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Making of a murderer: How school principal Jane Muthoni planned and executed her husband’s killing

Jane Muthoni.

On the day she was handed a 30-year sentence for the murder of her husband Solomon Mwangi, the first request from Jane Muthoni to the prosecutor was that her daughter be granted custody of her cell phone, an item that had played a big part in implicating her in the murder of her husband.

For five years, beginning November 2016 when she was first charged, Muthoni stared at what was then just a remote possibility of serving a jail term for a crime that was only linked to her. But as her case played out in the public gallery, some of those who knew Muthoni said they were surprised with the turn of events in her life. Others, though, say the signs of a plotting woman who always got what she wanted through any means necessary were always there for those who looked hard enough to see.

But how did this former high school principal from a humble background end up weaving a meticulous murder plan while hoping to get away with it? It all began one Friday evening in November 2016 under the dim lights of Texas Bar in Kiriaini town, Murang’a.

On that day, Muthoni sat at one end of the table clutching on to a handbag. In it were copious amounts of prescription sedatives. She was deep in conversation with three men who seemed to have normalised the shedding of blood. There was only one agenda on the table; the taking of the life of the father of her children.

From that day on, the footprints of what was later to be known as Criminal Case No 86 of 2016 were being made in the sands of time that defined the lives of the people central to the case, including children born of the man for whom she was finalising details of an execution.

Murder, though, was never part of the grander scheme of things.

Ndogino village in Nyandarua is not famous. It does not stand out of the county map. It fades even further on the Kenyan map. Here, some 18km from Nyahururu town, the most famous person remains the area’s former MP Waweru Nderitu.

It is amidst the dairy cattle, the maize farms and expansive wheat fields that Muthoni grew up. Like all her neighbours, life was a strict mix of three things: school, farm work and church. The choices for church are not many in Ndogino. The evangelical wave of independent houses of worship seems to have left this part of the country slightly untouched. Sundays see families mill towards Pondo Catholic Parish, Ndogino Anglican Church or Presbyterian Church of East Africa, Ndogino.

For Muthoni’s family, PCEA was the choice of worship. It is here that the family drew inspiration on a weekly basis before the beginning of yet another week of school and hard work.

The homestead she grew up in is a collection of five structures with wooden walls and tin roofs. Around six kilometres from the homestead is Ndogino Primary School. Like most things in the village, the school too looks to be frozen in time. It is as if one looks hard enough they can locate the exact desk that Muthoni sat on in all the classes she went through in the school.

One can almost imagine her walking in to the school towards the I-shaped block that houses the streams. A staffroom sits on one end and another block of classes, more recent, holds the upper primary classes. The latrines hug the fence in one end of the school compound. During school days, the bell goes off at 7am. Nobody remembers Muthoni ever being on the wrong side of the school gate once the bell went.

“She always used to top her class and was a very obedient girl,” a long-time neighbour Joseph Kinyua tells The Saturday Standard.

Temperamental

At the time, everyone ascribed greatness to her. Success, it seemed, would come naturally. With minimal struggle. The rest of her primary school years were underlined with exemplary performances. Her transition to secondary school too had the same expectations. But by this time, something else about her had changed.

“She became temperamental,” Kinyua says. “It was like she had two distinct personalities. She would appear friendly at one point and then go cold in another instance.”

He says because of this shift in character and the success she was enjoying at school, soon, people started calling her arrogant. But she adapted to this pressure around her.

“It looked like society had decided the kind of person she needed to be,” Kinyua says.

By the time she sat her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination, the pressure, not just from her home, but from her neighbours as well stood on her shoulders. But she bore it with grace. After passing her exam, she joined Moi University to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree.

It is this adaptability to situations that played a key role in determining the course of events after the meeting at Texas bar. Initially, the plan was for her to get to Mwangi’s home within the compound of Kiru Boys High School, where he also served as principal, then drug him with the sedatives and call in reinforcements from her accomplices once he passed out. When this happened, the two men were to walk into the house and strangle Mwangi.

