‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ author involved in murder case

Delia Owens’ 2018 novel Where the Crawdads Sing has sold more than 12 million copies and was adapted into a feature film produced by Reese Witherspoon; The film, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones, hits theaters this weekend.

Owens’ debut novel is a romantic thriller about an outcast young woman on trial for the murder of a local bigwig in 1960s North Carolina. Borrowing a sympathetic but perhaps unreliable narrator, it feels like a familiar sort of mystery. But it also sheds some light on an independent and seemingly incongruous episode in the author’s own life – Owen’s tumultuous history as a conservationist in the south-central African nation of Zambia, where she is currently being interrogated over a 1995 murder.

It all resurfaced just before the film’s release, thanks to a recent article in the Atlantic by its editor Jeffrey Goldberg, who updates and doubles an article he wrote for the New Yorker in 2010. Back when Owens was known as a co-author alongside some non-fiction books, Goldberg published an 18,000-word synopsis of Owens and her now ex-husband Mark, which revealed the couple – along with Mark’s son Christopher – were suspected by Zambian authorities was found to be involved in the assassination of a suspected poacher (a murder caught on camera) along with possible other criminal activities.

During his research, Goldberg found that Mark Owens was in command of a “corps of wildlife scouts” in the country that operated outside of government oversight. He had managed to ‘militarize’ North Luangwa National Park by arming the scouts and ‘bought their loyalty with guns, boots and money’. He had also “led raids on suspected poaching camps” and left his son in charge of “training the scouts in hand-to-hand combat.”

Goldberg also received a letter in which Mark Owens boasted about killing poachers under his supervision, adding, “We’re just warming up.”

"Where the crayfish sing" by Delia Owens

In 1996, ABC’s Turning Point aired the documentary Deadly Game: The Mark and Delia Owens Story about the couple’s journeys to Zambia to rescue the elephants. The documentary includes footage of the murder, which Goldberg says shows a man already wounded being executed on the ground. (The footage is no longer available.) The Owenses left Zambia after the broadcast sparked a police investigation and relocated to northern Idaho, where they are now reportedly amicably divorced.

Chris Everson, the ABC cameraman who filmed the shooting, told Goldberg that it was Christopher Owens who fired the shots in the murder. Biemba Musole, the Zambian police detective leading the investigation, added that Mark Owens and his scouts placed the body in a cargo net, attached it to his helicopter and dumped it in a nearby lagoon. The body was never recovered.

However, the investigation was dropped due to the lack of an extradition treaty between the US and Zambia and ABC’s refusal to cooperate.

What does all of this have to do with “Where the Crawdads Sing” aside from interfering with the film’s marketing plan? For one, there’s the book’s blind spots when it comes to race – including a chilling dialect spoken by a black guy named Jumpin’, who offers to help Kya, the isolated swamp girl under suspicion. His characterization and language have much in common with Owens’ wide-eyed and subliterated depictions of some Africans in earlier books.

Critic Laura Miller highlighted these parallels in a 2019 essay referencing Goldberg’s reporting, noting that one of Goldberg’s sources had summarized the Owenses’ attitude toward Africa as follows: “Nice continent. Shame on the Africans.” Miller also points to broader thematic similarities. The kya of “Crawdads” communicates with nature and is alienated from humanity; if she committed murder, it was only because she was driven by an animal survival instinct. Whatever involvement the Owens may have had in the murder—and Delia herself was never directly implicated—they prioritized animals over humans when they formed their anti-poaching militia.

In his new Atlantic piece, Goldberg referenced these and other “deliberate recalls to Delia’s Zambian experience” in “Crawdads.” Are he and Miller making too much of a few coincidences? As Owens himself said in a 2019 interview with Amazon, “Almost every part of the book has a deeper meaning. There is a lot of symbolism in this book.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-07-13/where-the-crawdads-sing-delia-mark-owens-zambia-murder ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ author involved in murder case

Sarah Ridley

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