William K. Hale


William K. Hale

A.K.A.: "King of the Osage Hills"

Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Mastermind of a plot to acquire Osage wealth through murder
Number of victims: 18 - 24
Date of murders: 1921 - 1925
Date of arrest: 1926
Date of birth: ???
Victims profile: Men and women
Method of murder: Poisoning - Shooting - Explosives
Location: Osage Coounty, Oklahoma, USA
Status: Convicted after three trials under federal laws and sent to Leavenworth prison in Kansas. He was sentenced to life but was paroled in 1947

William Hale, the so-called "King of the Osage Hills," was a U.S. cattleman and convicted murderer.
A power player in the Osage Indian Reservation in northern Oklahoma, Hale rose to local prominence in the late 1800s through years of bribery, intimidation, and extortion. In 1921, he ordered the murders of his nephew's wife and mother-in-law, followed by her cousin, sister and brother-in-law two years later, to gain control of their oil rights.
Over the next few months, he had killed at least two dozen others who had threatened to testify against him.
The Osage Tribal Council suspected Hale early on, but couldn't solicit any testimony from the townspeople, many of whom Hale had bribed or threatened into silence. The council turned to the FBI, who sent four undercover agents to the Reservation who, over the next few years, gained the townspeople's trust enough that they began speaking out against Hale.
Hale's nephew whom he had coerced into helping with the scheme confessed, and charges were finally brought against Hale, as well as the contract killer he had hired to perform the murders and his corrupt attorney. In 1929, Hale was convicted of ordering the murders, and imprisoned.
Osage Indian murders
William King Hale and his nephews Ernest and Byron Burkhart conspired to kill several Osage Indians for the oil headrights.
Ernest married Mollie Kile (or Kyle) a native Osage. Through various permutations, William King Hale had Mollie's sister Anna Brown killed in 1921.
Anna's head rights were inherited by her mother Lizzie Q and Mollie. The death of Lizzie Q and several cousins left Mollie Burkhart and therefore Ernest as heirs to the headrights worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars in 1920s. Mollie fell ill and was later discovered to have been poisoned. When she moved away from Fairfax she recovered.
Hale was convicted after three trials under federal laws and sent to Leavenworth prison in Kansas. He was sentenced to life but was paroled in 1947. He spent some of his life in Montana working as a ranch hand for Benny Binion. He died in Arizona.
Byron turned state's evidence and never served time. His brother Ernest was sentenced to life in state court and was sent to McAlester. He was released in 1959 and received a pardon in 1966.
Osage Indian Murders
Between 1921 and 1923 over a dozen people on the Osage Indian Reservation died under suspicious circumstances. The Federal Bureau of Investigation became involved after the Department of the Interior wrote to Director William J. Burns requesting assistance in investigating these deaths.
William "King of Osage" Hale was suspected of being involved in the deaths. Posing as medicine men, cattlemen, and salesmen, FBI agents infiltrated the reservation and eventually solved the murders. Hale and other members of the Osage Nation were convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison. The murders were committed in an attempt to collect insurance money and gain control of valuable oil properties owned by the deceased persons.
Murder in Osage County
In the early 1920s the West was shaken with the mysterious murders of eighteen Osage Indians in Osage County, Oklahoma. The regional Colorado newspapers reported the murders as the Osage “Reign of Terror” and the question of boundaries in the western frontier was rekindled.
Beginning in 1921, locals discovered the body of twenty-five year old, Anna Brown. Unable to find the killer, local authorities put the case aside until February 1923, when Henry Roan, the cousin of Anna Brown was found shot in the head and partially frozen in his car. A month later, a nitroglycerin bomb demolished the house of Bill and Rita Smith, located in Fairfax, Oklahoma. The blast killed Rita and her servant girl, Nettie Brookshire, instantly. Bill Smith died a week later due to massive injuries from the blast. Thirteen other deaths of full-blooded Osage men and women occurred between 1921 and 1923, until the Tribal Elders of the Osage Nation hired the assistance of the Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Investigation of the Murders
Four agents were sent by the Commissioner of the Office of Indian Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Working undercover for two years, the agents discovered a crime ring of petty criminals led by Bill Hale, a wealthy rancher, known in Osage County as the King of the Osage Hills. He and his nephews, Ernest and Roy Burkhart, had migrated from Texas to Osage County to find jobs in the oil fields. Once there, they discovered the immense wealth of the Osage Nation due to its being an oil rich reservation. In 1897 oil was first discovered in Osage County and by 1920 the market for oil had grown dramatically. In 1929 $27 million dollars was reported being held by the Guardian System, an organization set up to protect the financial interests of 883 Osage families in Osage County.
