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Was Born Free author Joy Adamson killed by a lion — or murdered?

March 29, 1985

Dear Cecil:

A few years ago, I read that Joy Adamson, the author of the Born Free books, was killed by a lion. Then I read that she was murdered by a person or persons unknown who tried to make it look as though she'd been killed by a lion. Did anyone ever find out exactly what happened to her?

Dear Richard:

The official word is that she was stabbed to death by a disgruntled former employee. Ms. Adamson, it seems, got along better with four-legged animals than she did with two-legged ones. This seems to be a chronic problem with animal researchers — you may recall the unhappy case of gorilla researcher Dian Fossey, whose relations with others were often hostile and who in 1985 was also murdered.

Adamson's body was discovered by her assistant, Peter Morson (or maybe it was Pieter Mawson — there is a distressing amount of confusion in the press on this point), on the evening of January 3, 1980, on a road near her camp in a remote part of Kenya. Morson/Mawson jumped to the conclusion that she'd been mauled by a lion, and that's how the death was first reported in the American media, always suckers for the cheap ironic twist. (Born Free, to refresh your memory, tells the story of one Elsa, a lion that Ms. Adamson and her husband George raised as a cub and then returned to the wild.)

Later, however, police concluded that Ms. Adamson's wounds were too sharp and bloodless to have been caused by an animal, and they decided the 69-year-old naturalist had been murdered with a sharp instrument. They began questioning former employees — Ms. Adamson apparently was in the habit of sacking the help right and left — and eventually a 23-year-old herdsman named Paul Wakwaro Ekai was charged with the crime.

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