This, then, appeared to be an open-and-shut case: The body of the 24-year-old Kahawa Wendani waitress had been found in a marshy grassland off Thika Road, and her lover had explained in excruciating detail how and why he had killed her. But it wasn’t, and detectives were this week piecing together the finer details of the case against Karani, whom they are detaining pending investigations.
In pictures, the two were the happiest couple. Karani appears not to have been able to keep his hands off Cate in several frames, while Cate, ensconced in Karani’s embraces, flashes affectionate, if not timid, smiles to the camera. Still, even in the awkwardness of those poses, the chemistry between them radiates with bashful haughtiness. They had been together for two years since Karani (39) left his wife and settled with Cate at Kahawa Wendani, a peri-urban sprawl on Thika Road, about 500 metres from Githurai.
Karani said he was a broker, but the Saturday Nation could not establish the scope of his brokerage. Some say he used to frequent the quarries of Darugo in Juja, indicating that he also brokered building stones. A father of five with his estranged wife, he drove a small, dark blue Nissan Advan Expert station wagon that appears to have been battered by age and the elements. Cate, on the other hand, was a waitress in the Wendani neighbourhood, where she also lived with her child from another relationship.
It is inside that battered station wagon that Cate met her death, and the Saturday Nation this week pieced together the last moments of her life. Interviews with detectives and trails deep into the marshlands of Juja, where her lifeless body was discovered by a herdsman on April 14, revealed the details of a macabre killing that shocked the nation. This journalistic enterprise also revealed what happens when love, or delusional variations of it, mixes with envy and elephantine obstinancy. And obsession.
Cate had been estranged with Karani for two months when, two weeks ago, she received a call from him asking to meet with him. She agreed. After all, this was the man she had agreed to live with, the man who had introduced her to family and friends, and the man she herself had taken to her father. Karani, too, was the man whose name she had adopted, albeit unofficially, on her social media pages. What harm, then, could come from a meeting with him?
The two met at Wendani on April 13. Cate asked Karani whether he could take her to the salon before they could sit down and iron out their differences. Karani obliged and took her to a local salon, where he also footed the bill.
It was not clear this week where they went after they left the salon, even though Juja head of criminal investigations Richard Mwaura told the Saturday Nation he believed they never left the general bounds of the Wendani neighbourhood.
As evening approached, Karani told Cate he would like her to accompany him to his rural home in Kirinyaga. There, he told her, they would have all the time and space to talk and mend fences. Cate, again, agreed.
They got inside Karani’s car and started the journey to Kirinyaga, all the while drinking beer by the can. However, just a few metres from the gate to Mang’u High School, Karani made a detour into Bob Harris Road, a muddy, potholed stretch that leads to the upcoming Tola estate.
Cate by this time appears to have been already intoxicated, even though Mr Mwaura, the Juja DCIO, told the Saturday Nation her phone and that of Karani were still on. It was around 9pm when they made another detour from Bob Harris before their car got stuck in a swampy stretch. It is not clear for how long they stayed there, but detectives believe this is the spot where Karani killed Cate.
From a distance, to paraphrase Bette Midler’s 1990 hit by the same name, the swamp looks like an oasis of peace in the middle of the suburban chaos of Nairobi. Serene and evergreen, it is bordered to the east by the railway line to Thika and to the west by Tola estate. The vast expanse of green grass is dotted by shrubs and the occasional earth mound. There are no tall trees. Or tall grass. Or the majestic red acacia for which Juja is known. It is as if nature made this patch its own little playground. Flat, grassy and a luxuriant green.
But looks can be deceiving, because beneath that grassy peace is a soggy bog that makes the marshland impassable. On a rainy April night, Karani drove his car aground here. Next to him, seated peacefully in the passenger seat, was Cate. Ahead of them, under the heavy clouds of the Juja sky, darkness extended as far as the eye could see. Inside their chests, the tom-toms of love and all its attendant pains and pleasures rioted with horrendous fury.
On the afternoon of April 14, Detective Richard Mwaura’s phone rang. A body, the caller informed him, had been found in a marshland, a few metres from a dark-blue Nissan Advan Expert. Mr Mwaura assembled a team of scenes-of-crime police specialists and immediately started combing the scene for clues to what had happened and who was responsible.
Cate had been tortured badly before she was killed by strangulation. The braids she had woven onto her hair just hours earlier had been cut from her head and tufts of her hair pulled from her scalp. She had stab wounds in her upper body and “several other injuries”, said Mr Mwaura. Her phone and that of Karani had been smashed to smithereens next to her body. Her purse lay by, but it did not have any money.
