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Gangster queen: Girl who became a dreaded killer

Before she was caught, Mary Wanjiku was Kenya’s Bandit Queen, Nairobi’s version of New Delhi’s Phoolan Devi or Milan’s Raffaella d’ Alte Rio.

In her prime she was nicknamed Lakwena — after the self-styled spiritual leader who engineered a social and political uprising in northern Uganda.

To her, Sh5 million in the house was pocket change and, together with her equally dangerous husband Bernard Thuo Matheri — nicknamed Rasta — led a group of criminals whose portfolio ranged from bank heists and kidnappings to murders, carjackings, and robbery with violence.

Nothing could stop them… other than, of course, a police bullet.

STEALING SH196M

Wanjiku was arrested in Githurai, Nairobi, in 1999 after stealing Sh196 million in Meru. She was found with 18 guns and several grenades in her private, illegal armoury and sentenced to 35 years in prison the same year, but that was soon commuted to seven years, and, later, four.

On June 1, 2002, she walked out of prison, a free woman with a clean slate and a colourful past.

At the height of her murderous career, Wanjiku was backed by Matheri, probably one of the most dangerous criminals to ever prowl these lands.

Matheri was in turn backed by two other criminals — a former altar boy named Anthony Ngugi Kanagi alias Wacucu, and Gerald Wambugu Munyeria alias Wanugu.

It is now almost 20 years since Wanjiku was first arrested, and last week we traced her to Kitengela Township on the outskirts of Nairobi, where she runs Jehovah Shalom Ministries, a tiny, corrugated-iron-sheet church with a sitting capacity of about 250.

On the hot February afternoon we walked into her church, temperatures inside the structure felt upwards of 40 degrees Celsius.

Wanjiku, now in her early 50s, looks nothing like the criminal she once was. Her light skin, though ravaged by a few sunburns, remains smooth and supple, unscathed by the vagaries of her adventurous youth.

COUNTS HERSELF LUCKY

Though her husband Bernard Matheri was killed on September 1, 1997, Wanjiku “survived” two jail terms, and for that she counts herself lucky.

Born in 1968 in Gichugu, Kirinyaga County, she led a life of chaos and instability as a child as she looked for love and attention from parents who, she says, were too drunk to notice her.

“I never, really, experienced motherly love,” says the 16th child in a polygamous family of one husband, two wives, and 24 children.

At 13, she attempted suicide in her mother’s house but was saved. However, rather than be counselled, she was taken to Kirinyaga Police Station for interrogation.

“Only one female police officer was curious to know why a 13-year-old child would want to end her life,” she recalls. “Days after returning home, my mother fought with my father and walked out, leaving me to take care of my younger six siblings. The youngest was two.”

Wanjiku quit school shortly after sitting her Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) for a life of crime.

FIRST HEIST

Her first heist was Sh70,000 in a church offering, which she stole after scaling the perimeter wall of the home of the local church’s chairwoman and sneaking into her bedroom.

“It was so much money I couldn’t even count it all!” she says.

She did not know what to do with the money, and so gave it to her brother, who bought her a pair of jeans.

Wanjiku struggles to explain that she was a “very desperate child” who endured years of physical and emotional abuse.

But she doesn’t need to because, four decades later, her pain and agony are communicated effortlessly by the tone of her voice.

Read the full story here.

SOURCE: Daily Nation