On June 2, this year, at a homestead in Thika’s landless area, crime scene investigators from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) discovered a badly decomposed body. It was lying next to the carcass of a dog.
A further search by the police in the homestead owned by Leah Njeri Githuka, 82, revealed more deaths had taken place. At least 20 chickens had died in the same compound.
The police had been called to the homestead by Nyumba Kumi officials who realised that the owner of the homestead had not been seen for a long time. It was the beginning of a mystery that started to unwind as police probed her death.
Behind the scenes, the investigation has revealed a deep-seated family feud between a mother and her immediate family members. Investigations by the DCI have now revealed that it took nine months for the family of the deceased to discover that their mother, whom they had been sending upkeep money, was long dead.
It is said the son, a senior Kenya Airways pilot, had put a bank standing order for the monthly cash transfer but police are yet to find the calls and transactions data to determine whom she last spoke to and whether the money was withdrawn.
Njeri, a retired teacher and businesswoman, lived alone at the home. She had no workers at her homestead and relied on her son for survival.
Every month, this well-to-do son sent his mother a Sh20,000 monthly stipend. This money was sent from the son’s bank account into her mother’s mobile phone.
But what has now shocked even neighbours is how even the son who sent the mother money on a monthly basis, continued sending the cash without knowing that his mother was long dead. Another son, who lived only 300 metres away from Njeri, did not know that she was dead until June 2, when the police from Makongeni informed him.
Police officers had been informed by a granddaughter that Njeri was missing from her home. The granddaughter, who lives in South Africa, had travelled home to visit her grandmother. On reaching the home in Thika, she was shocked to find that her grandmother was not at home.
The homestead appeared abandoned with overgrown vegetation. After informing the police at Makongeni, DCI officers visited the home for a fact-finding mission.
The police had to first hire workers to clear the bushes that inhibited their access to the home. And after hours of clearing them, investigators stumbled on a decomposed body.
The body was found under a mango tree in the home. Next to the body, was a carcass of a family dog, about two metres. Further scrutiny of the home revealed decomposing carcasses of the family’s 20 chickens.
It wasn’t clear what might have killed the dog, the chicken and the family matriarch, whom the family was able to identify from the clothes that she wore. John Kimani, a Nyumba Kumi official who spoke to The Standard said Njeri was last seen in the neighbourhood last September when she attended a social event.
Kimani said after the event, neighbours did not see her again and assumed that she could have travelled to visit her relatives in the US.
Another Nyumba Kumi official Njogu Muiruri told The Standard that they got suspicious after the retired teacher was not seen around the estate and the gate to her home remained locked for a long time.
“She lived alone and rarely engaged with anyone. But after missing since last September, we had to make efforts to contact family and the area chief,” noted Njogu.
The retired teacher’s immediate neighbour who shares a security wall, an evangelic preacher Isaac Njoroge, said Njeri was a reserved person who loved her space.
“But after the home remained quiet for long, I called the Assistant Chief who recommended that we sent one of the family members to the police to seek permission to break into the house to assess the situation. The police broke into the house and found nothing. They returned and cleared the vegetation. That is when they found the decomposed body,” he says.
Njoroge claimed Njeri’s youngest son Charles Githuka had told them that his mother had warned him from visiting her. A call to Charles Githuka was received with hostility. He was unwilling to give any information about the death of his mother. “It is a case of homicide and is at DCI. Go to them,” he said on the phone.
“There are so many people that are dead, why are you following this one?” DCI has not yet established whether the case is a homicide.
On her last day of public appearance, Njeri was seen exchanging pleasantries with her neighbours and even asked them to visit her for a cup of tea. “She was a jovial woman though reserved. On that day, we were happy to see cucu (as she was referred to in the area). We did not hear about her until when we were told that she was found dead on her farm,” said Anne Waithira, a neighbour.
Her neighbours however say Njeri’s relative who lives in the same neighbourhood rarely visited her. “We don’t know why this relative never visited but we hear that there were issues,” said Waithira.
An officer close to the investigations said the last time that a member of the family visited the octogenarian was last September. He said some of the family members had opted to stay away from Njeri after she slipped into depression.