The presidential motorcade was about to pass through Naivasha town in the last week of March 1973 when armed robbers struck.
It was a criminal operation executed with military precision. A get-away car blocked the entrance to the banking hall as a member of the gang pointed his gun at passers-by waving them away. In the banking hall customers and tellers were ordered to lie flat on the ground as the gang got into work, robbing everyone of money, wrist watches and any other valuables in sight. Told about the incident, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who was travelling from Nakuru to the capital got furious and said: “If they can do that when I am around, next thing they will do is to kill me. I won’t wait for that.”
Arriving in Nairobi, he summoned the Attorney General and the head of the police demanding to know what they were doing to stop the menace. Particularly, he wanted to know what punishment there was for an armed robber when caught.
Told the punishment ranged from 10 years to life imprisonment, strokes of the cane and hard labour, the President shook his head and asked the AG: “Are you telling me a gun-wielding gangster who kills an innocent citizen is allowed to live in this country? I want them shot dead when caught or sentenced to death if taken to court”.
The AG attempted to put up lofty arguments about human rights but Mzee cut him shot: “Are you telling me thugs have right to life and not the citizens? Anybody who kills must also be killed, full stop!” Told there was no provision for death sentence in the Kenyan laws, Mzee ordered: “Then go pass it in Parliament and bring me the Bill to sign into law within a week” The President had spoken. On March 29, 1973, the AG published the Bill and rushed it through Parliament. On April 4, it got a presidential assent into law. Henceforth, armed robbers would be threatened species. Robbery became a deadly affair for the victim and the culprit as well.
Roll call of the wicked
Talking of armed robbers, a couple of names come into mind. One is reminded of Philip Onyancha in the recent times. He combined robbery with Satanism – a devilish combination indeed. He would kill and drink the blood of his victims. It isn’t known what specific wrong women did to him because they were his main target. By the time law enforcers got to him and gave him a test of his own medicine, he was said to have killed 17 women and drank their blood!
When cornered by police, they pumped over a hundred bullets in him not believing a single bullet was enough to do the job.
There are several others in the gallery of the wicked. One John Kiriamiti, who reformed after cooling porridge for 14 years behind bars, has narrated his escapades as an armed robber in a book aptly titled: My Life in Crime.
He belonged to the 1970s generation of robbers whose kingpin was one Peter Mwea best known by the underworld name of ‘Wakinyonga’ (one who strangles)
He loved his evil art to the extent that though armed with a gun, he preferred to use his bare hands to hang or suffocate his victims to death. So daring was Wakinyonga that he would walk to a pub down River Road or in the slums of Kangemi and order for a beer his gun placed on the table.
He would order doors of a pub closed and hold everybody hostage and human shield should police strike. Meanwhile, he would pay for the entire stock and ask revelers to drink to their full but surrender all money and all valuables in their possession. Nothing offended him than a person who had gone to the pub with empty pockets. The punishment was to order such a person to kneel down and watch others drink. He couldn’t understand how a grown-up would walk to the pub without a coin and expect to go home staggering from drinks bought by other men.
Three other names come to mind – the trio of Antony Kanagi who went by crime name of ‘Wacucu”, Gerald Munyeria alias ‘Wanugu” and Simon Matheri in the 1990s generation of gangsters. Wacucu was gunned down in Ongata-Rongai township where he rented a single room where he entertained ladies of twilight.
He faithfully paid house rent for the prostitutes he kept and never let them know one another. Each knew him by a different name. When interrogated by police, the ladies of twilight said they knew him to do as many things for a living but none could pinpoint his exact place of work. One said he knew Wacucu as a tailor, another said he was a primary school teacher but said she never saw him with a book. Another one said he was a shoe-shiner but had never seen him with shoe-polish! Neighbours thought he was a night guard because he came home at six and locked himself indoors.
His end came when he unknowingly dated a girl who was a police informer. Like Samson in the Bible, the Delilah policewoman delivered Wacucu to the police who gunned him down in cold blood at his hide-out. My editors assigned me to cover his burial in Murang’a.
I was surprised at the hypocrisy in our society especially during burial ceremonies. Though Wacucu’s photograph had been all over the media as a wanted criminal and everybody knowing he was gunned down by police, all who spoke at the burial packaged him in a manner you would think they had come to bury a saint.
A priest had been hired to pray for his departed soul as his mother spoke of the ‘Christian’ young man she had brought up. She conveniently forgot to tell us what her son did in Nairobi for a living. But I was impressed that even the evil love their parents because Wacucu had constructed a nice house for the mother – much as the proceeds could have come from a victim of Wacucu’s gun whose mother had been left mourning.
Wolf in the coop
Another daring one in the list of the deadly and most wanted was one Daniel Cheruiyot alias Frank. He was once a police reservist but lied to everybody that he was a commissioned officer attached to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI). He had rented a flat next to a church building. Twice, he lured a police officer to his hide-out who he killed and took away their guns. Detectives found in his house 12 mobile phones and six guns two of which were military grade Uzi sub-machine-guns. He had been daring enough to once have called police headquarters and warned that he knew faces of policemen put on his trail and would kill them one after the other.
Then there was Kiarie wa Njoki also known as Kiarie Muici (Kiarie the thief). He was in real estate and owned one of the tallest buildings in the city’s Ngara area. He was creative and genius in his trade. As cover to his criminal enterprise, he had a car bazaar where he stocked top-range vehicles sold to would-be victims especially from the Asian community and expatriates working in Nairobi. He would insist on being paid in cash and delivering the vehicle to the buyer’s residence in the afternoon. Come the day to deliver, he would strike at the victims’ house few hours before delivery time knowing well his quarry would be having cash. To fake innocence, he would deliver the vehicle as agreed only to find the buyer in shock and police dusting the crime scene. Kiarie Muici was also known to be in cahoots with senior police officers with whom he shared the loot. He would give his schedule to rogue senior police officers who ensured there would be no police patrols where he was about to strike. That was Nairobi when criminal barons called - and literally fired - the shots.