Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dian Fossey Life and Death

Plotting a Return

With singular determination, Dian Fossey spent three years plotting her return to Africa.

She maintained her job working with children at the Louisville hospital, primarily because she had mortgaged her future income to secure the loan for her trip abroad.

Zimbabwe and surrounding African countries
Zimbabwe and surrounding African
countries

But on weekends and evenings she focused on her avocation.

She tried without success to sell the film she had shot in Africa, and she submitted photographs of her trip to the National Geographic. Fossey also labored over several long magazine articles about her safari, which she sent to some of the nation's largest periodicals — Life, Saturday Evening Post, Reader's Digest.

She was rejected at every turn.

Instead of giving up, Fossey enrolled in the Famous Writer's School, the kitschy correspondence course that was popular with aspiring wordsmiths in that era. The Louisville Courier-Journal finally agreed to publish several stories about her adventure.

But her big break did not come from a magazine or a famous writer. It came from Louis Leakey.

In March 1966, three years after Fossey's safari, Leakey stopped in Louisville during a lecture tour. Fossey lined up with dozens of others to meet him after the speech.

"When my turn came, he gave a crinkly smile of recognition and gave my hand a good long squeeze." Fossey wrote. "I told him that all I really wanted was to spend my life working with animals — that had always been my dream, and I was especially interested in the gorillas on the Virunga mountains."

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