So much has been written and said about the Samuel Wanjiru tragedy that the time has now come for the public to do the decent thing and allow the family to come to terms with their grief without the undue speculation, rumour and gossiping. It is just unfortunate that this case involved a celebrity and thus it has aroused intense media scrutiny.
As it happens, I spent an afternoon last weekend in the company of a family friend, a retired deputy police commissioner who was once the head of the homicide division, Nairobi. We spoke briefly about the “Wanjiru” affair before he told me about a case that he was involved in when he was a junior officer fresh out of college.
“Woolie”, he said, “Nothing is ever what it seems. Be prepared for the unexpected at all times.”
“In those days, you see we all thought that murder was an offence carried out by thugs and gangsters on strangers. In our naïve way we were brought up to be trusting in the general good of humanity.”
We had now retired to a small sitting room and the former cop opened a glass cabinet and took out a single malt whisky and 2 small glasses. He poured the drinks, made sure I was comfortable and sat down to light his pipe. Then he got to his story.
When the Ikumbi case came to the High Court in late October 1985 it made all the headlines because of the gruesome brutality with which Mr Silas Ikumbi had met his death. Here was a well-liked, successful businessman with a seemingly happy home life. He was said to be fair in business and generous to friends and family. He made numerous donations to harambees and other worthy causes. He was hard-working and expected the same from his employees but he also rewarded hard work with bonuses and promotion.
Then there was the widow. Young, beautiful, stylish – with friends in high society. There was plenty of money and hints of something shaky in the marriage.
It was the night of the 26th -27th July of that year. A horrible road traffic accident on the Mombasa Road. A Nairobi bound coach slammed into the back of a heavy goods lorry that stood broken down by the side of the road. A mighty fireball engulfed both vehicles and there were no survivors on the coach. Most of the bodies had been burnt beyond recognition. Four days later Silas Ikumbi’s wife came forward and claimed that she was sure that her husband had been a passenger on the coach on that fateful journey.
It is fair to say that most people were surprised by this announcement. Why had it taken this long for Mrs Ikumbi to come forward with this information. She claimed that she had tried to make absolutely certain that there was no mistake before going to the police. Mrs Ikumbi explained that her hsuband had called her from Mombasa on that evening and he had given her the name of the coach and their departure time.
Silas Ikumbi travelled frequently to Mombasa on business trips but he never, ever went by coach. Nor did he travel by train. Silas was a competent driver and he preferred to drive himself on long journeys. He told friends that it helped him to clear his mind, think and plan new business strategies. Also he had many business contacts in towns on the way to Mombasa and he liked to call upon them and catch up with business affairs. It was not unknown for Silas to drive down from Nairobi early in the morning, conclude his business meetings at the coast and drive back the same day. He derived great satisfaction from this.
The remains of the victims were buried and the authorities accepted the wife’s word and a memorial service was held for Silas Ikumbi on 13th of August. The service was attended by friends and family and many business associates from agents to distributors and wholesalers. Silas was a popular man.
It was just over a week later that a Mr Abdul Kadir from Mombasa came to see me in my office. He seemed unsure of himself but I ordered for us some tea and asked what was troubling him. He came out with it. He asked if I had heard of the coach crash tragedy. He then told me that he had attended the memorial service but it was only after going back to Mombasa and thinking things through that he felt that there was something that did not add up.
He pulled out a pocket diary and showed me an entry that he had made: Telephoned Silo, agreed to meet a week from today. Must have the samples ready for him. The date was 29th July a full two days after the accident. He had only realised this discrepancy after the service. Still puzzled he had called Silas’s home hoping to speak to Mrs Ikumbi but there was no answer. What, he wondered, did all this mean? One thing was sure – his friend could not possibly have perished in that crash. Was it all a mistake? Was he still alive.
We spoke at length with Mr Abdul Kadir checking details and covering other background stuff and I assured him that we would investigate all the circumstances surrounding this incident and keep him updated on future developments. Then he took his leave. I was touched by the gesture the man had made for his friend.
The next afternoon I drove up to the Ikumbi home in Tigoni near Limuru seeking to speak to Mrs Ikumbi. The security guard ushered me into the compound but when the front door was opened a young maid informed me that mama was not seeing any callers and that all communication to her was being handled by her lawyer. I could not hide my surprise. The maid duly presented me with a business card bearing the name of a city lawyer. As I turned to leave a young girl, 10 or 11 came up to the door. She had just arrived from school, it seemed. She asked if I was a policeman, come to find out where daddy had gone. The maid told her off and sent her indoors. I got into the car and drove to Nairobi deep in thought. I had now come across two people for whom the story that Silas Ikumbi was killed in a coach tragedy did not ring true.
