Whenever residents of Kasipul, Homa Bay County, hear calls for conservation of forests such as Mau, what comes to mind is their native Kodera Forest.
And while they love trees and appreciate the many benefits that come with water towers, the dense forest is turning out to be one of their biggest dilemmas.
They are torn between supporting its protection and pushing for its destruction because it has become a security threat.
According to locals who spoke to the Nation on Wednesday, Kodera Forest has become “a cemetery without graves” because of dumping of bodies of people killed from far and wide.
On Wednesday, relatives and friends of Sharon Otieno, a second-year Rongo University student kidnapped alongside Nation Journalist Barrack Oduor on Monday, woke up to the sad news of her death.
Her body was found lying in the forest— about 12 kilometres from Nyangweso market where Mr Oduor luckily escaped from the brutal killers by jumping out of their moving car.
Located in West Kasipul, Rachuonyo South, the more than 1,000-ha forest has become notorious for all the bad reasons.
The water tower has been a dumping ground for bodies for nearly 20 years now and killers’ and murders’ love for it seems to be unending.
Locals say the location of the forest makes it a safe haven for those seeking to cover up murders and manslaughter.
Additionally, two features— a river and a road— that pass through the forest make the killers’ and murders’ work even easier and safer.
River Awach-Kodera cuts across the forest as it flows from south to north as if it were carrying away the secrets of Sharon’s and other victims’ killers.
When the Nation took a walk in the forest, its brown water crashed against pointed rocks as it cut sharp corners on its way to Lake Victoria.
“The forest is also a safe haven for killers as it is secluded, about four to five kilometres from the main Oyugis-Kisii road," says Mr Samuel Owida, a native of Kasipul.
Sharon is not the first murder victim to be dumped in this forest.
Slain journalist Francis Nyaruri's body was discovered in the same forest on January 15, 2009 after his mysterious, week-long disappearance from Kisii town.
Mr Owida says the forest has been known for being a dumping ground of "lifeless bodies of people murdered elsewhere."
"This year, a body of a person said to had been abducted in Nakuru was found there,” he tells the Nation.
“Usually, the bodies dumped in the forest are either at the bank of the Awach-Kodera river like Nyaruri's or deep in the forest.”
Mr Oduor, who narrowly escaped death, would have most likely been found lying besides Sharon.
He escaped from the jaws of the kidnappers at Nyangweso market, just before the abductors car branched in the forest direction, some 12 kilometres away.
On Wednesday, Nyanza criminal investigations boss Michael Barasa confirmed Sharon's death and said they were making further investigations to arrest her killers.
"We have already arrested the governor's (Okoth Obado's) PA and are closely following up this matter. For now, that's all I can say," Mr Barasa said.
Sharon's body now lies at Rachuonyo Level Four Hospital in Oyugis, about eight kilometres from the forest.
Additional reporting by Harry Misiko in Nairobi.