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Best friends, M-Pesa transfer and a murder that left relatives in shock

Two days before she disappeared, 25-year-old Teresia Wachuka, who was working in Rongai, called her mother in Gilgil, Nakuru County to say she would be visiting home and wanted to know what gifts the mother wanted bought for her.

She was in high spirits and was also keen on officially introducing her fiancée to her folks.

On the day she disappeared, she noticed that Sh25,000 she had set aside for the trip home was missing from her M-Pesa account without an accompanying message to show who the money had been sent to.

She called her boyfriend, Sammy Mugo, to tell him of the problem. Mugo advised her to go to a Safaricom office and have an M-Pesa statement printed out. That was Monday, November 23, 2015.

Wachuka, who was working at a hardware store in Rongai, went to Galleria Mall, near Bomas of Kenya, where the M-Pesa statement revealed that her money had been transferred to her friend’s number. She called Mugo to update him on the finding and that she had already spoken to her friend and was going for the money. Her friend, she told Mugo, was only playing a prank on her.

STRANGE TEXT

Reassured, Mugo forgot about the issue and went back to work. A few hours later, he received a very strange text message from Wachuka’s phone. “The message said that no money had been lost,” recounts Mugo. “She also said that she only wanted to test my love for her and had discovered that I did not love her and was now leaving me for someone else.”

Shocked and confused, Mugo called Wachuka only to find the phone was switched off.

Coincidentally, Wachuka’s elder brother Daniel Mwangi called her at around 5.45 pm but the call was not answered. “I decided that since it was a working day I would call her after working hours as they closed shop at around six,” explains Mwangi. “When I called at around 7 pm the phone was switched off.”

Wachuka’s phone was still switched off the following day when Mwangi tried to call again. “I called her work place and was told she left work the previous day but did not come back. The following day, Wednesday, they called to say they were worried since my sister had not reported to work and her phone was still switched off,” adds Mwangi.

Mwangi went to Rongai and was told Wachuka had a friend who lived nearby. “My cousin who knew her took me to her place but she was not around. We reported her disappearance at Rongai Police Station the following day, Thursday, November 26, only to discover that her friend had made a missing person’s report two days earlier,” he adds.

ASSIST WITH INVESTIGATIONS

He later called the friend, Redempter Nthenya, 27, who came to the police station and told them that she had made the report after failing to see Wachuka on Monday and Tuesday. “Police told us that Nthenya was Wachuka’s friend and that she would assist them with investigations, but they later released her,” Mwangi explains.

Later that day they went to Nthenya’s house and found that she had already moved house.

When she learnt of her daughter’s disappearance, a distraught Monicah Wanjiku Maina left their home in Gilgil to join the search for her daughter.

“When I called Nthenya, she told me that Wachuka had a boyfriend who lived outside Kenya and that they had flown out of the country,” says Mrs Maina. “She told me she could not harm Wachuka as she was her best friend.” Nthenya switched off her phone two weeks later.

Court documents indicate investigations started and signals for Wachuka’s two phones were located in a place called Kimutwa in Machakos.

CID officers found Wachuka’s two phones with Nthenya’s mother on January 13, 2016 in Kimutwa. After the mother was arrested, Nthenya, who had moved to Cabanas area on Mombasa Road, showed up at Rongai Police Station and was also apprehended.

M-PESA RECORDS

M-Pesa records also showed that she transferred Wachuka’s money to her phone and, later, to her mother’s phone. The mother told investigators that Nthenya transferred the money to her for safe keeping.

While in custody, Nthenya changed her story and claimed that she had accompanied Wachuka to Afya Frank Medical Clinic in Rongai, where she died in the hands of Frank Kirimi Njue, the owner of the clinic, while trying to procure an abortion.

She said Kirimi forced her to assist him put the body in a gunny bag and dumped it in a septic tank. She led police to where the body was dumped, on a plot adjacent to where Wachuka used to stay. Wachuka’s head was covered in a polythene bag.

Kirimi was also arrested. Nthenya’s mother was released five days later when it was found that she had nothing to do with the death.

A post-mortem on Wachuka’s remains was conducted on January 20, 2016, at the City Mortuary, by government pathologist Dr Peter Ndegwa and Dr Edwin Walong’ of University of Nairobi, who had been appointed by the family.

The results revealed the cause of Wachuka’s death to be strangulation and suffocation and that her right wrist had been broken. The report further discounted the abortion theory saying there was no evidence of pregnancy in Wachuka’s womb. This report exonerated Kirimi and he was released after spending 19 days in police custody.

DNA SAMPLES

Court documents further indicate Douglas Chege, the Investigations Officer, from DCIO Ongata Rongai, asked for DNA samples to be taken from Wachuka’s remains and from her mother, to ascertain her identity and to prevent future exhumation. The samples matched, confirming the body actually belonged to Wachuka.

With Kirimi exonerated, all fingers pointed to Nthenya but there was no direct evidence linking her to the murder and this is what Chege sought to provide.

The link came in the form of Mugo, Wachuka’s boyfriend. Mugo, who was also a prosecution witness, told Chege about his communication with Wachuka and the strange SMS he had received from her number thereafter.

Chege, according to court documents, obtained a court order to get call data from Safaricom. Records from Safaricom established that, indeed, Mugo had called his girlfriend and that some minutes to 6 pm he received the message he was being dumped. The records further showed that while at Galleria,

Wachuka’s phone communicated with Nthenya’s phone, whose location was on Imani Road in Rongai. This was some minutes past 3 pm.

The two phones were later located together on Imani Road in Rongai, up to the time Wachuka’s phone was switched off around 5.48 pm. This indicates after Wachuka called Nthenya and they later met in Rongai ostensibly to get her money back. Mugo received the message almost immediately before Wachuka’s phone was finally switched off.

Investigators placed the time of Wachuka’s death to be between 4.30 and 5.45 pm.

AFTERNOON TOGETHER

Still, the records further showed on Sunday, November 22, the day Wachuka disappeared, her phone and that of Nthenya were located together in Gikomba and at Development House within Nairobi CBD and back in Rongai, indicative of the fact they had spent the afternoon together.

That was the link required to prove Nthenya had been with Wachuka at the time of her death. The message to Mugo was most likely written by Nthenya to put Mugo off scent and to cover her tracks as the money had been transferred to her mother’s phone, contrary to what the message said that no money had been lost.

Nthenya was subsequently charged with murder at the High Court in Kajiado on February 3, 2016.

During the court proceedings, the prosecution produced 21 witnesses including the family pathologist, who was the first to testify. Chege was the last to testify.

On July 31, 2017, Justice Reuben Nyakundi found Nthenya guilty of murdering Wachuka. He, however, deferred sentencing to last Tuesday, August 15, when he delivered the death sentence.

Nthenya’s lawyer David Chege pleaded with the court to give his client a lenient sentence, saying she was remorseful for her crime and that she had learnt from her mistake. He also added that Nthenya was a first offender while pleading for a custodial sentence.

Just before Nthenya was sentenced, Wachuka’s mother was called to the witness stand where she broke down saying how her daughter’s reputation and that of the family had been dragged through the mud, when it was alleged that she had died while procuring an abortion.

“She killed my daughter, so it is only fair that she receives similar punishment,” said Mrs Maina.

“Although my daughter cannot be brought back to life, I believe justice has been served.”

Mugo, who is still single, said that with Nthenya’s sentencing, he will be able to put the matter to closure and move on with his life.

This story was first published in the Sunday Nation.