Chronicle 2, Parts 20: So Help You God!—21: The Hot House

20. So Help You God! 

The Hale and Ramsey trial begins in July 1926. With the evidence no longer in doubt, the main issue becomes whether they can find a jury who will punish white men for killing Native Americans. Hale’s first trial ends in deadlock, and Bryan’s jury remains undecided. White and the prosecution decide to retry Hale and Ramsey, and this time the jury is carefully protected from bribery and threats. Mollie’s presence brings a hush to the courtroom when Ernest admits that she has no remaining family but for their two surviving children. At this trial, to the shock of Hale and Ramsey, the jury finds them guilty. A year later, Bryan is retried for Anna’s murder and is found guilty. Mollie attends this trial as well and soon divorces Ernest. The outcomes please Hoover and help to establish the Bureau’s reputation. White opts to leave the bureau and accepts a position as warden of Leavenworth prison, a notable promotion. As he settles in at Leavenworth, the facility welcomes two new prisoners: Hale and Ramsey. 

21. The Hot House 

At Leavenworth, White’s family lives on the prison grounds, which upsets White’s wife. The facility is overcrowded, and, in the heat of August 1929, a riot breaks out that White himself calms. He works diligently to improve conditions and offer the inmates opportunities for rehabilitation. He has little contact with Hale, who works on the prison farm, and refuses to provide reporters with any gossip. Hale never admits to his actions but does wryly note that everything he did was a business proposition. 

Back in Osage County, people put their lives back together, including Mollie, who marries a man named John Cobb. She also wins the right to control her own financial affairs.  

In 1931, several members of the Spencer gang take White hostage and escape. An inmate named Boxcar shoots White in the chest. Although grievously wounded, White miraculously survives while saving the lives of the other hostages. None of the convicts escape, and White takes a less strenuous job at the La Tuna Prison in Texas. 

The second chronicle ends as it began, with Hoover and the Bureau, now the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Eager to ensure he is directly associated with the FBI’s success, Hoover is not generous with any praise for White or other agents. When aides prod him, Hoover writes polite notes but is distant and unhelpful, especially when White contacts him for information about a possible book on the Osage case. Fred Grove, the writer helping White, does write a novel about the events, but the historical work White planned is never completed. White spends his last years on the family ranch in Texas, outliving all his brothers. He dies in December 1971 at the age of 90. 


​​​It takes more than one attempt to convict William Hale, John Ramsey, and Bryan Burkhart, but not because there is insufficient evidence. White’s team has assembled a compelling case for the prosecution, especially with the addition of Ernest’s confession. The final challenge arises from racial prejudice because the team worries that white jurors will not convict a white man for killing a Native American person. Their worries prove correct. Whether from simple racism or because they were somehow swayed by Hale’s influence, the first trial ends with a hung jury. Because it was then seen as less of a crime to murder a non-white person, Ramsey was able to murder members of the Osage tribe while being protected him from punishing consequences for that act. Indeed, Ramsey’s surprise at his eventual conviction provides a measure of the security he felt he enjoyed from racism's pervasive reach. 

Mollie’s presence in the courtroom may have played some role in limiting the power of racism. While there is no direct testimony that can clarify how she felt, listening to the evidence against people she trusted and loved, Grann does note that she created a “hush,” particularly when Ernest admitted on the stand that her entire family had been killed, leaving her alone. Where once she had been surrounded by sisters and love, now she sat by herself, with no one left to comfort her or share in her sadness. If it is true that Mollie’s dignity influenced the juries that were willing to convict the people who killed her family, this offers a powerful testament to the ways an individual’s actions can shape the world. This is, in many ways, the core message of the central section, which is organized around the righteous and just as they struggle to contain the violent passions of others. 

The conclusion of White’s story returns him to prison. He had lived in the Travis County jail as a child and, at the end of the Osage case, accepts the position of warden of Leavenworth federal penitentiary. His wife is unsure about raising their sons in such an environment but her husband’s strength of  character may have allayed these fears. The qualities that made him a fine investigator serve him well in this new role, as he treats everyone under his care with respect, even Hale and Ramsey, who arrive at the prison several months after he begins the job. Grann cites testimonies from former inmates who share that the warden took rehabilitation as central to his responsibilities. Even though he did not approve of “judicial murder,” White did fulfill this part of his job as well, overseeing executions as demanded by the law.  

White leaves the FBI but remains concerned that the team of agents who worked on the Osage case are treated fairly, receiving the credit they deserve. This desire runs afoul of Hoover’s investment in his own reputation. The traits that resulted in Hale’s eventual conviction also emerge in Hoover, who Grann explains is increasingly dictatorial across the five decades he ran the FBI. Ungenerous and calculating, he forgets to thank his agents and refuses White access to materials that would enable him to write a history of the Osage murders. Until the end of his life, White remained a team player, always willing to stand up for the people that were all too easily overlooked and forgotten.