United States Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
July 10, 1953
OSAGE INDIAN MURDER CASES
The investigation of the Osage Indian murders which occurred in the early twenties was one of the most complicated and difficult investigations ever conducted by the FBI. Just prior to initiation of the FBI’s investigation two dozen Osage Indians died under suspicious circumstances and the entire Osage Indian tribe, as well as the white citizens of Osage County, Oklahoma, were horror-stricken and in fear for their lives. Consequently, the tribal council passed a resolution requesting the aid of the Federal Government in solving these murders.
The Osage Indian country, lying in the Osage hills in the northeastern part of Oklahoma, is a beautiful rolling country covered with tall, green limestone grass and is considered by many to be the finest cattle-grazing country in the world. It was not always so. When the Osage tribe was forced to leave Kansas and settle in what became Osage County, it was considered that they had paid $1,200,000 to buy a poor grave for the tribe. The land was acquired from the Cherokee Indians on July 8, 1866, by the Cherokee Treaty.
The Osage Indian Reservation, which is identical with Osage County, Oklahoma, consists of a million and a half acres of Indian allotted land. Osage County is the largest county in the state and is larger than the entire State of Delaware. It is bound on the southwest by the Arkansas River and extends from Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the south to Ponca City on the north, a distance of approximately sixty miles. It is also sixty miles in width at its widest point.
At the time of the murders Osage County and the surrounding the murders Osage County and the surrounding territory contained very wild stretches of country, thickly wooded with timber unsuited for commercial purposes. This area with its almost inaccessible canyons afforded excellent concealment for the many notorious criminals who established their hideouts there. At the time of the murders, from 1921 to 1923, this country was a haven for all types of desperate criminals who flocked to the territory from all parts of the country, attracted, to a large extent, by the enormous wealth of the Osage Indians.
The criminal atmosphere of the area at this time is well-illustrated by the interview of a Special Agent with a criminal several years after the murders. The bandit, who was serving time in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, recalled that during the period of the murders he attended a gathering of thirty-two nationally known bank bandits and train robbers in the woods in the Osage Country where they were in hiding as fugitive from justice. The convict stated that during their sojourn they often engaged in pistol practice since skill in the use of pistols was absolutely necessary in their profession.
On June 28, 1906, the Federal Government enacted a law under which the 2,229 members of the tribe were to receive an equal number of shares known as head rights. This number of head rights remained stationary whether the number of the tribe increased or decreased. That is, an Osage Indian born after June 28, 1906, would inherit only his proportionate share of his ancestor’s head rights. Various Osage Indians drew revenue from or were allotted tracts of land based upon these head rights. The original allotment of a homestead to each Osage Indian consisted of 160 acres. This was later supplemented by various land grants until each head right allotment consisted of approximately 657 acres. The Osage Indian Agency, with headquarters at Pawhuska, Oklahoma, superintended the affairs of the Osage Indians and attended to the distribution of amounts due to them.
Oil was later discovered on the Osage reservation and overnight the Osage tribe became the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The number of actual producing oil wells on the reservation as of June 30, 1920, was 5,859. As of June 30, 1922, the number had increased to 8,579. Practically all of the land in the reservation was leased for oil or natural gas production purposes.
Distribution of funds to the Osage Indians differed somewhat from other tribes, in that a common pool was made of all earnings derived from the territory and divided among all the Indians of the tribe entitled to allotment rights. Certificates of competency were issued to Indians deem capable of handling their own financial affairs and the recipients of these certificates could dispose of their head rights and allotted land holdings as they say fit. Indians considered incompetent had a guardian appointed to guide them in their financial transactions.
In 1880 the net per capita annual payment to each Osage Indian entitled to receive income from the common fund was $10.50; in 1933 the annual payment was $12,400.
The acquisition of this wealth, however, cannot be said to have constituted a blessing, either to the tribes or to the individual members. While bringing comfort it also brought disease, immorality, human parasites and an extravagance which was appalling. It was not uncommon for the grocery bill of numerous Osages to run between $500 and $1,000 per month.
Homes with all modern conveniences were built for members of the tribe, “only to have them roll up in their blankets and sleep in the yard. In fact many of the homes had a wigwam or canopy outside in which the Indians spent a large amount of time when not driving about the country in their automobiles.
