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'Killers of the Flower Moon' and the Reign of Terror's place in pop culture

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Late Edition: Crime Beat Chronicles

Late Edition: Crime Beat Chronicles, a product of Lee Enterprises, is a collection of limited anthology style episodes exploring true stories as told  
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The latest episode of Late Edition: Crime Beat Chronicles is in partnership with the Tulsa World to introduce the story of the Osage Reign of Terror and the feature film Killers of the Flower Moon. In this episode, show producer Ambre Moton is joined by two writers from the Tulsa World, Randy Krehbiel and Jimmie Tramel to discuss the film Killers of the Flower Moon as well as the film and the Reign of Terror's places in pop culture.

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Episode transcript

Note: The following transcript was created by Slack and may contain misspellings and other inaccuracies as it was generated automatically:

Welcome to Late Edition Crime Beat Chronicles, a Lee Enterprises Podcast. I'm Ambre Moton, the producer and editor of the show, filling in for Nat Cardona who's taking some well-deserved time off. 

If you haven't listened to the first three episodes and our latest series about the Osage reign of terror, please go back and listen to those before starting this one.

So far, we've talked about the history of the Osage tribe and how they ended up in what became the state of Oklahoma, their oil rich land, and how those rights to that land led to the horrible series of suspicious deaths. Kidnapings and the general environment of fear that made up the reign of terror. We've talked about the blue eyes, investigation and eventual conviction of those who are found guilty of the crimes.

In this episode, we talk about the place in history and in pop culture that the reign of terror holds. This episode was recorded prior to the release of the film The Killers of the Flower Moon. Those age reign of terror may not have a prominent spot in the United States history curriculum, but it has established its place in popular culture with multiple books, plays, radio shows, films and more created about the events that went on during the 1920s.

Most recently, the film Killers of the Flower Moon, based on a book by David Grann, was released on October 20th, 2023. Martin Scorsese directed and Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone star in the film. The Tulsa World's pop culture reporter Jimmy Trammell and I talked about the place the reign of terror holds in pop culture, and a little more about the film.

Why should people go see the movie, especially our true crime fans?

I can't think of a reason that they should not go to see the movie. It's one of the. From a true crime standpoint, it's one of the biggest crimes in our nation's history that really has not been expounded on. It's crazy. This happened 100 years ago. And as far as us knowing about it, as far as the story being fleshed out, that it never really came to light nationally at all until David Grann's fantastic book became a bestseller.

And then and then Scorsese's movie is going to take it to the next level. And I should tell you that initially the movie was going to be, here comes the FBI to solve these murders. And then Scorsese. DiCaprio I think that huddled and decided to pivot. And now this movie is not going to be strictly about FBI coming in.

It's going to be. It's going to be wrapped around the marriage of DiCaprio's character and Lily Gladstone's character. It's going to focus on this very personal story. And by the way, we're going to wrap it in to the Osage reign of terror, which I think is a fantastic way of going about it in a personal story is always going to resonate more than a story of another kind.

Completely agree that everyone is giving Martin Scorsese, the director, props 100% because he didn't just come in and say, I have adopted this book. We're going to make a movie at every step along the way. He has incorporated and involved and consulted the Osage people were I mean, it's their story. They were impacted. They should have a say in this.

And so their language, their costumes, everything about their way of life is portrayed authentically in this film. It's not an outsider coming in and saying, to heck with that. We'll do it my way. You're going to see it portrayed legitimately.

You did profile Julie O'Keefe, who was a wardrobe consultant on the film. Can you tell us a little bit about her, her background and why she was important to the portrayal of the Osage as in the movie?

Julie O'Keefe, who has had some costume shops, but her resumé is far more extensive than having a costume shop. She was enlisted to be a costume designer, an Osage costume consultant on the film. And so they used pictures from back in the day. Other reference to really make sure the people you see in the film dressed in the way they were, you know, in the 1920s, 100 years ago.

And that's another example of Martin Scorsese and his team just taking every measure possible to make sure the Osage, what you see on the screen, is authentic. I mean, he Martin Scorsese, he even said, well, I'm sorry. I was standing there with the Osage who said at the premiere in France that some of the actors on the screen are speaking Osage as well as some of the Osage Nation members.

I love that we've come so far from having Italian actors playing natives to respecting the history, the people and the living history that's going on.

And yeah, Chief Strongbow, the Native American wrestler, was an Italian word. So what you're talking about. Exactly. I mean, I can turn on any Western on TV in the next room and see Mr. Spock playing a Native American. I love Leonard Nimoy, but he's not a Native American. So we we love. Yes. That people of a certain ethnicity are playing those people in pop culture.

No better example of this than Reservation Dogs, the television series that wrapped up a three year run and was shot in Oklahoma as well. I grew up in small town Oklahoma and primarily a Cherokee community, and the people I see, the people I saw in reservation dogs. I look at them and think, I grew up exactly with these people.

Especially with everything else going on in the world. It's just great to see the respect to culture being given.

