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Puzzle of serial killer preying on sex workers in Nakuru town

By Steve Mkawale | Updated Sun, January 24th 2016 at 00:00 GMT +3
Nakuru sex workers demonstrating along Government road in Nakuru town demanding security from police officers after falling victim of frequent killings in the town. They allege that six of them have been killed in the streets so far .The county commisioner assured them of their security adding that the investigations are going on concerning the killings. (PHOTO:KIPSANG JOSEPH/STANDARD)

A serial killer is on the loose in Nakuru town, targeting unsuspecting commercial sex workers. In a span of three months, between October last year and this month, seven commercial sex workers have been murdered and police are still groping in the dark trying to unravel the macabre killings.

Officers investigating the killings arrested a woman on January 13, held her for two days and released her unconditionally. Later on Monday January 18, the officers arrested a man in connection with the killings who is still in police custody.

This is not the first time that sex workers have been targeted by a serial killer.

In 2010, Philip Onyancha admitted in court to having killed up to 19 people, mainly prostitutes, and drinking their blood in a span of one year. Onyancha is serving a 12-year jail term.

Commercial sex workers in the town have held demonstrations against the killings and appealed for protection from security officers. Their protests and appeals have yielded little fruit.

And now a section of leaders from the area want prostitution legalised arguing that commercial sex workers have a right to operate in a conducive environment.

Famous street

Speaking to The Standard on Sunday, Nakuru Town East MP David Gikaria said he was in the process of preparing a Bill to legalise prostitution.

“I will seek the help of fellow legislators to push through legalisation of prostitution because that will make the trade legal and safeguard the lives of the sex workers. This will enable them operate in a conducive environment,” he said.

Supporting his colleague, the Nakuru Town West MP Samuel Arama argued that prostitution is a ‘harmless’ act and therefore should not be considered a crime. Gikaria claimed that the seven women who have lost their lives would be alive today if sex trade was legal.

“They would not be operating in dark alleys were the trade legal. I have to do something about this,” he said.

Arama argued that “there is nothing immoral about sex, and . . . there is no harm in charging for it”.

The latest killing was that of Maureen Wanjiku whose body was found inside a rickshaw (tuktuk) at Freehold, Kanu Street on Monday night. Police arrested Aston Wachira, the main suspect in the serial killings.

Wanjiku was a known prostitute plying her trade in the famous street. Police said they found the tuktuk parked in a dark alley and when they went closely to check it, they spotted Wachira who was sweating.

On checking inside the tuktuk, police saw the body of Wanjiku placed on the passengers’ seat and recovered a knife concealed in Wachira’s trousers.

Wanjiku, the police said, had been strangled and not stabbed. Wachira has since been arraigned in court. The first in the series of killings was reported in October last year when the body of a woman identified as Esther was discovered in a house at Lake View Estate.

Esther, 23, was a known prostitute who operated along the Kanu Street in Nakuru town. She had been last seen on the same street talking to a prospective client. Two days later her decomposing body was discovered inside her house.

Her neighbour, Millicent Njeri, a fellow sex worker, was the last person to see Esther alive – a few days before her body was discovered.

Millicent said she discovered that her friend had been killed when she went to her house to ask for a packet of condoms.

“When I knocked at her door, she did not answer and I was concerned and called the police,” she says.

Njeri says when the police arrived, they broke into the house only to be met with the decomposing body.

“Esther’s body was face down on her bed. She was naked and her clothes were neatly folded on a chair next to the body,” says Njeri.

“It was clear she had been killed two days earlier by a client because used condoms lay on the floor.”

She says her head was disfigured perhaps after being hit with a blunt object. She had stab wounds on other parts of her body. This incident marked the beginning of systematic disappearance and killings of prostitutes in the town. Several of the victims were disfigured in what police suspect could be the work of a serial killer or killers.

Others killed on the same street between October and December are Joan Muthoni and Jane Waithera.

Their bodies were found dumped on the road. It was Waithera’s body that bore the marks of a ruthless killer that sent shockwaves in the town. The naked body with eyes gauged out was discovere in a tunnel on Kanu Street.

The 38-year-old had been bludgeoned to death. Her neck had also been broken.

“The sight was bizarre,” said one of the women who was among the first people at the scene.

In early December, the body of Naomi Ngina was found near Kinamba Petrol Station. Police said she had been spotted prior to the murder with a client heading to a hotel.

Still in December, the body of Shammin Mukusa was found on Gusii Road, with several knife stabs.

On January 7, the body of Grace Wangari was found in a hotel room after entertaining a client described as a “middle-aged-man”.

Wangari’s death sent detectives on a wild goose chase leading them to Baringo where they arrested 51-year old Linah Cherutich.

The national identity number and phone number listed in the client's room details led to Cherutich. Police arrested her on January 13 but after interrogation, she was released on January 15. Cherutich said she had lost her national ID ten years ago and someone may have picked it. Kenya Sex Workers Association led by spokesperson Daisy Achieng’ said the killings have left them a worried lot.

Innovative solutions

“These girls are now living in fear. They do not know who is next,” she said as she defended the actions of the association members.

“It is a profession, whether people like that term or not, and I am in that profession.”

She said police have not done enough to protect them and the only logical thing is to legalise their trade.

Miriam Macharia, another sex worker said she once brushed shoulders with death when one of her clients turned violent. She accuses some hotel owners of colluding with clients to frustrate commercial sex workers.

“As a sex worker, I have no recourse when a client decides to throw me out of a hotel room without paying,” she said, adding that she was once thrown from the second floor of a hotel building after the client accused her of stealing from him.

Prostitution is illegal in Kenya but sex tourism thrives especially at the Coast where poverty and low education levels have contributed to high infections of sexually transmitted diseases. Achieng’ says sex workers should not be stigmatised.

“We advocate for the decriminalisation of prostitution as this can significantly reduce violence against sex workers,” she says.

According to a report by Open Society Foundation, sex workers are affected by stigma, discrimination and lack of legal protection.

But the call to legalise prostitution has rattled youth leaders in the county who feel that it is not the way to go. Maggy Kiiru, a Member of the County Assembly, nominated by the Jubilee Coalition to push the youth agenda, said it was a disgrace for elected leaders to push for the legalisation of prostitution.

“Prostitution is simply immoral and should remain a crime under the statutes. Legalising prostitution would increase the spread of STDs,” said Ms Kiiru.

The youth leader observed that since most sex workers were female, the practice was demeaning to women and enhances chances of rape and violence. She challenged Gikaria to come up with more innovative ways of helping jobless youths.

Nakuru County Commissioner Joshua Nkanatha said police were still connecting the dots in the murders.

“There are a lot of concerned people looking for answers and security officers are doing all they can,” he said. Nakanatha said the trend was worrying but they would get to the bottom of it.


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