Here's what really happened to Mollie Burkhart's family from 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

  • Warning: There are spoilers ahead for "Killers of the Flower Moon."

  • The movie follows the targeted murders of Mollie Burkhart's family to gain their oil wealth in the 1920s.

  • While director Martin Scorsese's movie is mostly accurate, here's what it left out about the deaths.

"Killers of the Flower Moon" delivers a harrowing look at the Osage murders of the 1920s through the lens of the targeted killings of Mollie Burkhart's (Lily Gladstone) family for their immense oil wealth.

In the film, Mollie's husband, Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his uncle, William King Hale (Robert De Niro), plot to kill her sisters, mother, and family to acquire their money. Mollie's family was among over 60 Osage people murdered, often in mysterious circumstances, during a period called the "Reign of Terror."

Here's how the film portrays each of their deaths and how accurate it was to real life as well as what happened to Burkhart's remaining family.

In the movie, Mollie's sister Minnie is the first in her family to die due to a mysterious 'wasting illness' in 1918

Jillian Dion plays Minnie in "Killers of the Flower Moon." Minnie died at 27 in 1918.
Jillian Dion plays Minnie in "Killers of the Flower Moon." Minnie died at 27 in 1918.Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images

Doctors also attributed Minnie's death in 1918 to a "peculiar wasting illness" in journalist David Grann's 2017 book of the same name, which serves as the foundation for director Martin Scorsese's movie.

In the book, it's clear that Mollie "harbored doubts" about her sister's death at the age of 27 since she was always healthy.

Mollie began having suspicions of Minnie's husband, Bill Smith, especially when he remarried her sister Rita with Grann describing Mollie's concerns as: "Had he, in some way, been responsible for Minnie's death?"

Anna is shot in the back of the head by Kelsie Morrison with help from Ernest's brother, Byron, in the movie and is left to die in the middle of nowhere

Cara Jade Myers plays Anna in "Killers of the Flower Moon."
Cara Jade Myers plays Anna in "Killers of the Flower Moon." Anna died at the age of 34 in May 1921.AppleTV+, Vince Dillion/Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images

In both the book and movie, Byron Burkhart was supposed to take Mollie's oldest sibling Anna home in May 1921.

According to Grann's book, a young boy and his father found Anna's decomposing body in a gulch with worms eating away at her. Anna was identified by gold fillings in her teeth.

Five years later, in 1926, Kelsie Morrison admitted to shooting and killing Anna at the behest of Hale in exchange for $1,000. In his testimony, Morrison said Burkhart was present and the two guided her, drunk, from Burkhart's car down into the ravine. Byron held Anna up and Morrison said he used Hale's gun.

As the movie suggested, Anna was pregnant upon her death, but the father of the child wasn't known.

Morrison was given a lifetime sentence while Byron wasn't tried for the case after turning state's evidence. Mollie Burkhart divorced Ernest shortly after learning he knew about Anna's murderer and Morrison was convicted.

Mollie's mother, Lizzie Q, appears to die of old age in the movie. In real life, she was believed to be poisoned.

Tantoo Cardinal attends the 2023 "Kering Women in Motion Award" during the 76th annual Cannes film festival on May 21, 2023 in Cannes, France.
Tantoo Cardinal plays Lizzie Q in "Killers of the Flower Moon." Lizzie Q died in July 1921.David M. Benett/Jed Cullen/Dave Benett/Getty Images

According to Grann, Lizzie moved in with Mollie after her father died and started to become ill around the time Anna was murdered. After Anna's death, Lizzie grew more sick. She succumbed to her illness less than two months later in July 1921.

If Mollie had any suspicions of her mother's death in the movie, it's not overtly clear.

In the book, Mollie's brother-in-law, Bill Smith, was the first to question Lizzie's death, believing her to be poisoned since doctors never determined a reason for her death. Grann reports that Smith was the one who started to put all of the deaths together as he went to authorities with his suspicions that Lizzie was slowly poisoned.

Mollie's husband, Ernest, hires someone to befriend and kill cousin Henry Roan in the movie

William Belleau plays Henry Roan in "Killers of the Flower Moon."
William Belleau plays Henry Roan in "Killers of the Flower Moon."

