Delia Owens, best-selling author of the 2018 book Where the Crawdads Sing, is “wanted for questioning” in an open 1995 murder case, according to officials in Zambia. Investigators have reiterated their desire to speak with Delia, her ex-husband Mark Owens, and her stepson Christopher as a film adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing prepares for release on July 15th.
As reported by Jeffrey Goldberg, first in The New Yorker in 2010 and with new details this week in The Atlantic, Delia and her then-husband, Mark Owens were graduate students in biology at the University of Georgia in the early 1970s when they decided to move to Africa. Alongside Mark’s four-year-old son from a previous marriage, Christopher, they settled in Botswana for seven years, gaining the trust of several prides of lions and clans of brown hyenas, and tracking the animals’ behavior in the tradition of Jane Goodall. Mark and Delia turned that experience into a bestselling memoir, 1984’s The Cry of the Kalahari.
But after campaigning against the country’s cattle industry, the Owens were expelled from Botswana. They settled in Zambia, first with the intention of studying elephants, and then with a new plan: to stop poachers at any cost. Their 1992 book, The Eye of the Elephant, detailed some of their alleged conflicts with poachers, while depicting the Owens as white saviors intent on rescuing the denizens of the “dark continent,” as they described Africa on their website until 2010.
In 1995, ABC’s news magazine show Turning Point sent a camera crew to shoot a documentary about Mark and Delia, having no idea that they were about to be complicit in a snuff film. But when it aired in 1996, producers included the killing of an alleged poacher. Footage captured the man being executed on the ground after he had already been shot.
No evidence was provided that the man was a poacher, and ABC labelled him as a “trespasser” when it aired. The shots were fired off-camera, and at the time, the identity of the shooter was not disclosed.
Zambia’s investigation concluded that Mark Owens had taken the body up in his helicopter and dropped it into a lagoon. The corpse was never found. “The bush is the perfect place to commit murder,” Zambian national police commissioner Graphael Musamba told Goldberg. “The animals eat the evidence.”