William Alfred Mulwa Mutilangi, an exceptionally brilliant Kenyan from a dusty village in Masii, Machakos County, left Kenya four-and-a-half decades ago in search of greener pastures in the United States of America.
The first class honours degree graduate in Food Science from the University of Nairobi excelled beyond the wildest dreams of many a Kenyan village boy, rising through the ranks to become a top innovator at Pepsi, a global conglomerate whose annual revenue is in excess of Sh14 trillion, nearly four-fifths of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
On November 14, 2023, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO) approved a two-year-old patent application by Pepsi Cola for a new way of improving the mouthfeel of sugar-free beverages, invented by Khushal Brijwani and Mr Mulwa.
The invention involves the use of pectin, a soluble fibre from fruits, and the food additive xanthan gum to improve the way beverages with reduced or zero sugar feel in a consumer’s mouth.
Mr Mulwa should have been over the moon at the patenting of the latest of his several inventions under the Pepsi Cola brand.
But the food scientist was dead, and cremated, six days earlier.
On October 10, 2023 two individuals took Mr Mulwa, 67, to the North Westchester Restorative Therapy and Nursing Centre in New York. One identified herself as Mary Mutilangi, his sister, and the other as Peter Githinji. Unknown to the hospital staff, the real Mary Mutilangi was nearly 12,000 kilometres away in Masii, a small village in Machakos County.
At 2.49am on October 16, 2023 Mr Mulwa’s heart suddenly stopped beating. One minute later, he was pronounced dead.
A death certificate seen by “Nation” shows the cause of his death was cardiac arrest, caused by acute difficulty in breathing, which was sparked by prostate cancer.
The family believes there was foul play. An attempt by a Tanzanian national Bakari Kisalu Malanda to take over Mr Mulwa’s assets in Kenya and in the US, claiming to be his son, appears to lend credence to this claim.
“I have been telling him to retire and come back home to enjoy the wealth he has worked for over so many years. When we last spoke last year, he had finally agreed and said he would retire soon. He wanted to come back to Masii as he often said how much he has missed village life. He also liked to travel a lot. William (Mulwa) asked me to help him acquire some goats, sheep, cows and also a wife,” Mary Mutilangi, the sister, told the “Nation” in a recent interview at their Masii home.
Alice Nthambi Mutilangi, another of Mr Mulwa’s sisters who lives with Mary in Masii, says Mulwa loved to laugh.
She also says Mr Mulwa was secretive. He appears to have carried this trait into adulthood, as “Nation” could not find much of his digital footprint, short of a number of inventions attached to his name at Pepsi and some scholarly publications. He did not even use the WhatsApp text and call application that is popular with millions of smartphone users across the world.
After graduating in 1979, Mr Mulwa got a scholarship in the US a year later, where he completed his Masters and PhD in Food Science, before joining Pepsi in 1986.
He was Pepsi’s Director of Discovery and Application at the time of his death.
Mr Edward Nzesya Mutilangi, one of Mr Mulwa’s brothers, said that the family has formally filed a complaint with the State Department of Diaspora Affairs and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) in Kenya, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in the US.
On Friday, the family’s lawyer in the US, Mr Japheth Matemu said that the FBI is conducting a preliminary investigation into the matter, after which it will determine whether to formally open a file.
His death has sparked a chain of curious events in Kenya, Tanzania and the US, as a titanic battle over his ashes and vast, valuable estate simmers and attracts the attention of investigative agencies in Nairobi and New York.
Mr Mulwa’s siblings; Edward, Vincent, Mary, Alice, Judy and Mwikali, insist that their brother was single his entire life, and that his past relationships yielded no children.
But Mr Malanda claims that Mr Mulwa was his father and had drawn a will that leaves his entire multimillion-shilling estate to him.
On October 24, 2023, Mr Bakari executed a power of attorney — a legal authorisation allowing a designated individual to make decisions on behalf of the executor — in favour of New Jersey-based Peter Nderitu Githinji.