Stomp dances were indulged in several times a year by the tribe, at which time members of other Indian tribes were invited to attend as guests. Gifts were exchanged between the various tribes and individuals. These stomp dances were the occasion for all-night and all-day feasts during which the Indians, clad in picturesque costumes, would dance in a circular formation to the rhythmic beat of the tom-tom. After the dance they would retire for further feasting while professional Indian dancers amused the assembled audience. This dance was participated in not only by the young and enthusiastic members of the tribes, but also by the older men and women.
Marriages by fullblood Osage Indians were solemnized according to tribal customs.
The tribal officers of the Osage Indians, the Chief, Assistant Chief and eight Tribal Councilmen, were elected every two years.
In 1901, the mad rush for oil had already brought into the county unscrupulous prospectors and in a short time some 2,000 Osages found themselves facing the same problem which drove the Indian from other parts of the country – the attempted acquisition by the white man of all the Indian possessed.
Among the many adventurous prospectors and other white men who drifted into the Osage territory was a man whose desire for riches and power was devoid of scruple – William K. Hale, later dubbed “King of the Osage,” an uneducated and more or less uncouth cowpuncher from Texas who possessed a domineering personality. Hale was a medium stature but had a prepossessing figure. He was a neat dresser and had a ruddy complexion. He was self-confident and affected a military air by carrying his shoulders back and his chest out.
Hale succeeded in controlling 45,000 acres of select Osage grazing land by means of leases and acquired 5,000 acres outright. He became immensely wealth through his dealing with the Osage Indians and eventually became a millionaire and owned a stable of fine horses. He controlled a bank at Fairfax, Oklahoma and owned an interest in a store there. He owned a home in Fairfax, Oklahoma, and a ranch house near Grayhorse, Oklahoma, in the center of him immense holdings. He dominated local politics and seemingly could not be punished for the many crimes which were laid at his door. His method of building up power and prestige was to put various individuals under obligation to him by means of gifts or favors shown to them. Consequently, he had a tremendous following in the vicinity composed not only of the riffraff element which had drifted in but of many good and substantial citizens.
At one time Hale allegedly insured a 30,000-acre tract of his land for one dollar per acre, then one night had his cowboys set fire to the grass on this land. As a result Hale collected $30,000 on the insurance policy.
Hale’s nephew, Ernest and Bryan Burkhart, who either came with Hale to Osage or joined him later, were employed by Hale and completely dominated by him. Hale also had in his employ from time to time a number of reckless characters many of whom were either ex-convicts or fugitives from justice and were known killers for a price.
Lizzie Q, otherwise known as Lizzie Kile, was an Osage squaw who in 1920 was already old and in poor health. Lizze Q’s estate approximated $200,000. She had three daughters, Ann, Mollie and Rita.
Anna was a dissolute character and notorious in the Osage. She had a preference for white men with several of whom, from time to time, she had affairs. She had previously been married to one Odie Brown, a white man. In 1920 Ann’s estate approximate $100,000.
Rita married one William E. Smith, a white man, with whom she lived up to the time of her death.
Mollie became the wife of Ernest Burkhart, Hale’s nephew. Mollie appears to have been the intended means of drawing to Hale, through the Burkharts, the assets of the entire family.
Anna had been somewhat intimate with at least one of the Burkhart boys but apparently she was too notorious for even the Burkharts to contract a formal marriage. But Anna Brown had money and the stake was large.
In 1920 Lizzie Q, the aged mother, was brought to Ernest Burkhart’s home at Grayhorse and was living with her daughter, Mollie. She was the second of the family taken directly under the wind of Hale in the general scheme.
Early in 1921 Lizzie Q developed a malady which very evidently would result in her death. She had been induced to make a will, leaving the bulk of her estate to Ernest Burkhart’s wife and children. But there were even higher stakes to be won.
If the old woman should outlive Anna Brown, then, under the law of the State, Lizzie Q’s fortune would be increased by half of Anna Brown’s estate. But if Anna should outlive her mother, the greater part of her fortune would be diverted to collaterals.
