William Hale (cattleman)

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William King Hale
William K Hale.jpg
Born (1874-12-24)December 24, 1874
Greenville, Hunt County, Texas
Died August 15, 1962(1962-08-15) (aged 87)
Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona
Other names Bill Hale
Occupation Cattleman, murderer, criminal
Known for Masterminding Osage Indian murders

William King Hale (December 24, 1874 -- August 15, 1962), often known locally as "Bill", or the self-styled "King of the Osage Hills," was a U.S. cattleman and convicted murderer. Born in Greenville, Texas, he came to the Indian Territory late in the 19th Century and settled on the Osage Indian Reservation, where he built the noted Hale Ranch and made a fortune raising cattle. When Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907, the land occupied by the reservation became contiguous with Osage County, Oklahoma.[1]

A power player in the Osage Indian Reservation in northern Oklahoma, Hale rose to local prominence in the late 19th century through years of bribery, intimidation, and extortion. In 1921, he ordered the murders of his nephew's wife and mother-in-law, followed by her cousin, sister and brother-in-law two years later, to gain control of their oil rights. Over the next few months, he had killed at least two dozen others who had threatened to testify against him.[1]

Early life[edit]

Little seems to have been written about Bill Hale's early life, other than that he was born in Greenville, Texas. He apparently came to the Osage Indian reservation in Indian Territory just before the turn of the 20th Century.[2]

Thomas B. White, special agent in charge, wrote in a 1932 memo to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “Eventually (Hale) became a millionaire, who dominated local politics and seemingly could not be punished for any of the many crimes which were laid at his door...His method of building up power and prestige was to put various individuals under obligation to him by means of gifts and favors shown to them. Consequently he had a tremendous following in the vicinity composed not only of the riffraff element which had drifted in, but of many good and substantial citizens.”[3]

Murders for money[edit]

William King Hale and his nephews, Ernest and Byron Burkhart, conspired to kill several Osage Indians for the oil headrights. Ernest married Mollie Kile (or Kyle) a native Osage. Through various permutations, William King Hale had Mollie's sister Anna Brown killed in 1921. Anna's head rights were inherited by her mother Lizzie Q and Mollie. The death of Lizzie Q and several cousins left Mollie Burkhart and therefore Ernest as heirs to the headrights worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars in 1920s. Mollie fell ill and was later discovered to have been poisoned. When she moved away from Fairfax she recovered. She divorced Ernest afterward, and their children inherited Mollie's estate.[3]

Investigations[edit]

The Osage Tribal Council suspected Hale early on, but couldn't elicit any testimony from the townspeople, many of whom Hale had bribed or threatened into silence. The council turned to the FBI, who sent four undercover agents to the Reservation who, over the next few years, gained the townspeople's trust enough that they began speaking out against Hale. Hale's nephew whom he had coerced into helping with the scheme confessed, and charges were finally brought against Hale, as well as the contract killer he had hired to perform the murders and his corrupt attorney. In 1929, Hale was convicted of ordering the murders, and imprisoned.[1]

Conviction and later life[edit]

After four trials Hale was convicted before a Federal District Court in 1929 for only one killing - that of the shooting death of Anna Brown's cousin, Henry Roan, and sent to the Leavenworth prison in Kansas. Hale had attempted to cash in a $25,000 insurance policy on Roan's life only a week after the man's death; obligingly, Hale had also served as one of Roan's pall bearers.[4] He was sentenced to life but was paroled on July 31, 1947.[5] He spent some of his life in Montana working as a ranch hand for Benny Binion. He died in Arizona in 1962 and was buried in Wichita, Kansas.[1][3]

Byron turned state's evidence and never served time. His brother Ernest was sentenced to life in state court and was sent to Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma. He was released in 1959 and received a pardon in 1966 from Governor Henry Bellmon.[1][2]

See also[edit]

  • Osage Indian murders
  • David Grann. "Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI". Doubleday Books, 2017. ISBN 978-0385534246 The book reports William Hale as the mastermind of the Osage Indian murders and presents a detailed evidence.

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