Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dian Fossey Life and Death

The Fossey Problem

Fossey had similar conflicts with Amy Vedder and Bill Weber, another young scientist couple who conducted research at the center. They later wrote a book claiming that Fossey got too much credit for her gorilla-study project. They went so far as to claim that Fossey rarely visited the gorillas because she was drunk much of the time.

Bill Weber with gorilla
Bill Weber with gorilla

A blunt letter that Frank Crigler, the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda, wrote to Fossey in 1978, after the killings of Digit and two other gorillas, gives some credence to their allegations. In his letter Crigler refers to "the Fossey problem."

"This town (Kigali) is awash in unfriendly 'Fossey stories' right now, all about your heavy drinking, gun slinging, and manic-depression. Some of it, at least, is reaching the Rwandan authorities," Crigler wrote. "There's a real danger that even well-meaning people could become convinced that Fossey is more of a liability than an asset to faunal preservation now. And those outraged letters to the Rwandan government from American conservationists, all of them citing your name, aren't helping matters either."

Making the same point as the former Belgian governor, Crigler went on to write that some people were "becoming increasingly convinced that they (the gorilla killings) are the results of a vendetta aimed at you personally. I take every opportunity to stress that... the government must crack down on the persons behind this vendetta. But there is nonetheless a tendency for some to want to take the easier way out, i.e., to remove the target of the vendetta."

He was referring, of course, to Dian Fossey.

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