The True Tale of Oklahoma’s Most Notorious Serial Killer
Massachusetts may have the oldest home in this country, and Rhode Island may be home to the oldest bar, but Oklahoma is home to one of the most ruthless white-collar serial killers of all time.
Meet William K Hale. A once-Texan turned Oklahoma cattle baron whose legacy lives on as the man that slayed any and all competition, related to him or not, in his search for greatness and riches on the wild Osage prairie.
The story starts just before the turn of the 20th century when Hale moved from his hometown of Greenville, Texas up to Oklahoma with a plan to raise cattle close enough to the Chicago packing houses to maximize profits, but outside municipal or state jurisdictions for tax purposes. Years before Oklahoma became a state, he settled a ranch in the Osage Indian Territory along the Kansas border.
Over the next nearly-thirty years, William Hale built himself a legacy of land, riches, and brutality that would rival even that written today in TV's Yellowstone drama.
By 1920, Hale had amassed his riches that included some 5,000 acres, a few different homes across the territory, and in a natural order of so many rags-to-riches stories, he developed the thought that he had become the untouchable "King of the Osage Hills."
That's not even editorial, the man literally called himself the King of the Osage Hills.
As time rolled into the Roaring 20's, something new and even more profitable than cattle hit the area... Oil. Oklahoma's biggest and least famous oil baron, E.W. Marland, discovered a massive oil reserve in the sandy hills of then-Osage County, but even though Hale owned his land, a federal treaty existed that the Osage people owned the subsurface mineral rights.
Wanting to turn his cattle fortune into an oil fortune, the solution to his rights problem was to marry Osage women into the family in order to gain their federal rights to an oil payday.
As if marrying for money wasn't bad enough, once the rights were secured by the family, there was no reason to keep these native brides around. Treated as if they were disposable means to an end, they were murdered once their usefulness expired.
If this sounds familiar, it should be. This man is the real-life villain in the bestseller "Killers of the Flower Moon." A book that details his extortion and ruthless aptitude for money and power. Martin Scorsese has been filming the movie adaptation in Pawhuska, OK with Leonardo Dicaprio and Rober Di Nero over the last year or so.
Over the course of his oil-driven obsession with obtaining land rights, Hale stacked a pile of murders somewhere between 18-24 bodies deep. He even killed the entire extended family of his nephews' wife in the correct successive order so that his nephew would be left the soul-survivor and owner of the family's oil rights, making it easy as signing a paper to transfer it all to the Hale family business.
By 1923 two-dozen curious and questionable deaths had gone unsolved, and even though William Hale was the biggest suspect, nobody could arrange enough evidence to even question him.
It's not like they didn't try hard enough... Dozens of private detectives and investigators were hired on to solve the killings, but people in the area were either so distrustful of outsiders to speak up or they'd been paid and bribed for their silence.
It wasn't until the Osage Tribal Council plead with the US Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to send their best and brightest to end the mysterious killings, that they did.
Since everyone in the area was either suspicious of outsiders or bribed into keeping their mouths shut, four federal agents slowly infiltrated the local population posed as a doctor, oil prospector, insurance salesman, and cattle industry buyer.
As they lived in the community, earning the trust of the people, slowly building their case against William Hale when he ultimately slipped up. He had taken out a life insurance policy on his nephews' cousin-in-law with the agent posed as the insurance salesman just before he was discovered murdered. Even though Hale served as a pall-bearer for his victim, he popped into the insurance office to collect his $25,000 just days later.
Armed with this red flag of evidence and pouring on the guilt, it was his original accomplice, the nephew, that gave the first full confession. Like dominoes set up in a line, more and more people came forward offering what they knew and confessing what they had done.
Charges were filed and Hale was arrested and put on trial. In 1929 he along with his hitman assistant and his crooked lawyer were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
He was paroled in 1947 but never returned to Oklahoma. Instead, he lived his days out in Montana working as a cowboy before retiring to Arizona, passing away from his life of heinous crime in 1962.
While this isn't the full story, it's the abbreviated and interesting western legend. If you haven't read the book "Killers of the Flower Moon" you might consider doing so. It's some of Oklahoma's most infamous and unknown history. Then again, I suppose you could just wait for the movie to come out, but Hollywood generally has a nasty habit of altering details. Either way, you'll learn something new about a state "nothing ever happens in."