12 August 2005

Rwanda: Who Killed Dian Fossey?

Kigali — You can't talk of Mountain Gorillas conservation in Rwanda without mentioning Dian Fossey; commonly referred to as Nyiramachibiri. The two are technically inseparable. Read on for verification of this. Gorillas have been in the local and international press, most prominently, ever since the gorilla naming ceremony became public in Rwanda.

The naming used to be the work of the field operators.

While attending the extraordinary gorilla naming ceremony at Kinigi in Ruhengeri recently that also attracted hundreds of local and international personalities, a lot was said at the function by various speakers, but something was either technically ignored or wasn't of importance at all--Dian Fossey's contribution to Rwanda's conservation of mountain gorillas.

Late Fossey was an American zoologist known for championing conservation of mountain gorillas in Rwanda and later met her death in a mysterious manner. Her contribution towards Rwanda's gorilla conservation wasn't mentioned during the recent gorilla naming ceremony.

Dian Fossey was the first person to have voluntary contact with a gorilla, when one of them touched her hand. She was able to sit amongst them and play with them and their young. She became much attached to a particular young gorilla that she named Digit (RIP). She was able to watch him grow and he was very fond of her.

Fossey's findings on gorillas have helped scientists know much about gorillas--a thousand times more than what they knew before. Her gorilla conservation efforts that the current Rwanda government inherited and consistently improved and maintained have put the country as top on the world's best conservationists.

Dian's death still remains mysterious. There is a lot to be found out. There are still various reports circulating the world over about Fossey's death. No report has been officially adopted in confirmation of the manner of her death. The government of Rwanda, sadly, also hasn't instituted a commission of inquiry into Fossey's death.

Fossey burned poachers' houses, led anti-poaching patrols, placed bounties on poachers' heads, killed any of their cattle which strayed into her conservation area, and ordered her students to carry guns. (She did everything she could to protect the gorillas. Indeed). According to the Rwandan authorities, it is alleged that it was Zigiranyirazo, a local government official, who ordered her murder.

Fossey's mutilated body was found in her cabin at the Karisoke research centre in Rwanda, the isolated park where she had monitored the gorilla population for 18 years. She had been hacked to death with a machete.

Following this controversy, the Guardian, Saturday July 28, 2001 reported that Protais Zigiranyirazo the former Ruhengeri province governor accused of masterminding the savage murder of Dian Fossey had been arrested in Belgium and interrogated by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Zigiranyirazo is currently under the microscope of the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda, (ICTR) on charges of allegedly playing a key role in the planning of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered. Zigiranyirazo a.k.a Monsieur Z is accused of ordering Fossey's death in December 1985 because of her campaign against the poachers who were killing the mountain gorillas.

In her book, "Gorilla Dreams: The Legacy of Dian Fossey." US-based Georgianne Nienaber also an independent freelance Journalist writes that Field tracker Emmanuel Rwelekana and Wayne McGuire were formally charged and convicted of Dian Fossey's murder by the Court of the First Instance of Ruhengeri. Rwelekana's mistake was that he was associated with Amy Vedder who, (Vedder) hugged his associate,( the tracker), Nemeye, at the murder scene.

The secret police took the unusual greeting between a white woman and an African as some sort of sign of complicity. Vedder also tried to visit with Rwelekana while he was incarcerated for questioning, but was denied access. The animosity that existed between Fossey and the members of the Mountain Gorilla Project was well known in Kigali and Ruhengeri, and thus Vedder was questioned, but never charged with anything. She was caring for an infant child at the time and by any stretch of the imagination seemed an unlikely suspect. Rwelekana never had his day in any Rwandan court, refusing to sign a confession, and steadfastly professed his innocence until he was found hanged in his prison cell in August of 1986.

Rwelekana had been employed by Fossey for many years, and the two had many disputes. The former tracker was hired and fired more than once by Fossey, although she speaks highly of him in her writings. Other camp staff informed Fossey that Vedder's husband, Bill Weber, hired Rwelekana for more money. Fossey stated that although her men were "fiercely loyal," she could not keep matching the salaries Weber was offering.

When Fossey was murdered, Rwelekana was working for members of the Mountain Gorilla Project. In the end, Rwelekana left a wife and five children behind. Incredibly, McGuire remained at Karisoke for months, calmly continuing his research paper on; 'The role of male parenting in gorilla society'. He did not flee to the United States until his indictment was a certainty, almost nine months after the murder took place.

Why he managed to get out of the country unchallenged remains a mystery. Although he had purchased a round trip ticket, his return was highly unlikely when it was possible he would be facing death by hanging or a firing squad.

