Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dian Fossey Life and Death

Death Foretold

During 1984 and '85, Fossey became increasingly outspoken about the impact of tourism on the gorilla population. Importantly, she gave interviews to three Rwandan newspapers questioning the wisdom and intentions of the government's tourism plan. The stories must have seemed threatening to government officials, many of whom had side businesses that profited from the tourist trade.

In the fall of 1985, a series of odd incidents presaged Fossey's murder.

First, her pet parrots fell victim to apparent poisoning. A few days later, Fossey found the carved likeness of a puff adder — a venomous African snake — on the doorstep of her cabin. According to the region's black magic, this meant she had been marked with the curse of death.

Fossey noted in an Oct. 27 journal entry that she had received the apparent threat, but she paid little heed.

Exactly two months later, early in the morning on Dec. 27, 1985, someone broke into her cabin while she slept by knocking a hole in a wall.

Fossey apparently was awakened by the intruders, and she scrambled for a handgun stored in a bureau drawer. She got the gun and its ammunition clip in hand, but she was slain by two blows from a bush machete that cleaved open her head before she could use the weapon.

At sunrise, an African aide delivering coffee found her body splayed across the sofa. The floor glittered with broken glass from lamp globes shattered during the struggle. The mattress on her bed was askew, and a small table at the center of the cabin was overturned.

The crime scene indicated that Dian Fossey died fighting.

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