Where The Crawdads Sing author Delia Owens is wanted in Zambia

Where The Crawdads Sing author Delia Owens is wanted in Zambia

Darkness behind Where The Crawdads Sing: As film adaptation hits screens, author Delia Owens, 73, still faces questions over killing of a Zambian ‘poacher’ – echoing her novel about a loner accused of a ‘just’ murder

  • Where The Crawdads Sing author Delia Owens, 73, is wanted in Zambia 
  • Author and her then-husband Mark appeared in ABC documentary in 1996 
  • The film, Deadly Game, broadcast an unnamed poacher’s death
  • Identity of the person who fired the fatal shots was never disclosed in the film
  • Mark and Delia denied all claims that they were involved in any killings 
  • Delia’s book echoes the experience, depicting a loner who is accused of murder
  • Like poacher’s death, the killing of the character is righteously motivated  

Where The Crawdads Sing author Delia Owens is wanted in Zambia for questioning over a cruel 1990 televised killing, new reports claim – in echoes of her book about a lonely heroine who stands accused of a righteously motivated murder.

Delia, 73, and her then-husband Mark moved to Zambia in 1986 to study and conserve the elephant population, and appeared in a 1996 program titled Deadly Game, which televised the apparent killing of a poacher who was shot after being caught on the grounds of a game warden.

The identity of the poacher was never revealed, nor was the identity of the person or persons who fired the fatal shots off-camera disclosed.

However sources speaking to investigative journalist Jeff Goldberg claimed Delia’s step-son Christopher, then-25, was a member of a scouting party which allegedly shot the man, while Mark helped to cover up the killing. 

Despite Mark and Delia vehemently denying all claims that they were involved in any killings or committed any wrongdoing, Zambia’s director of public prosecutions Lillian Shawa-Siyuni has said all three are still wanted for questioning related to the killing of the alleged poacher.

Delia would later go on to publish the bestselling novel in 2018, with the story bearing striking similarities to her own circumstances in Zambia.

It follows a lonely naturalist, named Kya Clark, who lives in a remote swamp in 1950s Carolina and commits a righteously motivated murder of an abusive local man, Chase Andrews, who attempted to rape her. 

The reports have resurfaced weeks before high-profile blockbuster adaptation of the book, which stars Daisy Edgar-Jones and was produced by Reece Witherspoon, is released in cinemas.  

MailOnline has contacted Delia Owens representatives for comment. 

Where The Crawdads Sing author Delia Owens is wanted in Zambia for questioning over a cruel 1990 televised killing, new reports claim – in echoes of her book about a lonely heroine who stands accused of a righteously motivated murder (pictured, Delia with her husband Mark in the North Luangwa National Park in Zambia)

Delia published the bestselling novel in 2018, with the story bearing striking similarities to her own circumstances in Zambia

Zoologist Delia and her then-husband Mark were living in Botswana in the 1980s when they left the country after criticizing the government’s conservation policies.

Mark Owens later told People the couple were ‘treated like criminals’, saying: ‘They fingerprinted us, threatened us… We weren’t allowed to call the Embassy or get a lawyer. We lost everything. It took a lot of healing to get over it.’

They travelled to Zambia’s North Luangwa wilderness in 1986, having been attracted to the area’s isolation and the desire to study and conserve the elephant population.

The couple were stunned and dismayed to see poachers devastating the local elephant population, and began raising money from donors in Europe and August to better pay and equip scouts.

Mark became the de facto commander of the scouts, with Delia writing in her book, The Eye of the Elephant: ‘Mark creates special units for those who perform well, and they are issued extra equipment—new guns, jungle knives, binoculars, compasses.’

The book follows a lonely naturalist, named Kya Clark, who lives in a remote swamp in 1950s Carolina and commits a righteously motivated murder of an abusive local man, Chase Andrews, who attempted to rape her

Meanwhile Goldberg said he visited Zambia where he ‘learned that Mark Owens had gradually come to command a corps of game scouts in North Luangwa, outside of Zambian-government oversight, by buying their loyalty through the provision of weapons, boots, and money.’

TIMELINE OF DELIA OWEN’S EXPERIENCE IN ZAMBIA 

1986 – Delia and her husband Mark arrive in Zambia 

1992 – The couple’s second book The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness is published. It details their battles against poachers in Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park. It attracts the attention of ABC

1996 – ABC documentary titled Deadly Game is broadcast. In it, a man, alleged to be a poacher, was killed after reportedly being caught on the grounds of a game warden.

The couple return to the US and never return to Zambia 

2018 – Delia pens her first novel, Where The Crawdads Sing, which is published to overwhelming success. 

It was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club. 

2022 – A film is set to be released based on the novel and starring Daisy Edgar-Jones

They claimed he would frighten poaching parties with firecrackers, and later, from a helicopter, menacing them with a machine gun.