On May 27, 1921, a hunting party found the badly decomposed and swollen corpse of Anna Brown in a ravine about three miles from Fairfax, Oklahoma, just off the Pawhuska – Fairfax Road. She had apparently been dead for five or six days. The dead woman was wearing a blue broadcloth shirt, a shite undershirt and was barefoot. A shawl, apparently hers, was found a few feet from the bank.
The hunters immediately notified an undertaker who came and took charge of the body. The body was rotten and swollen almost to bursting. While the body was being prepared for burial the scalp slipped from the skull and a bullet hole was discovered in the back of the head slightly to the left of the middle and penetrating the skull bone. No hole of egress was found. Due to the terrible odor and condition of the body only a crude and hasty autopsy was performed by bisecting the cranium from front to rear and searching in the decayed brain mass for the bullet. Apparently none was found.
After Anna Brown’s death, an investigation was immediately started and her brother=in-law, W. E. Smith, was the most active member of the family in pursuing the investigation. Both he and his wife were very outspoken in their belief that Bill Hale and his nephews were responsible for the murder.
Bryan Burkhart was arrested and charged with the murder of Anna Brown in the state courts but Hale furnished bond for him and Bryan was acquitted.
At Anna’s death the estate of Lizzie Q was augmented by half of Ann’s estate.
The next expected happening occurred two months after Anna Brown’s death when Lizzie Q passed away at the home of her daughter, Mollie Burkhart, the wife of Ernest Burkhart. Lizzie Q’s estate plus half of Anna Brown’s estate therefore passed in bulk to the Burkharts.
Anna Brown has a cousin, a picturesque full-blooded Osage Indian name Henry Roan. He wore his hair down his back in plaits, stood six feet tall and was a fine looking specimen of Osage manhood. In January, 1923, Roan was living with his wife Mary, also a full-blooded Osage, and their children at Fairfax, Oklahoma. Roan was an inveterate drunkard and frequently left home for as long as three or four weeks at a time on drinking sprees. When he was not seen for several days, therefore, no excitement was aroused.
On February 6, 1923, an Indian boy found an automobile in a rocky swale a few miles northwest of Fairfax and about 200 yards off the back road between Fairfax and Burbank. The boy ran to Fairfax and returned with two law enforcement officers who found Roan’s body on the front seat of his car. A bullet hole in his head indicated that the bullet entered just back of the left ear and merged just over the right eye breaking the windshield glass which was strewn for about 20 feet back along the car tracks. Pieces of glass were still lying on the hood of the car.
Roan was lying on the front seat with his feet just off the pedals and his head, with his cap under it, resting on the right hand side of the seat. The position of the body plainly indicated that Roan had been driving when shot.
The body had apparently been dead for approximately 10 days. It had first been frozen still, but had begun to thaw and decompose at the time it was found. It was observed that from January 26 to February 3 or 4, it had been very cold so Roan mush have been killed about January 26.
Shortly after Roan’s death, Bill Hale presented for payment a $25,000 insurance policy on the life of Henry Roan. The insurance company refused to pay the indemnity on the grounds of fraud and misrepresentation and Hale instituted a suit in Federal court. In this connection an examination of the various court records disclosed that Roan had petitioned the District Court of Osage County for the appointment of a guardian and at that time he owed Hale $6,000, the balance due on a house in Fairfax. There was no evidence of other indebtedness.
Roan had no enemies except one, Dave Belnap, a worthless sort of white man who had been associating with Roan’s wife for some time and who married her a few months after Roan’s death. Hale attempted to capitalize on this enmity by circulating a rumor that Belnap was responsible for the death. It was later necessary for Agents to conduct an exhaustive investigation to prove Belnap innocent.
Other false rumors and statements by Hale and his many friends and henchmen caused Agents to make needless trips to California, New Mexico, Old Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Texas and Arizona.
- E. Smith, the husband of Rita and the brother-in-law of Anna Brown, was living in a comfortable home with his wife and a white servant girl named Nettie Brookshire. Smith had continued his active investigation of the murder of Anna Brown and had a bitter altercation with Hale, due not only to his letting it be known that he had evidence involving Hale in the murder of Anna, but also because he demanded that Hale pay him $5,000 he allegedly owed him. Hale refused to pay.
