As Delia Owens, author of the bestselling novel, “Where The Crawdads Sing,” celebrated the release of her book’s film adaptation, questions about her involvement in a decades-old African murder have been rekindled.
The 2018 story that sold over 12 million copies was released in theaters Friday and produced by actress Reese Witherspoon. And the recent successes of its author drew attention to an unsolved mystery from the 1990s. Jeffrey Goldberg, now the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic revisited a 2010 investigation he had conducted that produced the exposé, “The Hunted” for The New Yorker looking into whether Owens and her husband Mark were indeed accomplices to a murder by her stepson Christopher.
In the original piece, Goldberg outlined the path that led the graduate students from the University of Georgia to relocate to Africa in 1974 wherein Mark’s reported aggression against poachers led to the couple being expelled from Botswana only to relocate to Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park. There they ran a conservation center where Mark led a team of 60 game scouts hunting poachers who came after elephants.
At 24 Delia Owens bought a one-way ticket to southern Africa, where she and her husband, Mark, set up camp in an area of Botswana so remote that at one stage they were the only two settlers in a land mass the size of Ireland pic.twitter.com/Ycrw6Eevhc
— Times Culture (@timesculture) July 13, 2022
Come 1994, a team from ABC joined up with the Owens’ to film the documentary “Deadly Game: The Mark and Delia Owens Story” which went on to air March 30, 1996, on “Turning Point.” The “Rambo-ish” approach that Mark took toward the poachers caught him describing the response to interactions with poachers stating, “you don’t wait for them to shoot at you. You shoot at them first, all right?”
“That means when you see the whites of his eyes, and if he has a firearm, you kill him before he kills you…So go out there and get them,” he went on.
Narrated by Meredith Vieira, the broadcast of the documentary featured the slaying of a poacher which the host introduced, stating, “On this mission, we would witness the ultimate price paid by a suspected poacher.”
Goldberg would go on to write, “Onscreen, the scout is shown from behind, running through brush and carrying a rifle. He approaches a man wearing a gray jacket and brown pants, lying prone in a small clearing. The man tries to move, lifting his head a few inches off the ground. The scout, his face blotted out electronically, fires a single shot at him. At this moment, a second figure is seen in the background. His face and upper body are blurred, so that even his race is obscured, but he is dressed in green and appears to be carrying a rifle. The camera turns to the wounded man, and Vieira says, in a voice-over, ‘The bodies of the poachers are often left where they fall for the animals to eat.’ She pauses, and says, ‘Conservation. Morality. Africa.’ Then, from offscreen, come three more shots. The camera stays focused on the wounded man, lying on the ground. His body jerks at the first and third shots. Then it is still.”
It was later alleged by cameraman Chris Everson that then-25-year-old Christopher Owens, the son of Mark from a previous marriage, fired the first and last shots. When asked by Goldberg if Everson “had considered alerting the police in Lusaka that he had witnessed a killing by an American visitor to Zambia,” the cameraman replied, “That was way above my pay scale. I was working for ABC. It wasn’t my business to do that.”
Now writing for the Atlantic, Goldberg revisited the story leading up to the release of the theatrical film that also involves a murder mystery looming over the protagonist’s head, but the probing appeared not to deter interest in the movie.
The Crawdads cast and filmmakers brought the magic of the marsh to Los Angeles for The Where The Crawdads Sing press day! 🌿 @CrawdadsMovie pic.twitter.com/iynhr89CJ3
— Sony Pictures (@SonyPictures) June 7, 2022
Zambian officials told Goldberg last month that Delia “should be interrogated as a possible witness, co-conspirator, and accessory to felony crimes.”
“I can’t even go into the U.S. embassy with a camera. I want to know how Mark and Delia brought guns into Zambia and turned themselves into law-enforcement agents,” Lillian Shawa Siyuni, Zambia’s director of public prosecutions said.
“There is no statute of limitation on murder in Zambia. They are all wanted for questioning in this case, including Delia Owens,” the Zambian official went on to add.
Delia claimed in 2010, “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.” She later would ask Goldberg to leave her property as she lamented, “Why don’t you understand that we’re good people? We were just trying to help?”
The now-73-year-old has since divorced Mark and expressed in a 2020 interview with BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour that her family had been cleared of any involvement in the incident. But, according to the Daily Mail, questions about the incident at a press junket for the film forced Sony to end the interviews.
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