The Dark and True Story Behind 'Killers of the Flower Moon' Revealed

What is the real story that inspired the film?

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Paramount Pictures

The long-awaited Killers of the Flower Moon has finally hit theaters. A Martin Scorsese project starring an ensemble cast that consists of Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Robert DeNiro, and more, Killers of the Flower Moon centers around 1920s Oklahoma—Osage County, Oklahoma to be exact, and the short synopsis is that members of the Osage Native American tribe have been killed, and there's mysterious circumstances surrounding their deaths that lead to an investigation. The long story is that there's a lot more to this case than originally meets the eye, and that the events in the film are based on a real-life happenings that were covered in a book about the Osage people in Oklahoma. Now whenever a film or television show comes out that's based or somewhat based on a true story, there's always the question of whether or not you should do your research before watching.

Yes. You should—especially with Killers of the Flower Moon because its a lot to digest in one go (there's a reason why this movie is almost three-and-a-half hours). Whether you're about to catch the film this weekend or you've just come back from watching and want to learn more, here's some background information on the true story behind Killers of the Flower Moon.

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Is 'Killers of the Flower Moon' based on a true story?

What criminal activity is happening?

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Paramount Pictures

The easiest way to explain this is through the movie version since that's what we've all just watched (or are going to watch if you haven't seen it yet). The two main figures in this ring of crime (which is also the case for the book) are a married couple named Ernest (DiCaprio) and Mollie (Gladstone) Burkhart who's a member of the Osage Nation. The couple lives in Oklahoma, and during this time there's tons of mysterious murders taking place around the area amongst the Osage Tribe. One of those victim's is Mollie's sister. Now here's where we're going to pause because we need to do an explainer on the Osage people and why they were targeted.

The Osage Nation is a tribe that originates from the Great Plains. They were driven off their Kansas land in the 19th century, which then led to them relocating to what was at that time a desolate land in Oklahoma. This land wasn't considered to be valuable at all until a large amount of oil was discovered there about ten years before the start of the 1900s. Oil means money. Lots of money, and by the time the 1920s rolled around (which is the time period both the book and film are set in), the Osage Tribe were one of if not the richest people in the world.

When you become insanely wealthy like what the Osage Tribe were, there's always greedy people plotting your downfall that are willing to do any and everything to make sure it happens—even if that means killing you to ensure nothing gets in their way. This is exactly what happened in the case of the Osage Tribe, who fell victim to a group of shady evil businessmen who wanted the land and money for themselves.

Who Was the Leader of the Crimes?

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Paramount Pictures

This what you're essentially seeing play out as you're watching the film. In real life William Hale (DeNiro) is the leader of this scheme. Now let's take it back to the married couple we mentioned earlier, Ernest and Mollie. You see, the only way you could legally get access to the oil was by marrying an Osage Tribe member. So now while watching the movie, you put two and two together when you find out Ernest is the nephew of... William Hale. Ernest didn't marry Mollie out of "love," he married her for access to the oil. Meanwhile, mysterious deaths amongst the Osage people are occurring and left and right amongst other cruel unspeakable things that are happening to them as well.

It didn't take long for suspicion to be on Hale, but Hale was somebody who had a lot of pull and connections—the exact same pull and connections that would make him be able to get away with his actions for a long time. Hale along with his conspirators also had the help of a corrupt government and local law enforcement officials on their side because they wanted (and were getting) a piece of the pie too. The local law enforcement officials that could have done something to stop it had their hands tied because at that point in history they just simply didn't have the resources or the pull to take down an operation of that magnitude.

Enter the Pinkertons

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Paramount Pictures

As we've seen with many more recent cases over the last couple of decades or so, sometimes you have to step outside of your immediate vicinity to make sure a proper investigation is held. Enter the Pinkertons. Pinkerton agents are (we're saying are because they still do exist) private security guards and detectives. In this case, they were hired by the Osage to investigate the many mysterious deaths of their tribe members. Unfortunately, they aren't able to make much progress in the investigation because as we said earlier, there were much more powerful people who were in on the conspiracy that were pulling strings at the top to make sure their scheme wasn't revealed (including the governor of Oklahoma).

Enter the FBI

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Paramount Pictures

So now this is where the newly-established FBI comes into play. Led by Agent Tom White (Clemons), it's at this stage that the truth starts coming to light. After a few months of being on the case, White and his team begin to get the bottom of the who, what, where, when, and why's surrounding the brutal crimes against the Osage Tribe. The "guardians" tasked with looking after certain members? They were corrupt. All those prominent big wicks and officials in the Oklahoma area? Yeah, they were in on it too. And William Hale?

Well nobody was profiting more than him (surprise surprise). Now lets take it back to the "family dynamics." A good percentage of the money, land, and valuables Hale was stealing was going back to Mollie, meaning she had legal ownership. Now here's the thing, in order for Mollie to no longer have that ownership, she would have to no longer be alive. You see, if Mollie's no longer living, then everything in her ownership gets transferred husband Ernest. Who is Ernest again? The nephew of William.

That means Mollie's life is in danger and as it turns out, she was actually being slowly poisoned to death through the insulin she was taking for her diabetes. It's Agent White that saves her because he was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together to realize she was their next victim.

How does the true story behind 'Killers of the Flower Moon' end?

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Paramount Pictures

The resulting trial is a scandalous media sensation that eventually ends with William and Ernest being convicted and sentenced to life in prison. However, this was a major crime on a previously unseen level in that era with so many people involved, that there's absolutely no way that everybody was brought to justice sadly. In that aspect, the resolution wasn't a "full resolution" or form of justice being served in any fashion, which is what makes this film such a tough haunting watch.

Killers of the Flower Moon is in theaters now.

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