William Belleau plays Henry Roan in "Killers of the Flower Moon." Roan, who was previously Mollie's husband for a brief time when she was only 15, was killed in February 1923.Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for San Diego Film Foundation

In the film, Ernest hires a local thief, John Ramsey, to make Roan's death look like a suicide. Ramsay fails to do so and shoots Henry in the back of the head, leaving him in a car.

According to Grann's book, Ramsey said the order to kill Roan came from Hale. After luring Roan into a canyon, promising him whiskey, he shot him once he got in his car to leave in February 1923. In his testimony, he didn't show remorse, saying "white people in Oklahoma thought no more of killing an Indian than they did in 1724."

When Ramsey faced the death penalty, he recanted his confession. In 1926, Ernest Burkhart named Ramsey as Roan's killer, saying Hale originally considered using poisoned moonshine to kill him. That testimony let the Osage community know that they were likely being poisoned by alcohol.

Burkhart said Hale decided that Roan should be shot, but, like in the movie, Ramsey was supposed to make the death look like a suicide. Burkhart claimed Hale "was furious" to learn he didn't shoot Roan in the front of the head and leave the gun at the crime scene.

In both the film and real life, Hale attempted to cash a $ 25,000 life insurance policy on Roan shortly after his death. Grann reported that Roan made Hale the sole beneficiary as a way to pay back numerous loans. According to the National Museum of the American Indian, Hale actually served as a pallbearer at Roan's funeral.

Hale was sentenced to life in prison for Roan's death in 1929, the only murder for which he was convicted. He was paroled in 1947.

Rita is the last of Mollie's family to die a month later 

JaNae Collins as Reta in "Killers of the Flower Moon" and Rita in real life.
Mollie's sister is referred to as Rita in Grann's book and Reta in the film adaptation.Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images; Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

In the movie, Hale asks Ernest to get Asa Kirby to kill Rita and her husband Bill and cover it up by blowing up their home.

Bill and Rita Smith's home blew up before 3 a.m. in March 1923.

When Rita's body is discovered in the rubble in the film, it looks like she was shot in the head and the explosion was to hide her real death. In real life, it's only mentioned that Rita and her servant, Nettie, are killed instantly in the home explosion. Bill Smith didn't die right away. He succumbed to his injuries a few days later.

In his testimony, Morrison said Hale originally suggested that he kill Rita and Bill Smith, but he refused.

Instead, criminal and explosive expert Asa Kirby was selected to bomb the Smith house. In a very roundabout way, Ernest was asked by his uncle to tell John Ramsey to give a message to Kirby that it was time for "the job."

"I feel in my heart that I did it because I was requested to do it by Hale, who is my uncle," Burkhart testified.

Grann's book reports that Mollie Burkhart knew her husband was, at the least, aware of how Rita and Bill died. Just like in the film, Kirby was killed during the investigation while robbing a store in 1923. According to Grann, Hale really alerted the shopkeeper about a potential robbery.

Mollie and Ernest had three children: Anna, Elizabeth, and James William 'Cowboy' Burkhart

Mollie Burkhart holding a baby and Ernest Burkhart in "Killers of the Flower Moon."
Mollie and Ernest Burkhart with one of their three children in "Killers of the Flower Moon."AppleTV+

Mollie's daughter Anna, named after her sister, really died of whooping cough at the age of 4 just like in the movie.

Mollie eventually divorced her husband, Ernest Burkhart, and remarried a man named John Cobb in 1928. She stayed with him until her death in June 1937 at 50 years old.

Grann reported that Elizabeth died at an unspecified date.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Cowboy and Mollie originally planned to stay at Anna's home the night she was killed. Mollie only left because her son had an earache. "Cowboy" died in 1990, living to the age of 69, and is survived by his daughter, Margie Burkhart.

The granddaughter of Mollie Burkhart, Margie Burkhart, looks on at the White Hair Memorial in Hominy, Oklahoma, on September 29, 2023.
Margie Burkhart, the granddaughter of Mollie Burkhart, on September 29, 2023.Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Margie recounted meeting her grandfather, Ernest, as a teenager to People before his death in 1986.

She said her grandmother was shunned by the Osage community for initially standing by his side. Margie still holds anger towards him to this day for taking away a side of her family she'll never know.

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