Where the Crawdads Go to Jail

By: Camryn Rayball ’23

     Delia Owens, author of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” has been charged with accessory to the murder of a poacher by the Zambian police in 1995.  

     She and her husband, Mark Owens, spent time in 1995 to film a documentary about anti-poaching efforts. Their documentary, Deadly Game: The Mark and Delia Owens Story, was about the couple’s intent to study wildlife, the plotline of the documentary quickly morphed into an effort to save elephants from poachers.

     In the documentary, produced by ABC, there is footage of a local poacher being murdered. One of the Owens was suspected of delivering the final, fatal shot. The Owens family denied all claims and conveniently left Zambia before the Zambian police could start their questioning.

     With the murder of the local poacher and the best selling book “Where the Crawdads Sing,” many are questioning how fictional the bestselling book really is.

     While in Zambia, Mark Owens became the commander of the North Luangwa Game Scouts. The game scouts led airborne raids against suspected poachers, often torturing them with intense sun exposure by tying the poachers to stakes and leaving them to “bake” in the sun

    Mark gained the game scout’s loyalty through guns, weapons, and money. He became their leader, teaching them to work outside of the Zambian government’s eyesight, ambush tactics, as well as physical interrogation technique.

     While the game scouts worked and respected the Owens family, it did not exempt them from brutal punishment.

     Mark’s son Christopher oversaw training game scouts in hand-to-hand combat. When they would not perform well or disobey the family, Christopher would beat them as a form of discipline.

     The couple admitted to using scare tactics but never once resorted to violence, such as murder. However, P.J. Fouche, a professional hunter, provided a letter of evidence from Mark proving he used violence and was proud of it.

     Mark writes in a letter, “two poachers have been killed and one wounded that I know of thus far, and we are just getting warmed up.” In that same letter, he asked P.J. for any ammunition and weapons they could spare.

     When Delia Owens was asked about her thoughts on the letter Mark wrote, she said: “Why don’t you understand that we’re good people. We were just trying to help.”

     But while Delia thinks she is helping, others see right through her and have labeled her as having a “white savior complex.”

     Chris Everson, the videographer for the documentary, was recently interviewed by the Atlantic about why he did not report the footage. He said it was well above his “pay grade” and during all the chaos he still worked under ABC. ABC did not give him the rights to copy the footage for personal use but it still does not explain his hesitance to speak the truth as to what happened.

     Everson, The Owens, and the dead poacher are the only ones who truly know what happened that night. While the truth remains unknown, that has not stopped others from speculating about who was the perpetrator of the crime.

     Many accuse Christopher Owens, the son of Mark Owens, of delivering the final and fatal shot. All three of the Owens were said to have been present during the murder.

     The Owens family has not admitted anything, but many believe Delia’s book “Where the Crawdad’s Sing” is based off her own experiences in Zambia.

     For example, the main character Kya was viewed as an outcast to society. Similarly, Delia was thought to believe herself an outcast amongst the community they lived in during their time in Zambia.

     Another resemblance was the man who was killed. Chase Andrews, the character that died in the book, was no saint: he manipulated, , assaulted, and cheated on Kya.

      Delia compares Chase to the poacher that was killed in Zambia. While poaching is legal in Zambia, it is seen as unethical by many other countries.

     Many additionally theorize that the Owens family did commit the murder, not just because there is a lot of evidence against the family, but also because Delia’s book ends with Kya admitting to the murder of Chase Andrews.

     Other similarities in the book include Sunday Justice, the name of the jailhouse cat that Kya encounters. Sunday Justice is also the name of the Owen’s cook at the camp in Zambia.

     The Owens couple is now settled in Northern Idaho with no intention of returning to Zambia. After trying to join the Bear Conservation group in Idaho, the Owens are now also allegedly hated by their neighbors.

      The Owens were quickly told: “this isn’t Africa.”

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