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‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ Author, Delia Owens, Has A Life Story That Is Stranger Than Fiction

And it all took place in Africa.
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Warning: This story contains major spoilers about Where The Crawdads Sing.

As per most award-winning books, it’s only a matter of time before they get the film treatment.

The latest to be adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster is award-winning novel Where The Crawdads Sing, which Reese Witherspoon has brought to life through her production company, Hello Sunshine, and famous faces like Daisy Edgar-Jones and Taylor Swift.

Written by established author Delia Owens, the 2018 book tells the story of a woman named Kya, who lives in North Carolina marshland and has had to raise herself from childhood. After being ostracised by a local town, Kya grows close to two men, Tate and Chase, and a love triangle ensues. However, when Chase is found dead, Kya quickly becomes the primary suspect.

Of course, the nature of the story itself isn’t exactly farfetched. After all, incorrect suspicions of murder happen more frequently than we’d like to believe. But when fans of the book began speculating whether Where The Crawdads Sing was based on fact, it unveiled a real case involving the 1996 death of a man in Zambia.

So, just how real is the book-turned-film? Here, we dive deep into whether Where The Crawdads Sing was based on a true story or not.

Where The Crawdads Sing
Where The Crawdads Sing

Is Where The Crawdads Sing based on a true story?

To cut a long story short: no, Where The Crawdads Sing is not based on a true story.

In the book, after Kya is accused of Chase’s murder, she goes on trial. And while she was not convicted, the last few pages of the book reveal that she did actually kill Chase. The end of the story sees Kya live happily ever after with Tate, only to pass away at 64 from a heart attack. Going through her belongings, Tate discovers that she has been publishing poems under a pen name with one of the poems seemingly confessing to the murder. Tate also found Chase’s necklace that was missing from the crime scene paired with the poem.

As for why Kya killed Chase is left to readers discretion, however, throughout the story it’s made clear that he mistreated Kya terribly. While they were seeing each other, he dated, tricked and cheated on her, even getting engaged to another woman while telling Kya that he wanted to marry her. On top of this, he goes back to see Kya, where he attempts to sexually assault her. A month later, he is found dead.

And while the details of this fictional story are simply narrative, it turns out that the book’s author, Delia Owens, reportedly may have information of interest to a similar true crime case. 

Why is Delia Owens sought for questioning by police in Zambia?

Delia Owens is reportedly sought for questioning in relation to a suspected fatality in the south of Africa from almost three decades ago. At the time, she was known for her animal conservation work before she became a best-selling author, but it was her time in conservation work that has seen her name sprawled across headlines.

According to a report by The Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, Lillian Shawa-Siyuni, Zambia’s director of public prosecutions has said that Delia is sought after for questioning in connection with the suspected death of aanimal poacher in Zambia whose shooting was captured on video in 1996. Neither the victim nor the shooter have been publicly identified, and a body was never found. However, the footage was used in an ABC News documentary called Turning Point, which led to an uproar amongst Zambian locals and viewers worldwide.

Helping to reduce poaching efforts in Africa throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Delia and then-husband Mark’s lives were documented by journalist Meredith Vieira, who shadowed the couple while they worked to save animals in Southern Africa. During her time with the pair, she captured controversial footage of a suspected poacher being shot, however the identity of the shooter was never released. Not long after the episode aired, the Zambian government opened a homicide investigation to get to the bottom of the incident.

“The bodies of the poachers are often left where they fall for the animals to eat,” Vieira says in the video as the cameraman steps closer to a blurred victim lying on the ground, as per The New Yorker.

Where The Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens at the ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ premiere

According to Vieira, the ABC documentary crew were apparently allowed to follow along with the patrol, as long as they didn’t identify anyone involved if a shooting did take place, as per The Huffington Post.

The ABC cameraman went on to become a key witness in the case, claiming that Mark had flown three people to the site of the shooting. Once they were dropped at the site, Mark left the scene before a suspected poacher arrived. The ABC cameraman claimed that he began filming just in time to capture the firing of the second and third shots. As for the whereabouts of the suspected poacher, his body was never discovered and the cameraman avoided disclosing how their group was removed from the scene.

Not long after the footage aired, the Owens family chose to move back to the United States claiming that the poaching culture pushed them out. No charges have been filed against the Owens family, and Delia herself is not a suspect, despite being sought for questioning by the Zambian government.

Upon their return, Mark and Delia moved to a remote area of northern Idaho called Boundary County and continue to deny any involvement in the apparent killing. Despite this, local authorities in Zambia are reportedly still looking to speak with Delia and her ex-husband Mark Owens.

“There is no statute of limitations on murder in Zambia,” Lillian Shawa-Siyuni, Zambia’s director of public prosecutions, told The Atlantic. “They are all wanted for questioning in this case, including Delia Owens.”

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