Of the many deaths of PCVs in the Peace Corps,  none is more tragic than that of William Henry Olson (Ethiopia 1965-66) who was killed by a crocodile in the Baro River outside the village of Gambella in western Ethiopia in April of 1966.

There are several written accounts of his death, two by Volunteers who were on the site at the time. The first was written by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67). It is a letter home to her mother on April 24, 1966, and was published in November 2000 on our old site, Peace Corps Writers. org. The other recollection of Bill’s death was written by Steve Buff (Ethiopia 1964-66) and also published on our site.

There is also a chapter about when happened in the Baro River in the book Eyelids of Morning: The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles & Men by Alistair Graham, a zoologist and a native of Kenya. The photographs for this book are mostly taken by the famous Peter Beard, author of The End of the Game. Their book was published in 1973.

More background information on Bill Olson can be found in ”Recollections and reflections” written by Wayne Handlos (Ethiopia 1962-64) that appears on the Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCV website. Wayne had befriended Bill at Cornell and kept in touch with him by mail during his Training at UCLA and after Bill went to Ethiopia.

Let me begin there, with Wayne’s story of  Bill in college in 1964, but first let me quote from Kathleen Coskran’s letter to her mother, written in the weeks following Olson’s death. Kathy would write home: ”In my last letter I didn’t give you many details because I didn’t want to unduly alarm you, but it seems the PC has already done that so I’ll tell you just how it happened. But, before I do, and I don’t want to preach, I just want to say don’t worry about me. Also, I, too, keep thinking about Bill’s parents. I know this must be unbearable for them, but he loved the Peace Corps and he was doing something he felt was good and worthwhile. His death was tragic but he didn’t die without accomplishing something.”

Part One