A forensic search of the car’s number plate led to a dead end as details of its ownership at the National Transport and Safety Authority were misleading. The car had been sold to two other people since it was imported but its change of ownership had not been effected on the NTSA website. With the two phones at the site smashed, detectives were staring at another cold case.
However, their hopes of solving the puzzle were restored when a man walked into Juja Police Station in the company of several others and said he wanted to give crucial leads regarding the case. The man, whose identity the police are not revealing for his own safety, informed the detectives that the car belonged to Karani, and that the murdered woman was Karani’s estranged lover.
Mr Mwaura immediately started triangulating calls to mobile numbers associated with or linked to Karani or Cate. It did not take long before he intercepted a call to a man in Githurai from another man who sounded distressed, and who requested accommodation.
On Friday evening last week, Mr Mwaura led a team of detectives to the house in Githurai, where he found Karani in the company of his host. They immediately took him in for questioning. Police are not treating the other man as a suspect, and so the Saturday Nation is not revealing his identity.
Evans Karani sat right across the detective inside a small interrogation room at Juja Police Station. Mr Richard Mwaura, posted here barely 10 months earlier as the head of the criminal investigations unit, was riding a wave of popularity in the community for turning the tables on criminals. His office, newly built for him and his team by the community, still had a whiff of fresh paint about it, and the black carpet of murram outside had not yet settled.
But there was a man in this spic-and-span office accused of murder. Would he talk? Would he need a bit of coercion? Or would he sing like a canary at the slightest opportunity?
Evans Karani, the 39-year-old man who had separated from his wife and mother of five children for two years, looked the detective in the eye and said he wanted to make an admission.
“We told him that he had three options to choose from before making the admission: have his lawyer present, or a friend, or a member of his family,” Mr Mwaura said.
Karani said he would like his estranged wife to be called in to listen to his admission.
Mr Mwaura was astounded. How could this man, this man who had abandoned his wife for years, want her to be part of this mess? Would she come? And, were she to heed the call, would she stand by her husband during his lowest moment?
The detectives called Karani’s wife. And there, in the mad helter-skelter of Juja Police Station, as cars and vans and buses and trucks rumbled on the highway just across the fence, Karani confessed to killing his lover of two years, Catherine Nyokabi.
He said he had deliberately given alcohol to Cate to impair her judgment. He had suspected she was seeing another man but she had denied the allegation. One thing led to another and he pounced on her and strangled her using his belt. As she lay in his car, dying, he tortured her by pulling her hair off and stabbing her. Police found a knife at the scene, but Karani said it wasn’t his. It was also not clear whether the stab wounds were inflicted using the knife or a screwdriver found at the scene.
After finishing off Cate, Karani dragged her body from the car to about 50 metres inside the swamp. He attempted to cover the body with mud and grass, but in the dead of the night, and in his dazed state, did not do much of the concealing. He then went back to the car but since it was stuck left it in the bog and, in the cover of darkness, walked towards Thika Road. Hours later, he knocked on the door of his friend’s house in Githurai.
His wife listened to the confession quietly. After Karani finished explaining himself, she turned slowly to the detective and, ever so coolly, said:
“I know him. He can’t hurt a fly.”
Karani told detectives that he loved Cate so much he could not live with her.
“In my life, after God, it was Cate,” he said, according to Mr Mwaura. But in that expression of immense love Mr Mwaura found a clue that he says disturbed him, and which he laments has become a common streak in recent love-hate crimes.
“Karani, it seems, had put Cate atop a pedestal and could not bear the thought of losing her to another man,” said Mr Mwaura on Thursday. “And Cate appears to have been caught in Karani’s web of economic and emotional manipulation. She wanted out, but somehow couldn’t flee.”
Death has a stench, and at Juja Police Station that stench wafts from Karani’s car like the fumes of a poison potion in an Alladin movie. The car is itself unassuming. Parked in a desolate corner of the station, it just sits there in miserable gait. Its doors are locked but one of its windows has been shattered, and it’s through this small opening that Nation photographer Evans Habil attempted to squeeze the lens of his camera, the nauseating stench notwithstanding, to capture the silence of the horror story it harbours. There are ropes in the back seat; they could have been used for the strangulation. There are muddied clothes in the boot; we could not establish whose.
While Karani has confessed to the killing, detectives will still need to prove in a court of law that it was he, indeed, who committed the crime. The Saturday Nation is not yet imputing ill-motive or intent on Karani because he has not been convicted, and Mr Mwaura is next week expected to get a medical report on whether the suspect is fit to stand trial.
Cate, meanwhile, was buried in Gatei, Kieni East, this week.