Tragedy behind Samuel Wanjiru’s smileBy JAMES KARIUKI in Nairobi | Thursday, May 10 2012 at 13:06
A Dutch writer who has been documenting the circumstances surrounding the death of Kenyan Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru for months describes his tragic fall as “strongly suspicious”.
In an exclusive interview about a new book marking the first anniversary of the star’s death, Frits Conijn makes a series of extraordinary claims regarding the mysterious death of the runner in his home on the night of May 15, last year.
“The evidence concerning his death is not conclusive. But I can smell a rat,” says Conijn, who has co-authored Death Runner, the tragic end of Olympic marathon champion with Simon Maziku, a Tanzanian-born Dutch citizen.
“The technical evidence is very strange — blood in the bedroom, maybe he cut himself shaving — but the contradictions in the testimonies are even stranger.”
Conijn raises numerous questions regarding the statements made at the time by his widow Terezah Njeri, with whom they had well publicised run-ins before and, apparently, on the night he died.
The athlete died on the day he returned to his home in the central Kenya town of Nyahururu from a training camp in Eldoret in western Kenya at the request of his wife, who said she was ill and in need of medical treatment.
After arriving at 9pm to find no one home, the runner drove into town and set on a drinking spree before returning home for the last time.
It is clear that he returned home later that night with a female companion, Margaret Nduta, and that Terezah found them and stormed out in a huff but no one knows yet what precisely happened next as to lead to the runner’s death.
In emailed responses to the Nation newspaper, Conijn is scathing of the police investigation and their failure to extract more information from Terezah, Nduta and the watchman who must have seen more than he said.
He castigates the police for failing to protect the crime scene that was visited by numerous people allowed into the compound on the ill-fated night, saying this was a deliberate move to cover up evidence.
After a year’s review of the evidence and interviews with witnesses and acquaintances of the family, the author lists numerous contradictions that have yet to be answered:
•How come Terezah, Nduta and the watchman were never thoroughly interrogated?
•One time Terezah says she discovered Sammy and Nduta in the living room, next time it is the bedroom. Which is the truth?
•Terezah says she only knew the next day her husband died. But two witnesses (independent from each other) told the author that they found her at the police station 20 minutes after Wanjiru’s death.
•How come Terezah was not aware of the fall of her husband? She could not have been far and round that time of the night it is very quiet.
•Terezah is not very clear on the reason why she wanted Sammy to come back to Nyahururu. First she says it was about dowry payment, then to ‘take her to hospital’, and lastly she wanted them to discuss about an investment in a transport firm.
•Terezah is not very clear on when she came back from Nairobi. And why would she come to hospital in Nyahururu when there are better facilities in Nairobi where she was?
•Where did the blood in the bedroom come from? Whose was it and did detectives carry out any tests?
•Why did the police do such shoddy investigations?
•How come the watchman knows nothing? He claims he knew of the events when he saw Wanjiru under the balcony. Strange, if the story of Terezah is true, there was a lot of shouting before.
•How come the watchman did not see Nduta in the car when Sammy wanted to enter the compound? The star stopped at the gate and asked him if Terezah was home.
•Why was Terezah insisting on the funeral? Why not wait till the investigation was finished and the results were published then she would have been off the hook for good?
•Why are the authorities not cooperating with Sammy’s mother, Hannah, push for more investigation?
The author claims the plot to kill the athlete could have been hatched five months earlier when police found foreign currency equivalent to Sh33 million ($390,842 by today’s exchange rate) in his house during a swoop for an alleged illegal pistol.
“On December 31, 2010, police stormed Wanjiru’s house and allegedly found an AK-47 rifle and also took away a small portable safe where they believed a pistol was stored after Wanjiru declined to open it.
“According to three witnesses (independent from each other) there was Sh33 million. So maybe the police wanted to cover this up, now Wanjiru can never claim the money again.”
Prior to this Wanjiru would buy friends and strangers drinks at local pubs and then proceed to engage in rowdy behaviour, fighting and breaking glasses in pubs which he would later pay with a handsome ‘tip’ for the waiters.
Police officers called to the pub would quickly withdraw after receiving instructions from their seniors not to ‘touch’ Wanjiru.
On December 31, 2010, Wanjiru came home drunk and a quarrel erupted with his wife. Terezah fled as Wanjiru went to collect a gun to “teach her a lesson”.
She ran to Nyahururu Police Station where she reported the matter.
Then Divisional Police Commander Jasper Ombati and CID counterpart Isaac Onyango led a raid on the house during which an AK-47 rifle was recovered and Wanjiru arrested for threatening to kill his wife and his then watchman William Masinde, who had allowed Terezah to drive out of the compound.
