How Nakuru became a serial killers’ paradise

A view of Nakuru town.

Photo credit: Courtesy

When Philip Onyancha, now 44, was arrested in June 2010, after claiming that he had killed 19 people and planned to kill 100 after joining a cult that told him to drink their blood for good fortune, the nation was shocked.

But more serial killers have emerged since, and Kenyans are now used to such horrific murders.

Psychiatrists argue that it is tricky trying to find out what is going on in the minds of these killers and what motivates them, so as to curb similar deaths. 

Self-confessed serial killer Phillip Onyancha appears before a Nairobi on April 14, 2010 to face charges of murder of a seven-year-old boy at Ngando Village in Dagoretti.

Onyancha was 32 years old when he was arrested and confessed that he had killed 19 people, mainly women. 

He claimed he was recruited into a cult when he was a student. He said a teacher directed him to kill 100 people and drink their blood if he wanted to become successful in life.

Onyancha, now jailed at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Kiambu County, then showed detectives several sites in Nairobi, Central Kenya and the Rift Valley where he said he had killed his victims.

Detectives who followed him as he showed where he had killed and dumped the bodies retrieved some.

The jailbird, who faces several murder charges, has only been acquitted in one case.

In that case, Justice Jessie Lessit on July 8, 2021 said prosecutors had failed to prove that Onyancha killed Jacqueline Misoi on May 30, 2008 at the Mount Kenya building on Kombo Munyiri Road in Nairobi.

The Nakuru six

The recent arrest of Evans Michori Kebwaro, the main suspect behind a spate of killings of women in Mawanga, Nakuru, has evoked memories of serial killers who previously caused fear in the county.

Before Mr Kebwaro, a suspected serial killer, and his five accomplices were arrested, Nakuru residents, especially women, had altered their daily lives trying desperately to stay safe. No one knew when the killers would strike again. The city and its environs had been gripped by fear.

Mr Kebwaro, who is now also a man of interest in the murders of five schoolgirls in Molo in 2014, was arrested last weekend alongside five of his accomplices. 

Confirm gang suspects

Suspects in the Mawanga murders in Nakuru City: Julius Otieno, Josphat Simiyu, Dennis Mmbolo, Isaac Kinyanjui and Makhoha Wanjala are taken to court yesterday. They were detained for 14 more days pending mental assessments and DNA testing.

Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

Detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) traced the suspect to Keroka, Kisii County, where they apprehended him.

Upon interrogation, he named Julius Otieno, Josphat Simiyu, Dennis Mmbolo, Isaac Kinyanjui and Makhoha Wanjala as members of his gang.

The big question now is when the police will be able to crack the gang and end such killings in Nakuru County.

Yesterday, Nakuru County Commander Peter Mwanzo vowed to deal with gangs.

“We do not have two ways about it. Nakuru should be peaceful and we are not going to leave any stones unturned. The kind of operations that officers will be carrying out have taken a different turn and we shall get to the bottom of the matter,” he said.

Geoffrey Matheri Fongo

The other notorious killings involved a man referred to as the ‘Naivasha vampire’, who abducted women, sexually abused them and killed them before drinking their blood.

In 2008, self-confessed serial killer Geoffrey Matheri, alias Fongo, was linked to a series of macabre murders in Naivasha town.

Matheri claimed to have been recruited by Bishop Jeremiah Parangyo, of New Hope for All Nations Church, to kill and sell body parts to him.

Matheri was charged in court and State witnesses linked him to a series of murders, including that of Naomi Wairimu between January 1 and August 14, 2008 in his house in Kihoto, Naivasha.

Before he was arrested and charged with the murder of Wairimu, he shocked the country when he confessed to detectives that he had abducted women, raped them and sucked their blood.

He earned the nickname ‘Naivasha vampire’ after some of his rescued victims revealed that he had sucked blood from them.

In November 2014, Matheri was found guilty of kidnapping by a Naivasha magistrate and jailed for four years, a sentence he served at the Naivasha Maximum Security Prison.

Witnesses who testified in court portrayed Matheri as a hardcore serial killer who kidnapped even schoolgirls, murdered them and sucked their blood.

But Matheri was acquitted of murder charges by the Nakuru High Court in 2016.

Justice Maureen Odero, in her ruling, cited lack of strong evidence.

She said the prosecution case lacked cogency and failed to prove the charge of murder.

Killings of commercial sex workers in Nakuru

In 2016, commercial workers in Nakuru left the streets and their favourite spots deserted following a spate of killings that targeted them.

They feared that a serial killer was on the loose.

The killings puzzled many, including police officers, who could not tell what was happening until Aston Wachira, a tuktuk driver, was arrested ferrying the body a sex worker.

The killings were carried out in a similar manner and 10 women were killed in a span of six months. The eyes, facial skin and private parts had been removed from the bodies.

In December 2021, police arrested another suspected serial killer, Moses Kipchirchir from Mogotio, who was linked to several murders in Nakuru County. He was arrested after being linked to the death of Veronica Kanini.

Mental health experts say it is hard to understand people who commit such murders, unless they open up about their motivations.

There is no category of people who can be described as serial killers, said Prof Lukoye Atwoli, head of the African Association of Psychiatrists and dean of the School of Medicine at Aga Khan University.

“Dealing with such a matter needs a social perspective and not professional. We always have a category of human beings who easily break the norms and law and are never remorseful. Most of them are those with an anti-social character,” he said.

Substance and drug abuse cannot be ruled out in such cases, said Dr Joseph Njau, a Nairobi-based psychiatrist.

“There is always the influence of substances, and peer pressure can also lead one to behave in such a manner. This can lead to mental issues," he said.

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