Even the best laid plans are bound to fall apart at some point, and the tipping point for this particular one came when the sedatives failed to have the intended effects.

After about two hours, Muthoni emerged from her husband’s house and informed the men waiting in the back seat of the tinted car that Mwangi was not reacting to the drugs as expected; and that, therefore, they needed to change course. The trio retreated to plan for another day.

Although at that particular moment the plotters all seemed to be on the same page it is one of them, Joseph Kariuki Njuguna, who would later blow the entire case wide open, giving the prosecutors the much needed inside man to seal their investigation. It is from his testimony that the last hours of Mwangi’s life were pieced together.

“I got a call from Jane who told me to meet her at Ndarugwo at Uriithi Plots,” Kariuki told the court. “She arrived driving the Toyota Sienta. Solo mon was on the front passenger seat. Jane asked me to ‘maliza kazi’, which I understood to mean to complete the task of killing Mwangi.”

Always second guessing himself, Kariuki hesitated.

“Kwa nini humalizi kazi? Kwani wewe in muoga?” Muthoni asked.

Kariuki knew that one way or another, Mwangi would die that day. The Sh50,000 he had received as a down payment for murder paling in comparison to the task at hand. From then on, it was a matter of when, and not if, the killing would happen. After that daring question, Kariuki, popularly referred to as Karis, knew that he was in too deep.

Campus girl

For its effervescent alumnae, Moi University is a place for self-discovery and explorations. Many of those who get called into the institution, as happens in other public universities, lose their sense of direction in life during the first year of education before recalibrating themselves to their true north during their second or third years.

Muthoni was no different and university changed her. A lot. While at campus, she discovered an entire way of life that her upbringing in Ndogino had successfully kept away from her. By the time she got to her fourth year of education she not only looked like, but behaved like a different person. A person whom she reintroduced back home during her teaching practice stint at Raichiri Secondary School.

“We became friends and used to walk for seven kilometres to the school for the teaching practice,” a close family friend who requested anonymity says. “She became a friend to many of us but what stood out then was how quick she was to anger.”

The friend, who was on teaching practice at the same time and in the same school as Muthoni also says that even then she lived a lavish lifestyle.

“I still do not know where she was getting the money and yet she was a student,” he says. “On our way back, we would stop at Ndogino trading centre where she used to buy us drinks.”

The long nights would end with both of them staggering home on separate paths to their houses.

The teaching profession not only gave her a new lease of life; it also gave her a husband. After graduating in 1995, Muthoni was posted to Pondo Secondary School at Mairo Inya in Ndaragwa Constituency where she taught until 2003.

It is while teaching at Pondo that she met and later in 1999 married her husband Mwangi. For a few years, the two lived the dream. Steady incomes for both, in a career that they were passionate about – former colleagues say that students in Muthoni’s class always excelled in examinations.

“She had little patience for poor performance and was strict in time keeping as well as discipline,” a teacher at the school, not authorised to speak to the press, says. Success followed her students. For years, the subjects she taught, Christian Religious Education and History, were among the best performed.

Soon though, the discipline she was so keen on developing amongst her students as the guidance and counselling teacher started slipping away in her personal life.

After being ambushed with allegations of cowardice, Karis fell into Muthoni’s trap who by now had returned to their earlier agreed upon meeting point with her dazed husband still in the car. She then told Karis to make a phone call to Isaac Nganga, a co-conspirator all along, and summon him to their location.

Nganga showed up and the four individuals drove around in the Toyota Sienta – Jane and her drugged husband in the front, the two gentlemen at the back – scouting for a suitable location that would become the final act of the tragedy that had become their lives.

Court records say Muthoni then drove for some time then stopped and announced: “ni hau!” (“It is here!”). With that announcement, and apparently on cue, Karis said Nganga suddenly took a rope which was in the vehicle, put it around Mwangi’s neck and pulled. As Mwangi fought for his life, Muthoni sat less than an arm’s length from the father of her four children. She did nothing.

