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From Kennedy’s to Mboya, JM killings, mystery lingers on

The late JM Kariuki. He was Nyandarua North MP. FILE PHOTO

One of the world’s most mysterious murders remains the assassination of US President John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

The president’s motorcade had just pulled outside a building in Dallas, Texas, when three shots were fired at the President’s open-topped limousine.

Two of the shots got him in the neck and head. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. Within an hour, a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, was arrested and later charged with the killing.

Two days later, and in full glare of television cameras, another lone gunman, Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner, shot dead the president’s alleged assassin at the basement of a police station. Ruby, who was sentenced to death, died before his appeal was determined.

And the theories began. Had Kennedy’s killer acted alone? Who actually fired the gun? Was there a conspiracy to forever conceal evidence on why Kennedy was killed and who gave the orders?


A subsequent judicial inquiry concluded the killer had acted on his own and that there was no conspiracy. Eleven years later, the US Congress launched its own investigations but didn’t come up with anything substantially different.

Another House Select Committee revisited the matter and concluded there were two gunmen at the murder scene, and that the fatal shots may not have been fired by the alleged killer.

By October last year, there were more than five million pages of documents on the Kennedy assassination at the US National Archives — but the mystery still lingers on!

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In Kenya, investigating political murders hasn’t been any easier. Unfailingly, there has always been a single fall guy: Blame everything on him and close the file on the murder as fast as possible.

By coincidence or design, President Kennedy’s Kenyan best friend, Cabinet minister Tom Mboya, was assassinated in a manner that had echoes of the US leader’s shooting.

Mboya was the key mover in airlifts supported by the Kennedy family in the 1950s and 1960s which saw hundreds of Kenyans receive scholarships to study in the US.

On Saturday, July 5, 1969, and shortly before one o’clock (about the same time Kennedy was shot), Economic and Planning minister Mboya pulled out at Nairobi’s Moi Avenue driving himself in a Mercedes Benz, registration KME 627.

He parked outside a pharmacy and walked inside where he bought a small bottle of lotion, briefly chatted with the shop owner, but as he made his way he was shot.

An ambulance rushed Mboya to hospital but it was too late to save him. Two days later, police arrested one Isaac Nahashon Njenga and charged him with the murder.

A surprised Njenga reportedly asked an intriguing question — during his arrest and in court: “Why blame it on me and not ask the big man”?


Apparently the prosecution wasn’t keen to find out who the “big man” referred to was, they just wanted the matter concluded!

There were other curious aspects to the case. When the fatal shots rang, two innocent passers-by quickly fled the scene, and headed to their homes.

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Two days later, investigators picked them up, told them police knew they were at the scene of crime and would compulsorily be prosecution witnesses.

In those days when there were no CCTV cameras, one wondered how police got to know the two were at the scene. Like in the Kennedy murder, word quietly spread that the Mboya killer hadn’t been alone at the scene of crime.

The murder aspect had also been assured by whoever he was working with that nothing would happen to him, so he never bothered to hide or dispose the killer weapon.

His fate was sealed with maximum speed and handed a date with the hangman at Kamiti Prison. The file was closed, and the mystery of the “big man” remains.


Yet another mysterious murder and whose plotter(s) and the motive(s) have never been known is that of Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko.

On the night of February 12, 1990, he was said to have left his home in the wee hours never again to be seen alive.

Three days later, his charred remains were found at a hill near his rural home.

The government issued an official statement to suggest that the minister had committed suicide. The theory bordered on the insane. It suggested the minister had quietly sneaked from his home, walked about two kilometres in pitch darkness, removed his clothes and neatly packed then in a plastic bag, broke his legs, shot himself in the head, then set himself ablaze!

When the government chief pathologist tried to sell the theory to a judicial commission of inquiry, a judge quipped “it was just as well the pathologist was only consulted by the dead!”

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Like in Mboya murder, one Jonah Anguka, a former District Commissioner, was arrested and charged with the murder. Incidentally, “Anguka” is the Kiswahili word for “fall”.

The court however, disagreed with the evidence and the fall guy was set free.

More intrigues would follow as nearly all the people said to have last seen Ouko alive have died mysteriously over the years.

Disappearance at hotel

Another death whose mystery has never been resolved is that of populist MP, J.M. Kariuki, on March 2, 1975.

He was last seen leaving the Hilton Hotel late Sunday afternoon in company of the GSU commandant Ben Gethi. Three days later, his family reported him missing.

On the 10th day, a herdsman discovered his bullet-riddled and decomposing body at the foothills of Ngong Forest.


Investigations by a select parliamentary committee only ended up with a long-winded report.

Many years later, a widow of the murdered MP would disclose that GSU commandant Gethi, tired of the stigma that as the last person seen with JM alive, he must have known the killer(s), met the late MP’s cousin and told her he was ready to spill the beans on the murder. He died before he did so.


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