Alarm over bizarre arson murders of women in Central Kenya

Kandara arson

From left: Mary Wangui Njoroge and her grandchildren Jackline Wambui and Alvin Kiarie who died in the Kandara arson attack. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Murang’a County has become home to mysterious fires that target to murder women, and security agents are now under pressure to get to the bottom of the incidents.

Data on the county’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations serious crimes tracking indicate that for the past two years, 12 women have died in such fires, five of them in the past two months.

 “We can no longer continue like this. There is a hidden aspect in these murders. The county is being debated negatively owing to these cruelties, and it is the duty of our security agents to give us the answers,” said Murang’a Senator Joe Nyutu.

The worst fire incident is recorded to have killed 60-year-old Mary Wangui, her three daughters, Cecilia Gathoni 30, Lucy Mumbi, 20, Margaret Wanja, 15, and two grandchildren, Jackline Wambui, 7, and Alvine Kiarie, 3.

The victims were sleeping in a permanent house in Nguthuru village, Kandara Sub-County, on April 10, 2022, when arsonists attacked.

Wangui’s younger sister, Alice Nyambura, was arrested in connection with the murders and is still defending herself in court after she denied the charges.

Kandara Sub-County police boss Michael Mwaura wondered what would drive one to commit such a senseless crime.

“There are those many suspicions that crop up once these incidents occur. Mostly cited motivations are about property, cultism, jealousy, mental illnesses, malice, revenge…But regardless of what is the beef, it is outrightly ungodly to scheme and murder a fellow human being by whatever means,” he said.

On January 24, Mercy Njoya 34 was attacked by a gang of four in her Maragua town’s Mathare Estate and petrol-bombed, suffering injuries that killed her 13 days later while receiving treatment at the Kenyatta National Hospital.

According to Maragua Division Assistant County Commissioner Joshua Okello, no suspect has been arrested. This is despite the fact that residents freely cite the suspects who were seen riding a motorcycle and ordering her to open up her single room.

“This incident could have been investigated successfully by a third-rate mind detective since it had a well-defined trail. It’s known that she was drinking in a local bar in the company of known males, the same ones  seen escaping from her house after the fire,” says Mr Joram Mwongi, a resident.

In February 20, 2023, the county woke up to another shocking incident where two elderly women were found burnt to death on a village path in Kiharu Constituency. Police recorded the victims as Ms Jane Wambu, 85, and Mary Njoki,75. Records show the suspects and motive as unknown.

“But subsequent investigations revealed that the two were accused of practicing witchcraft where a gang flushed them out of their houses and burnt them to death,” says Kahuro Police boss Catherine Ringera, adding that two suspects have since been arrested and arraigned.

Ms Ringera said the area has of later become an epicentre of such bizarre murders involving fire and targeting women.

 “We are currently investigating the October 21, 2023 death of Ms Jane Wanjiru, 70, at Kirogo village who was found burnt to death in her house. So far, we are yet to identify the suspect(s) or the motive behind the murder,” she said.

Ms Ringera said the deaths appear to be targeting the elderly women “and face value investigations deduce possibilities that they are dying in schemes executed by greedy family members or realtors out to grab property as well as suspicions of witchcraft”.

On September 17, 2023 Ms Agnes Muthoni was attacked by a lone male as she opened her home compound gate at Mathegeta village in Murang’a South Sub-County, and petrol-bombed to death.

According to area Deputy County Commissioner Gitonga Murungi, neither the assailant(s) nor their motive has been identified.

“All that we know is that her husband was in bed and she had woken up at 6am to open the gate, and when she was getting back to the house, a man emerged from behind and tripped her down and petrol bombed her. He escaped into the nearby bushes after the incident,” Mr Murungi said adding that the victim died before she could reveal more details.

On September 28, 2023, 84-year-old Grace Wanjiku was retrieved from her house in Kirimiga village in Mathioya Sub-County, burnt beyond recognition in an incident detectives have since ruled as murder.

Mrs Wanjiku was sleeping in the same house with his two sons aged 51 and 48, when the fire started in the five-roomed house.

The two sons told police in their statements that they had left the room they shared and ventured out to search for cigarettes when the fire erupted from their mother’s bedroom.

Though scene of crime detectives reported to the area a week later, Mathioya Sub-County DCI boss Muriithi Muriungi said investigations are still ongoing, aimed at nabbing “those who were behind the fire”.

He said several angles are being explored and soon there will be a credible report aimed at arresting the mastermind(s) behind the murder of the woman.

Neighbours and family members reported that the deceased was in a protracted land dispute with a relative and her death could be related to the tussle.

 “We will factor all those heresy in our investigations…We are committed to tabling a report that is exhaustive and that which contains plausible suspicions. Soon, we are going to parade the killers,” he said.

Jane Wanjiku, 75, who escaped such an attempted murder in 2010 says: “The executors usually are motivated by greed to grab property and to justify their scheme, invokes the issue of witchcraft so as to win blessings of the society to murder you.”

She narrates her husband, Mr Wallace Mwangi, was in a tussle for the family land with some relatives and on May 17, 2010, “our house at Kanjama village was surrounded by a gang of male youths and who doused it with paraffin and set it ablaze”.

She adds: “Luckily, the windows of that house had no grills and my husband and I managed to rescue our three children aged between 12 and 21.” The husband later died of depression.