When loved ones go berserk and commit murder most foul

In April of 2019, sixth-year medical student Ivy Wangechi had just finished her ward rounds at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and was enjoying light banter with colleagues as she walked out into the bright Eldoret sunshine heading towards the student hostels a few metres away.

But Ivy never reached her destination. A young man approached her and struck her on the head with an axe. He slit her throat then struck her one final time. Naphtali Njahi Kinuthia, thought to have been Ivy’s boyfriend, is the main suspect in the killing and is currently facing murder charges at the Eldoret law court. He has pleaded not guilty.

Although shocking, Ivy’s death was not the last. Numerous other deaths have followed since then and, in most cases, those accused of brandishing the killer weapon or throwing the final blow are people intimately known to the victims. Parents, siblings and children stand accused of the murder of loved ones in courts across the country.

Thick and thin

So what exactly happens when a loved one goes berserk and takes the lives of those who have been with them through thick and thin?

Investigators believe hate was central to the actions of the killer of Nicholas Njoroge, his wife, their two sons and a construction worker on the night of January 5. Days after the murder, detectives pieced together a timeline of the crime. Njoroge’s killer did not start with him. He first killed the construction worker and then Njoroge’s wife. The couple’s two sons followed. Then the killer went upstairs and confronted Njoroge who, fleeing for his life, jumped from the first floor balcony of the house and landed awkwardly on the ground floor.

Unrelenting, the killer followed him and stabbed him. An autopsy conducted by Government Pathologist Johansen Oduor one week after the murders revealed that the killer was most cruel to Njoroge.

“The person who got the most injuries was the father, and son, actually. I cannot remember exactly how many but they had very many stab wounds with severed necks. It is like the person who killed the two was doing it with a lot of anger,” Oduor told the press.

After being on the run for several days, Njoroge’s 22-year-old son, Lawrence Warunge, was arrested. He eventually confessed to the murder of his parents and siblings.

Early this year, a medical assessment report by the Mathare National Teaching and Referral hospital found Lawrence mentally unfit to stand trial.

The report tabled before Kiambu Chief Magistrate Patricia Gichohi by the prosecution team also showed that Warunge had a history of smoking marijuana and drinking spirits. He also suffered from paranoid delusions.

Wave of murders

Just like Ivy’s case, Njoroge’s death was the beginning of a wave of murders that has snuffed out promising careers and dimmed the light in the lives of dozens of children whose parents now only exist as part of their memories.

Memories that the surviving child of Elizabeth Koki now holds on tightly to. For ten months, Koki was involved in a whirlwind romance with a Cameroonian national, Christian Kadima, who is now the main suspect in her death in a matter still pending in court.

For close to a year, the two were involved in a love-hate relationship that ended suddenly on January 7 when Koki’s house-help knocked her employer’s bedroom door at 10am. Hearing no answer, she pushed the door open to find Koki lying lifeless on her bed.

In a statement, the former help said that she heard screams coming from the bedroom the previous night. She also told the police that this was not the first time she heard similar screams whenever Christian visited. But after this latest instance, Koki was not there to experience the awkward silence that dominated their co-existence the morning after.

A postmortem revealed that the young lawyer had been strangled. The killer effectively suffocated her life, dreams, hopes and ambitions, and took away a mother, daughter and friend in one act.

There was no forced entry to the house or defensive marks on the slain woman’s body. These two facts led investigators to believe that the killer must have been known to Koki. A day later, her boyfriend was arrested outside a hotel in Riruta where he had driven in the lawyer’s car.

The data can be disturbing. A community based organisation, Counting Dead Women-Kenya, estimates that between January 1 and July 31 last year, more than 30 women and girls were murdered. This means that at least five women were being brutally killed every month, or one woman every week, by someone they entrusted their lives to. And when this trust is breached, the consequences are devastating.

On the morning of January 21 last year, Margaret Muchemi, 34, let a known acquaintance into her home for a conversation that proved to be her last. “When the man walked in, we served him some tea and then Margaret sent us to the shop to buy meat,” one of Margaret’s two nannies said in a statement. “She didn’t want us to come back home early so she even sent us money for lunch.”

Moi University Medical student Ivy Wangeci who was brutally killed by an assailant in Eldoret. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Saw smoke

But as the two nannies ate lunch, a neighbour called to inform them that their house was on fire. “We rushed home and saw smoke from her bedroom,” a nanny said.

Neighbours eventually helped put out the fire. But after the embers had cooled down and the smoke cleared, they discovered something gruesome. Margaret was in her room with her legs and arms tied to the bed. Her body and face were badly burnt.

For other couples, just like the Njoroges, the children become collateral. In one instance, the innocence of childhood is forever erased. On Tuesday, the bodies of a couple and an eight-year-old boy were found in their rented flat at the Government Quarters along Nairobi’s Jogoo Road.

The woman, identified as Charity Cheboi, 34, and her son, Allan Kipng’etich, were last seen on Sunday. The male victim, Kelvin Kipkoech, 30, was seen alive on Monday. The man was reportedly in a relationship with Charity. The child’s biological father chanced upon the bodies when he went to check on his son after he was informed by the boy’s school that he had missed classes.

Mr Oduor conducted a postmortem that revealed Charity and her son had suffered injuries that indicated they could have been defending themselves from their attacker, and that Koech could have died a day later. Police say investigations are ongoing.

In 2019, Fida-Kenya said they recorded over 50 femicide cases between January and April that year. “This number does not reflect the unreported cases that may have escaped the media’s attention. This is a wakeup call to the realisation of the erosion of national values, and the status of the nation on the disregard of human rights,” the organisation said in a statement.

Months after Fida’s call to action, Joyce Syombua and her two children aged 10 and five were added to the statistics. The 31-year-old mother left her Nairobi home for her estranged lover’s house in Nanyuki after being made to believe that the couple would catch up on plans for their eldest daughter’s birthday.

Days later, Joyce and her children were dead. An autopsy showed she had died from blunt force trauma while the children were strangled. Her alleged killer is currently in court facing murder charges.

[Additional reporting by Kamore Maina]

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