Terezah later dropped the charges saying she had forgiven her husband. She also disclosed that they would invest jointly and spend more time together to cement their relationship.
The couple kept off the limelight until February 14 when they turned up for the Valentine’s dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi.
The couple was evidently smitten with each other and the public display of love convinced many people that they had recovered from the tumultuous events that led to the athlete being charged in court for violent conduct.
When Wanjiru won the Olympic gold medal, he organised two homecoming celebrations sponsored by corporate giants. The first was to celebrate the country’s first marathon victory and the second for winning a Sh100 million jackpot marathon in October 2009.
There were meet-the-people tours in Nairobi, Nyeri, Nyahururu, Kinangop, Kipipiri and Ol Kalou which culminated in a State House trip that confirmed Wanjiru's moment had come early at 21.
Looking back, his Japanese coach could have been right to say the Kenyans who turned out for the tours never took care of Wanjiru’s soul.
And the few who passed for his friends only cared about his deep pockets (money).
“According to me there should be programmes for young athletes. How can you expect them to deal with such amounts of money without any education? Maybe the youngsters should be connected with experienced or former ones who experienced everything,” said Japanese international athletic coach Koichi Morishita.
In Japan everybody described him as a very kind young man. When he was second in London and already a big star, he still paced for his team-mates to help them make the Olympics cut. Sammy was an excellent pacer, but in the last few metres he wanted to win, adds Mr Morishita.
Mr Morishita says he knew Wanjiru, liked him very much but was still puzzled that he (Wanjiru) remained largely ‘unpredictable’.
“To me it feels as if the tribal culture was insufficient for Wanjiru. Normally the youngsters are controlled by a lack of money and by the elderly. But what to do with a young man who earned more than $6 million? The only solution is they (elders) can control themselves (to keep away from Wanjiru), but the tribal culture seems to be more about social control,” he said in the interview.
That Wanjiru never appreciated his new status is not news. He was often caught up in pub fist fights, and was said to have once drawn a pistol on a pastor after their vehicles were involved in a minor accident.
The shocked pastor reported the incident to police but no action was taken. Only a group of local coaches and athletes visited the marathon icon and urged him to shun binge drinking.
Wanjiru loved his beer and would revel with non-athletes late into the night. Anybody who cared for a free drink, including security officers, was invited to the open party as long as they continued singing praises of the star. As many would say, this was one generous man who knew how to buy beer and liked being praised for what he was.
To fit his stature, Wanjiru would change cars like clothes with top of the range vehicles being his favourite.
But amid all this chaos, the father of two would also find time to nurture them, and support and donate cash to budding athletes in Nyahururu. He set up a training camp for them.
After the gun fiasco, Wanjiru left Nyahururu and reportedly bought a house in Nairobi where he moved with his young family to escape the bad publicity that was threatening to overcome his prowess on the track.
The Dutch author says Terezah ‘really’ wanted to meet Wanjiru in Nyahururu and not in Nakuru or at their Nairobi home.
“It is not very clear on when she came back from Nairobi. Strange to come back for the hospital in Nyahururu! Why did she want to see Sammy? Sometimes it is about the dowry, the next time he has to take her to the hospital, another time they have to talk about an investment in a transport firm” wonders the Dutchman.
Wanjiru’s close associates say Terezah kept calling him as he left Eldoret where he had been training for an international race.
Judy Wambui, who bore Wanjiru a son he never saw, says when the star arrived at her house in Nakuru, Terezah called him several times. Wanjiru would later travel to Nyahururu that evening.
And when he arrived, he went drinking turning up at home with Jane Nduta. It’s here that the detail is lost in contradicting tales by the police, his widow and watchman.
Conijn does not believe that Terezah learnt about her husband’s death the next morning. He says a Gatheru and a Mr Ngatia said they found her at the police station 20 minutes after the incident.
“How comes Terezah was not aware of the fall of her husband?
According to Nduta, Wanjiru opened balcony door after Njeri locked them in the bedroom.
The CCTV shows Terezah leaving the small gate followed by the watchman who then abruptly turns round and runs towards the balcony.
Confused he runs to the pedestrian gate and goes out. He returns and runs back to the guard house then towards the balcony gesticulating in despair.
Nduta, in an earlier interview with the Nation, said she followed the star to the balcony only to find him missing. She then called the watchman.
“The watchman asked me, can’t you see him lying down here”, but this could not be verified as the security camera at the balcony was not working.
The watchman said Wanjiru jumped over the balcony in a bid to stop Terezah from telling the world he had a woman in the house despite his earlier promise that he would never do that again.
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