They are brutal, swift and slither in the darkness like ghosts.
The deadly gangs that have turned tiny villages in Kakamega County into their killing fields strike at around midnight, in groups of between three and five.
With their faces covered and a change of clothes near the scene of crime, the ‘neck slayers’ carry blinding torches to help pick their targets in the cover of darkness. They hardly take anything from their victims.
Their tools of trade -- machetes, axes, spiked clubs, hammers, nails and an assortment of other sharp objects -- are getting more vicious after every killing.
On some days, a motorbike drives swiftly past a home they want to attack shortly before they arrive. They officially launched their killings on March 3, 2019.
As the rain poured on the modest houses in Matungu, a stone’s throw away from the burial grounds of Wanga kings, the killers of Kakamega County were sharpening their machetes for what would be a series of shocking murders to be visited on Western Kenya.
They glided between trees, past a mosque and landed in a homestead comprising nine houses. They knew their target. They marched undetected past several homes and straight into a newly built house.
They picked 30-year-old Yusuf Shiundu, tore the T-shirt of his favourite Manchester United team he was wearing into tiny strands, used them to tie his hands at his back as his wife watched. They then turned on his wife who had just celebrated her 18th birthday.
The fact that she was four months pregnant did not bother them. They raped her before bludgeoning her to death, leaving her in a pool of blood.
They trained their weapons back on Mr Shiundu as the horror unfolded in front of his eyes, frog-matched him out of his father's vast compound, in slippers, past madrassa classrooms that are near a mosque bordering their compound, to a river less than 500 metres from his house.
Here, beside the peaceful waters of River Kholera, they struck him at least twice at the back of his neck with a machete.
They then finished him off with their signature deep cut on the right side of the head before throwing him off the bridge, to his death.
On this night, a man, his wife and their unborn child came face to face with the world of 14 Brothers, an offshoot of the dreaded 42 Brothers that is visiting terror on homesteads in a once peaceful region. Their murders are happening not too far away from police stations.
For Mr Shiundu, it would have taken a police car responding to his murder less than 10 minutes to reach him.
But for some reason, the men entrusted with the security of the area have been arriving on the scenes of crime when it is a little too late.
While their victim’s graves were still fresh, they struck again. This time, 38-year-old Isaac Sakwa was hacked to death as he came home from fending for his family.
Mr Sakwa worked as a turn-boy for a lorry at a nearby market. “His only crime was to identify one of his killers. He shouted, ‘I know you’ when he spotted one of the machete-welding men hiding in a thicket around our house,” his widow Florence Atsieno, 32, narrated his murder at their home.
Now she has to take care of six children alone. The eldest child is just nine years, most of them perhaps too young to comprehend what the grave outside their home means.
“They cut him in the same style, one deep cut at the back of the neck and another on the head,” Ms Atsieno said.
They were gone before his screams were heard. The area sub-chief, who helped identify her dead husband, lives next door. It was not the last grave of the month.
Residents say at least 15 people have been killed in the past one month. But security officers have a different number.
Western region police chief Rashid Yakub says 13 people have been killed by the gangs. Ten days later, the gang was more emboldened.
In their next attack they hit two homesteads in one night in quick succession. The first murder was of Sharif Odongo Okumu, 19, a Form Two student at Makunda Muslim Secondary School.
His father, Salim Okumu Keya, says he was hacked as he returned home from evening studies at a neighbour’s home.
Only a sim card was found at the murder scene. Mr Okumu is frustrated that police are yet to make any significant headway in investigations into his son’s untimely death.
“My son was found in the morning, dead, on the road. No one has been arrested. The police refused to take the sim card found at the scene of the crime to help them with investigations,” he says.
But villagers say more happened on that fateful night than what Mr Okumu’s family is ready to reveal. But his son was not the only young man attacked that night.
CHOKED TO DEATH
The second victim of the April 28 attack was 18-year-old Dennis Omuseve Wangatia, whose murder remains one of the most chilling.
Besides hacking him on the head, his attackers forced him to swallow several pieces of sugarcane without chewing.
The hard, indigestible objects bruised his oesophagus for over 72 hours as he gasped for air and hoped against hope that doctors at Matungu Hospital and Kakamega Level Four hospitals would save his life.
But he would later choke to his death, after fighting for three days as doctors attempted to get the sugarcane pieces out of his breathing path.
Just like Mr Okumu, he would also have either been a Form One or Form Two student at the time he met his attackers had his parents been able to pay for his secondary education.
Emboldened by their deadly activities that went unanswered by the local police station, this week they did their worst.
In another deadly midnight attack, they raided one homestead in Sayangwe village, which is about a 20 minutes’ drive from Mumias town.
Here, they hacked a man who was still fighting for his life in Kakamega County Referral Hospital at the time of writing this story.
They hacked two of his children as well, one surviving the attack and the other not so lucky, as they turned his house into an orgy of violence.
His eight-year-old daughter was lucky. She survived. His pregnant wife was not so lucky as she was butchered as she attempted to flee.
But the thirst for blood and death that lurks in the depth of their cold hearts could not have been quenched until they choked the couples three-year-old daughter, snapping her neck and suffocating her to death on their matrimonial bed before running off to bask in their horrific exploits.