This book about a series of murders on the Osage reservation in the 1920’s was incredibly powerful. At first you may wonder why this particular murder of a woman in Oklahoma matters. And by the end of the book (as in Just Mercy) you see why it matters very much.
Maybe one murder is never just one murder. It’s always a series of events and circumstances that leads to one person committing an act that affects not just the life of one, but many. I suppose that’s why so many people are interested in crime novels and true crime. For me, this was not a typical read, but I’m glad I read it. I knew nothing about the Osage tribe, who were forced from their homes and resettled on land no one wanted in Oklahoma. Until that land struck oil, and suddenly the Osage were very wealthy.
The book begins with Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman who’s married and has two young kids. Her sister leaves her house drunk one day and disappears, to be found a few days later in a ravine, shot in the head. Very little effort is made to solve the murder, even though a similar murder occurs at the same time to a man on another part of the reservation. The Osage are barely seen as human by the white criminal justice system. Then Burkhart’s mother dies from a lingering illness, and her sister and her husband are murdered.
The case is investigated by mostly inept or corrupt private detectives — but when investigators start to turn up dead, J. Edgar Hoover decides his reputation is on the line. This book takes a pretty dim view of private detectives, and it explains how and why Hoover created the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Prior to this, no one supported a national police force of any kind. Hoover sends in Tom White, a former Texas Ranger, and tells him to build the team he needs. White realizes no one can be trusted and creates a team of trained undercover agents.
I’ll leave the rest for you to read. This was a fascinating book of U.S. and tribal history, racism, investigation, and legal justice. I can see why so many people read this book. It’s well written and tells a detailed, thoughtful story that is sadly, all too believable. I especially liked the way it starts out slow but builds and builds. For me, a lot of nonfiction tends to drag at times, but this one never did. I highly recommend it.