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Ernest Burkhart spent 29 years in prison for role in Killers of the Flower Moon plot

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Ernest Burkhart in Killers of the Flower Moon but who exactly is he and what happened to him in real life?

*WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Killers of the Flower Moon* — Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon has comfortably been one of the most highly anticipated films of 2023 as it recounts the incredible true story of the Osage Nation and the sinister plot involving William Hale and Ernest Burkhart to seize their oil-rich land and their wealth.

The sinister plot at the heart of Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon tells the story of the Osage Nation, a group of Native Americans who lived on land in what is now Oklahoma and became incredibly wealthy after oil was discovered in their territory.

William Hale, played by Robert De Niro, led a group of white co-conspirators known as ‘guardians’ who had designs on taking the Osage land, and by extension the oil, for themselves.

In order to achieve this, Hale persuaded his nephew, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), to marry an Osage woman named Mollie Kyle and then arranged for the murders of Mollie’s sisters, brother-in-law, mother and cousin to cash in on their life insurance policies and headrights, the estate left behind when members of the Osage Nation pass away.

After almost all of Mollie’s family had died, she inherited much of their land and wealth, making her the next target of Hale’s sinister plot.

Lily Gladstone as Mollie Burkhart, Robert De Niro as William King Hale and Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkart standing side by side in Killers of the Flower Moon
© Apple TV+

Ernest Burkhart’s role in Killers of the Flower Moon’s plot

In order to remove his wife from the picture and take possession of all the land she had inherited, Ernest Burkhart attempted to slowly kill Mollie with poison.

As Mollie became sick, she confided in her priest – being a devout Catholic – that she feared her sudden illness was due to being poisoned at home.

The priest subsequently alerted the FBI agents who were investigating the spate of deaths among the Osage people and Burkhart, William Hale and several other co-conspirators were arrested and charged with the murder of Mollie’s family.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart and Robert De Niro as William King Hale whispering to each other in Killers of the Flower Moon
© Apple TV+

What happened to Ernest Burkhart?

Ernest Burkhart pleaded guilty to being part of the sinister conspiracy when he went on trial in 1926.

Burkhart also pleaded guilty to the murders of Rita and Bill Smith who were killed in a bomb explosion in 1923 and revealed that he used a middle-man to hire a professional criminal to carry out the killings themselves.

This resulted in Burkhart being sentenced to life in prison, although he would be released on parole 11 years later in 1937.

However, it would not be long before Burkhart was back behind bars as, in 1941, he and a woman named Clara Mae Goad were found guilty of carrying out a burglary on an Osage home the year before.

Ernest was sentenced to a further seven years in jail and had his initial parole revoked. Burkhart was granted parole once again in 1959 and managed to remain out of prison for the rest of his life after spending a total of 29 years in jail.

In 1966, Burkhart applied for a pardon, citing the evidence he gave during the initial investigation which led to the convictions of William Hale and a fellow co-conspirator called John Ramsey. The Oklahoma Parole Board granted Ernest Burkhart’s pardon with a vote of 3-2 in his favor.

Ernest Burkhart would go on to die in 1986 at the age of 94. His wife Mollie died almost 50 years earlier in 1937 due to causes unrelated to the attempting poisoning, with her children inheriting her estate.

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio sat at a table in Killers of the Flower Moon
© Apple TV+

Killers of the Flower Moon hit theaters on October 20, 2023, and will be made available on Apple TV+ at a later date.

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