Dian Fossey, also known as the Gorilla Girl, was a famed primatologist researching in Rwanda’s Ruhengeri Province and author of the bestselling book “Gorillas in the Mist.” She was found dead in her isolated cabin at the Mt. Visoke research site on December 27, 1985, killed by a machete blow to the face.
Fossey developed a reputation as a kind woman among her followers and devotees, but to her enemies, she could be ferocious. Over the course of her time in Rwanda, Fossey saw the devastating effects of poachers on wildlife in the region. The Rwandan officials that were supposed to enforce the law were often complicit in the poaching themselves. Her focus began to shift from research to conservation, taking it upon herself to combat the poachers and militantly protect the gorillas she studied. According to former associate Bill Webber, she tortured and kidnapped enemies; indeed, much of her own writing confirms this. She also gained a reputation as a witch, as she often used the locals’ fear of magic to scare them away from hunting in her research zone.
Despite the obvious enmity between Fossey and the local people, police initially looked at the members of her research team as their primary suspects. Right after her death, her entire staff was arrested and then slowly released for lack of evidence. Several months later, after having cleared him initially, Rwandan officials suddenly charged one of the researchers named Wayne McGuire with Fossey’s murder. However, he was conveniently tipped off about the accusation and able to leave the country and return to America, where the charges were not pursued. For this reason many believe this “resolution” to be a conspiracy by the Rwandan investigators, using McGuire as a scapegoat to protect the poachers and officials. In 2001, Protais “Mr. Z” Zigiranyirazo, who had been governor of the Ruhengeri region in 1985 and later tied to the Rwandan Genocide, was accused of ordering her death. The case remains open to this day. Fossey is buried in Rwanda, with the gorillas in the graveyard at her research site.