It was time for action. Investigators went out to try and put together the final hours of Mr Ikumbi’s life. The bus companies of the day were not required to keep passenger manifests so no documetary evidence was available to prove one way or the other whether Ikumbi had been on that coach. My investigators dicovered no sightings of Ikumbi in Mombasa and none of his associates and colleagues had met with him. Investigators visited all the likely places he would have gone on a normal trip to Mombasa and everywhere it was the the same story: Ikumbi had not been there on the dates in question and in any case he always communicated his arrival well in advance – after all it is a long way to come and not meet your objectives.
It was now time to focus on the domestic setting. We already knew that Ikumbi loved his family and cared dearly for his only child, whose name was Faith. Years ago, we learnt, the couple had been told by doctors that Mrs Ikumbi could not have any more kids. This may have drawn the father to cherish the daughter even more closely. Family friends said that perhaps Mrs Ikumbi may have resented this. We focussed even closer coming to the days when Ikumbi had last been seen by the members of the household. We learnt that a day before the crash Faith had seen her dad in the evening and they had done some homework together. He had left for work early the following day and so she had not seen him before going to school.
The night watchman who had worked over that period had been replaced. It did not take long for officers to locate him. He turned out to be a habitual user of marijuana but he was quite willing to speak to the police. According to his statement the last he had seen of Mr Ikumbi was when he opened the gate to him one evening. There was something odd about the way the boss drove into the compound – but he thought nothing more of it. It may sound crazy, he said, but this was definitely after and not before that awful bus crash. He was not too sure about exact dates, though.
With this and other bits of evidence it became clear that Silas Ikumbi should now be classiffied as missing, presumed dead and that we were possibly looking at a murder case. My investigators interviewed Mrs Ikumbi always in the presence of her lawyer and she repeatedly claimed that Ikumbi had gone to Mombasa and had been killed in the coach crash. they stuck to their guns. Further she insisted that theirs had been happy marriage and she did not known what she was going to do with him gone.
There were further enquiries – mostly house to house. One junior officer was carrying out such enquiries within Limuru town when he struck gold.
The officer approached a small garage and found one of the mechanics polishing a car. He introduced himself and asked the young mechanic if he knew a Mr Ikumbi. The boy’s face brightened when he spoke of Ikumbi, a real gentleman. He brought all his cars here for servicing, you know. I always valeted his car. He treated me well. It was he that got me this job – he was like a father to me. We will never know what made him travel in that coach, anyway that is fate, I guess. You cannot escape your date with fate.
“When did you last see him?” – the officer asked
“I can tell you exactly when I saw him – gosh this is weird – he was here on the 29th of July I marked it here on this wall calendar because I changed the tyres on his car. He liked to know when he changed his tyres so we always kept a record.” Mr Ikumbi always checked his vehicle records in the office.
The officer asked a few more questions and then showed the mechanic some photos. He asked him if he recognised anyone in the set of pictures. Twice he picked out the city lawyer.
The mechanic explained that two cars had pulled up outside as he was working on Ikumbi’s car. He saw there were four people in each of the cars. Moments later one man came into the garage and asked if the mechanic knew where the owner of the car that he was working on had gone – this is Ikumbi’s car, right – the mechanic said he did not know the owner by name or where he was but he would be coming shortly to collect his car. He did not like the look of them one bit. That was when the lawyer got out of the front car and came across all smiling and polite and said – do not worry we are just friends of his we thought we might see him – but never mind. Thanks. And with that they got into their cars and left. Mr Ikumbi came soon after, paid for the job and left.
Woolie, these things ususlly take a momentum of their own because just 2 days my officer had visited the garage a Mzee looking after some cows near Maai Mahiu made a gruesome discovery. In a small depression quite out of sight in the fields lay the body of a man. He was clothed only in a loose fitting pair of trousers. No shirt, shoes, belt and no other items that could be used to identify him. His head had been beaten to a pulp as the perpetrators tried to conceal his identity. Police were called. The body had lain there for at least three weeks given the advanced stage of decomposition. After liaising with missing person reports police used dental records to positively identify the body as that of Mr Silas Ikumbi.
Image from taifalangu.com
Well as you can imagine there were many other details that came out in court but the long and short of it was that the lawyer Judas Magaryan and Mrs Ikumbi were long-time lovers. Together they had deviced a plan to kill Ikumbi and make it look like an accident. This would enable them to control the vast financial wealth that Mr Ikumbi had built. Magaryan’s profession brought him in daily contact with gangsters and it was one such group that he recruited to trail Ikumbi from the garage. They had jacked him by the railway tunnel near Limuru and bundled him into their own car.
Magaryan had donned Ikumbi’s jacket and hat and driven Ikumbi’s car back to the house. He was not familiar with the compound layout and even the stoned watchman noticed that his driving was erratic.
The prosecution was able to prove its case and the two suspects were found guilty. They were convicted and sentenced but their lawyer managed to get them out on bail pending their appeals. They are now said to be living quietly, somewhere overseas. You know what this place is like……..