Chronicle 2, Part 15: The Hidden Face , 16: For the Betterment of the Bureau, and 17: The Quick-Draw Artist, the Yegg, and the Soup Man

15. The Hidden Face 

White and his team learn that Hale controls everything in Osage County and decide to investigate how Hale became the beneficiary of Henry Roan’s insurance policy. Through investigation, White comes to believe that Hale fabricated evidence and manipulated doctors to get the policy. After Roan’s death, Hale serves as a pallbearer because he is believed to be a good friend to Roan—but, as White learns, Hale plotted his “friend’s” murder. The evidence circumstantial White gathers against Hale helps him a pattern in the murders. The deaths tend to concentrate on a single person’s headrights. For example, the deaths in the Burkhart family transferred many headrights to Mollie, all of which would be controlled by her guardian, and husband, Ernest Burkhart, Hale’s nephew. There was a logic, White realized, to the order of the deaths in Mollie’s family. Two questions remained for White to answer. First, had Ernest wanted to marry Mollie to set the plot in motion, and, second, was there sufficient evidence to prove the conspiracy? 

16. For the Betterment of the Bureau 

Although White’s team knew they were advancing, they still lacked physical evidence. Because of Hale’s vast influence, it would be difficult to convict him in a state as corrupt as Oklahoma. White also had to manage Hoover’s expectations, including his desire for quick results and his exacting standards. White was not opposed to being precise—he was known to be a demanding boss—but Hoover’s insistence on brief reports still presented difficulties in the field, stoking frustrations.  

17. The Quick-Draw Artist, the Yegg, and the Soup Man 

During the fall of 1925, White tried to assure Hoover that his evidence to convict Hale and his associates was adequate. An undercover agent had been installed at Hale’s ranch, and White anticipated collecting more evidence. In addition to pressure from Hoover, White’s sense of urgency was fueled by the Osage people’s continued suffering from fear and grief. Because White understood that the so-called upstanding citizens of Osage County would protect their own, he turned to people on the fringes of society. One person in particular, Dick Gregg, proved useful to his efforts. Although he worries about repercussions, Gregg flips on Hale in exchange for a reduced sentence for robbery. According to Gregg, Hale tried to hire Spencer and his gang to murder a couple, a man and his Native American wife. Unwilling to kill a woman, Spencer refused, as did Gregg. 

Although Gregg had not been willing to take on the job, he told White to look for Curley Johnson, who, unfortunately, died a year earlier. In looking for more witnesses, White lands on Henry Grammer, who had known Hale for years, but who had also died a few years earlier. Gregg leads White to Asa Kirby, a “soup man,” or explosive expert. Kirby was also dead under suspicious circumstances that linked back to Hale. With all possible witnesses being dead, White seemed to be without options. White learned through informant Morrison that Hale knew the state of the investigation and that he walked around town as if he was untouchable and owned the world. 


These three chapters show White closing in on the conspiracy’s core—William Hale—while still encountering many roadblocks to finding sufficient evidence to convict him. Most importantly, he discovers a pattern to the deaths in Mollie’s family. They might have seemed like random violence, but they happened in an order that concentrated the family’s wealth in one person: Mollie Burkhart. Because Mollie was married to Hale’s nephew, the deaths were planned to provide him access to what would be a sizeable fortune, as Lizzie and her four daughters each had a headright. Even if the fact that Bill survived the explosion introduced a complication, the pattern explicitly revealed the ruthless care with which the conspiracy was organized. It also suggested, even more powerfully than Bill’s claim that Ernest was one of his two enemies, that Mollie’s husband was likely involved in killing his own wife’s family.   

While Hale struts around town, increasingly aware of the investigation but utterly unconcerned about its implications, White struggles to find witnesses to help him prove his theories. While the people at the top of the conspiracy are all upstanding citizens, they rely on a network of criminals—bootleggers, drug dealers, stick-up men—to do their dirty work. And these people are often no longer alive. But one thing becomes clear as White searches for the person who planted the bomb in the Smith house: there is more honor among the thieves than among the people who make the plans. White learns that Hale’s men approached a variety of people, asking them to plant the bomb, and were repeatedly rebuffed. Apparently, many of these men were unwilling to murder a woman, especially in her sleep. The ethical code of the obvious criminals was, ironically, more finely calibrated than that of the region’s leading men. 

The investigation into the death of Henry Roan also supports this position, while showing yet another facet of the “Indian business”—insurance fraud. Grann leads readers through the elaborate lengths that Hale went to establish himself as the beneficiary of Henry Roan’s life insurance policy. The byzantine scheme seems unnecessary to him, as to White before him, and it suggests that defrauding and killing his Native “friends” seems to have become almost a game to Hale. Indeed, he even goes so far as to admit his eventual plan is to murder Roan while he is putting it all in place. Hale’s brazen behavior offers important evidence of his character, in which the determination that allowed him to succeed has become untethered from moral standards and norms. Hale’s lawlessness adds to White’s urgency to solve the case for a man willing to go to such lengths, and who can casually confess to his crimes, will surely not stop on his own. He will have to be stopped. While Hoover wants the case finished to bolster the Bureau’s reputation, White wants to protect the people of Osage County from the Reign of Terror.