By: Marlee Johnson
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was recently adapted into a film with Reese Witherspoon’s stamp of approval and a new Taylor Swift song for the credits. It grossed 17 million dollars on opening night alone, and with its 24 million dollar budget, it is safe to say the audiences loved it. Yet Owens’ troubling past came to play when her 1996 documentary with ABC was rediscovered.
The film features Delia and Mark Owens’ conservationist efforts to help stop poaching in Zambia. Not so controversial. But when the documentary shows Mark Owens’ son killing an alleged poacher, controversy is inevitable. Despite Delia Owens’ publicly denying this allegation in a 2010 New York Times interview, she and the rest of her family are still wanted for questioning regarding this murder in Zambia. Government officials have never pressed charges for the murder, only stating that they want to interview her as “a possible witness, co-conspirator, and accessory to felony crimes,” and, since the United States and Zambia do not have an extradition treaty, she still currently resides in the US.
What is particularly interesting is the similarities between Delia Owens’ past and her novel. The story revolves around Kya who is a community outcast wanted for a model citizen’s murder. The plot centers around her innocence with a few community members helping her throughout this time, one of them being a lawyer taking her case pro-bono. Owens’ makes a particularly good case, making the murder seem impossible. Yet in the very last scene, where Kya is old and dying, it is revealed that she did in fact commit this murder, in self-defense. The man she killed stalked and tried to assault her, and, with no support from the community, she had no choice but to kill him. While this story is heartfelt, many viewers can’t help but notice the similar details between this and the murder of a poacher. Life or death motivation, a conservationist main character, and no punishment for the murderer seem to carry over between Owens’ personal and fictional life. Yet all of this is still speculation. No one has been convicted or even formally investigated for this crime. This being said, Owens, whether she participated in the murder or not, has still created an empire over a mysterious, yet almost obvious, speculative murder.