The power of attorney, drafted by Kahuthu & K Advocates, was to last for six months and was limited to Mr Githinji ensuring that Yorktown Funeral Home cremated Mulwa’s remains.
Mr Matemu, the Mutilangi family lawyer in the US, said that the power of attorney drafted by Kahuthu & K Advocates did not meet professional standards.
He added that the Law Society of Kenya should also open a probe, because the power of attorney is what sparked the curious events in US and Kenya.
Kahuthu & K Advocates is representing Mr Bakari, and has issued instructions to various institutions to withhold information from anyone that comes asking.
Mr Mulwa last visited Kenya in August last year. He had just wrapped up a trip to South Africa, and spent a few days in Nairobi before flying back to New York.
On October 5, 2023, Mr Mulwa called his brother Vincent for a routine chit-chat. The Mutilangis rested assured that their second born was well, not knowing that was the last contact any of them would ever have with Mr Mulwa.
Two days after Mr Bakari executed the power of attorney in Mr Githinji’s favour, Vincent received a WhatsApp call from New York-based Japheth Ndambuki.
After confirming that Vincent was Mr Mulwa’s brother, Mr Ndambuki revealed that Mr Mulwa had died 10 days earlier.
Mr Ndambuki added that Mr Mulwa died at Hudson Valley Hospital in New York, and that his remains were at Yonkers Funeral Home in the same city.
Hudson Valley Hospital is 73km away from Yonkers Funeral Home.
Yonkers is 53km from Mr Mulwa’s home at 43 Bleakley Drive in Peekskill, an upmarket suburb in New York. No explanation was given why his body was transferred that far away from the hospital or his home.
Mr Ndambuki said that he did not know much about Mr Mulwa’s death, and was just asked by Mr Githinji to break the news to family.
He shared Mr Githinji’s number.
Vincent got in touch with his only other brother, Edward, and together they called Mr Githinji later in the day.
Mr Githinji did not offer much, insisting that his lawyer advised him not to share any information on Mr Mulwa.
When “Nation” contacted Mr Githinji on January 18, he said he did not know Mr Mulwa, despite hospital records indicating that he was one of the two individuals that drove the former Pepsi director to hospital on October 10, 2023.
The two brothers called Hudson Valley Hospital, but there was no record of Mr Mulwa ever being admitted there.
They then called Yonkers Funeral Home, but there was no record of Mr Mulwa’s remains being there.
The inaccuracy of the information on Mr Mulwa’s whereabouts lit a glimmer of hope, as the Mutilangi brothers now thought that he could still be alive.
As they prepared to seek assistance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vincent and Edward called some of Mr Mulwa’s friends in New York.
The friends knew of Mr Mulwa’s death, but not the whereabouts of his remains. They set out to find out where they were.
This mission proved effective, but ended all hopes of Mulwa being alive — Mr Ndambuki had fed the Mutilangis false information on the hospital of admission and funeral home.
Mr Mulwa had actually been admitted at the North Westchester Restorative Therapy and Nursing Centre, which is 21km from the hospital Mr Ndambuki stated on the Whatsapp call.
His remains were transferred to Yorktown Funeral Home, which is 49km from the facility Mr Ndambuki claimed was holding Mr Mulwa’s remains.
On Friday, Mr Ndambuki told the “Nation” that he knew Mr Mulwa 30 years ago when they were both still in Kenya.
He added that their families were friends. When we asked Mr Ndambuki for details about Mr Mulwa’s death, Mr Bakari and Mr Githinji, he declined to comment and insisted that the conversation ends there.
Edward, Mr Mulwa’s brother and the family spokesperson, said that neither him nor his siblings had ever heard of Mr Ndambuki. He denied that the Mutilangis and Ndambukis are family friends.
When Vincent and Edward called Yorktown Funeral Home, they were denied information on grounds that a lawyer representing Mr Mulwa’s son had issued strict instructions against revealing anything to third parties. The institution declined to reveal the name of the lawyer.
Pepsi Cola, where Mr Mulwa spent most of his adult life working, also declined to release any information, citing similar instructions.
