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A bloody year: Bizarre crimes that shook the nation in 2021

Private bikers outside Kitengela Police Station in protest of the brutal murder of four young men reportedly mistaken for cattle thieves in Kitengela, August 15, 2021. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Looking back, the year presented Kenyans with some of the most bizarre criminal acts. From gruesome murders to daring heists. From puzzling crimes of passion to sophisticated jail breaks from some of the most guarded institutions. The Sunday Standard goes back and looks at some of the crimes that gripped the nation’s attention.

In the early days of 2021, the nation was gripped by the murder of 55-year-old US-based nurse Nicholas Njoroge Warunge. His brutal murder – dying from blood loss as a result of 34 stab wounds – made news headlines across platforms. On that fateful day he wasn’t the only victim. Four other family members met their deaths on the same day too. Investigations fingered Njoroge’s son, a university student, as the main suspect in the murders.

After having a tumultuous love life, Nairobi-based lawyer Koki Musyoka finally met the man who she thought would provide protection and solace for her. Instead, the West African man whom she had met at a city gym turned into her worst enemy. After inviting the man to her house, what was meant to be a catching-up supper turned tragic as a lover’s brawl escalated into a murder. By morning, Koki lay dead and the man, Christian Mwambay Kadima, was on the run. He was later arrested on the outskirts of the city. The case is still ongoing.

Although death dominated the crime scene, other bizarre acts of crime also made it to the headlines in 2021. For instance, the curious case of the discovery of a stash of cocaine at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, one of the most vigilante on the continent, but with no owner. The cocaine was packaged as books, with the powder packed within hollowed-out books. The trafficker was perhaps falling for one of the most recounted stereotypes – if you want to hide something from Kenyans, put it in a book. Unfortunately for them, this was the one time a Kenyan decided to pick up a book and read.

However, the cocaine bust was not the most daring crime of the year. It did not even make it to the top of the Daring Crimes List for January. On the 20th of that month, a group of four men in reflector jackets walked into a bank along the busy Mombasa Road, commandeered a cash in transit vehicle, offloaded courier bags containing cash and melted away into the city. No shots were fired, no alarm raised. The only evidence being CCTV footage that captured the entire episode.

Unfortunately, though, violent crimes continued to dominate. On January 21, Margaret Muchemi let her estranged lover into her home unaware of what the man’s intentions were. Nobody knows the conversations that happened after that, but hours later, her house was up in flames. Within the ash and rubble was her body, limbs tied to the bed. The boyfriend, George Charles Olweny, went on the run only to be arrested a week later in Kayole after a dramatic confrontation with the police where he threatened suicide by jumping off his apartment block on more than one occasion.

For others who made the news, the year was a continuation of their woes from the previous year. Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko walked into 2021 with considerable baggage. Some of it political, some of it not. And 2021 proved even harder for him. After losing his governorship in the previous year, he found himself in jail, facing a multitude of charges. Eventually, a successful bail application and some health complications saved him from spending more time behind bars.

Rogue matatu operators

Every so often, Kenyans are reminded of the chaos within the hardly regulated public transport sector that is responsible for moving almost 90 per cent of the country on a daily basis. It is not just the arbitrary pricing by operators. It is a reminder of the danger that the rogue operators pose to all of us. Every so often we are reminded that the chaos can be fatal. As fatal as the death of banker Judy Wanjiru who was pushed out of a moving matatu belonging to Memba Travellers Sacco by its crew. The injuries led to her death. Unfortunately, her death went unnoticed within the matatu sector, which continues to operate within the limits of lawlessness.

The year continued to show that in most cases, the person who is most likely to harm you is not the stranger you dread, but rather the friend you hold in high regard. Caroline Wanjiku, 38, went missing two days to Valentine’s Day. Four days later her mutilated body was found in Kajiado. Evidence showed she was tortured and left to die. She was last seen in the company of close friends with whom she also had business dealings.

Sometimes premonitions of death manifest themselves in their victims beforehand. Unfortunately, those who are let into this deeply personal life of premonitions are either ill equipped to handle them, just do not know what to do or tend to look the other way. Jenifer Wambua, a deputy director at the National Land Commission (NLC), had spoken of being weighed down by the responsibilities that came with her job and the various cases she was to appear in court over by virtue of her position within the commission. Some of them were multimillion-shilling cases that pitted her against high-profile individuals. Her final days were characterised by a concern over her safety. She went missing on March 12. A week later, her body was found in Ngong, with postmortem results confirming she had died from strangulation.

Crimes of passion continued to dominate. But few were as emotive as that of university student Velvine Nungari, suspected to have been lured by a patron to the club she worked in as a waitress before being drugged, sexually abused and had her back broken in the process. Velvine died days later at Kenyatta University Referral Hospital from various complications as a result of injuries sustained during that night. Her death became a rallying call against rising cases of femicide in the country.

The media was not untouched by the spate of crime. Long-time video editor at State broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), was murdered in her home. Gunmen accosted her as she got into her compound, ordered her out of her car, walked her into her bedroom before shooting her dead.

The year also brought to the fore suspected police abductions with the disappearance of four men from a bar in Kitengela. Bodies of three of the four men were later found in different locations within Murang’a County. Another abduction, that of security analyst and former Kenya Air Force officer Mwenda Mbijiwe also shocked the nation. Mbijiwe went missing on June 12 and has not been seen since. In both incidents, families and human rights activists have alleged police involvement. The police have however denied any involvement in the two cases.

It also took a death to open up conversations around mental wellness within the medical field. After having a troubling year with the strain that the Covid-19 infections put on medical practitioners, it is the suicide of paediatrician Lydia Wahura that brought to the fore the strains that those within this noble profession go through. The doctor was found on the backseat of her car, a typed out suicide note next to her.

For more than a week, the country was gripped by what was quickly turning out to be one of the most dramatic fugitive hunts in the country when Caroline Kangogo went on the run after killing two men – a policeman and a businessman – with whom she was believed to have had romantic relationships. Kangogo melted into the wind with sightings spooking many, even leading to the shooting of a woman after a case of mistaken identity. Kangogo though was not apprehended and her life story in the public ended as it had begun, with death. Only this time, the death was hers. She was found dead in a bathroom in her father’s compound, a single bullet wound to her head and a pistol on the ground.

Nothing tugs at the heart like the murder of a child. But when these murders are multiple, and by the hand of one man, then the hearts of millions of people around the country are shattered into little pieces, broken from the thought of what the world has become.

Masten Wanjala confessed to the murders of at least 12 children around the country, walking investigators to the various crime scenes and describing in detail how he snuffed out the lives of the minors. Wanjala, who was a trusted football coach to some of the children would later, under unclear circumstances, escape from custody and end up in Bungoma where he too would meet an equally brutal end at the hands of irate neighbours.

There are deaths, such as that of Agnes Wanjiru, that sometimes force nations to attempt to relook their relationships. Agnes was murdered a decade ago by a British soldier based in Nanyuki. Her death brought to the fore once again the strained relationship that Kenya has with her former colonial master and the intricacies of transnational crimes. Calls for the extradition of Agnes’ killer were answered with non-committal responses from Her Majesty’s government.

Commitment issues were front and centre when Benson Imbatu went rogue, killing six people, including his girlfriend, before turning the gun on himself. Imbatu, adding to the long list of police officers who violently lash out on those around them, often with fatal results before tragically ending their own lives.