At about 2:50 A.M., on March 10, 1923, less than two months after Henry Roan’s body was found, Smith’s home at Fairfax was demolished by an explosion. His wife, Rita, and their 17-year-old white servant, Nettie Brookshire, were killed instantly, their bodies being blow asunder. Pieced of their flesh were later found plastered on a house 300 feet away. Smith himself was rescued from the debris and lingered for about four days when he died. Before he passed away he make a dying declaration that the only enemies he had in the world whom he could suspect of blowing up his home were Hale and the Burkhart’s.
The house had apparently been soaked on one or more sides with kerosene or some similar substance since it was seen by witnesses to blaze up once or twice a second or two before the explosion. It caught fire immediately on the north side and was almost totally consumed by fire. The house had a basement garage with a 5-inch concrete floor. In the middle of this floor the explosion tore a hole approximately 5 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep, blowing the concrete floor to bits. The debris of what once had been a home remained for some time as a horrible memorial to Hale and his cohorts.
After the passing of Rita Smith, the only member of Lizzie ‘s family remaining was Mollie Burkhart, Ernest’s wife. In addition to wiping out Smith’s $6,000 claim against Hale and eliminating a man anxious to see the Hale-Burkhart cation brought to justice, this triple murder was calculated to further enrich the Ernest Burkhart family by approximately $150,000 from the estate of Rita Smith, since Mollie Burkhart was Rita’s only surviving sister. However this had been circumvented by a joint will made by Rita and her husband under which the survivor of the two was to acquire the estate of the first to die. Since Smith survived Rita by approximately four days all of the property passed to him and, at his death, to a daughter of Smith’s by a former marriage, a girl living in Arkansas unknown to Hale and the Burkharts.
The FBI entered the investigation of these brutal murders in 1923 and spent years of painstaking investigation in unraveling the mystery and gathering from all parts of the country the necessary evidence to convict the guilty parties.
Special Agents, carefully selected because of their knowledge of Indian and frontier life, demonstrated their indomitable courage and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They drove thousands of miles through the oil fields day and night in the heat, cold, rain, snow and mud in running out innumerable leads, many of which were designed to confuse them and throw them off the trail of the true perpetrators.
Another great obstacle was the fact that many of the important witnesses had left the country leaving no address and in many cases as fugitives under criminal charges.
Private detectives, many of whom were hired by the murderers themselves to frustrate the investigation, had spent many months on the cases, interviewing numerous persons many times.
Many of these detectives talked too freely about the information secured with the result that many of those interviewed became unfriendly and reluctant to talk. In addition, the fact that the individuals had offered rewards for the solution of the murders attracted numerous amateur detectives who further frustrated the FBI’s work. The law-abiding citizens actually feared to converse with thee Agents about the killings, thinking the murderers would learn that they had told and would kill them. They had lost confidence that anything would ever be done about the murders. FBI Agents had to rebuild their confidence in law enforcement.
The general class of citizenry in the territory was very low. The rich oil fields produced not only an abundance of oil but also graft, easy money, gambling, prostitution, whisky and parasites bent on milking the Indian of all he owned. As a result, among the Indians themselves fear and distrust of the white man was almost universal. Consequently, most of them were hesitant in talking to FBI Agents about the murders.
To overcome this situation some of the Agents assumed undercover capacities including an insurance salesman, an Indian “medicine man,” a cattleman and a prospector.
The Agent posing as a “medicine man” claimed he was searching for relatives who had moved to Oklahoma several years before. He made medicine, consisting mostly of sweetened water, and was warmly accepted by the Indians. Through this medium he gained their confidence and cooperation. He visited in their homes and attended their ceremonials thereby gathering much valuable information about the murders. He also served as “medicine man” in the inner circle and tribal councils, helping the Osages to make plans for the administration of their tribal government and in solving their problems.
The Agent who assumed the identity of an insurance salesman actually sold legitimate insurance policies and in doing this gained entrance to the homes of citizens and learned of many details which the citizens, through fear of Bill Hale, refused to give the Government Agents openly. The information gained in connection with the insurance policies themselves often had a direct bearing on the various angles of the murder cases. This Agent even contacted William Hale himself and almost succeeded in selling him an insurance policy.
