Who Was The Killer in Where the Crawdads Sing?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who was the killer in Where the Crawdads Sing? What’s the proof of his or her guilt?

The question of who was the killer in Where the Crawdads Sing is the big mystery of the book. The story moves between the present day murder trial of Chase Andrews, and the life of main character Kya Clark. Eventually, Kya goes free, and the question of who was the killer in Where the Crawdads Sing is revealed at the end of the story.

Who Was the Killer in Where the Crawdads Sing? The Burden of Proof

Where the Crawdads Sing partially centres around a small town murder, with a local woman named Kya accused of murdering a popular man from town named Chase Andrews. But who was the killer in Where the Crawdads Sing? First, the trial.

The prosecutor, a man named Eric Chastain, was called to present his case first. He had a number of witnesses to call, each with damning evidence against Kya. 

He called: 

  • Rodney Horn, who’d been out fishing when he and a buddy heard a woman screaming. They saw Kya, partially undressed, kicking Chase Andrews while he lay on the ground. The last thing they heard was Kya screaming that if Chase touched her again, she’d kill him. 
  • The coroner, who testified about the injuries sustained by Chase and the red fibers found on his jacket. The prosecution focused on injuries that pointed to Chase falling backwards, as though pushed, and the match between the fibers on the jacket and those of the hat found at the shack. 
  • Sheriff Jackson, who testified about finding the body and the investigation. He said they determined it was foul play because of the lack of evidence at the scene. 
  • Larry Price, the bus driver between Greenville and Barkley Cove. Mr. Price confirmed that it was possible to travel between the two towns multiple times in one day. He also said none of the passengers on the bus the night Chase died looked like Kya. But there was a young white man, tall and thin, wearing a big blue cap. He said the passenger kept his head down and didn’t look at anyone. Mr. Price thought it was possible that Kya disguised herself to be that skinny man. 
  • Joe King, who’d driven the 2:30 am bus back to Greenville the morning of October 30. Again, Mr. King said Kya was not on the bus, but there was an older woman with gray hair. She was also tall. Mr. King said he guessed it was possible that the woman could have been Kya dressed up to look elderly. 

Although these witnesses’ testimonies painted a bad picture regarding Kya’s guilt, Tom was not deterred. He questioned each witness expertly, creating doubt about their statements. This detailed trial was meant to get further into the mystery of who killed Chase in the book Where the Crawdads Sing.

  • Rodney Horn admitted it was possible that Kya was in trouble and defending herself when they saw her kicking Chase. 
  • The coroner admitted that Chase’s injuries would be similar if he’d simply fallen. He also said that fibers can stay on a jacket, even with washing, for years. 
  • Sheriff Jackson was forced to defend the logic regarding the lack of evidence. There was no indication that footprints or fingerprints had been destroyed and it was possible the tide had washed out the footprints Chase had made. There was also no real evidence whatsoever that suggested Kya was at the tower. The last blow to the sheriff’s testimony was a letter he’d written to the Forest Service three months prior asking for the tower to be fixed. The letter stated that the open grates were hazardous, and if something wasn’t done, a tragic accident could occur. 
  • Mr. Price admitted that he hadn’t thought the man on the bus was wearing a disguise until the sheriff suggested it and stated that the bus was late arriving to Barkley Cove that night. It was scheduled to arrive at 1:15 am but didn’t arrive until 1:40 am. 
  • Mr. King reiterated that Kya was not on the bus returning to Greenville and that there were no other buses making the trip that night. 

After Tom’s cross examination, court was dismissed, and Kya was taken back to her cell. So who was the killer in Where the Crawdads Sing? Was it truly Kya?

More Conjecture

The next witness on the prosecution’s list was Patty Love, and as she made her way to the witness box, Kya realized the ridiculousness of ever thinking this woman would have accepted her as family

Under Tom’s keen questioning, Hal relayed that the moon rose the morning of October 30 after they’d docked for the night at 2 am. He admitted it was too dark out and they were too far away to see what Kya was wearing that night. When Tom asked how he could be sure it was Kya from so far away, Hal responded she cut a particular shape in the boat, one they were all familiar with. But under pressure from Tom, Hal had to acknowledge that he could not positively say it was Kya he saw that night. The prosecution rested its case, believing they knew the answer to the question of who killed Chase in the book Where the Crawdads Sing.

The Defense

Everyone wanted to know: who killed Chase in the book Where the Crawdads Sing?