After his indictment and flight, McGuire's attorney, Michael Mayock, called a news conference in an effort to clear his client's name. He asserted his belief that the United States and the government of Rwanda engaged in a conspiracy to make his client a scapegoat in a murder. It was more expedient for international relations to have an American rather than a Rwandan charged with Fossey's murder. State Department spokesman James Callahan called Maylock's accusations "totally off the wall," since the United States had never rendered any opinion as to the possible identity of Fossey's killer.

McGuire had the misfortune to be the only white person in residence at camp the night of the murder. Kanyarugano, Dian's loyal houseman, was the first to enter the corrugated tin cabin. The tin wall was found to be missing the panel that covered the hole first carved at the foot of Fossey's bed during a 1980 burglary under A.H. (Sandy) Harcourt's watch. The houseman was going about his usual routine; ready to light the morning fire when he discovered the body and was absolutely terror stricken. The panicked staff summoned McGuire from his hut, which was 100 yards away, to Fossey's cabin, with frantic cries of -'Dian is dead'! McGuire's account of that early morning suggests but does not prove that the inhabitants of the camp reacted with confusion, terror and disbelief at what happened during that terrible night. McGuire's says he noted that the sheet of corrugated metal on the outer wall of Fossey's bedroom had been removed. The front door was usually locked, but was now open. It's not yet clear whether someone had come in through the opening in the wall and exited through the front door.

However, a contractor who worked on the reconstruction of Fossey's cabin, (years after the murder), maintained that it would have been impossible to remove a side panel quietly. His account doesn't address the possibility that the smaller, older patched opening had been utilized during the murder.

Reports are conflicting as to whether the door was routinely locked. The two rotating housemen had keys to Fossey's house and customarily let themselves in during the early morning hours to start the water for coffee. The house appeared to be ransacked, but Dr Philippe Bertrand, Fossey's friend, suggested that the disarray could have been caused by Fossey's frantic, last minute attempt to locate her hidden pistol. Dian's diary entry for December 3, 1985 states clearly that she put her gun, (mind you not guns) money and jewelry in a bottom drawer of her bureau. Incredibly, a gun, Fossey's passport, $1,200 in U.S. currency and over $1,700 in traveler's checks were left behind. Robbery was an unlikely motive in Dian's death.

There are many problems and inconsistencies with this theory which reveal the lack of a careful forensic examination at the scene, not to mention the preservation of evidence. Fossey was meticulous about record keeping. She dutifully registered her most recent handgun purchase.

The Oldham County Police department of La Grange, Kentucky sent a letter to the FBI shortly after Fossey's murder. The police department noted that Fossey directed a friend to purchase for her an Astra Constable blue steel .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol in the October of 1984.This gun replaced her Walther.380 which was previously stolen or lost.

Much controversy exists regarding accounts of the gun and clip found beside Fossey's body. Eyewitnesses say the gun was a 9mm. The theory was that she had hidden her gun, and as was her custom, stored the clip(s) separately. Probably when fossey was attacked, she ransacked the drawer where the gun was hidden, somehow grabbed the wrong clip; making it impossible to load and fire her weapon. Popular gossip said that she kept her gun under her pillow. If this were the case, why would it not be loaded?

Ruth Keesling recalls that there was still blood on the floor and mattress weeks after the murder.

Glass littered the floor, and remnants of broken kerosene lanterns and pressure lamps were everywhere. According to McGuire, the table in Fossey's bedroom had been overturned and the mattress had been pulled partially off the bed. Kathleen Austin conveyed a different picture of the crime scene to Nicholas Gordon. She said there was "a slight disorder" in the room. Dian's body was lying on the floor, but nothing had been overturned, even though the furniture was slightly moved.

Official reports indicate that there were no barbiturates found in her cabin. Varying accounts of the amount of blood directly impacts possible conclusions as to the manner of Fossey's death. Very little blood would indicate that she was either poisoned or strangled, or both. Rosamond Carr believes that she was strangled.

Death by multiple panga blows would produce much blood spattering. Eyewitness accounts are also in total disagreement as to the amount of blood and splattering.

Did Rwandan officials conduct a thorough and serious investigation? Was it simply bungled, or deliberately mismanaged? Ruth Keesling of the Morris Animal Foundation arrived at Karisoke shortly after the funeral and maintains that a blood stained panga was lying under Fossey's bed. Concerned about possible fingerprints, she says that she pointed it out to some military that were guarding the scene and one of them carelessly picked up the blade, wiped it with a cloth, and handed the cloth to her. "Here are your fingerprints," he leered.

On the morning of Fossey's murder, police were duly summoned on the archaic radio and eight hours later a procession of Rwandan officials made their way to Karisoke. The group included the Prefect Protais Zigiranyirazo, the public prosecutor Mathias Bushishi, the police captain Karangwa and a contingent of commandoes.

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