This Agent originally met Hale at a hotel in Fairfax, Oklahoma, and after that time saw him on several occasions. The Agent found that Hale was very talkative about his cattle deals and his boyhood days, relating how he ran away from home and became a cowboy. Hale had a reputation of having a very high opinion of himself and was described as “money mad” and “woman crazy.”
Hale was very nervous and complained to the Agent that he had stomach trouble and was having trouble sleeping lately. He remarked that he had sold all of his cattle interest retaining only 250 head of cattle and about 75 tons of cottonseed cakes, and said he did not know exactly what he was going to do but felt he needed a long rest. The Agent learned that Hale had already earned $75,000 that year (1925) in his cattle dealings and other interest.
Hale was very friendly to the undercover Agent and introduced him to several prominent citizens of Fairfax. The Agent learned that Hale was conducting a propaganda campaign to win as many friends as he could. He gave away many presents to various individuals, bought them suits of clothes, co-signed notes for persons, gave ponies to young boys and was exceedingly kind to old people and those suffering from afflictions.
The Agent ascertained that Hale had ordered a new suit of clothes and an overcoat from a tailor t whom he remarked that he was going to take a trip to Florida. He also learned that Hale’s 18-year-old daughter had remarked that the family had everything packed and they were prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. Hale stated to others in the presence of the undercover Agent that he was too slick and keen to catch cold and he was tired of two-bit crooks riding the public on his reputation.
Another undercover Agent who played the role of a plain Texas cowboy established close association with many of Hale’s intimates and employees, all of whom unknowingly contributed valuable information.
The lives of the Agents investigating these murders were constantly in danger since the area abounded with robbers and killers. Agents working undercover often met late at night in remote and dangerous places in Osage County, such as the woods which were used as a meeting place by Al Spencer, who used the area as a hideout for his notorious band of bank robbers, and Dead Man’s Hill where many murders and robberies had been plotted.
Agents learned that W. K. Hale had attempted to hire Spencer to murder Indians. Other members of the Spencer ring later testified at Hale’s trial that Hale had also tried unsuccessfully to hire them to murder certain Indians.
“Curley” Johnson, another bank bandit active in this area, was at one time approached by a nephew of William Hale, at Hale’s instigation, for the purpose of hiring Johnson to murder certain Indians. Johnson was later killed under mysterious circumstances and the rumor was common that he had been killed at the instigation of Hale who feared he might “talk.”
Another notorious criminal, Henry Grammer who monopolized the Osage liquor traffic, shared honors with Hale as boss of the criminal element of Osage County. He reputedly kept certain woods surrounding his land illuminated by means of a privately owned power plant where a gang of criminal fugitives from all over the United States worked day and night making illegal liquor. Grammer died in an automobile accident prior to the FBI’s investigation and at the time of his death he had on his person $15,000 in cash. He had a gaping wound under his left armpit and it was rumored that he was killed by a criminal who had been with him at the time of the accident.
Information obtained by an FBI Agent indicated that in connection with the mysterious deaths of a large number of Indians the perpetrators of the crime would get an Indian drunk, have a doctor examine him, pronounce him intoxicated and give him a hypodermic injection of morphine. After the doctor departed the gang members would inject an enormous amount of morphine under the armpit of the drunken Indian would result in his death. The doctor’s certificate would subsequently read, “Death from alcoholic poisoning.”
To further complicate the task of the FBI in investigating these murders, Burt Lawson, a convict confined in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, Oklahoma made several confessions to the murders, in which he claimed to have been employed by Hale to murder W. E. Smith and his family. Painstaking investigation by Special Agents developed that Hale had concocted this story himself, knowing full well that he could prove a perfect alibi for Lawson and thereby absolve himself at the same time. These confessions caused Agents many hours of weary work in disapproving the details of Lawson’s confessions before developing the true facts of the case.
Lawson, incidentally, while in the custody of FBI Agents proved to be a glutton who ate T-bone steak and French-fried potatoes three times a day. During his first visit to a cafeteria with Agents, Lawson appeared at the cashier with four pieces of pie and three pieces of cake on his tray and complained of the fact that he had no room for a meat dish.