The morning Tom began his defense, he called Mrs. Singletary, the clerk at the Piggly Wiggly, to the stand. Mrs. Singletary testified to seeing Kya getting on and off the bus on the afternoons in question. As she spoke, the grocery store clerk glanced at Kya and remembered the unkempt barefooted girl who didn’t know how to count. Unbeknownst to anyone else, Mrs. Singletary had slyly given Kya extra change all those years, taking the money from her own paycheck to cover the difference. 

Tom’s intention was to support Kya’s alibi, but Mr. Chastain told the judge that there was no reason for the string of people slated to defend Kya’s boarding and unboarding of the bus to testify, for the fact of her riding the bus at those times was not in question. The judge asked Tom if he felt the need to bring more testimony if Kya’s presence on the bus was not in question, to which Tom begrudgingly admitted he didn’t. 

On redirect by Tom, Robert stated that Kya was a reserved and introverted person who preferred isolation in the wilderness. It had taken some effort to even get her to agree to come, so he could understand why she might avoid a crowded hotel. He thought the choice of the remote hotel suited Kya’s character. When Robert was finished, he took a seat behind Kya with the rest of her supporters. 

Last Chance

The trial continued to attempt to identify Kya as the killer in Where the Crawdads Sing. The last day of the trial began with Tom calling his final witness. It was Tim O’Neal, the owner of the shrimping company Hal and Allen worked for. He’d also been out that night in a separate vessel and seen the same boat as his crew members. But Tim explained that without the moon and no lights, it was impossible to make a positive ID about who was in the boat. Also, Kya’s boat was one of the most popular styles, and many people in town had similar boats. With that, the witness testimonies came to a close. 

Closing arguments followed a short recess, and the prosecution was up first. Mr. Chastain reiterated the evidence against Kya, adding that her lifestyle in the wild gave her specific knowledge about how to navigate the water and land in the dark. From where he was standing, the case against Kya was clear and worthy of a conviction of first-degree murder. 

Tom took a different approach. He started by locating himself as one of Barkley Cove’s residents who’d heard the stories and rumors about the Marsh Girl. His speech turned emotional when he spoke about the failure of the community to support a little girl left to her own devices, choosing to ridicule and ostracize her instead. He said only Jumpin’ and his community stepped up to help Kya survive as a child. If the community had stepped in and helped this girl, her life could have been different and a town full of people wouldn’t be prejudiced against her. 

Tom paused, preparing for his emotional ending. Despite her circumstances and lack of schooling, this woman, who Barkley Cove reduced to Marsh Girl, was now heralded as the Marsh Expert in scientific communities. He said it was time for this community to put aside their prejudices and see this woman for who she was. Let the persecution of this young woman finally be over. 

Who Was the Killer in Where the Crawdads Sing? The Truth Left Behind

After all the mourners had left, Tate walked to Kya’s studio and labeled the samples she hadn’t gotten to yet. Her looked at her collection, fifty years in the making, and knew he would keep it just as she’d left it. She’d wanted it donated to Tate’s lab, but he wasn’t ready to let go yet. But he wasn’t ready to find the answer to the question who was the killer in Where the Crawdads Sing.

There was an envelope that housed only one poem called “The Firefly.” The words described something unmistakable. Kya’s poem was about watching a lover fall into another world, taking his life and their love with them. Tate gasped. He made sure no one was outside before he reached for the smaller box. He didn’t need to open it to know it held Chase’s shell necklace. 

Tate sat at the table that night going over what must have happened the morning of October 30. He saw her disguised on the buses, riding the riptide and avoiding the moon based on her keen knowledge, luring Chase toward her, her hands on his chest as she moved him closer to the open grate. She knew how to cover her tracks and vanish without a trace. 

Tate made a fire and burned the poems and piece of rawhide the shell had hung from. He replaced the boards and wood. He took the shell to the beach and placed it on the sand, where it became just another shell among so many others. The tide came in and washed the shells back to sea, taking Kya’s secret with them.

The question of who was the killer in Where the Crawdads Sing was a shocking revelation at the end of the book. In this fascinating story, the mystery of who was the killer in Where the Crawdads Sing is only one of many surprises.

Who Was The Killer in Where the Crawdads Sing?

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Delia Owens's "Where the Crawdads Sing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Where the Crawdads Sing summary:

  • How Kya Clark's abandonment as a child affected her through her entire life
  • How Kya discovered love despite steep obstacles
  • The murder trial that embroiled Kya's town, and the ultimate truth behind the murder

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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