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How Nairobi man turned from grave robber to preacher

By Graham Kajilwa | June 20th 2016
Ex-grave robber John Kibera during the interview. [Photo: James Mwangi]

If he was to conduct his biggest heist of his time today, the former grave robber would be Sh2.4 million richer.

His Sh7 million home that he built from his five-year ‘career’ in Kitengela, now has a market value of Sh20 million.

John Kibera, 41, quit the ‘trade’ after his accomplices were shot dead and others lynched.

In his heyday, he would have not only attended the funerals but also participated in burial committees where he would give a Sh10,000 ‘seed’ contribution.

“My aim then was just to know where and when the deceased would be buried and how much the casket would cost and from which dealer it had been bought,” says Kibera.

On the night of the burial, Kibera and his team would go to the gravesite to retrieve the casket and other valuables.

“This took me just five minutes. At most may be seven,” he says. By that time they would have talked to the dealer who would buy the casket again at about 70 per cent its original price, which was pretty good for them.

This means if casket was Sh100,000, they would sell it for Sh70,000.

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“The most expensive casket we ever got was Sh800,000. This currently is almost Sh2.4 million,” he says.

Kibera and his team used to scout the obituary pages of newspapers, which they would use to discern how expensive the casket would be. If the obituary was a full page, it showed the affluence of the family.

The venue of the funeral committee meetings played a big role too. If it were in a big hotel or an uptown neighbourhood, that was a plus.

Lastly, they would determine the tribe of the deceased. Anyone from Central Kenya was a good target.

He, however, recalls a time when they robbed a gold casket in Maragua and they were ambushed by the community, which had kept vigil and who lynched his accomplices.

It is this horrifying incident that made him decide to conduct his very last heist.

“We dug out a casket at 3am but by 5am the vehicle meant to pick it up had not arrived at the famous Lang’ata Nairobi cemetery,” he recalls.

So they decided to call it quits and just as they approached the road, they spotted a newspaper vehicle. Not willing to let their overnight sweat go to waste, they hijacked it.

Minutes later, the vehicle was intercepted along Kenyatta Avenue where it was sprayed with over 15 bullets, killing two of his colleagues seated at the front. To save his life, he jumped into the casket and played dead.

But as the police were getting the casket out, Kibera’s instincts assured him of his safety if he utilised the moment.

“Everyone is afraid of the dead, even an officer with a gun. So I shook the casket and as the police were putting it down, I jumped out and took off.”

Since everyone was running for dear life, he did and his life was spared. It is then that he decided to surrender to the police, got saved, gave his Sh7 million home to a children’s home and served a six-month sentence at the Industrial Area Prisons.

It is in prison that he got a new calling of preaching the gospel to reform robbers.

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