Dead but no body

By Kepher Otieno

When Julius Oluoch left home to work in Mombasa seven years ago, his family was excited.

They believed he would supplement their efforts to meet daily financial obligations. But little did they know that he would never return.

He left Oruba village in Migori District and teamed up with his younger brother, Lawrence Odhiambo, who had moved there a year earlier. The duo rented a house at Mishomoroni estate and worked as painters. But in December 2005, Oluoch fell sick at around 8pm after returning from work.

"I rushed him to Coast General Hospital when he started coughing blood," says Odhiambo. At the hospital, he pleaded with the nurses to give Oluoch urgent treatment.

Died Too Soon

Mzee Philemon Owak and his wife during the interview. Kepha Otieno/Standard

Unfortunately, some medicine required were out of stock.

"I was told to buy drugs at a nearby pharmacy," he says.

On returning, he was told by a nurse that his brother had passed on. "I almost collapsed. They told me to take it easy," he says, almost shedding tears.

He demanded to see him but the watchmen said he had been taken to the hospital’s morgue. Still in disbelief, he asked them why they had removed him from the ward so fast. "They said they didn’t know I would come back. I felt it was unfair," Odhiambo says. They also claimed that leaving the body at the ward with other patients was against the rules.

Consequently, they asked him to return the following day to view the body. Odhiambo obliged and went home distressed. He alerted family members.

Another surprise awaited him. He was denied access to the mortuary and told he had reported at odd hours.

"The watchmen told me that the mortuary attendants were busy treating bodies and needed no disturbance," he says.

Mysterious Death

He was then given a note showing the name and time his brother’s body was taken to the mortuary.

"I didn’t doubt the documents because they bore real details. I took them and walked home," Odhiambo says. He travelled to Migori to plan the burial. Quick arrangements were done including a fundraising.

Then four members of the family were dispatched to Mombasa to bring the body. They bought a coffin and hired a vehicle for Oluoch’s final journey.

But there was no journey. The body was missing.

"We searched the morgue for one whole week and we didn’t find it," Isaiah Owak, his younger brother recalls. The hospital management at first suspected some people had picked the wrong body and promised to check the records. But strangely, all records showed the body had not been removed. Now the family believes that perhaps Oluoch is still alive since none of them saw his body.

They only relied on records from the hospital showing date and time of admission.

"We reported to Nyali Police Station and we were told to wait as they investigate," says John Otieno, Oluoch’s half brother.

The family then disposed off the coffin and returned home.

At home, preparations which were on top gear to accord him a decent burial inline with Luo traditions, were halted.

Anonymous Calls

Relatives and friends who had thronged the deceased’s home were shocked when they were told the body was missing.

Julius Oluoch who died at Coast General Hospital and his body disappeared.

To date, the search has been unsuccessful. The family says they have not received any communication from the police or the hospital management.

"We are now tired. We have given up," he says. Somene called them weeks later and said he had seen somebody resembling Oluoch in Nakuru town. They camped in Nakuru for two weeks searching. Other calls came from Mombasa and Kericho but their search yielded nothing. Such claims have thrown the family into confusion for four years. They are still waiting for his return or his body. His father Philemon Owak, 72, still believes that one day his son will return home.

Police promises

"I don’t believe he died. I never saw him. I was only told then I waited to confirm in vain," he says. "We have left all to God."

The family has refused to conduct a mock burial as per the luo customs. In such cases, a fig tree or banana stem is buried as the presumed body to exorcise evil spirits.

Mombasa OCPD Tom Odera told CCI that though he was not at the station when the incident was reported, he was willing to institute investigations. Odera claimed that there is still a chance of solving the puzzle.

"There is no way a body can just disappear from the mortuary, yet there are records that show who has removed or disposed it," he said.

Coast Provincial General Hospital chief administrator Helton Muganga also expressed willingness to assist in investigations.

"I was not here then but let them provide us with the details then we can trace what happened," he says. He wondered why the family had been quiet for so long.

"Let them come and explain their predicament. Four years is long period," Muganga says.

"We have been traumatised by the mysterious death and subsequent disappearance of the body. If anyone is willing to help, we can’t wait even a minute," Owak says.