Unravelling the saga of Thika tycoon who was ‘abducted’ for 75 days
Only Julius Gitau — the lost-and-found Thika tycoon — knows where he was between September 21 and December 5.
For 75 days, his family and friends scoured through police and hospital records hoping to get a pointer on the last moments of the Thika-based businessman who was, either abducted — according to his version of the story — or simply eloped.
And for those days, his wholesale businesses in Thika town remained closed as family drama and feud over his properties took a centre stage. And while he was away, two more women emerged to lay claim on his estate. But Gitau was not dead and returned with a cock-and-bull story that police say it is not adding up.
A Standard Four drop out who grew his wealth from a hawker to a major Mt Kenya distributor, Mr Gitau claims that he was abducted at gunpoint along Thika’s Haile Selassie Road at around 10am, sedated and taken to a safe house in Gatundu North. Here, he claims, he was subjected to servitude, and worked as a houseboy.
Interestingly, there was no call for ransom and Mr Gitau was not harmed in any way. So why was he abducted, if he was?
Not typical of kidnaps
Detectives who are following the case say “he might be telling the truth” and fear that revealing too much information might jeopardise their investigations. But they are in agreement that the circumstances surrounding Mr Gitau’s disappearance are not typical of kidnaps.
When we met him shortly after he recorded a statement with police, Mr Gitau exhibited no signs of trauma. He had spent the previous night at home — and had not gone to report his re-emergence, until police got a signal from his number and tracked him.
On the day he disappeared, Mr Gitau is reported to have left a suicide note on the dashboard of his car and called his driver to pick the vehicle outside Blue Post hotel.
The suicide note indicated that Mr Gitau had run out of economic patience owing to diminishing returns and had decided to take a jump into an unspecified river.
His businesses colleagues said that Mr Gitau, 44, indeed, was going through economic havoc as loans and Covid-19 lockdown ate into his profits.
Cash flow dipped
According to police statements, Mr Gitau’s Jugi Investment daily cash-flow averaged Sh350,000 up to when Covid-19 pandemic hit the country in March. From then, the cash flow dipped to less than Sh20, 000 per day.
For a man who started his business life in Thika town in 1992 — and as hawker earning a paltry Sh100 as daily profit — Mr Gitau is a classic story of acumen and being streetwise. And even with his cash-flow problems, he had 39 listed assets evaluated on August 16, 2019 by a local bank when he went to seek credit rating and deemed to be worth Sh600 million. Most of these are weighted down by loans.
Whether this made Mr Gitau panic, to a point of getting depressed, is not clear. His family members say he was acting erratically and had showed his three declared wives — a businesswoman Lucy Wahu, a farmer Rachel Muthoni and a Thika-based police officer Selina Nelly — their matrimonial properties before he vanished.
On September 18, Mr Gitau had visited his first wife’s house and spent the night there, while on 19th, he visited his third wife. On the morning of September 20, he picked his second wife, who lives with his mother in Kaharati village of Murang’a County, and took her to Nakuru County to show her a shamba he had bought for her.
He drove her back to his mother’s compound at around 7pm, spent some time in her house and left for the third wife’s house at around 11pm and where he was to disappear the following morning.
Police statements indicate that Mr Gitau was in the company of his third wife on the morning of September 21 and that he proceeded to one of his general merchandise wholesale shops housed in Ruo House, Thika.
After he supervised the opening of the shops, he at around 9.30am he took his half-lorry and announced he was off to the gym. What happened from there is not collaborated by any evidence.
Mr Gitau’s mother, Miriam Wanjiku, 69, and neighbours say despite complaints of his fading business, he was always in jovial mood which gives credence to detectives’ theory that the abduction story could be true.
There are other unanswered questions which detectives are looking at.
Gatanga Sub-County police boss Peter Muchemi says the case all along was supposed to be reported in Thika West Sub-County since that is where Mr Gitau had his businesses and from where he was said to have gone missing.
It is not clear why his wife Nelly, a Thika-based police officer, decided to report the incident in a police station outside the jurisdiction of the scene of the alleged crime.
Even with the closure of the missing person’s case, Mr Gitau now needs to record an official complaint at Thika West Police Station about the kidnapping and servitude claims so that official investigations can commence. He is yet to do that.