Agents learned that in 1920, Ernest Burkhart explained to a criminal that he wanted Bill Smith and his wife killed for the following reasons: his (Ernest Burkhart’s) wife and Mrs. Smith were sisters; their mother was old and very ill and liable to die at any time; that if the old woman died first, Smith’s wife would inherit part of her estate, but if Mrs. Smith died first the old mother’s wealth, or most of it, would pass at her death to Ernest’s wife. As compensation for this deed, Burkhart said the perpetrators could rob the Smiths of their diamonds and in addition he said he would pay them $1,000 and give them a Buick automobile.
On March 4, 1024, Agents were informed that the Indian wives of Ernest and Bryan Burkhart were in great fear for their lives and contemplated taking their children and fleeing from their husbands. After moving away, they intended to hire a personal guard to prevent their being killed for their property.
Agents were advised that Ernest Burkhart and his wife had Joe Bigheart, an Osage Indian, and his wife Bertha adopt the youngest of Ernest Burkhart’s children a baby girl named Anna after Anna Brown. After this adoption Joe Bigheart died and the Burkhart child inherited half of his estate worth approximately $75,000. Bertha and Joe Bigheart had no other children so the child also stood to inherit half of Bertha Bigheart’s estate which was worth approximately $150,000. At the time a rumor was circulating that the Hale-Burkhart faction intended to do away with Bertha Bigheart and her parents so that the adopted child would inherit the entire estate.
A woman who had been in Anna Brown’s employ stated to Agents that Anna Brown was at home on May 21, 1921, when she received a tlelphone call requesting here to go to Grayhorse to see her mother who was very ill. She left home about 8:00 A.M. in a taxicab, taking with her a handbag of personal effects. This woman went to Ann’s house after Ann’s murdered body was found on May 27, 1921, and the house was found to be unlocked and in the same condition as when Anna left on the morning of May 21. The beds had not been used nor was there any sign of disturbance. However, Ann’s handbag, which she had carried away with her, was there. This indicated that Anna or someone else has been there to return the bag.
A domestic in the home of Ernest Burkhart stated that a taxicab driver had brought Anna Brown to the Ernest Burkhart home to see Anna’s mother on the morning of May 21. Anna was drinking and quarreled during the day with her mother, her sister Mollie, and Bryan Burkhart. Anna spent most of the day in the summer house drinking. This woman remarked that Anna had told her that she was jealous of Bryan and would kill any woman she caught flirting with him. Bryan had told this same woman that Anna threatened to kill him unless he married her, but that he was going to beat her to it and kill her.
This domestic stated that the Burkhart men took the children to a horse race at Grayhorse about 2:00 P.M. and did not return until 5:30 or 5:00 P.M. Anna remained at the Ernest Burkhart home all that day. Supper was served about 5:30 P.M. and all of the Burkhart men were present. Anna, however, remained in the summer house sulking and refused to eat. At about 7:00 P.M. the Burkhart men left taking Anna with them.
Another witness was located who stated that he had met Bryan Burkhart and Anna Brown at a whisky joint just west of Rolston on the night of May 21, 1921. They stayed at this establishment until 10:00 P.M. when they left with the agreement that the party would meet again at another roadhouse three miles northeast of Burbank. The party stayed at this second roadhouse three miles northeast of Burbank. The party stayed at this second roadhouse until about 12:30 A. M. He said Bryan Burkhart, Anna Brown and another individual were in Ernest Burkhart’s car and other members of the party were in the second car. They proceeded to another roadhouse two miles east of Burbank where they bought some whisky in pop bottles and remained in their car. He said the two cars proceeded toward Fairfax, but that about a mile northeast of Fairfax at a fork in the road, one car turned east and the other car, containing Bryan Burkhart, Anna, and a third individual, turned west from Fairfax. The time was believed to be 2:00 A.M. Sunday, May 22.
This witness said that he knew Bill Hale had furnished Bryan Burkhart the .32 caliber pistol to kill Anna Brown that night and he had overheard Hale, Bryan and the third individual planning Anna Brown’s murder that evening, May 21.
