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How Ben Gethi Led JM Kariuki to his Murderers

The Scheme

Time was running out fast. By early February, JM’s enemies had laid down a scheme to “sort out” their problem. They resolved to stage a series of events that would turn the public against JM and at the same time convince Kenyatta that JM was a boil that had to be lanced. A shadowy movement calling itself Maskini Liberation Organisation was formed as part of the propaganda campaign. Since JM presented himself as the “voice of the poor” the public would readily identify the movement’s violent activities with him. Leaflets allegedly issued by the movement were printed and distributed in different towns. They bore the names of JM, Charles Rubia and five others as trustees of the Maskini Liberation Organisation, all of them “outsiders” to the tight clique around Kenyatta.

Suddenly a spate of bomb hoaxes hit Nairobi. Anonymous calls would be made to police and newspaper offices that a bomb was about to go off. In the second week of February, a bomb exploded at the Starlight Discotheque on the edges of the city centre. There were no fatalities but the message was clear: Not all bomb alarms were false. Someone called the Central Police Station claiming that Maskini was behind the discotheque blast and there would be another bomb at the Tour Information Office, next to Hilton Hotel. A bomb went off there two hours later.

In Parliament that week, Embu East MP Njagi Mbarire asked the Vice-President and Minister for Home Affairs Daniel arap Moi to confirm or deny the existence of the Maskini Liberation Organisation. Moi declined to answer the question, citing ongoing investigations. Kamukunji MP Maina Wanjigi ventured that the VP was being non-committal because Maskini Liberation Organisation was the creation of government operatives. The conspirators were growing impatient. They met secretly at Nakuru’s Midland Hotel on Wednesday, February 26, 1975, and again at State House, Nakuru, the following day. The JM matter, it was decided, had to be settled that weekend.

Mzee Kenyatta had travelled to Gatundu for the weekend when the two Nakuru meetings took place. Evidence would later emerge that Kenyatta’s chief bodyguard, Wanyoike Thungu, attended the Midland Hotel meeting and arranged the discussion at State House. JM, meanwhile, was becoming apprehensive. His doctor advised him to take a few days rest against stress. A friend called Elizabeth Koinange booked the two of them onto an OTC (Overseas Trading Company) bus bound for Mombasa on Friday, February 28. At the last minute a friend, Isaac Macharia, dissuaded the MP from going to the Coast.. He was lucky. A bomb exploded in the bus he would have taken, killing 27 people and injuring 100 others.

The plotters’ February 27 meeting at State House, Nakuru, had resolved that JM be put on a 24-hour surveillance until the “job” was done. A friend who had borrowed the MP’s car noticed that he was being trailed by a well-known police reservist, Patrick Shaw, in a white Volvo. He reported the incident but JM had more pressing matters to think about. The next day GSU Commandant Ben Gethi, who had had been a close friend of JM, had called to alert him of a plan to implicate him in the city bombings and have him jailed without trial. Gethi pressed him to meet the country’s security chiefs and explain his innocence. But the MP was adamant that.

Witnesses later quoted him as saying: “Why should I explain my innocence before anybody has openly accused me? I will wait until they arrest me and I’ll prove my innocence”. Within two hours, Gethi was on the line again. He told JM that he had thought over the matter and convinced that JM’s best option was to informally meet the security team “in a friendly atmosphere”. Gethi promised to be at the meeting to ensure JM’s security.

JM finally caved in to the GSU chief’s pressure when the two men met at the International Casino the next day. The meeting was set for Sunday, March 2. That was the day JM would disappear, later to be found dead murdered in the Ngong Hills forest. That Sunday morning Gethi visited JM at home. It was a rather unusual visit, as the Parliamentary Probe Committee later noted, but Gethi insisted that it “was just a normal call to a friend’s house”.