To take part in the wealth, Ernest Burkhart, persuaded by his uncle, married a full-blooded Osage woman named Mollie Kile, sister of Anna Brown and Rita Smith. As the evidence unfolded, Bill Hale had organized the deaths of Mollie’s mother, Lizzie Q, her cousin, Henry Roan, Anna, and the Smiths in order to cash in the insurance policies and oil head rights of each wealthy family member. Bill Hale, his nephews, and the ranch hands hired by the rancher to murder the Osage Indians were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders of Mollie Kile’s family in 1925.
Osage Frontier
Readers of the Oklahoma newspapers were shocked to discover the wildness of the west in an area they thought tame. The murders were linked to the idea that the “Wild West” still existed and the concept of a “frontier” was open to debate. Frederick Jackson Turner, the American historian that conceived the “Frontier Thesis” in 1893, gave insight into the definition of the Western frontier as a meeting ground where expansion of civilization meets the wilderness of potential growth. As events in the development of the West became more cultural and economic, the strength of F.J. Turner’s thesis has been argued by several American historians. Jack D. Forbes, a Native American and American West historian, compared both sides of the frontier debate in his article, Frontiers in American History and the Role of the Frontier Historian published in 1968. He determined the term "frontier" to be defined as the “inter-group contact situation” and that it can be as closely classified as having a “lack of stability." The occurrence of the Osage Indian Murders assisted in the ongoing effort in centralizing the image of an American frontier.
Osage murders
By John D. May - Oklahoma Historical Society
Estimates vary but approximately twenty-four Osage Indians died violent or suspicious deaths during the early 1920s. The majority of these crimes occurred in or near Fairfax and were rarely investigated by local authorities; some were never solved. (The deaths of some alleged victims who lacked discernable wounds were simply ascribed to "indigestion," "peculiar wasting illness[es]," or "causes unknown.")
The killings subsided after the arrest of William K. Hale in 1926. A native of Greenville, Texas, Hale, the self-proclaimed "King of the Osage Hills," was perhaps Osage County's most powerful figure. An affluent rancher with banking and business interests, he held political power and was active in Osage affairs. He was also the mastermind of a plot to acquire Osage wealth through murder.
In 1923, at the height of the Osage oil boom, the Osage tribe earned more than $30 million in revenue. Under the Osage Allotment Act of 1906 all subsurface minerals within the Osage Nation Reservation (present Osage County, Oklahoma) were tribally owned and held in trust by the U.S. government. Osage mineral leases earned royalties that were paid to the tribe as a whole, with each allottee receiving one equal share, or headright, of the payments. A headright was hereditary and passed to a deceased allottee's immediate legal heir(s). One did not have to be an Osage to inherit an Osage headright.
William K. Hale encouraged his subservient nephew Ernest Burkhart to marry Mollie Kyle, an allotted full-blood Osage. Her mother, Lizzie Q. Kyle, resided with Mollie and Ernest in Fairfax. At the time of Lizzie's death in July 1921 (poison was suspected), she possessed three full headrights in addition to her own, having inherited those of her deceased first husband and two daughters. Lizzie had recently lost another daughter, Anna Brown, who had been shot to death during the early hours of May 22, 1921. Henry Roan, Lizzie's nephew, met a similar fate in January 1923. (It should be noted that Hale was the beneficiary of Roan's $25,000 life insurance policy). And, on March 10, 1923, Lizzie's daughter Rita Smith, Rita's husband William E. "Bill" Smith, and their housekeeper Nettie Brookshire died when their Fairfax home was destroyed by an explosion. With Rita's death, Mollie and Ernest Burkhart inherited a fortune from her mother's and sisters' estates. Had there been no intervention, in all probability Mollie, who was already ill from poison, and Ernest would have soon died, with the manipulative Hale receiving the Kyle-Burkhart estate.
In March 1923 an alarmed Osage Tribal Council sought U.S. government intervention in the growing number of Osage murders, including those of Joe Grayhorse, William Stepson, Anna Sanford, and others outside the Kyle family. In response, the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (today's Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI) sent agents to Osage County. Among them were special undercover officers who took the lead in the investigations. Their focus was the Roan murder that had occurred on restricted Indian land, giving federal authorities jurisdiction in the case. The agents met regularly to compare observations and noted the reoccurring names of William K. Hale, Ernest Burkhart, and John Ramsey.
