The Wild West days, when stetson-wearing, gun-toting gangsters ruled dusty, windswept town, robbing banks and Welsfargo cash transfer trains, are long gone. Faded, too, are the memories of fabled criminals such as John Kiriamiti whose escapades populate paperbacks.
Instead, the pistol has been replaced by the pen and, lately, the keyboard, where the right code can drain a bank account faster than a burst from an AK-47.
This sophistication notwithstanding, some crooks have been trying to go ‘old school’ with predictable results. There are the dimwits who fail to plan how to spend their loot, while others leave fingerprints like digital calling cards at the scene of their heists and make work easy for detectives.
At the beginning of this month, a five-man gang checked into a guest house that neighbours a bank in Nairobi’s OTC area. The plan was to drill through the wall, access the vault and steal away with millions of shillings.
Police officers later said the operation was bungled hours before it could be executed, leading to the arrest of the suspects who were armed with three hacksaws, one knotted twisted rope, one metal drill, five metal bars, a pair of metal cutting scissors, and one suitcase.
Back in January, eight robbery suspects broke into a home in Nyamira where they cooked ugali and meat before making way with household goods.
In a report filed at the Nyamira Police Station on January 6, the suspects, who were dressed in military fatigues, waylaid their victim, Stephen Gichana, as he was waiting for his son to open the gate.
Once in the house, they tied up Gichana’s wife and son before robbing the family of two Samsung phones valued at Sh50,000, an Oppo phone valued at Sh20,000, and a laptop valued at Sh70,000.
Their next targets were the refrigerator and pantry, where they grabbed meat and flour, prepared a hearty meal and ate to their fill. They might have borrowed a cue from four robbers at Witemere slums in Nyeri town who decided to celebrate with alcohol after raiding a nightclub on January 31, last year.
Police boss Paul Kuria said the suspects had stormed the premises armed with crude weapons. They beat and tied up the watchman before stealing TV sets, gas cylinders, a high-pressure car wash machine, and bottles of alcohol.
They were arrested a short distance from the scene crime while celebrating their ‘successful’ mission with the stolen booze. In October 2017, three armed robbers who had dug a tunnel into a supermarket in Ruai settled for bread and soda after they failed to get any money. It would be their last meal because they were caught and killed soon after.
It was only two years ago when other robbery suspects executed what they believed was the perfect heist. After making away with Sh72 million from the G4S headquarters along Witu Road and an ATM in Nairobi West, they parted ways with grand plans to spend the cash.
In their haste to get away, they carelessly discarded the cash boxes and bags in Thogoto Forest, Kiambu. The items were spotted by a member of the public who called the police.
The suspects, it appears, were part of the security detail deployed to ensure the cash reached its intended destination. A week later, two police officers were arrested in Kisii and Kendu Bay. Investigators said they recovered Sh7 million suspected to be part of the stolen cash.
By the time of arrest, one of the suspects had acquired a Subaru Forester and was planning to travel to Uganda where a brand new life awaited.
Security expert Richard Tuta says the only thing that goes through the minds of most robbers is to successfully execute their mission. Few stop to think about what will happen next or how they will spend the loot.
“They act like a politician who focuses his energy on winning an election and fails to deliver afterwards. Dumb thieves don’t foresee challenges ahead.”
Tuta says some robbers rush to buy expensive vehicles or lavish money and gifts on women because they have no strategy to clean the money. He adds that there have been instances when criminals spend money on commercial sex workers who tip off the police after monitoring the man’s spending.
Tuta also believes that the communities where robbery suspects come from can make it easy or difficult to identify and arrest them. “Some suspects from certain regions will go for a flashy lifestyle immediately while those from another region will remain the same.”
Female partners who are careless, he adds, can also lead to successful arrests by hawk-eyed detectives. It is suspected that this is what might have led to the arrest of four suspects who carted away over Sh50 million from a bank in Thika before one of the men’s girlfriend flashed the cash on social media, sealing their fate.
The suspects had allegedly dug a four-metre tunnel into the bank located opposite a police station before accessing the strongroom and carting away the money. Police said they found millions of shillings stashed in gunny bags. The suspects denied any wrong-doing and their case is still pending in court.
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