In a highly contested letter sent to professional hunter named PJ Fouche, Mark said his scouts had killed two poachers and ‘are just getting warmed up.’ 

Fouche told Goldberg for a 2010 New Yorker article: ‘They thought they were kings…He made himself the law, and his law was that he could do anything he wanted.’

The couple published their second book The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness in 1992. 

It details their battles against poachers in Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park.

It attracts the attention of ABC, who express an interest in making a documentary about the couple. 

The network produced the film, in which co-anchor Diane Sawyer said: ‘They went halfway around the world to follow a dream.

‘An idealistic American couple – young, in love. But a strange place and time would test that love.’

Meanwhile the Paley Center for Media described the warfare in the documentary by saying, ‘Game wardens must shoot poachers as soon as they see one, otherwise, they will be shot themselves; the Owens have resolved that in order to save the elephants, they must sacrifice human beings.’ 

In the film, Delia tells the presenter ‘there were several assassination teams that were sent down by poachers with the intent to kill us. I mean, lions don’t frighten me nearly as much as humans.’

Elsewhere, she says her husband has become ‘obsessed’ with stopping the poaching of the animals. 

Mark is seen carrying a number of firearms, ordering his team of scouts: ‘If you see poachers in the national park with a firearm, you don’t wait for them to shoot at you. You shoot at them first, all right? 

The novel was published in 2018, with the film due to be released in the coming weeks 

‘That means when you see the whites of his eyes, and if he has a firearm, you kill him before he kills you, because if you let him get—if you let him turn on you with an AK-47, he’s going to cut you in two. So go out there and get them. Go get them, O.K.?’

He tells the presenter: ‘I’m not comfortable at all with it. I’m absolutely uncomfortable with it. Sometimes poachers are killed and occasionally scouts have been killed.’ 

Goldberg later interviewed Chris Everson, the ABC cameraman who filmed the killing of the alleged poacher.

Writing in The Atlantic, Goldberg penned: ‘The Zambian police detective in charge of the subsequent investigation, Biemba Musole, concluded that Mark Owens, with the help of his scouts, placed the victim’s body in a cargo net, attached it to his helicopter, and then dropped it into a nearby lagoon.

‘Musole led an effort to identify the alleged poacher, but did not succeed.

‘The former Zambian national police commissioner, Graphael Musamba, told me that the investigation had been stymied by the absence of a body: ‘The animals eat the evidence.”

After the ABC documentary was broadcast, Goldberg reported the Owenses traveled to the U.S. for a visit and were warned never to return. 

Delia and Mark appeared in a 1996 program titled Deadly Game, which televised the killing of a poacher who was allegedly shot after being caught on the grounds of a game warden

Investigate journalist Jeff Goldberg claimed Mark became a de facto leader for a group who worked against poachers in the country 

The couple moved to a remote area of land in Boundary County, Idaho, where they are believed to have divorced, although they remain on friendly terms. 

Journalist Goldberg would release a New Yorker article about the incident in 2010, with Delia telling him at the time: ‘We don’t know anything about it. The only thing Mark ever did was throw firecrackers out of his plane, but just to scare poachers, not to hurt anyone.’

Meanwhile she insisted Chris ‘wasn’t there.’

Delia would pen her first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, years later – but the plot of the bestselling book bears striking similarities to her experience in the African country.

Delia would pen her first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, years later – but the plot of the bestselling book bears striking similarities to her experience in the African country

Owens, pictured with members of the cast alongside Reece Witherspoon, has said the book contains ‘a lot of symbolism’ 

The story follows Kya, a young woman who is abandoned by her parents and left alone to raise herself on an isolated marsh just outside a small town in North Carolina.

Like the author Delia, she is a naturalist and a loner in an isolated and occasionally hostile environment.

When she becomes a respected author Kya is then accused of the murder of her former boyfriend Chase Andrews.

However, like the killing of the unnamed poacher, the killing could be considered righteously motivated – Chase had been abusive, and even tried to rape Kya. 

There are multiple similarities between Delia and her character Kya, both of whom were loners who were isolated in a hostile environment before being associated with a killing

Despite the fact Kya is guilty, as revealed at the end of the novel, she is acquitted of Chase’s murder and ultimately gets away with her crime (pictured, Harris Dickinson as Chase) 

Despite the fact Kya is guilty, as revealed at the end of the novel, she is acquitted of Chase’s murder and ultimately gets away with her crime. 

In an interview with Amazon, Owens revealed: ‘Almost every part of the book has some deeper meaning. There’s a lot of symbolism in this book.’

The book topped the New York Times’ best-sellers list for 32 weeks in 2019 and 2020 and sold between 8 and 9 millions copies around the world. 

Goldberg told Slate.com: ‘I have to say I found it strange and uncomfortable to be reading the story of a Southern loner, a noble naturalist, who gets away with what is described as a righteously motivated murder in the remote wild.’   

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