He is a handsome young man, but Mr Joseph ‘Jowie’ Irungu’s friends have mixed and diametrically opposed emotions about their dashing, “rich” friend.
One woman described his generosity and wealth in one breath — he never drove the same expensive car for long, she said, and no drink was too expensive for him — but another flatly declared that for those who know Mr Irungu, it is no surprise that he is a murder suspect.
“He is creepy,” she said, using a term which in the street captures the aura of menace associated with people you are best advised not to play with.
Mr Irungu’s life on the fast lane has been brought to a grinding halt by his detention as the key suspect in the killing of Ms Monica Nyawira Kimani two weeks ago in Nairobi’s Kilimani area, a crime that has gripped the country.
The manner in which she was killed — by having her mouth taped shut to stop her from raising the alarm, her hands tied at the back, legs tied too, rendering her helpless, and the cold precision with which her neck was nearly severed — had the air of a thriller about it.
Even the act of leaving the water running in the bathtub, where Ms Kimani had bled to death, to drain away the blood had the same air of competence.
His celebrity lifestyle and fine taste, as well as his dramatic fall — with a gunshot wound to the chest and a beautiful woman at his side in the dock — also has the same unreal touch of Hollywood.
Police have been painstakingly trying to piece together Mr Irungu’s character, with sources saying he once worked for two military contract companies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The companies alleged to have employed Mr Irungu include KBR, a US deconstruction and private security firm, and O’Gara Group.
“I still need to confirm that,” Mr George Kinoti, the Director of Criminal Investigations, told the Nation last evening.
From the entertainment spots he frequented in the city and outside the country, it is clear that Jowie has a particularly voracious appetite for the good life.
Locally, Kiza in Kilimani, Jiweke Tavern on Ngong Road, and 1824 on the opposite side of the city on Lang’ata Road are his favourite watering holes. It is here that he enjoyed expensive whiskey and the company of friends before it all came tumbling down.
Partying in such joints comes at a premium, but going by the tens of photos of him and other revellers posted by Jiweke Tavern on its Facebook page, for instance, it is clear that Jowie was a venerated patron and a regular.
His manner of dressing, mostly cool jackets, fancy shoes and T-shirts, oozes extravagance and fine taste.
A friend and former classmate, who did not wish to be named because of Mr Irungu’s newfound notoriety, described him as a “mysterious” person. He said that Mr Irungu had a lot of money, but no one questioned its source because he had worked abroad.
“I have known him for more than 10 years,” he said. “We all knew he was working as a professional bouncer in the Middle East but did not go beyond that.”
Mr Irungu is a man who is not shy about showing his expensive lifestyle on social media. Pictures on his Instagram account, where he has more than 18,000 followers, speak volumes about his lavish experiences.
His love of socialising with women, his friends said, is legend. A young city woman who said she went out with Mr Irungu and his clique on different occasions described him as “quite the marauding bull”.
She claimed Mr Irungu is in the habit of dating women and dumping them quite fast. She also described him as an “overprotective” boyfriend who generously treats women.
According to our informer, the suspected murderer is a wild merrymaker, a lifestyle that is supported by his pockets, which apparently run deep.
“There is no drink Jowie cannot afford. He drinks whatever he wants. He is free with his money,” she said.
“Before he broke up with one of his girlfriends, Jowie would take her on vacation to the Middle East, where they obviously seemed to have a good time together.”
Over time, though, the trips took a slump, and it is rumoured that Mr Irungu had been banned from travelling to the United Arab Emirates for unknown reasons.
OUT OF BOUNDS
The suspect allows very few people into his apartment in Buru Buru Phase Two.
Until recently, he was staying with a man named Mark Kaloki before they fell out.
“Jowie started living alone after Mr Kaloki left. Very few of his friends go to his house,” she said.
Mr Kaloki worked for Kenya Airways as a member of cabin crew. His Instagram account is private while his Facebook page has been deactivated.
The informer also told the Nation that Mr Irungu hardly used one car for long. He preferred top-of-the-range cars; one day driving a Mercedes Benz, the other a sleek Toyota Land Cruiser Prado.
According to the woman, who requested not to be named for fear of being associated with a murder suspect, Mr Irungu is very guarded about his private life, scarcely discusses his dealings, and has the mannerisms of a “hunted animal”.
He always carries a gun, tucked under his jacket,” she said. “I have seen him with a gun on at least two occasions.”
According to her, nearly every member of the group knew that Mr Irungu worked in the military and, therefore, “asked few questions”.
“He does not appear suspicious in any way, unless you are very close to him,” she said.
If, indeed, Mr Irungu worked for KBR, then he was a member of a large network of private soldiers working for the US government as private armies run by security companies.
At the time he is said to have been working for the security contractor, The Financial Times estimates, the US spent at least $138 billion on security contractors in Iraq, with KBR getting the lion’s share, with a contract value of at least $39.5 billion — equivalent to Kenya’s budget.
KBR has been stalked by scandals that range from bribery in Nigeria to sexual harassment of its female workers in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, and in all areas where President George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ was taken after the 911 Al-Qaeda attack on New York.
It has also been accused of exposing its workers to “burn pits” in Afghanistan and Iraq, where human corpses, animal carcasses and tyres were burnt.
Although KBR dismissed as “unfounded” the general assertion that it “knowingly harmed soldiers or contractors”, a class-action suit was later filed and a judge in February this year decreed that that the open-air burn pits, where thousands of chemicals were released into the air after trash and other waste were incinerated, are linked to a lung disease outbreak there.
Whether Mr Irungu worked for O’Gara group could not be independently confirmed, but the group’s president, Mr Bill O’gara, has been quoted as saying that the group provides training in explosives ordnance disposal “that is purely defensive in nature and for the sole purpose of antiterrorism and protection of personnel and facilities”.
Additional reporting by John Kamau