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What Do Women Who Kill Their Partners Look Like

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Women do not often kill. However, when they do, they tend to gain attention from the media and society. Society is fascinated by the fact that women, who are often seen as innocent, fragile, and dependable, can commit such treacherous acts. 

The attention was not any different for a recent alleged case in Kiambu County. This case was that of Kiambu politician Gladys Chania, who was arrested as the main suspect in her husband’s murder and is currently out on a Sh1 million bond. 

It all started on Tuesday, October 11, at 8pm, when Kiambu politician Gladys Chania filed a missing persons’ report at the Mwea police post. She told the police that her husband of over 20 years George Mwangi, a Rwanda-based engineer had left their home two days earlier leaving behind his mobile phone, and never to return.

The following day, his body was discovered in the Kieni forest wrapped in black polythene under a heap of cartons and empty cement bags.  Witnesses reported seeing a woman driving Mr. Mwangi’s vehicle toward the forest. Pieces of blood-stained metal rods, blood-soaked bed sheets, and curtains were recovered from the couple’s home and kept as evidence.  

Detectives investigating the murder gathered that Mr. Mwangi was involved in a love affair with a younger woman, a secretary at a local school. In fact, it was found that on Saturday, the day before his disappearance, the woman, Lucy Muthoni had accompanied the couple to a family event at Kimunyu, in Gatundu. 

The case is still ongoing and Gladys Chania is, of course, presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.

This case caused quite a stir and revived that conversation to the effect that marrying a woman from Kiambu County in the Mount Kenya region is one among a thousand ways to die.  Popular belief is that women from this area are husband killers.

Away from the streets and the internet, there are men for whom this fear is real.

Lenson Mwaniki a 34-year-old man from Kirinyaga County remembers his father warning him against getting entangled with a Kiambu woman.

“I heard it so many times that when I began dating for marriage, it was in my subconscious. It was never said out aloud but I knew bringing home a woman from Kiambu would cause friction with my parents,” he says.

Lenson is married to a woman from Embu. So does he believe the stereotype that Kiambu women are more likely than not to kill their husbands to be true?

“No. Of course, you can’t lump all women and say that they are murderers. But then we see on the news women from this region committing murder. I don’t know what to believe,” he says.

“Gerald Kimani, 45, a small business owner and a resident of Kimunyu town in Gatundu, Kiambu County is more certain of his conviction. Gerald says that in the last two or so decades, he has seen many wealthy men from his home area die mysteriously and he isn’t taking any chances.

“I am not a wealthy man but we have had tussles over land with my brothers at home and while I love my wife, I do not know which of my enemies might get through to her. I bought a cat a few years ago,” he shares.

Everything he eats and drinks at home, the cat tastes first.

“Cats can’t eat poison. If the cat agrees to eat something, I know it’s good but if it refuses to eat, I can’t eat,” he says.

This fear of being poisoned seems widespread. Just a week ago, on October 24th, the Kikuyu council of elders’ chairman Wachira wa Kiago claimed that women from Central Kenya have been slowly killing their husbands by putting steel wire and sand in their food. He pegged this act on women being greedy.

These are stereotypes. Women who kill their spouses are scattered nationwide. 

In reality, what do women who kill look like? Are they women who live in palatial homes, are independent career or businesswomen who spend hours away from their families? Or are they devoted churchgoers who are submissive and run near-perfect homes? Or are women who kill those who live in poverty, have suffered abusive childhoods, are unemployed, and suffer from substance abuse problems? 

From the men we spoke to, wealth is right at the center of most spousal murders. This brings to focus the case of 71-year-old Tob Cohen who was murdered in September 2019. The Dutch Tycoon was found buried in a septic tank in his Kitisuru home. This was after the police were able to wade through a web of lies and half-truths told by his wife and their employees. He was found blindfolded and his hand and legs bound suggesting that he was tortured before he was killed. He had been missing for two months when his body was found.

His wife Sarah Wairimu was arrested and charged as the main suspect in the murder alongside Peter Karanja whom she was rumoured to be dating. When she was taken to court, she claimed that her husband had been killed and dumped in the septic tank by people who wanted to grab their five hundred million shillings’ home. Wairimu also went ahead to contest his will which denied her a chance to inherit him. In October 2019, Wairimu was freed on a two million cash bail. The case is still ongoing.

It is just a stereotype

Kenny Kubai a 38-year-old Kenyan criminologist based in Cape Town South Africa disagrees that geography alone is enough to predispose someone to murder.

“Being born of a certain tribe or in a certain area can’t make a woman more murderous. That is just a stereotype, a damaging one,” he says.

But there are some issues that make some people more prone to committing crimes than others. The most likely cause of this phenomenon of the Kiambu woman according to Mr. Kubai is socialization. If a young girl grows up hearing that she should take out a husband who gets in her way, even in jest, she just might when she finds herself in a tight spot one day. 

