On July 1, 2023, 43-year-old Esther Ruguru was seen around 8pm closing her hotel business in Kiria-ini Town in Murang'a County and walking on foot towards a waiting black Probox car.
Witnesses reported that she had hugged a man who came out of the car to open the passenger door for her before they both drove off towards Nyeri County. That was the last time she was seen, her relatives now saying they are tired of searching for her and at the same time worried about her well-being.
A mother of three, Ms Ruguru had been widowed in 2015 and became a small-scale hotelier in the town to make ends meet.
The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), in trying to crack her whereabouts, profiles her as "a woman who as years went by, got into a relationship with six men" listed as "two in the DCI Murang'a, a mechanic, a businessman and two civil servants in the health sector".
She is also said to have ventured into shylocking as the search for the likely motive(s) in her disappearance peaks.
Ms Ruguru is listed as a trader whose loans from financial institutions and friends totalled Sh185,000, but was servicing them as scheduled.
The detectives now believe that her disappearance has everything to do with her relationship with the six men, especially the two security officers and the mechanic.
"It is highly possible that she got lost in the mix of these men. All indicators are that she met one of the men, got into his car and as they were driving towards neighbouring Othaya town, some incident yet to be defined resulted in her disappearance," the preliminary investigative report reads.
However, the probe has been sluggish and family members believe that by virtue of two suspects in the disappearance being police officers serving in the area, the case is not attracting the enthusiasm it demands.
"The incident was reported as that of missing person reference (Occurrence Book) OB number 07/04/07/23. We are not making any headway in getting answers from the dealing Kiriaini Police Station. We have been told to wait indefinitely for the detectives to do their thing," said Mr Sammy Thuo, the victim's cousin.
Mr Thuo said, "We as a family were aware of that relationship web and she had occasionally indicated that some of the men in her life were issuing thinly veiled threats to her, accusing her of playing them.”
A detective based in Kiria-ini Police Station confided to Sunday Nation that the investigations have been marred by conflict of interests as well as interference.
"In your story, if you want to help this family get justice, pressurise the Director of DCI Mr Amin Mohammed to dispatch a team from the headquarters to take charge of these investigations. As long as it is being investigated by the suspects, we will not get anywhere," the officer said.
The preliminary report had indicated that the final moments of Ms Ruguru were captured by a nearby CCTV camera mounted by a trader. But when we visited the shopkeeper to request a copy of the footage, he said he had been warned against ever sharing the copy.
"Some two officers accompanied by a mechanic came here for review. The incident was well captured. But they took away my memory card ostensibly for forensic review," he said.
How the officers cited as suspects in the company of the mechanic suspect arrogated themselves the role of investigating the incident and interfering with exhibits is odd.
Meanwhile, the man suspected to have been the last to be seen with Ms Ruguru was on July 2, 2023 found hospitalised in Kiria-ini Mission Hospital with injuries recorded in the report as "assault -based". However, the report does not mention anything detailing his police statement.
He is recorded as a businessman in the field of renting out tents in Othaya and Kiria-ini town and a friend to Ms Ruguru.
How he was the last to be seen in the company of the missing woman and minutes later admitted in hospital with assault injuries is one complex question.
Sunday Nation managed to trace the man in his Othaya Sub County home, but he declined to be interviewed saying, "I was warned by the investigating officers that talking to the media would be prejudicial to the investigations.”
He said he had an accident on his way from Kiria-ini but was quick to add that "I was not in her company that night".
But the preliminary investigations report states that his mobile phone number's signal was within a circumference of two feet with that of the missing person during the cited accident.
"Where the hospitalised man's phone signal changed direction and started returning to Kiria-ini town is the same position where Ms Ruguru's phone signal was switched off," the report reads.
The lack of enthusiasm by the Kiria-ini police to crack the case has infuriated her family, friends and residents who now say there appears to be a well-structured conspiracy to stifle the matter.
"We know her well. She is a pure spirited, kind woman whose go-getter mentality was novel. She was lending us money on very friendly terms. She related with her debtors in a compassionate way. I was her daily customer at her hotel. The police should stop the game of musical chairs and tell us where she is," says Joseph Njogu, a resident.
Mr Njogu said it is peculiarly disturbing that "Even after we notified our Mathioya Member of Parliament about the issue, he is yet to be captured publicly calling for justice.”
Mr Mugo says he has since called the Mathioya and County DCI teams urging them to fasttrack the probe.
“Delayed provision of answers is igniting unnecessary tensions in the area business community as well as spreading fatigue about government among relatives and friends of Ms Ruguru," he said.
Ms Ruguru's eldest daughter Carolyne Njoki, 21, said her two siblings have greatly been affected by the events surrounding the life of their mother.
"My mother did not come home on July 1. We called her phone but it went unanswered. I thought she was on her business. But now the hope of finding my mother has turned into a panic," she said.
“After we thought we had healed following the death of our father and going through raw challenges as our mother took charge... And just when we were stabilising, she goes missing...Whatever the circumstances around her disappearance, we need her home,” Ms Njoki said.
She adds: "And if those behind her disappearance have harmed her, they should let us have her back in whatever state.”
She said that some of the investigators were demanding Sh5,000 as facilitation to help them access their mother.
“Some of those officers were telling us to go to Kirinyaga and Kiambu mortuaries to get her body, but the people we sent did not find her,” she revealed.
Murang'a County Commissioner Patrick Mukuria said he is aware of the case. “I assure all stakeholders that we will intensify the probe and give an appropriate response to the family.”
Mr Mukuria said that the allegations of bribery is a serious matter that needs to be filed formally at his office.
“I guarantee the parties that I will see to it that those involved face disciplinary action,” he said.