Episode 20 – Who Killed Karen Silkwood?

In 1946, a woman named Karen Silkwood was born here in Longview. I’d heard about her story here and there over the years but I didn’t know the full details. I certainly didn’t know that she was born in my hometown and later died near the place where my family lived in Oklahoma.

Karen was bright and excelled at science. She got a scholarship to college but eventually left to elope with her boyfriend. When that relationship didn’t work out, she took on a job at the Kerr-McGee nuclear plant near Crescent, Oklahoma.

Though she enjoyed her job at first, she soon became disturbed by safety problems at the plant. She quickly got caught up in a storm of conflicting events: the safety of herself and her coworkers, the insistence of plant management that everything was fine and a worker’s union that was fighting for better treatment.

Though she was just a young woman, Karen showed bravery, tenacity and ingenuity as she began secretly collecting evidence of the plant’s problems for weeks on end. Finally, she had enough to take Kerr-McGee to court. However, she would never get the chance.

 

Karen Silkwood’s grave in Danville Cemetery in Kilgore, TX.

 

She died in a car wreck on the way to meet with a newspaper reporter to tell her story. The investigation determined it was an accident but found signs that may have indicated foul play. Was she killed and, if so, who killed her?

Karen Silkwood’s story is fascinating and frightening. She was one of the first whistleblowers and stood up to a billion-dollar corporation and she may have paid for it with her life. Tune in, listeners, and find out about her story.

 

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