Their marriage too had come close to dying in the years preceding this afternoon at a desolate coffee farm. A neighbour at the couple’s first home in Mairi Inya says they had grown accustomed to fights between the two.

“We used to intervene in their disputes often. It was so bad that eventually we had to report them to the area chief,” the neighbour says.

Mairi Inyaa retired chief confirmed the incidences.

“These are cases I solved several times,” the retired chief says. “I was not shocked when I received the news that the husband had been killed.”

Just like Ndogino, Mairi Inyaa too has some sense of camaraderie and togetherness. Everyone is thinking about those that Mwangi and Muthoni have left behind such as siblings, children, neighbours. Many would not want to publicly speak about the lives of Mwangi and Muthoni.

Enough punishment

It is as if the happenings on that November 2016 are enough punishment for all involved. They speak about the two. But wouldn’t want anyone to know that it is them who gave away the little secrets of the couple.

The retired chief is no different. He continues: “Both of them accused each other of cheating. They fought almost on a weekly basis.”

A house help we spoke to and who lived with the couple when they had already started a family says the fights were not just verbal, but physical as well. “They fought in front of the children, with Jane accusing the husband of cheating. We used to lock ourselves in the bedroom with the children as they fought,” she says.

The fights eventually became so vicious that she quit.

“It was so painful to see them fight in front of their small children who I would see cry,” she says.

But at that time, even with the hurdles in their relationship, they could not part ways. It seemed the two were infatuated with each other.

Infatuation, says psychologist Faith Atsango, can be a dangerous thing.

“At this point one fails to separate truth from reality and can skew facts to fit their own version of events,” Atsango says.

She says this obsession, which mostly begins like an innocent trait often from a place of love, takes hold of a person.

“In extreme cases, the line between what is real and what is not becomes blurred and these two worlds mix,” says Atsango.

Court proceedings from the murder case show that this is what might have happened to Muthoni in relation to a woman she believed was having an affair with her husband.

Court documents only identify the woman in question as M-Pesa Lady. The prosecution said this woman was Muthoni’s initial target and that she first attempted to eliminate the M-Pesa Lady by hiring assassins but failed. That is when she turned to plotting her husband’s death.

In court, the M-Pesa Lady denied the allegations of an affair with Mwangi. No evidence to the contrary was presented. What however emerged was the constant threats and a barrage of abuses from Muthoni.

The abuse did not stop there. On several occasions, Muthoni persuaded officers of the law from local police units and the directorate of criminal investigations to arrest the M-Pesa Lady on trumped up charges, including that of belonging to the outlawed Mungiki sect.

“This could have been the ultimate truth for her. She had convinced herself of this. She believed in it and nothing would have led her to a different conclusion. She might have felt betrayed and there was no coming back from it,” Atsango says.

In her husband’s death, Muthoni believed freedom and peace would be found. The five-year trial resulted in a guilty verdict, turning the worlds of all involved upside down.

“We claim for a parent’s love everyday…and it is so hard,” June Mbuthi, one of their daughters, said during her mother’s sentencing.

At the beginning of the trial, Muthoni always played victim.

“It is not easy and especially for me as a mother,” the mother of four said during an interview in 2016, soon after it had emerged that she was a key suspect in the disappearance and murder of her husband.

Now serving time in Lang’ata Women’s Prison, Muthoni, who was fondly referred to as Madam Jane by her students, still wears her wedding ring, holding on to a little piece of the man she was convicted of killing, holding on to the memories of a life that promised so much joy but ended in pain.

In her pin-striped prison dress, orange sweater, matching legwarmers and read rubber shoes, she blends in with the other inmates some of whom are her former students.

Even within these walls she still insists that her husband was abducted and murdered by unknown people who proceeded to frame her.

“There is no way I could have thought about murdering my husband,” she said in a TV interview with Inooro TV.

She still believes that time will vindicate her, and that the real murderers of the man she walked down the aisle with will be apprehended.

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