It was in Dagoretti in 1986 when I first saw Patrick Shaw in action, a friend of mine recalled. A gang of five had robbed a shop and taken off in a getaway car. The Flying Squad and Shaw showed up in minutes and encircled the area, trapping the suspects.
Shaw parked his trademark Volvo and laid in wait along a road that was the only known way out. As the officers from the Flying Squad began to flush out the suspects, they radioed to Shaw that their vehicle was enroute towards him. Soon, the thugs’ getaway burst through a corner, bearing down on him.
Shaw jumped into the middle of the road, a pistol in each hand, and began to unload on the occupants of the car.
“The driver was the first to he hit, bringing the car to an abrupt halt,” the eyewitness remembers. “His passengers tried to escape, but they were also shot down.”
One by one, the bodies of Shaw’s victims were turned over for identification. As a crowd gathered, Shaw called the fallen criminals by name, then turned to the crowd and, as he always did on such occasions, warned them to stay off crime.
In the midst of all this madness, the Flying Squad dragged in, alive, another suspect, still clutching onto the loot. After perusing through the contents of the bag, Shaw asked the police officers to step aside, raised his pistol and... kablam!
The crowd gasped in horror, unable to believe how a man of the law could execute a suspect in cold blood — and in the full view of the public.
But that was not Shaw’s most famous encounter. It came in 1977, when he gunned down Nairobi’s most infamous gangster Nicholas Mwea, alias Wakinyonga.
Wakinyonga was huge, very rough and tough. He stood out from the crowd courtesy of his dreadlocks, jewellery and fancy clothes. In the ‘70s, a man in dreadlocks stood out like a billboard.
After a spate of violent robberies, the culmination of which was the murder of the CEO of Total Kenya in broad daylight, Wakinyonga became Kenya’s most wanted criminal, and Shaw started hunting him down.
The man had a colourful history with the police and the law courts, but when he learned that Shaw was trailing him, he knew that the end was nigh.
The Standard reported that, as Shaw closed down on him, Wakinyonga dug his own grave in the backyard of the house he lived in and went on a spending spree, buying people crates of beer at Nyakombani Night Club in Nairobi’s Kangemi area.
One night, as he was enjoying his beer, Shaw stepped into the club. Wakinyonga looked up and beheld the burly man smile coyly at him. This was going to be easy for the crime-buster, after all.
After a shoot-out during which several patrons were injured, Wakinyonga lay in a pool of blood, dead. But, even though the official story is that it was Shaw who fired the fatal bullet, an aging taxi driver who says he witnessed it all says Shaw happened into the scene minutes after Wakinyonga had been shot dead by the police, and that the ‘grave’ in his backyard was actually a newly dug pit latrine.
But the drama was not over yet in the Wakinyonga script. At the funeral, as the fallen criminal’s casket was being lowered into his grave, Shaw led a group of police officers into the scene and ordered everyone to lie face-down. Many were arrested for questioning.
That was trademark Shaw. Whenever he gunned down a suspect, he always made a point of showing up at the funeral, where he would arrest a number of mourners, including family members, for questioning. He would then proceed to warn anyone who looked ‘suspect’ to never step in Nairobi, or else...
Many have questioned why the man operated as if he was above the law, why he broke the very rules he was supposed to uphold by playing the role of investigator, judge and executioner.
The explanation given at the time was that Shaw knew that, should the men he arrested be sent to jail, they would come out hardened and even more dangerous. The correctional facilities of the 1970s were nothing to write home about, as were the courts. Many thugs could somehow bribe their way out of the tightest of cases.
In an era where the capacity of the police and the CID was limited, and where corruption and crime were rampant even within the police ranks and the Judiciary, Shaw’s crime-fighting techniques had to be equally unethical and brutal.
One criminal named George Kamau, alias “Slim,” a protégé to Wakinyonga and leader of a gang known as the Disciples of Jesus, knows that all too well where he sleeps, forever.
