William Hale In ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon,’ Explained: Why Did Hale Kill Henry Roan?


William Hale never shied away from calling himself the “King of the Osage Hills.” He claimed to be their greatest benefactor, but it was only after his crimes came to light that we really understood the irony behind the title. Like a medieval king, Hale considered himself to be the owner of the land and the people living in it. He butchered the tribe like his own subjects and never felt any remorse over his actions. But Hale wasn’t always like that. As history tells us, he was just a lad with an unknown past who arrived in Fairfax to make a fortune. He worked as a cowboy on the ranch and later borrowed money from the investors to buy his own cattle in the region. But he wasn’t an overnight success. He toiled day and night to finally be able to purchase 45 thousand acres of Osage land and live a comfortable life thereafter. However, a man once smitten with flames of ambition cannot just dust them away. It was only after William Hale became a high-class gentleman that he started his murderous regime.

Why did Hale kill Henry Roan?

Greed and jealousy can often push a person off-limits. They cross the gray line and become the real-life demons hiding among humans. William King Hale was an established man before the Indians were flushed with oil money; therefore, it could be surmised that stealing their headright wasn’t always a part of his grand scheme. Maybe greed came later, but Hale had always been a racist man, even though he never accepted it. Until the very end, he called himself “Osage’s true friend.”

In real life, Hale did have an Osage friend, Henry Roan, a forty-year-old man who was Hale’s closest neighbor. Evidently, Hale wanted to expand his kingdom, and for that, he needed Roan’s oil rights. During those times, Osage Indians often fell short of funds, even though they were the wealthiest people in the region. Their white financial guardians wouldn’t allow them to use their money. Roan was a melancholic and an alcoholic. His wife was cheating on him with another man named Roy Bunch, and Roan wanted to ease his pain with some moonshine. Perhaps the devil saw it as an opportunity to try his luck, and therefore Hale lent him some $10,000 or $12,000. However, there has never been any proof of this debt. Later, Hale took an insurance policy of $25,000 in Roan’s name and registered himself as a beneficiary because only a relative or a creditor could become one. So, one can see the motive behind this intricate plan. He was willing to purchase Roan’s headright, but fortunately, the law found loopholes in his scheme and put a halt to his plan.

In the records, Ernest Burkhart revealed a simple but really disturbing information about his uncle. He said he wasn’t the kind of man who would ask you to do anything. Instead, he would tell you. Being a slave to his uncle’s dominating nature, Ernest carried out his murderous plan to kill Henry Roan. He hired a cow thief and bootlegger, John Ramsey, who befriended Roan, poisoned him with Henry Grammer’s poisoned whiskey, and later shot him in the head to finish the job. Henry Roan had considered William K. Hale his true friend, and in the end, he paid for the friendship with the devil with his own life.

Why did Hale kill Osage Indians?

Many people tried to brand the King of the Osage Hills as a psychotic serial killer, but no such thing turned up during his neurological and psychological examination conducted at Leavenworth. As per the evaluators, William K. Hale always saw himself as a civilized gentleman who helped America get rid of its raw wilderness. In simpler terms, he truly believed himself to be a true conqueror who was helping to forge a civilized nation. As he even stated in the film, he considered the tribe to be sick people. Evidently, being a true White American, Hale wanted to erase the sickness from the land, and for that, he was slowly poisoning and killing the Osage Indians.

The man never had any feeling of shame or repentance for his actions. He had always been in denial of his obvious guilt. It could be better understood from the fact that on the day of his arrest, he went straight to a tailor and got himself a new suit of clothes before turning himself in to Sheriff Freas’s office. Indeed, for Hale, it was all a mockery, or maybe an accomplishment. He believed himself to be a true hero, and what was worse was that the entire town was working with him, though half of them, including the Shoun brothers, were never arrested for their crimes. Mollie’s family and other Osage Indians whose murders we witnessed in Killers of the Flower Moon were just the introduction of Hale’s true crimes. In reality, he had killed many more than that and never felt guilty for any of it.

What Happened to William Hale in the End?

William Hale was found guilty of his crimes in the US court of law, after which he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. Surprisingly, Tom White, the lead investigator officer of the case, met Hale at the same prison he had taken over as warden. It could be considered one of the most cinematic scenes in Killers of the Flower Moon.

Throughout his prison time, Hale wrote numerous letters to his friends in high places so that he could be released sooner. Owing to a flawed justice system, he only served 20 years in prison and was later released in 1947, much before Ernest Burkhart. At that time, he was 72 years old. The entire Osage community opposed the decision, but their cries were ignored as always. Fortunately, Hale was forbidden from setting foot in Oklahoma again. As per the records, he didn’t have a speck of remorse until the very end and blamed Ernest for his downfall. In 1962, Hale took his last breath in a nursing home in Arizona. We don’t know whether death is peaceful or not, but for the crimes the man had committed, he should have been hanged much sooner. He should have been given a much more painful death, but a part of American law was always supporting him biased to the color of his skin. It was the circumstances and ideals of racist men that bred evil like William K. Hale.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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