Well, typically, how the Native Americans have been portrayed and in movie and TV is John Wayne is shooting at them and that's it. I mean, I I've had I have many native friends, but I had one native friend tell me like, hey, when I was young, I would watch Cowboy and Indian movies and root for the Cowboys. How crazy is that?

And he's native because, you know, that's the story being told and and you buy in. But I mean, it's so important now that we can see the Native American not as a stereotype, but just as as a human being, as someone who you don't have to tell a native story per se. You can tell a human being story.

And by the way, they happen to be native.

I know you talked about it a little bit, but what kind of reactions have you heard or seen from Julie and the other Osages.

They had an Osage Nation premiere in Tulsa for only the Osage and people who took part in the film And kind of a takeaway was very powerful, very emotional. Glad to see this story being brought to light. But also it's a lot to wrap your head around because if you were in the movie and that premiere in Tulsa, you're probably sitting with people whose grandmother grandfather died as a result of these murders.

So it's a lot to process, a lot to wrap your head around.

Did anybody express any discomfort about participating in the movie? I mean, you mentioned that some of the people who were there, they might have had grandparents who were, you know, their lives were taken because of all of this. Were there people who might have been reticent at first to participate?

Well, because of history, you couldn't blame anyone for being a little tread cautiously. But I think Martin Scorsese, he got rid of all that wariness early on because he met with the Osage. Is right away before they started filming and made it clear that the Osage people would be treated respectfully. I think this movie is going to create a lot of opportunity for the Osage, and as other films go out forward, we've seen, you know, Native Representation and the Great Prey Predator movie last year.

Many of the people who were extras or worked on Killers of the Flower Moon now have an opportunity to go on and work on some other things. Oklahoma has a pretty rich film history, you know, you wouldn't think. But they do. Like The Outsiders was filmed here in 82 that launched the careers of Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe.

Tom Cruise, he told me, Tell Ralph, Marty, Mojo, all those guys. And in fact, the exact county where killers of the Flower Moon was filmed was where August Osage County was filmed ten years ago. But by far, this figures to be the biggest blockbuster film ever shot on Oklahoma soil. And I think everyone is just happy that instead of going to California and on some down soundstage, Martin Scorsese brought those actors to where everything occurred.

So it could be as true to life as possible.

We have to take a quick break, so don't go too far. And of course, I caught up with Randy Krehbiel about the film, why people should see it, and how the reign of terror had something in common with another major criminal event that took place in the same area and at the same time period, as I understand it, Martin Scorsese, he shot the film in Osage County.

I think the majority of it was shot there. A little bit of it was shot here in Tulsa. In fact, catty corner from our office at the federal courthouse. And I think they shot some in Guthrie, which is a town over north of Oklahoma City and maybe a few other places. But most of it was shot there. And from everything we've heard from the Osage, is he really made an effort?

Leonardo DiCaprio made an effort to be very authentic with it in terms of the the people, the language. My understanding is, is that the actors, the main actors all learned some Osage so they could deliver lines in Osage. So my understanding is, is that, you know, it's about betrayal. The movie the movie is about betrayal. And I think betrayal is asked is almost always support a crime.

You're betraying someone in some way. And and it's about how, you know, it focuses I think a lot on this one couple and and in in the birchard he's played by Leonardo DiCaprio his struggle with you know apparently he really did care for his wife but he was also he also was kind of under the influence of this uncle who only cared about money and had been taught, you know, to think only about money.

And also that, you know, Indian people were not really they didn't really count. Right. Right. And that and I think, you know, and that also often plays into crime. But I think there's a lot psychologically that people who are interested in crime would would find insightful.

I think it's a good way for us to start exploring the history that we aren't all taught. Sure, it might be Leo's face up there, but I know there are tons of times where I've gone to see movies that are based on true stories. And then I start Googling and I start reading. And, you know, you kind of fall down that rabbit hole.

Well, you hope so. And, you know, it's. I mean, history is almost always more complicated than you can sit. And this is is a very long movie. Apparently, it's I'm told it's three and a half hours long that.


But even in with that, you know, yeah, there are things that are left out but but hope that hopefully it takes people's attention interest and as you mentioned there is just an awful lot of history that gets.

Swept under the rug neglected over. Yeah well, you know, I've told this a lot. I've said this a lot of times, but I think it's true is that you know, history, the teaching of history serves to almost oppositional purposes. One is one is to try and create this sort of legend about the place we live and who we are. And it's all, you know, we're all the good guys and they're all the bad guys.

And that sort of thing. And it's all positive. It's more about image and building community and and patriotism and all that stuff. And then there's sort of and then there's the grittier history that requires some critical thinking and and shows you that, you know, what the the rules tend to favor the people who make the rules.

And you mentioned that you had done a lot of writing about the Tulsa race massacre, which was, what, 1921, I believe?

Yep. Yep.

Was there overlap? I mean, obviously timing. Yes.

But I a little bit. And one of the stories that talks about that a little bit so and Brian was found about I think it was ten days before the Tulsa race massacre. so so, you know, so that was very close in time. And there are some people who show up in both stories. One of them is a guy named John Gustafson, who was the police chief of Tulsa and was removed from office.

