Police in Murang'a County are faced with the difficult task of unravelling the mystery surrounding the death of a 50-year-old man whose body was found stashed in two sacks and on top of an earthen kiln for burning charcoal.
Patrick Mwaura was a well-known charcoal dealer in the county who went from village to village buying trees to burn for charcoal to sell.
"He was well known in Kamaguta village where his body was found on Monday morning. He used to buy trees from me which he used to burn charcoal on my land," said Ms Jane Kabura, 75, on whose land Mwaura’s body was found.
She said the deceased reported to her farm on August 23, and bought trees worth Sh25,000 on credit. She said her trees were worth Sh11,000 while the rest came from sales by her two sons.
"By Sunday, he had cut the trees into logs and buried them in the earthen kiln in preparation for burning them into charcoal. In fact, the last time I saw him at 7pm, he was working on his mound kiln about 30 metres from my house," she said.
"However, on Monday morning at about 6.30am, my granddaughter informed me that she suspected something was wrong with Mr Mwaura," Ms Kabura told Nation.africa.
She found Mwaura's body lying on top of a heavily smoking mound kiln.
"I screamed and the neighbours came. I could see that the man was not alive because the plastic bags had started to melt from the heat. There was the smell of burning flesh," she said.
Mr Mburu Kang'ethe, 50, one of Mrs Kabura's sons who sold trees to the deceased, said: "He insisted on sleeping where his charcoal was burning. He would stand guard for a whole week until the charcoal was burned and packed for the market."
"When he burned charcoal in my mother's compound, he never left the place," he said.
But the deceased's son, Samuel Kamau, 26, disputed claims that his father camped at his charcoal-burning sites, saying he always went home from work.
"My father had a rented house in Border Estate in Maragua town where he slept every day," Mr Kamau said.
"My father would tend to his charcoal kilns until 9pm and then go home," he added.
He said that when the charcoal was ready, he would pack it during the day and take it to a shop in Maragua town.
"There is still no consensus on how my father died. Some people say he chose to sleep in the sacks on top of the burning kiln to keep warm," he said, adding that his father was an expert in burning charcoal and knew the dangers of carbon monoxide.
A police report on the incident by Kahuro Sub County Police boss Ms Catherine Ringera said the body had traces of blood oozing from the mouth, nostrils and ears.
"The body also had burns on its back, legs and hands. It also had liquid and solid excretions from its genitals," the report said.
However, when Nation.Africa visited the scene, the body had been dragged about 10 metres away from the kiln by those who had sold him the trees.
Police removed the body from the scene six hours after it was discovered, raising fears of crime scene tampering that could compromise the final findings.
The police did not take the bags containing the body. Nation.Africa found that the neighbours had since burnt the bags, despite them being important crime scene evidence.
Nation.Africa also found that the deceased had not paid for the trees, but had promised to pay on September 5, 2023, after selling the charcoal.
While he owed the three tree sellers Sh25,000, it was estimated that the charcoal expected from the kiln would fetch at least Sh100,000.
Detectives in the case confided in Nation.Africa that they are investigating the possibility that the deceased was murdered, committed suicide or died accidentally after he decided to get into the sacks and sleep on top of the burning kiln.
The body has been taken to the Murang'a County Mortuary where a post-mortem will be conducted to determine the cause of death.
"We will do our best to establish the cause of death," said Ms Ringera.