Slim is alleged to have killed 52 people in the late 1970s and 1980s. After getting off on a series of technicalities or because of scared witnesses withdrawing their testimonies, Slim was finally put away for six years for three separate violent crimes in 1981, but not before threatening to kill Shaw.
A month before Slim was released, Shaw visited Kamiti prison and warned him that, once free, he was to leave Nairobi forever. Slim, of course, ignored the warning and proceeded to do various ‘jobs’ in the city.
It was not long before Shaw decided to put things to rest. One night, as Slim and another suspected criminal named Stephen Mbaraka Karanja whiled the evening away in the city, they were accosted by a team of police officers who bundled them into a car and headed to Karura Forest. There, it is alleged, the two were shot dead on the orders of Shaw.
So, was this man a crime-buster or a psycopath let loose on the streets of Nairobi... with a loaded gun?
Many who spent time with or near him say they were convinced the man had a split personality.
“Despite the extrajudicial killings and his run-ins with the darker side of Nairobi,” one of his informants says, “the man would every now and then exhibit the traits of a humanitarian angel. For instance, he was able to set aside his psycopathic ways and become the principled, fun-loving guy at Starehe Boy’s Centre.”
A police officer he worked with described Shaw as “completely out of control” and “out of bounds of the constitutional description of what an officer should be”.
“He did not report to any particular police station, he used his personal car, and had no fixed jurisdiction,” the retired police officer says, but admits that it was this nature of self-deployment that made Shaw so effective.
To counter the claim that the man reported to no one, and was thus some sort of a one-man vigilante, a former informant cites that Shaw’s rank was Senior Superintendant of Police, and that his position as a police reservist justified his modus operandi.
Despite roiling and toiling with Nairobi’s most wanted, none of them ever got the best of Big Pat Shaw. But in July 1979, the man had his closest shave with a thug.
One Friday afternoon, a gang of three Ugandans stormed into the house of Dr Gulam Mustafa while the family was having lunch. They shot death the Mustafas’ house-help Simon Ngeresa, his wife Jane and Mustafa’s wife Parvin before ransacking the house for loot, after which they harassed Mustafa’s two daughters and a nephew of the family.
While they were still in the house, Shaw pulled up at the family gate. One of the gang members fired through the window of Shaw’s car, hitting him in the shoulder. Shaw sped to Nairobi Hospital for treatment, but the police arrived shortly afterwards to clean up the mess.
One of the gang members was gunned down while bystanders and police captured another. A sub-machine gun was found on the dead suspect, later identified as Marua Wakamune, but Patrick Walimba, the man blamed for shooting Shaw, escaped.
After having the bullet removed, Shaw refused to spend the night at the hospital, upon which Dr Geoffrey Griffin, Starehe’s Director, was called in to talk to his friend.
Griffin arrived at the hospital to find Shaw pacing the hallways. “An assistant administrator with gangrene would be of little use,” Griffin told Shaw, and eventually persuaded him to stay one night and to take it easy.
In 1981, Shaw finally caught up with Walimba and, in the presence of other officers, gunned-down the gangster at a bar in Jerusalem Estate.
It is difficult to estimate, even modestly, how many suspected gangsters Shaw killed.
“Literally hundreds,” one former informant estimates. “At least one fatality a week.”
But the man was, like all men, still mortal. On February 14, 1988, while visiting a friend named David Rowe, Shaw started feeling weak. His heart was failing. It is said he was reading a newspaper when he stood up shouting and fell to his knees, his gun still in its holster. He was rushed to Nairobi Hospital where he was pronounced dead, aged 52.
The next morning, all three major newspapers run front-page stories on the man who was known simply as “crime-buster”. Over the course of the following week, condolences were telephoned and wired in from around the world.
On Saturday, February 20, 1988, the once indomitable Patrick David Shaw was laid to rest. The Starehe school chapel, where the funeral service was held, “was packed to absolute capacity, while hundreds more sat on the grass of the quadrangle”, a newspaper reported.