Further investigation revealed that on the night of her murder, Anna had been plied with liquor by Kelsey Morrison, a neat-appearing white man of very bad reputation, and Bryan Burkhart, who were accompanied by Morrison’s fullblood Osage wife. They drove by the ranch house of William K. Hale who gave Morrison a .32 caliber automatic pistol to kill Anna. From Hale’s house the party drove to within a few hundred feet of where the body was later found and while Bryan Burkhart held the drunken Anna, Morrison shot her through the back of the head. Morrison confessed that he had murdered Anna at the instigation of Hale. Morrison testified to these facts at Hale’s trail and was corroborated by his wife and a bootlegger who stated from the witness stand that he saw Anna Brown murdered while delivering whisky ordered by Morrison and Burkhart.
FBI investigation also disclosed that Hale had hired John Ramsey, a 50-year-old bootlegger and typical rough type western criminal who had served a penitentiary term from cattle rustling, to murder Henry Roan, William E. Smith, Rita Smith and Nettie Brookshire.
It developed that Henry Grammer had furnished John Ramsey to Hale as the killer. Hale bought Ramsey a $500 Ford car prior to the Roan murder as part payment for the deed and paid him $1,000 in cash after the murder had been committed.
John Ramsey did not even know Roan’s name when he murdered him but had simply had Roan pointed out to him on the streets of Fairfax, Oklahoma, as the Indian Hale wanted killed.
Ramsey made friends with Roan through Roan’s fondness for whisky and took him out on several occasions, ostensibly to furnish him liquor but in reality to murder him. Upon each occasion, Ramsey lost his nerve but on January 26, 1923, he persuaded Roan to drive to the bottom of a canyon. Here, out of sight of the nearby road, he shot Roan through the back of the head with a .45 caliber pistol which he had obtained from the arsenal of Henry Grammer. Hale later expressed anger that Ramsey had shot Roan in the back of the head since it had been planned to make it appear that Roan committed suicide.
Hale was a self-appointed pallbearer at Roan’s funeral and Ramsey upon viewing the body pretended to be deeply affected.
The facts surround the murder of Roan were corroborated by the confessions of Ramsey and Ernest Burkhart who was present at all negotiations relative to the murder.
It was developed through investigation that Hale hired John Ramsey and Asa “Ace” Kirby to murder William E. Smith and his wife, subsequently paying Ramsey $1,600. Ernest Burkhart, acting under instructions from his uncle, pointed out Smith’s house to Ramsey and Kirby and sought Ramsey out on the day of the murder to tell him that Hale and Henry Grammer were going to Fort Worth, Texas, to a cattlemen’s convention in order to allay suspicion, and that the Smiths should be murdered that night.
Agents learned that a five-gallon keg of nitroglycerin had been placed under the Smith residence and ignited.
Agents also learned that Hale had attempted to hire Al Spencer, the notorious outlaw, to kill the Smiths but Spencer declined, saying that he had no compunction at robbing a train or blowing a safe and killing individuals in the course of such crimes but he had not sunk so low as to murder helpless individuals for money. After Spencer’s refusal Hale attempted to hire other criminals to murder William Smith and his wife but all refused.
After the Smith massacre, Hale became afraid that “Ace” Kirby would make known Hale’s connection with the murders. Accordingly he persuaded Kirby to attempt the robbery of a grocery store where he would allegedly find valuable gems. The owner of the store was in turn informed of the exact hour of the contemplated robbery and as Kirby forced entrance into the store through a window he was greeted with several shotgun blasts resulting in his death. Thus another witness who could have implicated Hale and his associates was removed.
Ernest Burkhart proved to be the weak link in the Hale organization and was the first to confess. Burkhart was a weak-willed individual completely dominated by Hale and would not hesitate to do anything his uncle desired. When John Ramsey learned how much evidence the FBI Agents had compiled, he too made a complete confession of his part in the murders.
Hale and his conspirators attempted to get Ernest Burkhart under their control again to make him revoke his confession. Ernest himself pleaded with the FBI for protection since he feared that Hale would have him killed. When Ernest Burkhart was place on the witness stand at Hale’s preliminary hearing, Hale’s attorney declared they were representing Burkhart and demanded the privilege of talking to him a few minutes before he testified. This permission was granted and while the layers were conferring with Ernest, the court adjourned and he was taken to Fairfax, Oklahoma, where he was talked to by numerous friends and relative of Hales who urged him to comply with the instructions from Hale’s attorneys.