Investigations now show that Gethi had taken to JM a pistol he had promised him, to guarantee his safety during the Security Committee meeting. Witnesses testified that Gethi’s visit was so secretive that he entered JM’s bedroom instead of waiting for his host to be woken up. At midday JM went to the Ngong Racecourse, where he and Gethi had a brief chat. Later in the evening he popped in at the Hilton. Gethi would deny before the Parliamentary Probe Committe that the two of them met, but witnesses said they had seen him in the company of reservist Patrick Shaw.

Witnesses have told the Nation that several things happened at the Hilton while JM was away. At around 5 p.m. Patrick Shaw and a Mr. Young, also a police reservist, chased away all parking boys who usually hang around outside the hotel. Some taxi drivers were also asked to leave. It has also emerged that then CID head Ignatius Nderi and then deputy director of the National Youth Service Waruhiu Itote were seen briefly at the Hilton with the two men.

One of them was Pius Kibathi, a trained policeman who never joined the force, and the other Councillor John Mutung’u of Olkejuado County Council. JM arrived at the Hilton’s Coffee House at about quarter to seven. He was about to settle down with a friend when Gethi suddenly appeared. He excused himself and walked away with the GSU boss. Apparently Gethi had not to find JM with anybody else. On noting the dilemma on Gethi’s face, JM quickly excused himself as he told Macharia: “By the way, Gethi and I were to meet, let me have some minutes with him”.

A hotel security man, Mr. Fred Sing’ombe, saw JM and Gethi enter a Peugeot station wagon behind the hotel. JM’s white Mercedes Benz, Registration Number KPE 143, was left in front of the Hilton Hotel, where the family found it when the MP disappeared. His movements from the hotel have for years been a mystery, even to the House Select Committee. But the Nation has now established that the two men went to the Special Branch headquarters at Kingsway House in Muindi Mbingu Street. Gethi and JM entered the building through a back entrance and headed for the office of a senior Special Branch officer.

In the room were the senior officer himself, Kenyatta security chief Wanyoike Thungu, the NYS’s Itote, CID director Nderi and reservist Patrick Shaw. JM was apprehensive to see Thungu in the meeting. The two had never had time for each other ever since JM worked as Kenyatta’s private secretary in the early 1960s. He also knew of Thungu’s roles in the Nakuru meetings which plotted against him.

At Kingsway House, Gethi left JM to be questioned by Nderi and Shaw on the bombings. The MP, says a senior retired policeman, answered all the allegations raised by Nderi and Shaw until the two appeared satisfied that he had nothing to do with the bombings. Thungu, who remained silent, then took over the questioning. He wanted to know why JM had been “going around the country insulting Kenyatta”. JM denied that he had ever insulted Kenyatta and that all he had talked about was social justice for all Kenyans, which was quite in line with Kenyatta’s beliefs.

Thungu then touched on a raw nerve. He asked JM to account for some money he allegedly received for scholarships while serving as a private secretary to Kenyatta. He also referred to money issued as compensation to Mau Mau fighters who had lost their land during the independence struggle, which was handled by JM when he was an assistant minister for Agriculture with special duties. Itote, who had worked closely with JM at the NYS (National Youth Service), talked of money from the Chinese Government which JM had allegedly received on behalf of the service.

The exchange between JM and Thungu became heated. Thungu, says an impeccable source, lost his temper and punched JM viciously in the mouth, knocking out three of his teeth. JM’s body found at the City Mortuary eight days later had three lower teeth missing. Instinctively, the bleeding JM reached for a pistol in his pocket, the same gun he had been given by Gethi that morning. But Gethi, the only person in the room who knew JM had a gun, was quicker on the draw. He whipped out his service revolver and shot JM in the upper right hand arm to protect Thungu.

As JM collapsed in a pool of blood, Thungu phoned a senior politician to inform of what happened. It is not known what the senior politician said. However, evidence received by the JM Probe Committee and later corroborated by Gethi in a confession to JM’s sister many years later, stated that after the telephone call, Thungu called three men who had been waiting in another room (the three were named in other circumstances by the Probe Committee).