He was basically impeached and removed from office after the massacre for dereliction of duty. Well, he was also a private detective. And so at the same time, he was the chief of police and being removed from office in Tulsa. He'd been hired by Inner Brown's family to find out who killed her. And so he spent a lot of time traipsing around Osage County and according to the FBI and that what they concluded was that he was trying to play both sides.

He'd come up with information and then he'd try and chop it and see who he could get the most money for. So from. And so there is that. And then there's another guy that is semi important, a a couple more. One is a guy named John Goldsberry who at the time of the race massacre was the assistant county attorney in Tulsa.

And he was the guy who was in who was part of the prosecution of John Gustafson and was also kind of involved in telling the people who I don't know how much of the Tulsa story, you know, but there was this group of people that were trying to take over the Greenwood area and they and they failed. And he was kind of in the group that was telling them, you can't do that.

That's a bad idea. So then eight years later, in 1929, he was the U.S. attorney in Tulsa and he was involved in the final prosecution. Bill Hale and in John Ramsey. And then finally, I'd mentioned, well, I guess there's a team or so also there is an attorney again named Prince Freeling. And Prince Freeling was the attorney general at the time of the Tulsa race massacre.

And he came in and blow in and go in and he ran the grand jury and all that stuff. By the time that the Ramsey and Hale were on trial, he was out of office and he was part of their defense team. And then and so then I know these guys are all lawyers. It's amazing how many lawyers there are involved in this.

But anyway, there's a lawyer named TJ Leahy who is from Pawhuska, and he was guest Gaston's attorney in the in his impeachment trial. But then he was hired by the Osage people to look out for their interests in these prosecutions. And he was involved in the prosecution of every one of these people who went to trial, whether it was in state trial or state court or federal court.

He was there as part of the prosecution and and was the guy that Burkhart went to during a state trial in Pawhuska and said, I'm tired of lying. I just want to tell the truth. And he turned on his turned on his uncle. So there are people that I've never seen like a direct, you know, like the people who burned down and were stealing money from people.

And I haven't seen that. But there are there are some familiar names. Gotcha. I would say there is this connection, which is that in both cases you see where the lives of, you know, minorities, of people of color and especially women just didn't matter very much. You know, in Tulsa when they decided they were going to do something different with, with the Greenwood area, They didn't ask the black people who lived there.

They just tried to do it. Yeah. All right. Well, if you owned the property.

By the way, for the most.

Part, so they formed this community. Well, so in, you know, in in the Osage, it was like, in fact, there's a quote in one of the FBI reports from there was a notorious outlaw, who was approached about killing a bill and ready to smear who's there, the folks who were blown up in the movie. And he said he wouldn't do it, that he had never he had never stoop so low that he would kill a woman even if she was an Indian.

That's something that, you know, that that says it right. These these folks, they just you know, it it wasn't so much in my observation, it wasn't so much that they hated them. It was that they just didn't care anyway.


They were. They weren't worth anything. Yeah, that's exactly right. And so that is the connection.

Very. I hate to say it's interesting because it's such a horrific things happened, but it's impossible to teach comprehensive history, you know, especially at junior high, high school, you know, elementary level. I just wish that it was a little more comprehensive, I guess I should say.

Yeah. I mean, I think one of the hard things about teaching school, whatever it is, is deciding what's important in what you know, what's what are the priorities as far as teach. Well, So you do have to learn the fundamentals of history. But somewhere in there, you know, I think there's also room to learn about, you know, not everything was done, you know, virtuously.

And it and you do have to question, motivations and things like why do people do the things they do? I think that's just a useful life. You know, I think one of the things that's really hard when you're writing about things like this, whether it's Tulsa or or we're talking about it or the Osage deal is how you talk about a singular event that's particularly horrific and then put it in a larger context without appearing to or actually diminishing that one event.

And so, you know, the only thing I'd say is that what happened in Osage County was a singular, ah, event and particularly distressing. But things like that happened all over the and Oklahoma had some of the during the during the oil booms of the early 20th century, some pretty, pretty bad places. And they say something about, you know, human greed and and just sort of the human condition that we should be aware of and like what we were talking about earlier, where we had a I hope we've passed it.

But, you know, I'm not always convinced we are that, you know, people who are different than us just don't matter. Are people who are in the in our way don't matter. You know, as a reporter, always trying to look at what is singular about this event, but also how does it fit into sort of the universe of things and how do you tell that story without how do you balance it, you know, and how do how do you not diminish, you know, this one group or one individual's story and yet presented in the full context.

And that's where we're wrapping things up with the reign of terror. For more details about the crimes life in the area in the 1920s, the film Killers of the Flower Moon and the Hostages, please visit the Tulsa World's website. There are links in the show notes to all of the content. The reporters and editors at the paper created.

Don't forget to hit that subscribe button so you don't miss what's coming up next. And you can go back in and check out any of our past episodes that you may have missed.


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