Danville Cemetery Kilgore, Gregg County, Texas, USA, Plot Plot 539
Karen Silkwood (February 19, 1946 – November 13, 1974) was a worker at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant in
Oklahoma during the 1970s. In testimony before the Atomic Energy Commission in
the summer of 1974, she accused the company of numerous safety breaches. Soon
afterward, she found that her home had been mysteriously contaminated with
plutonium. She herself was dangerously contaminated, as was her
girlfriend/roommate Sherry Ellis.
Silkwood believed that the company was trying to silence her by poisoning her with plutonium. She assembled a stack of documents corroborating her claims and was on her way to meet a newspaper reporter when she was killed in a mysterious automobile accident. No documents were found in the wreck.
The incident became the basis of the 1983 movie Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep. Cher portrayed Sherry Ellis and was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Her family sued Kerr-McGee on behalf of her estate. In what was the longest trial up until then in Oklahoma history, the jury found Kerr-McGee liable for the plutonium contamination of Silkwood, and awarded substantial damages. These were reduced on appeal, but the case reached the United States Supreme Court in 1979, which upheld the damages verdict. Before another trial took place, Kerr-McGee settled with the estate out of court for US $1.38 million, while not admitting liability.