|A jealous husband’s plot to kill his wife backfired when his children fed on the poisoned bait he had laid out for their mother, leaving one dead.
|Margaret Mwendia, wife of Robert Migwi (inset), holding her daughter Pauline Nyakio. Robert had hoped to kill Margaret with poison. Photo/JOSEPH KANYI
And the killer dad refused to confess that he had poisoned his five children, aged between 15 and six years, until village elders devised a clever way of making him do so: a red-hot knife.
The incident that two weeks ago, shocked a sleepy village in Siakago, Mbeere district also ended up in the man’s death.
Robert Migwi, a 36-year-old casual labourer, had suspected his wife had an affair with another man, and planned to kill her. He laced the little maize flour that remained from the previous night’s meal, with poison, hoping his wife would be the one to partake the meal.
But their five children came back from school earlier than he thought, and ate the poisoned meal.
Hours later, the couple’s 10–year-old, son, Fredrick Mbogo, was dead. The other four were barely alive.
And when he was informed that his children were fighting for their lives in hospital, the killer father’s first question was: “What about their mother?”
Disappointed that he did not kill his wife, Robert stayed with the terrible secret that he was indeed the one who poisoned his own children for two weeks, until local villagers, threatened to invoke a traditional ritual-called gucuna kiviu (licking the knife) in the local language.
In this ritual, suspects who plead innocent to a crime are asked to prove their innocence by putting their tongue on a red-hot knife. The ritual, administered by local elders, is believed to fish out real culprits in any crime. Locals believe that only the guilty person gets his tongue burned.
So when the elders of Kavuguri Village, in Eastern Province, suspected that the couple was involved in the poisoning incidence, they suggested the two go through the red-hot knife licking ritual.
The husband chickened out. He confessed that he was the one who had put poison in the family meal. Shortly after, he sneaked out of the compound and hang himself in a neighbour’s farm, in shame, neighbours say.
“He refused to go through the kiviu ritual, and confessed he was the one who put the poison in the flour,” said the killer’s cousin, Mr Joseph Muriuki Njeru.
According to the area chief, Mr Joseph Muchiri, the couple was constantly quarrelling. The major cause of their domestic conflict revolved around the wife’s suspected infidelity. On the afternoon of May 5, their domestic squabbles turned tragic.
“From what I have gathered, he had planned to kill the wife, so he laced the ugali with some pesticide, hoping the wife would be the one to take it. Unfortunately, the children came back from school earlier and feasted on the ugali,’’ said the chief.
Doctors at Siakago district hospital confirmed that the five children were poisoned. But the exact type of poison used is yet to be known. A sample of the killer ugali, along with the remainder of the maize flour that made it, are still with the Government chemist for testing.
“We got a call that the children had just taken lunch, and complained of abdominal pains, vomiting and convulsions,” said Dr Mwangi Kaniaru, a medical officer at Siakago hospital in Mbeere District.
Unfortunately, the district hospital is ill equipped to handle such cases, and the five children had to be rushed to Embu provincial hospital, about 50km away.
By then, it was too late for Fredrick. He died minutes after reaching the hospital.
His mother, 30-year-old Margaret Mwendia, a casual labourer, had no idea that the poisoned dish was actually meant for her.
Her husband had left for his work place on the ill-fated morning. With the children off to school, the mother of five was left behind to look for something to make for lunch. She fixed some ugali, but did not take it immediately.
“I had some unfinished work to do,” she said. That decision saved her life, but unfortunately took that of her second born.
According to Margaret, her five children, came back from school earlier than usual, and shared the ugali. Minutes later, they were all moaning and writhing in abdominal pains.
‘‘I carried one on my back, and pulled two on each side, I did not know what was wrong with them. I started screaming for neighbours to come and tell me what was wrong with my children,” said the distraught mother.
Villagers helped her carry the almost lifeless children, to a clinic 4km away.
Workers at the clinic said they were not equipped to handle the cases, and had to summon an ambulance from Siakago district hospital-about 20km away, which rushed them to Embu Provincial General Hospital.
By the time they reached the hospital, 15-year-old Esther Kagendo was in a coma, Fredrick was barely alive, while two and a half year old Pauline Nyakio was unconscious. Only 8-year-old Purity Wawira and 6-year-old Kennedy Gitonga looked slightly better.
Fredrick died soon after reaching Embu hospital. His body is still lying in the hospital mortuary, as the poor family struggles to raise money to transport it home for burial.
It will be a burial coming soon after the family buried the killer father. The father was buried hours after committing suicide.
“I told them (police) my grandson’s body is still in the morgue, if I took my son’s body there too, he would have remained there,” explains 80-year-old Michael Mwangi, still struggling to come to terms with what he refers to as his son’s “madness”.
“I think he went mad,” he says, with a vacant stare on his face.
He has been for the last 8 years. And after burying a son last week, the old man is struggling to raise cash to bury the grandson.
Kagendo, Wawira, Gitonga and Nyakio are yet to recover fully, days after being discharged from hospital.