On the sunny mid-morning of December 10, 2003, elders from the Amutei clan of the Akamba community converged at the home of Stephen Nthuku Kimatu in Ndelekeni Village, Masinga Constituency, on an unusual mission. It was a visit that would result in protracted court cases, deaths and a body that has remained in the mortuary for 15 years.
On the fateful day, the elders had gone to reinstate their clansman, Nthuku, to his home as the husband of Stellamaris Nthuku, who had invited a stranger to their home and was living with him as her husband.
Nthuku, who lived Mombasa, where he eked out a living doing casual jobs, arrived in the village at 11pm to find his wife in the arms of another man, Mutunga Kyongo. Dejected and seeing that he could not eject the heavily-built man from his house on his own, Nthuku was forced to seek accommodation at his elder brother’s house. His family advised him to report the matter to the Amutei clan elders. That is what led to the elders’ visit that morning.
Unknown to them, though, Stellamaris had hatched a plan to thwart the reconciliation efforts. She surprised all present by declaring to the elders that Mr Kyongo was her new husband and would only leave the house over her dead body. But this was only the beginning of the drama, as she took off all her clothes and embarked on an act of casting a Kamba customary spell, kithitu, on everyone present and especially the Amutei elders. Standing in front of the elders, she smashed a pot on the ground, then took her undergarment, immersed it in a basin full of water and ran around naked splashing water on everyone present. The clansmen ran for their lives.
This incident forms part of the testimony given by Nthuku in an affidavit he swore while filing for divorce. But before this could proceed, he was allegedly killed, giving rise to a murder case and mystery of a body that cannot be buried. Some 15 years on, remains thought to belong to Nthuku are still lying at the City Mortuary in Nairobi, in a twist of events that have turned out to be stranger than fiction.
According to the testimony of Nthuku’s sister, Mbisu King’ele, eight witnesses recorded statements with the police, detailing how Stellamaris lured Nthuku into their house where he found her boyfriend, Mr Kyongo, and his brother waiting. They allegedly hacked him to death, hid his body in a pit latrine and later at night transported it to B2 Yatta forest in a hired ox cart.
“The owner of the ox-cart was not paid and, after a week, led the family to where he had been paid to dump the body, which we found half-decomposed but still identifiable,” said Mbisu in her statement.
But the discovery of the body would open another chapter of intrigue in court: the death of key witnesses and a DNA test that would not yield results.
Nthuku’s body was taken to Matuu Median Hospital mortuary after being positively identified by Ms Mbisu and Kiswili Musau, her brother-in-law, but was later moved to the City Mortuary, where it has been lying for the past 15 years as Stellamaris contested the identity of the body, prompting a DNA test. Mr Kiswili, a key witness, died in a road accident near Kithyoko on the Thika-Garissa highway in 2018. Kimilu Isika, the owner of the ox-cart, had died in 2016.
Stellamaris’ stepmother, Nzula Kimatu, another witness in the case, died in 2009. A seven-year-old child who saw the body in the pit latrine and ran crying to inform Ms Kimatu, later disappeared but resurfaced after several years. She said she had been taken to school in her grandmother’s village and refused to say anything more about it.
In court, Nthuku’s sister Mbisu linked the deaths of the witnesses to the suspects, but the defence rejected the claims.
“Even though Stellamaris and his accomplices managed to poison the eyewitnesses, the stepmother and the ox-cart owner after they volunteered their statements to the police and they are now dead and buried, their statements are in the police file and they can still shed valuable light to this honourable court and the other witnesses still alive can still testify in a public inquest and help the family in its quest for justice,” said Ms Mbisu in her affidavit filed before the High Court in Nairobi on June 10 this year.
But it is the drama surrounding the identity of Nthuku's body that has kept the family agonising over the past 15 years. A DNA test conducted at the Government Chemist was inconclusive, as the facility was unable to extract a sample from the dried bones at the mortuary to match with the extraction from the family members and thus more advanced DNA testing is required to be undertaken abroad. “The femur bone taken for sampling from the deceased did not generate any DNA profiles, hence it was impossible to identify the owner of the femur bone. This does not say the femur bone does not belong to my late brother or that my late brother is alive,” said Ms Mbisu in the affidavit.
This has complicated matters for those pursuing justice for Nthuku, for they cannot argue the case for murder in the absence of a body. It has also delayed the burial for 15 years and the grave, which had already been prepared at his home, remains open.
The suspects, on the other hand, have used this uncertainty in their defence. In a letter from the Commissioner of Police dated October 27, 2005 and which is signed by Francis Mwangi, the police said the burial could not go on until the body in question was positively identified as that of Stephen Nthuku Kimatu.
“Please note that the identification of the body lying in the mortuary proved difficult, especially when the autopsy failed due to the decomposition of the body. The investigation tried DNA test and fingerprints, whose results are yet to be received from the experts. As it stands now, the body has to be proved to be that of the deceased, Stephen Nthuku Kimatu, before the burial can take place,” said the police.
Stellamaris insists the body is not her husband’s and therefore cannot be buried at their home. She says her husband had a habit of disappearing for long periods of time and is still at large. She believes that Nthuku will one day come back home.
“Since the ‘90s Nthuku has been absent from home,” said Stellamaris in court. “I strongly believe that my husband is still alive and at large, even if I have not heard from him for several years. I am certain he will come back home to his beloved family one day as he has always done in the past.”
So what happened to Nthuku or his body? His sister says he was murdered and his body has been interfered with to conceal evidence.
“I urge this court to demand that the applicants (Stellamaris Nthuku and Alex Kalua Nthuku) who are strangely so keen on stopping the burial of my blood brother, to produce Stephen Nthuku Kimatu in court if she still insists that she did not plan and carry out the execution and disposal of my late brother or if she still wants this honourable court to believe that he is still alive over 15 years after he entered her house never to emerge out again alive,” says Ms Mbisu.