Under interrogation Ernest Burkhart tied Ramsey to the Roan murder, and Ramsey, a local farmer-cowboy, admitted Hale had hired him to kill Roan. Ramsey also confessed his involvement in the Smith murders and not only implicated Hale as the ringleader in that crime too, but Henry Grammar and Asa "Ace" Kirby as well. (It should come as no surprise that Grammar and Kirby, both notorious individuals in their own right, died under separate but suspicious circumstances soon after the Smith murders.) Convinced of their case, the federal agents, assisted by state officers, took Hale, Burkhart, and Ramsey into custody in January 1926, and in April charged Kelsie Morrison and Byron Burkhart, Ernest Burkhart's brother, with the murder of Anna Brown. Ramsey later recanted his confession, while Hale maintained his innocence.
Between June 1926 and November 1929 the defendants were tried in state and federal courts at Guthrie, Oklahoma City, Pawhuska, and Bartlesville. The trials, with their deadlocked juries, appeals, and overturned verdicts, received national newspaper and magazine coverage. In June 1926 Ernest Burkhart pleaded guilty and received a life sentence in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester for the murder of William E. Smith. Turning state's evidence, Burkhart testified against Hale and Ramsey, who, in January and November 1929, respectively, were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, for the murder of Henry Roan. A petty criminal, Kelsie Morrison admitted he had killed Anna Brown at Hale's request. Morrison was already serving time in November 1926 when he received a life sentence for Brown's murder. Byron Burkhart, Morrison's accomplice, turned state's evidence and was not tried for the crime.
Despite Osage protests Hale, Ramsey, and Ernest Burkart, were eventually paroled. More surprising, Burkhart received a full pardon from Oklahoma governor Henry Bellmon in 1965. To prevent another "Reign of Terror," as this dark period in Osage tribal history is often referred, after 1925 federal law prohibited non-Osages from inheriting the headrights of tribal members possessing more than one-half Osage blood.
Murder and Mayhem in the Osage Hills
Found: In May 1921, the badly decomposed body of Anna Brown—an Osage Native American—in a remote ravine in northern Oklahoma. The undertaker later discovered a bullet hole in the back of her head. Anna had no known enemies, and the case went unsolved ...
That might have been the end of it, but ... just two months later, Anna's mother—Lizzie Q—suspiciously died. Two years later, her cousin Henry Roan was shot to death. Then, in March 1923, Anna's sister and brother-in-law were killed when their home was bombed.
One by one, at least two dozen people in the area inexplicably turned up dead. Not just Osage Indians, but a well known oilman and others.
What did they all have in common? Who was behind all the murders?
That's what the terrorized community wanted to find out. But a slew of private detectives and other investigators turned up nothing (and some were deliberately trying to sidetrack honest efforts). The Osage Tribal Council turned to the federal government, and Bureau agents were detailed to the case.
Early on, all fingers pointed at William Hale, the so-called "King of the Osage Hills." A local cattleman, Hale had bribed, intimidated, lied, and stolen his way to wealth and power. He grew even greedier in the late 1800s when oil was discovered on the Osage Indian Reservation. Almost overnight, the Osage became incredibly wealthy, earning royalties from oil sales through their federally mandated "head rights."
Hale's connection to Anna Brown's family was clear. His weak-willed nephew, Ernest Burkhart, was married to Anna's sister. If Anna, her mother, and two sisters died—in that order—all of the "head rights" would pass to the nephew ... and Hale could take control. The prize? Half a million dollars a year or more.
Solving the case was another matter. The locals weren't talking. Hale had threatened or paid off many of them; the rest had grown distrustful of outsiders. Hale also planted false leads that sent our agents scurrying across the southwest.
So four of our agents got creative. They went undercover as an insurance salesman, cattle buyer, oil prospector, and herbal doctor to turn up evidence. Over time, they gained the trust of the Osage and built a case. Finally, the nephew talked. Then others confessed. The agents were able to prove that Hale ordered the murders of Anna and her family to inherit their oil rights ... cousin Roan for the insurance ... and others who had threatened to expose him.
In 1929, 76 years ago this week, Hale was convicted and sent to the slammer. His henchmen—including a hired killer and crooked lawyer—also got time. Case closed … and a grateful community safe once more.

W.K. Hale, wealthy rancher and oil man.

for more reading visit
http://vault.fbi.gov/Osage Indian Murders