Best-selling Author’s Family Once Implicated in Murder Eerily Similar to One in Her Book

Photo: Vulture

Life, sure, it imitates art. Sometimes, though, art can’t help but imitate life. Best-selling novel Where the Crawdads Sing, written by 70-year-old Delia Owens, has swept book clubs for months, even earning a seal of approval from Reese Witherspoon, who added it to her book club and signed on to produce a film adaptation in 2018. It even reigns as 2019’s top-selling book. But Slate has uncovered that the author has a past that sounds strikingly similar to the murder central to the story. While living in Zambia (after being asked to leave Botswana), Owens, her husband, Mark, and her stepson, Chris, took it firmly upon themselves to protect endangered elephants. When a poacher was murdered, her stepson and husband were implicated by witnesses, prompting the Zambian government to ask them to leave the country until the case is solved. The story is familiar: Nature lover firm in their convictions is forced to reckon with a crime. Reese’s Book Club readers will realize that it’s more or less the plot to Where the Crawdads Sing. (The crawdads would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.) In the novel, Kya, a girl raised in southern marshlands, is accused of murdering a wealthy white man. For the bulk of the book, she is portrayed as gentle and naïve, a simple girl who just wants to commune with nature. The townspeople who always hated her force her into a murder trial. This girl, who denies the confines of civilization, who just wants to hang in the marsh, couldn’t have murdered anyone, except, as you find out in the end, she did. Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote a 2010 New Yorker piece about the incident in Zambia, told Slate that readers reached out to him after recognizing the similarities between the two stories. Kya ends up being acquitted, but the investigation in Zambia is still open to this day. You can read more about the real 1996 murder through Slate or the New Yorker. (Or maybe just by picking up a copy of Where the Crawdads Sing.)

Slate Reveals Backstory of Mark and Delia Owens