On October 27, Vincent and Edward filed a statement with the State Department for Diaspora Affairs, which is still investigating Mr Mulwa’s death and the suspect move on his assets.
The Kenyan Embassy in Washington DC, on behalf of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, sent officials to Mr Githinji, the funeral home and Pepsi.
Mr Githinji insisted that he did not know Mr Bakari despite having ordered for Mr Mulwa’s cremation on behalf of the Tanzanian national.
On November 6, 2023, two days before Mr Mulwa was cremated, Kahuthu & K Advocates wrote to Lloyd Masika on behalf of Mr Bakari.
Lawyer G.J. Kahuthu in the letter demanded that the property management firm should not share any information with anyone, and stated that he would reach out later.
“We act for Bakari Kisalu Malanda, the son of the late Alfred Mulwa Mutilangi, particulars of which are well known to yourselves. You manage the above cited properties. Please continue. My father died on 16th October 2023 in his country of residence, United States of America. Kindly take note that no other party should be accorded any record or document of his investments or property apart from our client or us. We shall keep you updated. We thank you for the services rendered so far,” Mr G.J. Kahuthu said in the letter.
G.J. Kahuthu declined to comment on the matter when “Nation” visited his office on January 10, 2024.He is yet to respond to our January 18, 2024 follow-up email requesting him for an interview.
Mr Bakari also declined to comment, instead telling our team to send a message to Mr Mulwa’s siblings, asking them to contact him.
“Waambie wanitafute (tell them to look for me),” Mr Bakari said before disconnecting the call.
On Thursday, in another phone call, Mr Bakari confirmed that he is currently in Tanga, Tanzania, and insisted that he is Mr Mulwa’s son. He maintained that “Nation” should get in touch with lawyer G.J. Kahuthu for any further queries.
Mr Mulwa was a wealthy man. He had acquired 10 houses in Nairobi, Kiambu and Machakos counties whose current market value could clock Sh200 million.
He rented out eight of those properties. Four of the houses in South C, Imara Daima and Chania Gardens are managed by Lloyd Masika. In addition to cash in bank accounts, cars in the US, land holdings and a trust, he is estimated to be worth at least Sh500 million by close family members’ estimates.
Edward and Vincent had three days earlier asked Lloyd Masika for particulars of properties managed by the firm, such as the listed next of kin.
By this time, they had filed a complaint with the DCI.
On November 11, the DCI wrote to Superior Homes, the developer of Greenpark Estate in Athi River, where Mr Mulwa owned three houses.
The DCI stated that there were fraudsters trying to acquire Mr Mulwa’s properties and that anyone found interfering with the deceased’s assets would face prosecution.
The DCI also wrote to Lloyd Masika on December 11 and to Sichangi Partners Advocates, a law firm Mr Mulwa hired in 2016 to sort out his legal affairs. Detectives sought a breakdown of all properties it handled on behalf of the deceased.
The law firm is yet to respond to the letter.
On November 17, the State Department for Diaspora Affairs wrote to the Mutilangi siblings with an update — that Mulwa was dead, had been cremated and both the funeral home and Pepsi were not open to revealing any information.
Both institutions are yet to respond to several emails from the “Nation” seeking information on Mr Mulwa.
In December, the Mutilangi siblings nominated Edward to travel to New York, to retrieve Mr Mulwa’s ashes and initiate succession proceedings while seeking information on what happened to their brother.
Edward is yet to secure a visa to the US. Yorktown Funeral Home wrote to the US Embassy in Nairobi on December 22, 2023, asking officials to help him travel to New York.
A day earlier, Mr Bakari wrote to the funeral home, faulting it for failure to issue him with Mr Mulwa’s death certificate. In the letter, he threatened to sue the funeral home.
Yorktown Funeral Home and Pepsi are yet to respond to a number of email queries sent between December 2023 and January 2024.
In a letter to the Mutilangis, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the two institutions have opted to keep mum until investigators or the courts determine who Mulwa’s legal next of kin is.