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Killers of the Flower Moon

Subtitle: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

by David Grann

copyright 2017

ISBN: 978-0-3855-3424-46

Hardback, 291 pages plus acknowledgements, credits, sources and notes totaling 339 pages

Publisher – Doubleday, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland

Illustrated with black and white photos of the period

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is the third non-fiction book by American journalist David Grann. The book was released on April 18, 2017 by Doubleday. Time magazine listed Killers of the Flower Moon as one of its top ten non-fiction books of 2017. The book is currently planned for production as a Martin Scorsese film.

(Review by Carolyn Leonard)

Set in Osage County, Oklahoma in the spring of 1921, this nonfiction book has remained on the bestseller list for months. Amazon named Killers of the Flower Moon the single best book of the year, and so did Shelf Awareness.

In the 19th century, the Osage were forced to remove from Kansas to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). In 1897 oil was discovered in Osage County under the approximately 1.47 million acre Osage Reservation.

‍ As Oklahoma prepared for statehood in 1907, the federal government allotted 657 acres to each Osage on the tribal rolls. After that the Osage and their heirs, whether Osage blood or not, had "headrights" to royalties in oil production, based on their allotment. 

Those headrights put a target on each Osage member and the death knells began to ring as one by one they began to die under mysterious circumstances. Actually they were murdered in cold blood and officials never seemed to care. Many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. Finally the new FBI took over, but they bungled the investigation.

The author revisits this shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered. Grann, a staff writer at The New Yorker, conducted his own investigation to solve some of the as-yet-unsolved murders and he tells the story using fiction techniques that keep you turning the pages unable to stop.  What a shock when you finally learn the identity of the perpetrators.

I highly recommend this suspense-filled and rollicking true-crime book.

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This book was painful for me to read. It shows all too clearly how the American presidency was being run by organized crime, at least in the 1960s.  The facts make it difficult to believe our political system enables good people to rise to power and act on behalf of those who elect them. Written by a Kennedy insider, it is an eye opener - especially the way it showed the way the two brothers played off of the other, supporting and encouraging, bouncing ideas off each other. The author implies  that the mob was likely the main culprit for the death of both Jack and Bobby.

Joe Kennedy, Sr:  worked hand and glove with known mobsters in amassing his bootlegging fortune during Prohibition and used those long term connections to ensure his son’s political career.

Jimmy Hoffa:  VP of the Teamster’s Union, five feet five inches tall but cruel as a titan.  He regarded politics as war by other means, ordering up violence against opponents the way a lawyer might file a motion in court.

Thomas “Tip” O’Neill: House Speaker O’Neill described how one of Joe Kennedy’s real estate partners said, “I love this young Kennedy boy. He can help the nation, by God. He’s got the feeling for it. Here’s $3,000 or $5,000. You carry your county for him and I’ll give you a little reward on my way back.”

Bobby Kennedy: Painted as a reformer, dedicated, religious, and practically worshipful of his brother with a fierce sense of loyalty. He was full of ideals but ran into a wall of reality limiting the power of a president and his men.  What was hardest for me was how Bobby dealt with the mob. He wanted to destroy them one moment and made deals with them the next. He wanted to fix the Civil Rights inequities inspire of being prejudiced himself.

JFK:  For a forty-three-year-old who spent most of his adult life in a state of pain, Kennedy seemed unusually fit. …As Jack stood … to accept his party’s nomination … few knew he had just received a heavy booster shot of novocaine in his lower back and was wearing an aluminum back brace.

Frank Sinatra:  “The thing that didn’t change for the skinny son of immigrants with pop-out ears and pool-water-blue eyes was that he continued to be the mob’s best man in Hollywood and Las Vegas. He lent the glamour and legitimacy as well as access to the loftiest places in the entertainment industry,”

The Mafia:  The CIA’S Jim O’Connell arrived in Miami to work out the assassination plot against Castro, meeting with Rosselli and Maheu. …..They agreed the hit would be something “nice and clean,” not the gangland-style ambush the CIA originally wanted. Poison was the preferred means.

Herbert Hoover:  The President was confronted with the fact that Hoover not only knew the full extent of JFK’s philandering, the full extent of his extramarital liaison with Judith Campbell Exner and also her concurrent relationship with Rosselli and Giancanna, but Hoover had also documented it and blackmailed Jack. Hoover was strongly opposed to revealing FBI sources and was himself compromised by the mob.

The Mafia: After the assassination of JFK, an informant for the FBI revealed there was a Mafia contract of several hundred thousand dollars to assassinate Bobby Kennedy.