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Pathologist charged with stealing heart from corpse

By Faith Karanja | Published Wed, May 16th 2018 at 00:00, Updated May 16th 2018 at 00:01 GMT +3
Moses Njue Gachoki being escorted to the cells at Milimani court. He was accused illegally harvesting the heart of Timothy Mwandi. [George Njunge, Sttandard]

A pathologist suspected of stealing body organs from corpses was yesterday charged in a Nairobi court.

Dr Moses Njue, who was once the chief Government pathologist, was accused of secretly taking away a man’s heart while carrying out a postmortem on his body.

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The bizarre theft is alleged to have occurred at the Lee Funeral Home in Nairobi when the doctor did an autopsy on Mr Timothy Mwandi Muumbo.

Dr Njue appeared at the Milimani law courts barely a week after it emerged that the State had previously recommended his prosecution over another theft of body parts in Meru.

In the second case, he allegedly took away the dead man’s heart and kidneys while operating on his body at Meru’s Consolata Mission Hospital. The organs were only discovered missing by a separate team of doctors after the body had been exhumed.

Yesterday, Dr Njue, who used to carry out some operations assisted by his son, also a pathologist, was released on a Sh300,000 bail by Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi.

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He denied three counts of organ theft and destroying evidence.

Prosecutor Catherine Mwaniki did not oppose the release of the accused on bail but  told the magistrate to grant them strict bail after considering the magnitude of the offence.

The matter will be heard on July 3 and mentioned on May 28, 2018.

The first case claim that Dr Njue stole Mr Muumbo’s heart during postmortem and in the second, he is said to have destroyed the body organ knowing it would be needed as medical evidence.

The doctor is also accused of illegally taking out Muumbo’s heart from his body.

His son Lemuel Anasha Mureithi Njue did not appear in court yesterday and was ordered  to do so on May 28 in connection with the same case, which occurred on June 25, 2015.

Barely a week ago, a local daily revealed that Dr Njue had been the subject of a similar investigation, this time in Meru, in which a heart and a kidney were removed from the body of an administrator, also in 2015.

As a result, an order was issued last month by the Deputy Public Prosecutor that the pathologist, be charged with theft, destroying evidence and illegally removing parts from a body. The case has not yet been taken to court.

His alleged victim was a 70-year-old former civil servant, Benedict Karau, who had died of disputed causes, raising the suspicion of his lawyer son.

A tale of fishy medical findings, State-ordered exhumations and body organs being carried out of a surgical theatre in buckets emerged when the dead man’s family asked the court to order a repeat post-mortem three years after he had been buried.

Karau, a polygamist, died at the home of his third wife on March 2, 2015. But the order to prosecute the doctor who handled his body came last month after a review of the matter by the Deputy Public Prosecutor.

It had been prompted by a complaint filed by his son Charles Mwongela because of inconsistencies in the post-mortem report and the account of the old man’s death given by his youngest wife, Martha Gakou.

On the night her husband died, Martha told the family that the old man had choked on his food while taking dinner. Dr Njue’s post-mortem later stated that he had died of a heart attack but the family noted that his body had bruises and injuries on the head and hands. Oddly, the report also talked of alcohol in his veins yet Mr Karau was a long-standing teetotaler.

Alarm bells started ringing when the family discovered that Mr Karau’s body had been embalmed the same night it had been booked into the mortuary.

It had been taken to the dead house after the post-mortem where the third wife was represented by Dr Njue.

It is claimed that after the operation, also attended by Dr Scholasitica Kimani, Dr Njue had the heart, kidney and other body parts carried away in a container by a mortuary attendant.

Mr Karau was buried soon after, in March, 2015, at the home of his second wife in Ankamia location, Meru.

Troubled by rumours that there had been a domestic commotion on the night his father died, advocate Mwongela sought the assistance of a fellow lawyer, Prof Wangai Kiama, which led to the family asking the court to order fresh death investigations and a state-supervised exhumation.

The body was dug up on August 10, that year, and it underwent a second autopsy by a team comprising Chief Government Pathologist, Dr Johansen Oduor and Dr Sylvester Maingi as well as Dr Kimani and Dr Njue, both of whom had been involved in the first operation.

The team was shocked to discover that some of Mr Karau’s organs were missing. And according to Dr Oduor, the old man’s injuries were defensive, most likely inflicted as he defended himself.

Dr Oduor said they could not establish the cause of death without the heart and insisted that it would have to be traced.

According to a statement by one of the doctors, it was then that Dr Njue owned up, saying he had taken away the heart for more analysis and what he termed as “histology”.  The family said he never informed them and asked why he allowed them to bury the body without the missing organs.

Dr Njue’s colleague, Dr Kimani, said in a statement to the Medical Practitioners and Dentists’ Board that she did not consider it odd for Dr Njue to take away the board organs.

“I assumed he would inform the family of his decision since he was representing them. Unfortunately, I didn’t document it,” she said.

Mortuary attendant, John Gathenya, confirmed that he had been asked to carry away the body organ’s from the autopsy room.

In his statement to police, Dr Njue denied taking away the heart and kidney from Mr Karau’s body, saying they were disposed of.

Before his death, the old man had started sharing out his property among his children. He had shops and land in Ankamia and Mikinduri in Meru.