A group of boys, some of whom considered Shaw their father, carried his coffin past the buildings built under his supervision and through the funds he helped to raise into a hearse. The cortege of police cars and motorcycles that accompanied the man on his final journey to Lang’ata cemetery was two miles long.
“It was like a royal procession,” remembers his sister.
Chief Justice Cecil Miller read a message of condolence from then President Daniel arap Moi, praising Shaw for his “constant, selfless, sacrificial and untiring service to law and order for the benefit of his fellow men”.
Shaw’s close friends, including the late Geoffrey Griffin, scoffed at the notion that Shaw died from anything other than a heart attack. But most in Nairobi, including the students at Starehe, believed foul play was at hand, that the man who lived by the sword had to have died by the sword.
These rumours were only compounded when the students were prevented from viewing the body, a decision Griffin made to prevent the funeral proceedings from being sensationalised.
Later, the Weekly Review, at its time the foremost political magazine in Kenya, carried a story on Shaw highlighting his prowess as a civil servant and crime fighter.
“Mystery always seemed to surround him and the police were probably content to leave matters so in order to enhance the aura of invincibility that surrounded him,” the Weekly Review wrote. One photo of Shaw looking smug was included, with the caption reading simply: “Shaw: awesome reputation”.
The JM Kariuki mystery
“The sun shines for both the evil and the good, but there are those who keep their faces to the sunshine and cannot see their shadow,” Shaw is reported to have once said.
At the time, he had come under scrutiny over his extrajudicial killings and the omnipresence he exhibited in the criminal underworld. It was, however, the disappearance and later murder of politician J M Kariuki that sent shivers down the hitman’s spine. His character had been called to question by MPs, who wondered how the man was always the first to arrive at scenes of crime, way before the police did.
When word went around that Shaw had been involved in the arrest of JM, the world started crumbling all around him. Suddenly, he was no longer a revered crime-buster, but a likely criminal himself.
In 1981, John Keen, then Assistant Minister in the Office of the President, was summoned to give testimony to Parliament on the progress the government had made in controlling crime.
“Nine hundred and eighty one gangsters were arrested in the past year,” he testified. In a supplementary question, one MP asked: “And why is it that Patrick Shaw is always the first to arrive on the scene of a crime and not African police?” Parliament erupted in laughter, but, begrudgingly, Keen responded by saying that all police officers, both Black and White, were “doing a fine job.”
Still, the country was not convinced that the fellow was such a “fine policeman” as claimed, and henceforth viewed him with suspicion.
Did you know?
During the 1982 coup attempt by officers from Kenya Air Force, Shaw was in Europe fundraising for Starehe.
On August 1, a Corporal from KAF named Ngatia was assigned to arrest president Moi. But before doing so he and his fellow rogue officers decided to first head to Starehe and take out Patrick Shaw.
James Dianga, author of the book Kenya, 1982: The Attempted Coup, says Ngatia’s mission to kill Shaw was also fuelled by the fact that Shaw was investigating Ngatia for his role in a series of bank robberies.
Cpl Ngatia was a supporter of Spt Hezekiah Ochuka, one of the senior coup plotters. Ochuka had helped to delay Shaw’s request that the KAF hands over Ngatia for interrogation. In exchange for his assistance, and knowing that Ngatia was in a tough position, Ochuka handed Ngatia the task of arresting president Moi.
Upon hearing of the plot, Shaw immediately flew back to “help sort out the mess”, says his sister. He immediately started interrogating the key suspects, and is said to have been behind the torture of many who were arrested in connection with the failed coup.
Dear reader, David Smith is researching the life of Patrick David Shaw. If you wish to share any information, stories or anecdotes on his personal or professional life (as an agricultural officer, administrator at Starehe and police reservist) or of the real-life characters covered in this story, please email him on [email protected] The identities of sources will be kept anonymous and in strict confidence.