In addition to the solution of the murders, Agents discovered that Mollie Burkhart, Ernest’s fullblood Osage wife, was dying from what was believed to be slow poisoning. It is an established fact that when she was removed from the control of Burkhart and Hale she immediately regained her health. At Mollie’s death Ernest, Hale’s nephew, would have acquired the entire fortune of the Lizzie Q family.
William K. Hale and John Ramsey were tried four times – twice in the Federal District Court at Guthrie, Oklahoma, once in the Federal District Court at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and once in the Federal District Court at Pawhuska, Oklahoma. They were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, for the murder of Henry Roan. The United States had jurisdiction only over the place where Henry Roan was murdered.
Other sentences were imposed in the state courts for murders over which the United States had no jurisdiction. Ernest Burkhart received life imprisonment for his part in the murder of William E., Smith and family. Kelsey Morrison was given life imprisonment for the murder of Anna Brown. Bryan Burkhart turned state’s evidence in state court and was never convicted.
In the first trial of Hale and Ramsey the Federal District Court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the case only to be reversed by the Supreme Court of the United States within the comparatively short period of twenty-five days. The second trial of Hale and Ramsey in the Federal Court at Guthrie resulted in a hung jury. The case was retired at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in the Federal District Court, and both Hale and Ramey were convicted and given life sentences. Hale appealed and his conviction was reversed upon the ground that the case had been tried in the wrong district. This decision automatically reversed Ramsey’s conviction also. Upon their last trial Hale and Ramsey asked for a severance and were tried separately in the Federal District Court at Pawhuska, Oklahoma, resulting in conviction and life sentenced for both.
Hale’s lawyers employed every device, legal and illegal, to obtain their client’s freedom. Defense witnesses committed perjury and many of the prosecution’s witnesses were intimidated and threatened.
One layer located two trams and carefully schooled them in helping to prepare a phone defense for Hale. FBI Agents investigated this situation, as well as the perjured testimony of many other witnesses, and many individuals subsequently received sentences for perjury as a result of FBI investigation. Still other friends and relative of Hale were sentenced for being in contempt of court and for interfering with the legal process of the court.
While one of the trials was actually in progress a Special Agent obtained information to the effect that Hale was receiving letters from a witness who had perjured himself at Hale’s former trail. In the bed clothing of his cell were found two letters from the witness stating that he had perjured himself in Hale’s behalf at the last trial and intended to do so again. This witness was subsequently sent to the State Penitentiary for life on a charge of murder, and the statements were introduced against Hale at his final trial.
Dewey Selph, a material Government witness, testified to the fact that he was hired by William K. Hale to murder Kelsey Morrison’s wife, a witness to the Anna Brown slaying, but lost his nerve. While being held at Guthrie, Oklahoma, with other material witnesses he escaped and was subsequently located by FBI Agents. At the time Selph was clad only in his underclothing and was attempting to hide in a barrel at a pressing shop at Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where he was having his suit pressed. He gave as his reason for the jail break that he wanted to call on a lady friend who, incidentally, was his ex-wife, a fullblood Osage woman. On another occasion Selph walked out on a drunken jailer, taking with him the jailer’s pistol, and afterwards stole an automobile, in which he made his escape. He was recaptured by FBI Agents at a subsequent date and returned to testify at the trial of Hale. Dewey Selph’s next attempt to escape, after having been returned to the Arkansas State Penitentiary to complete a sentence there, resulted in his death.
John Ramsey, during his trial for murder, offered an alibi to the effect that he was not in Fairfax, Oklahoma, on the date of the murder. Investigation by Agents resulted in the production of the hotel register of an old Indian woman who had formerly operated a hotel at Fairfax, Oklahoma. These records reflected that Ramsey was actually registered in this hotel on the day of the murder. This Indian woman, it developed, had been furnished whisky by a lawyer presumable working in the interest of Hale in an attempt to have her change her testimony. This lawyer was subsequently sentenced to eighteen months in a Federal Penitentiary for this action.
Upon the successful conclusion of the cases against Hale and Ramsey and the other individuals involved in the murders, the Osage Indians, through their tribal council, passed resolutions which are enrolled on the records of the tribe. These resolutions express appreciation for the great service rendered by Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in breaking up the vicious murder ring which had been preying upon the Osage tribe for years.