He ordered them to handcuff JM and take him to a car downstairs. They had been brought to Kingsway House by Nderi to give evidence on JM’s alleged involvement in the city bombings. The vehicle into which a bleeding and wailing JM was bundled belonged to a councillor, John Mutung’u of Ngong ward, the area in which JM’s bullet-ridden body was discovered by two Maasai elders the following morning. Councillor Mutung’u was later summoned by the Parliamentary Probe Committee and asked to bring with him his car, a green Peugeot station wagon with a red inscription: “Meat Park”.

In it’s final report, the JM Probe Committee recommended that Councillor Mutung’u be investigated alongside Thungu, the Minister of State Mbiyu Koinange, his bodyguard Peter Karanja, Nakuru Mayor Mburu Gichua, then Nyandarua District Commissioner Stanley Thuo, NYS deputy director Waruhiu Itote and JM’s rival in the 1974 General Election, one Evan Ngugi. A member of the JM Probe Committee who talked to the Nation disclosed that it suspected that Mbiyu Koinange was the person Thungu talked to on the telephone after JM had been shot.

The MPs established that Thungu had driven to Nairobi from Nakuru by a discreet route on the afternoon of March 2. Questioned by the committee, Thungu insisted that he spent March 2 with the President at Gatundu. The President, of course, couldn’t be summoned to verify this. A confidential witness testified before the Probe Committee that Gethi remained alone at Kingsway House until past midnight, chain smoking and talking on a police radio.

Before his death on September 12, 1994, Gethi confessed to JM’s sister, Rahab Mwaniki, that he had taken JM to Nderi and Shaw, for questioning on the bombs. He said he had left JM with the two senior police officers and returned much later to find a Mr. Pius Kibathi and two other men dragging a bleeding and groaning JM to a vehicle behind Kingsway House. But other sources say Gethi never left Kingsway House until JM had been taken away..

In his memoirs “A Love Affair with the Sun”, Sir Michael Blundell, a well-connected former politician and businessman, said one some of the cartridges recovered from the place where JM’s body was found in Ngong were fired from a pistol belonging to a presidential guard he did not name. The House Committee established that two different pistols were used to kill JM. Clearly, he was shot at different places, first at Kingsway House and later at the Ngong Hills scene of murder.

The guns were either a .38 Walther or a .38 Mann, both of which also happened to be the pistols used by members of the GSU Recce Company. Officers in the Recce Company are used for special duties, the main one being providing escort to the President and visiting heads of state. Probe Committee members believed that JM’s murder was a foregone conclusion and would have taken place even if Thungu had not provoked the shooting at Kingsway House.

Go to next page to see how President Jomo Kenyatta doctored the murder report

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10 Comments on How Ben Gethi Led JM Kariuki to his Murderers

  1. 0


    Imeet Hon.J.M kariuki as astudent leader in ateahers college in 1973 he was charismatic n very focused friendly person down to earth an dlikeable I had no idea two years latter he was to die last year I visited the spot where they murdered him it is wasting away any family members kindly do something for the memorial site many of the names mentioned are long dead save for my friend Hon,Mark Mwithaga

  2. 0


    For JM Kariuki’s bravery in colonial detention read “Britain’s Gulag” by Caroline Elkins.

  3. 1


    Kenya leadership rotten to the core. And to think we have these murderous snakes’ offspring sitting in top leadership today, no wonder were facing the plight we do as a country. From terrorism, to corruption, land grabbing, mega scandals you name them.

  4. 0


    Amazing revelation,good history.

  5. 1


    Amazing…Well written and equally well researched.

  6. 1


    It’s high time we rewrite our history

    • 0


      Sure. I think its good that the true facts of our history be preserved for future generations to read so they don’t make the same mistakes.

  7. 0


    Good piece of story i have learned a lot about kenyan young age and the plight of leaders like JM who wanted to walk the talk in leadership

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