Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dian Fossey Life and Death

Growing Up, Getting Out

Dian Fossey was born in 1932 in San Francisco. Her parents divorced when she was six. She was raised by her mother, Kitty, but probably inherited her father's constitution and more than a few of his biological flaws. Dian Fossey was destined to become a chain smoker and heavy drinker, like her father, George. She also was prone to depression, again like George Fossey, who committed suicide in his mid-50s.

Dian was raised by Kitty and her second husband, contractor Richard Price. Her stepfather was a taskmaster and her mother a worrywart, according to Fossey's account of her childhood.

She left home for college and never returned except for brief visits. Fossey began studying veterinary science at the University of California, but she transferred to San Jose State College and switched majors to occupational therapy. She graduated in 1954 and moved 2,000 miles from her mother, taking a job working with autistic children at a Shriners' hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

She grew into a striking young woman. A shade under six feet tall, she had a willowy build and a vast nest of coarse auburn hair.

Through her work she became acquainted with doctors and their wives, and through those contacts she developed an active social life in Louisville, cavorting with men from the city's social register.

Among her suitors were two brothers, Franz and Alexie Forrester, scions of a Rhodesian family with royal Austrian roots. In part through their influence, Fossey became smitten by Africa. Coincidentally, two other friends — a newspaper reporter and a society doyenne — had traveled to the continent By 1960 Fossey was obsessed with the idea of going on safari.

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