Detectives have also determined that the suicide note found in his car was indeed authored by Mr Gitau and “clearly not under duress in the measure of consistent steadiness of the lettering as compared with other documents he had previously written.”
If indeed, then Mr Gitau, had written the note what was his intention?
Three days after he went missing, his Sh46 million life insurance was renewed on September 24 and after the disappearance became public, the insurance company started to trace his next of kin in October — even when it had not been confirmed whether he was alive or dead.
Detectives now want to know whether there was a claim placed on the insurance cover since ideally, the compensation gets processed when the owner, through next of kin, makes a claim and attaches proof of either death or permanent disability.
Detectives have found a letter written by the insurance company and addressed to a member of Mr Gitau’s family, thus: “Take note that no matter the outcome of the search for our missing client, we cannot pay out a compensation as per our existing contract since there appears to exist a criminal plot to induce circumstances that can lead to making a compensation claim.”
The question that has not been answered is: Who had queried about compensation when Mr Gitau was missing to warrant that response?
The answer might be either the force behind the abduction or the insurance company pre-empting that someone intends to harm their client so as to have it pay the Sh46 million compensation.
Gatanga Sub County DCI boss, who is the lead investigator in this saga, refused to divulge information regarding this correspondence which is contained in his case file.
“You people are now nosing too much into this investigation and you might jeopardise everything we are following as leads,” he told journalists.
The other major issue about this life insurance cover is that the next of kin is cited as Jugi Enterprises, his company, and not a specific individual. Jugi Enterprises has no next of kin and it is owned by Mr Gitau — a very foxy way of making sure that in an event that there will be any compensation when he is alive, he would receive the cheque himself in case of permanent disability or his preferred heir to be named as administrator of his estate in case of death.
Police are also taking keen interest in Mr Gitau’s statement that he was abducted in broad daylight outside Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) offices along Haile Selassie Road by six gunmen armed with AK-47 assault rifles.
“This is not a claim we are taking lightly. Our thinking is that he is telling the truth or he is lying. Everything in it is about verification and we are going to do that,” said a detective the in Thika DCI office who did not wish to be named.
“Before we even go to investigate whether it is true he was taken to a safe house in Gatundu North and whether it is true he was forced to work as a houseboy for 11 weeks and was released unconditionally where his third wife sent him Sh500 fare through an M-Pesa agent’s number at Gakoe trading centre, we have to first ascertain he was captured in his revealed version at the said scene.”
Police will check the CCTV cameras from the nine banks along that road to determine whether indeed there was a hijack. But they also fear that if the man was hijacked, his enemies are still out there.
Mr Gitau’s mother, who has taken over the role of spokesperson, scalded the Nation thus: “Are you suggesting that my son is lying that he was abducted? Look at him. He is a shell of his normal self…Traumatised and on the verge of breaking down. Be fair to him and us as his family and acknowledge we are all born-again Christians whose only weapon God gave us to remain righteous is telling the truth. He has been in the hands of very evil people.”
She said Mr Gitau wishes it to be known that “he does not remember authoring the suicide note and in all the days he was held captive, he was never told the reason he was there and what was required of him or what lay ahead of his captivity.
Ready to defend his claim
She added that Mr Gitau is ready to defend his claim of the chronology of events as he has declared, in any forum “including in the court of God”.
While the family feigns memory loss, detectives are wondering how he remembered other details apart from the suicide note. He also graphically recalled how he was given a soda and was instantly sedated.
But could this be a case of business rivalry?
Thika Business Community Chairman Alfred Wanyoike describes Mr Gitau as one of the six in Thika in same wholesale business.
“He is not the most favoured by customers and indeed his performance can be ranked to be at number three among,” Mr Wanyoike.
He said that they are a business family and even Mr Gitau’s competitors held an emergency meeting where they raised money to pay his workers before advising them to proceed on an indefinite leave awaiting the outcome of the search.
“Anyone trying to insinuate that Mr Gitau could be harmed by any of the business community is stretching imagination to unacceptable level given that in our forums we had even offered to help him negotiate with his creditors to go easy especially when they started visiting his businesses with auctioneers and lawyers to demand settlement of his debts with them,” Mr Wanyoike said.
It is a puzzle that only Mr Gitau can help unwrap.