Example 2

Describing the investigation as “peeling an onion,” with each layer revealing deeper and more complex conspiracies.

Example 3

The use of “a web” to describe the interconnectedness of the various parties involved in the exploitation of the Osage.


Example 1

The Osage, despite their wealth, were subjected to a guardianship system, underlining the irony of their lack of control.

Example 2

The FBI’s role as both a savior of the Osage and an instrument of a government that had historically oppressed Native Americans.

Example 3

Victims seeking help from the very individuals who were orchestrating the murders.


Example 1

“Dark deeds done in the daylight,” highlighting the boldness of the conspirators.

Example 2

“Fortune and folly,” describing the rapid changes in fortune experienced by the Osage.

Example 3

“Wealth and wickedness,” linking the Osage wealth directly to the evil it attracted.


Example 1

The repeated structure in the descriptions of different murders, emphasizing the pattern of violence.

Example 2

The comparison of the Osage situation with other historical injustices against Native Americans, using parallel structure to draw connections.

Example 3

The narrative’s parallel presentation of the perspectives of the Osage and the investigators.


Example 1

The use of “They took” at the beginning of sentences describing the various ways the Osage were exploited.

Example 2

“Justice was not…” repeated to emphasize the failures of the justice system.

Example 3

“Oil brought…” to start multiple sentences that discuss the impact of oil wealth on the Osage community and its unintended consequences.


Example 1

The contrasting descriptions of the wealthy lives of the Osage with the impoverished conditions of their exploiters.

Example 2

The hopeful beginning of the Osage oil boom juxtaposed with the tragic murders that followed.

Example 3

The side-by-side portrayal of traditional Osage cultural practices and the modern, violent methods used against them.


Example 1

Oil as a symbol of both the prosperity and the curse it brought upon the Osage Nation.

Example 2

The federal investigation as a symbol of emerging justice and the fight against corruption.

Example 3

The guardianship system symbolizes the paternalistic and exploitative attitudes of the government towards the Osage.

Each of these devices enriches the narrative, adding layers of meaning and helping readers engage with the complex history and emotions conveyed in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Killers of the Flower Moon – FAQs

What is “Killers of the Flower Moon” about?
It’s a non-fiction book by David Grann that tells the chilling story of the Osage murders in the 1920s, where members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma were systematically murdered for their oil wealth. The book also details the investigation by the then-nascent FBI into these crimes.

Who authored “Killers of the Flower Moon”?
David Grann, a renowned journalist and author known for his detailed investigative work, wrote “Killers of the Flower Moon.” He has also written other notable works, including “The Lost City of Z.”

Why were the Osage people targeted?
The Osage Nation was targeted primarily because they owned land under which vast oil reserves were discovered in the early 20th century. This made the Osage people some of the wealthiest in the world at the time, attracting greed and leading to a series of murders orchestrated to gain control of their wealth.

How did the FBI get involved in the Osage murders?
As the death toll rose and local investigations failed to solve the murders, the case drew national attention, leading to the involvement of the Bureau of Investigation (later known as the FBI). It became one of the bureau’s first major homicide investigations under the leadership of the young J. Edgar Hoover.

What role does racism play in the book?
Racism is a central theme in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” as it explores the systemic prejudice against Native Americans that allowed such heinous crimes to occur. The book delves into the social and legal injustices faced by the Osage Nation, highlighting the racial prejudices that permeated every level of society and law enforcement at the time.

Is “Killers of the Flower Moon” based on a true story?
Yes, the book is a non-fiction account based on real events. David Grann’s extensive research involved examining thousands of historical documents, including FBI case files, and conducting interviews with Osage Nation members and descendants of those involved in the events.

What makes “Killers of the Flower Moon” significant?
The book sheds light on a largely forgotten chapter of American history, emphasizing the importance of remembering the injustices faced by the Osage Nation. It also highlights the evolution of criminal investigation techniques and the early days of the FBI. The detailed account serves as a reminder of the impact of greed, racism, and the struggle for justice.

Can “Killers of the Flower Moon” be used for educational purposes?
Absolutely. The book offers valuable insights into American history, the treatment of Native American communities, the evolution of law enforcement in the U.S., and the nature of crime and justice. It can be a powerful resource in courses covering American history, criminal justice, or indigenous studies.


QuestionsABCDCorrect Answer
Who is the author of “Killers of the Flower Moon”?David GrannStephen KingJ.D. SalingerToni MorrisonA
In which state did the Osage murders take place?TexasOklahomaCaliforniaNew MexicoB
What was the primary motive behind the murders of the Osage people?Land disputesOil wealthPolitical powerReligious differencesB
Who was primarily responsible for investigating the Osage murders?Local policeTexas RangersThe FBIPrivate detectivesC
Which decade did the Osage murders occur in?1910s1920s1930s1940sB
How did the murderers primarily gain control over the Osage victims’ wealth?Stock fraudGambling debtsMarriage and guardianshipRobberyC
What role did J. Edgar Hoover play in the book?A victim of the murdersThe head of the FBIA lawyer for the OsageA historian documenting the eventsB
What does the book highlight about the early 20th-century American society?Technological advancementsThe impact of ProhibitionRacial prejudices and systemic injusticeThe rise of the automobile industryC
What is a significant outcome of the FBI’s investigation into the Osage murders?The dissolution of the FBIThe establishment of the witness protection programMajor advances in forensic scienceThe introduction of the federal income taxC
Which literary device is prominently used by David Grann in the book?SatireForeshadowingHyperboleAlliterationB

This quiz is designed to test comprehension and recall of key facts and themes from “Killers of the Flower Moon.” It covers aspects of the book’s content, themes, and the historical context it portrays, providing a comprehensive overview suitable for students and readers looking to test their knowledge of the book.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from “Killers of the Flower Moon”:

“As the sun dipped below the horizon, the oil fields of Osage County seemed to awaken, their derricks silhouetted against the twilight sky like giant sentinels guarding the land. Beneath the surface, the oil waited, a black treasure that had brought prosperity and doom in equal measure to the Osage people. This wealth, hidden beneath their feet, was a double-edged sword, drawing friends and foes alike, each with their own shadowy motives.”


  1. Imagery – The vivid description of the oil fields at twilight and the oil beneath the surface creates a strong visual image in the reader’s mind.
  2. Personification – The derricks are described as “giant sentinels guarding the land,” giving them human-like qualities of guardianship and vigilance.
  3. Metaphor – The oil is referred to as “a black treasure,” comparing it metaphorically to precious jewels or gold, which are traditionally considered treasures.
  4. Simile – The wealth is described as “a double-edged sword,” using a simile to compare it to a weapon that can cause harm to both the user and the enemy, illustrating the dual nature of the Osage’s prosperity.
  5. Foreshadowing – The mention of “prosperity and doom in equal measure” and “shadowy motives” hints at future events, suggesting the forthcoming tragedy and intrigue surrounding the Osage oil wealth.

This exercise encourages students to analyze the text closely, identifying and understanding the use of literary devices and their effect on the narrative and the reader’s experience.