By Megan Guerrero and Abigail Kim
When the 74-year-old retired biologist, Delia Owens, decided to release her first fiction novel “Where the Crawdads Sing,” she had no idea that it would take the world of literature by storm, selling over 15 million copies in just four years.
Her book spent 150 weeks on the New York Times’ best sellers list, and it particularly caught the interest of American actress and producer, Reese Witherspoon. It was then adapted into a blockbuster movie by her production company. Released last July, the film stars Daisy Edgar Jones and features music from Taylor Swift.
While part of her fame comes from the extreme popularity of the novel and subsequent film, Owens is interesting in her own right, especially after information about her personal history has resurfaced.
She and her family are wanted for questioning in regards to a murder case in Zambia, regarding the killing of an unidentified man while they were working as conservationists.
The Owens family is currently only wanted for questioning and has denied involvement multiple times. However, fans and journalists have speculated if Owens herself had involvement in the murder.
In 1996, ABC produced and released a television special that focused on Owens and her husband, Mark, while they were working in Zambia. Their main mission was to protect elephants from poachers. Later in the special, footage showed a growing tension between the couple and a suspected poacher, which eventually led to the suspect being shot and killed on camera. The narrator only ever calls the victim a “trespasser,” however, and there is no proof that he is a poacher.
Neither the identity of the victim or the killer, who fired the shot from off camera, were ever discovered by Zambian authorities due to the victim’s face being blurred out in the footage, and Zambian officials have yet to solve the case.
Jeffrey Goldberg, is a journalist who has been covering the murder and the Owens’ possible involvement for the past decade, long before Delia Owens began her career as a fiction author.
He recently returned to Zambia and spoke with the authorities to understand the factuality and status of Delia’s involvement in the murder.
“There is no statute of limitations on murder in Zambia,” Lillian Shawa-Siyuni, the Zambia Director of Public Prosecutions told Golderbeg. “They are all wanted for questioning in this case, including Delia Owens”.
In an interview with Today, Goldberg stated that the authorities believe she’s the most important witness, and her questioning is essential for solving the case.
Owens on the other hand has denied all further allegations in her relation to the murder.
“I was not involved. There was never a case, there was nothing,” Owens said in an interview with the New York Times.
After Owens published “Where the Crawdads Sing,” both film and book critics began to notice the connection between the book and Owens’s personal life story.
Laura Miller, a fiction author and a writer for Slate, compared Owens’s life to the book.
“Having her heroine stand accused of murder echoes the Owens’ Zambian experience and the subsequent ordeal of becoming the subject of a 18,000-word exposé in a magazine,” Miller wrote.
The book strangely reflects Owen’s own story, describing a “righteous” murder. In the book, the main character Kya is put on trial as the primary suspect in a murder. She eventually is found innocent but the story later implies that she did in fact commit the murder.
The story follows two intersecting timelines: the days leading up to her trial and the story of Kya’s past before the murder. The story starts off with the main character’s hardships in the early years of her life. She was abandoned by her own family and cast out of her town, earning the nickname “Marsh Girl.”
In a 2019 interview with Miller about “Where The Crawdads Sing,” Goldberg said he “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.”
The book is similar in all ways when compared to the accusations Owens is tangled in. Many readers believe that the book was Owens’s way of saying she and her family were not guilty of murder, because of the intent behind it. Essentially, that it’s ok to murder someone if it’s for the right reasons.