End of the road for infamous gang behind highway crimes in Nyandarua

Nyeri-Nyahururu highway

Traffic police officers inspect matatus on the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway during a crackdown on unroadworthy vehicles in December 2013. That stretch of road has seen a surge in highway robberies in recent times.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Their modus operandi is pretty straightforward; a smartly dressed woman alights from a private motor vehicle, pretends to pay the driver, and proceeds on her way.

The target is often a stranded traveller waiting for the rare matatu to run a pressing errand. Elated at the prospect of getting a means of transport, they readily accept the invitation to board the private car, which suspiciously charges Sh20, way lower than the usual matatu fare of Sh50.

The gimmick often works, and the unwitting prey boards the vehicle, only to fall into the eager hands of hardcore criminals, who strip them of all their belongings before dumping them at a secluded place.

On a bright Sunday morning, Ms Jackline Mwihaki woke up early as usual, did her chores, and was soon ready for church. Her daughter escorted her to the bus stop on the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway. Chatting happily as they waited for a matatu, a private car came along and a well-dressed woman alighted.

“She was a stranger in the area. I have lived in Makutano for over 30 years and I know almost everyone,” said Ms Mwihaki. After dropping their “passenger” near where Ms Mwihaki and her daughter were, “they asked where I was going and I told them I was going to church,” which is about two kilometres away towards the Nyeri direction, Ms Mwihaki said.

Lie down

The low fare lured her in and she agreed to board. She tugged at the back passenger door but it refused to budge. The male passenger behind the driver got out to help her open it and, in the process, squeezed in after her.

That’s how she found herself sandwiched between two men in the back seat. About 100 metres from the church, Ms Mwihaki told the driver she wanted to alight. He slowed down at first, then speed off.

“I protested, but the young man sitting in the front passenger seat adjusted his seat backwards, while the man on my left held my hands and forced me to lie down. The driver said they were police officers and I was under arrest. They took my national identity card from my purse together with the Sh2,500 I was to pay to a women’s welfare group in the church. They asked for my M-Pesa PIN, which I gave them. By that time, we had left the highway and we were driving on a deserted murram road,” she narrated.

The entire trip took less than one hour, but to her, it felt as if it lasted for a whole day. When she replaced her Sim card the following day, she found out that the thugs had withdrawn Sh3,000 from her M-Pesa account and Sh12,000 from Mshwari. They additionally borrowed Sh18,000 from her Mshwari account.

Similar ordeals

At least six other victims have reported similar ordeals at Ol Kalou Police Station. One of the victims from Meru could not hold back her tears on spotting a suspect police have arrested in connection with the robberies.

“She is traumatised by the experience. We have arranged for her to undergo a bit of counselling,” said Nyandarua Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss Eric Ochieng.

Other DCI officers from Embu, Runyenjes, Nairobi, Thika, Kirinyaga, Laikipia and Gilgil, who positively identified the suspect, said they had been on the gang’s trail for some time.

“He had remained elusive but we came to understand how he and his gang operates, which made it easier for us to trace and entrap him. He relocates to a different county after each robbery,” said Mr Ochieng.

“We have recovered six mobile phones suspected to have been stolen. We are calling on all victims to come forward,” Mr Ochieng added.

Detectives also recovered fake number plates in the car used by the suspect, whose phones and Sim cards are being subjected to forensic analysis. Also recovered in the suspect’s car were assorted items in a bag, sundry clothing, most of them belonging to women, and crude weapons believed to be used to attack victims and in house break-ins.