Just over a week ago, Lawrence Njoroge Warunge sat on a bench under Jane Wambui’s eatery and ordered a cup of tea and mandazis for lunch. He left without paying.
Jane runs a shop and a small eatery just a few metres from the Warunge family home in Kiambaa’s Karura village, Kiambu County. She serves tea, mandazis and chapatis and mostly targets construction workers.
On this occasion, Lawrence, who loved to eat there, had taken a break from sweating it out at a construction site belonging to a man who bought land from one of his uncles.
The shopkeeper had known the sweet-toothed young man for about four months as he was her regular customer, at times spending up to Sh500 a day on snacks.
Later in the evening, Jane confronted Lawrence’s mother Annie Warunge about the unpaid bill. The Warunge matriarch offset the bill via M-Pesa.
Lawrence is no stranger in Karura but neighbours know very little about the murder suspect.
In the multiple interviews with the Nation, the locals yesterday said the same thing—Lawrence was a loner who spoke to nobody.
While nobody can attest to ever seeing Lawrence do anything out of the ordinary, police yesterday hinted that the Mount Kenya University student loved his share of marijuana. His uncle Allan Njiru, on the other hand, said he suspected the suspect had a mental problem because, a few years ago, he reported his mother to a local police station claiming that she was trying to poison him.
“I don’t want to discuss much with press because you have made the whole family look bad in the eyes of the public but what I strongly believe is that Lawrence must be having a mental problem because what I understand is that he had reported his mother to a police station claiming that she was trying to poison him and that the mother was involved in satanic activities,” he said, adding: “He was a polite man and you not even suspect him of doing anything.”
Last Monday, hours before meeting their deaths, the Warunges had woken up and taken their two school-going children to their respective institutions. Annie escorted one of her children to a school in Kirinyaga, while her husband Nicholas took the other to a school within Karura village. Lawrence was believed to have reported back to the university where he is pursuing a degree in information technology. But later that evening, police say, Lawrence returned home and butchered his family, save for the two siblings that reported back to their boarding schools.
The couple, their son Christian and adopted nephew Maxwell were stabbed and their throats slit. No alarm was raised, at least according to neighbours, with the closest, Mr Njire, saying he heard nothing on the fateful night. Mr Njire dismissed claims that he had a frosty relationship with his brother, insisting that they were good friends.
But since his brother jetted into the country on December 4 and happens to live less than 200 metres, they had never met or talked.
“I only saw him when he was dead. I have been busy and maybe he was busy too,” he said. Mr Njire has survived two murder attempts on his life. One in 2016 when a group of men attacked him with a machete, and a shooting three years later while in Nicholas’ company. He now walks with a bullet lodged in his thigh.
Lawrence has told police that he plotted and executed the murders, even as detectives work with leads indicating that the brutal murders were done by at least five people.
And, 43 kilometres from the Warunge home, Mai Mahiu-based building caretaker Antony Mutuku was reminiscing how Lawrence and his girlfriend rented a house from him and promised to move out by January 7. The couple did move out on the agreed date, but Mr Mutuku’s workplace is now a crime scene as police believe Lawrence plotted his family’s butchering in the tiny space rented for two weeks. His girlfriend hailed from the area but told Mr Mutuku that she would be moving in with her boyfriend.
“She claimed her mother’s house within the same place could not accommodate the two, hence her decision to rent a house,” added the caretaker. Being familiar with the woman, Mr Mutuku was not hesitant to give out the room as nothing seemed to have been out of the ordinary.
But detectives believe the suspect used the house to plan on how to execute his mission without raising eyebrows.
When the family was killed, the suspect retreated to his hired room, discarding some of the murder weapons—including a sharp sword, a pair of shoes, a white jacket and house keys.
The investigators managed to retrieve the items from the pit latrine inside the compound where the lovers had rented a room.
Aghast villagers stood behind fences to catch a glimpse of the happenings, as the determined homicide officers dug a hole behind the latrine as they searched for crucial exhibits. A community leader at Jikaze IDP camp, Mohamed Ngugi, said the incident was a shock to them.
“We are familiar with each other but look at the timing,” he posed: “The two came in during the festivities, a common thing within the rural set-up where visitors often check in for Christmas and stay with relatives.”
Mr Ngugi said he knew Lawrence’s girlfriend right from the time she was in school, adding that she had been staying with her mother before moving to Thika to run a business.
“She was a woman with a good character and the happenings today has come as a major surprise to many of us,” added Mr Ngugi.
He, like many others interviewed, said he had never met Lawrence despite him staying within the area.
“The pair must have locked themselves up and maybe ventured out at nightfall or unnoticed,” said Mr Ngugi.
The two did not have household items with only a pair of mattresses laid on the floor.
“It was purposely hired for a mission and the couple did not intend to stay beyond the 12-day period,” pointed out a detective as the heart of the investigations.
Reporting by Simon Ciuri, Macharia Mwangi, and Brian Wasuna