While there are no hard statistics on exactly what motivates women to kill, a perusal of various murder cases in Kenyan courts indicates that women kill mostly due to suspected infidelity, provocation, gender violence, and love.

Female offenders make up 18 percent of the prison population in Kenya. This number was 18, 112 in 2018. According to the Kenya Police Crime Statistics (2018), women account for 4 percent of all violent crimes including murder.

While it may be a stereotype that Kiambu women are more likely to kill their husbands, the truth is that the number of Kenyan women murdering their spouses is on a steady rise and this is disturbing. The statistics beg the question; why are Kenyan women increasingly killing their husbands?

One theory that has been thrown around is that many of these murders of men by their wives happen between October and December. The explanation has been that these are the months that school girls graduate from form four and begin flirting with these men. This is also the season when there is domestic tourism and men get to openly court their mistresses. Is there any truth to this? What about the shifting gender roles? Could the fact that women have taken up some of the roles that were traditionally left to men be the reason some of them are snuffing out their husbands?

Seth Kamanza a Nairobi-based research psychologist and sociologist is of the view that murderous women and female criminals can be put in categories that rely on gender norms.

Seth a psychologist and sociologist with 18 years of experience, and who has worked with women in Kenyan prisons says that the first group of violent and murderous women is male coerced, the second group has serious psychological issues or is under the influence and the third has a history of their own abuse or victimisation.

Is it a gender issue?

Frederick Kiragu a Nairobi-based psychologist is cautious about terming murder as a gender issue. He argues that if you do, then you could say that women can’t kill yet there is a ton of evidence suggesting otherwise.

“Putting murder in gender terms and saying that women kill because they are coerced by men or because they are under the influence of alcohol and drugs is turning murderers into victims. When a crime, especially a serious one like murder happens there should be accountability,” he says. “Women are empowered to and do kill and commit violent crimes,” he says.

From his experience interacting with women who have either murdered or committed other violent crimes, when women kill, it’s because of one of three things; psychopathy, greed, or because they were abused. 

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 “I have worked with women who have killed and committed violent crimes and with murder, it’s never the exact same reason. Every woman has a different issue. Some have mental health issues, some lost their minds during a moment of anger while others are driven by financial motives,” he says.

When it comes to those who commit murder in a moment of anger, just like men, it looks like when women kill, one or more of three things are involved; love, alcohol, and money.

Sometimes the killing is planned while other times, a woman snaps and takes a life only to later regret it. 

One of the more methodical strings of murder, happened in July 2021, when Nakuru-based police officer, 34-year-old Corporal Caroline Kangogo went on a killing spree. Her first victim was a colleague, 28-year-old police constable John Ongweno who she shot in his car on July 5th. Investigations revealed that Caroline and John were lovers and were also entangled in a web of illicit affairs with other people. 

Caroline fled the scene of the murder to re-emerge in Ruiru, Kiambu Country, where she was suspected of killing yet another of her lovers. Investigations revealed that Caroline, and 32-year-old Peter Ndwiga, her second victim, booked a room at Hotel Dedamax at 4 pm on Monday, July 6th where they spent the night. Mr. Ndwiga was found dead, with a bullet wound on the head, in the hotel room the following day. The hotel’s CCTV footage showed Caroline, dressed in a yellow hoodie leaving the hotel around midnight. Caroline was on the run for 12 days before she was found dead in an apparent suicide in her parents’ home in Elgeyo Marakwet County.

How are these perpetrators different?

According to Kenya Police Crime Statistics (2018), roughly one in 10 murders are committed by women. Women are also more likely to kill people close to them, and less likely to use a lot of force or plan in advance. Most violent female offenders are from poor backgrounds and low social standing. An abusive past and residence in urban areas also predispose women to crime.

A big number are those who kill in desperation—those who find themselves caught up in abusive situations and kill to get away. By the time it gets to murder, they will have tried looking for help with family, with law enforcement, and often times the church, unsuccessfully.

Case in point, in March 2021, 49-year-old Truphena Aswani made the news when the courts handed her a one-year non-custodial sentence for the murder of her husband. The High Court in Siaya heard that Truphena Aswani had suffered immensely at the hands of her abusive husband who constantly threatened to kill her over a title deed. In the months leading up to the murder, Truphena was battered and dehumanised by her husband, at one point getting admitted to the hospital following a beating. On the fateful day, her husband James Obochi returned home drunk, in a fit of rage, and attempted to hack her with a panga. In an act of self-defense, she seized the panga and cut him several times. While handing the ruling, the judge said the accused deserved a non-custodial sentence to enable her to get counseling to heal from the traumatic experience.

Mental health issues

Mental health remains a challenge in Kenya. In 2014, Kenya was ranked fourth in Africa as having the highest number of people with depression according to a WHO report. According to the Kenya Mental health report (2015-2030), mental health cases continue to rise rapidly and the challenge continues because of inadequate awareness as well as funding. The country with a population of 50 million has approximately 100 psychiatrists. This means that women in a crisis, who may be a threat to others do not always get the help they need in time.

When women kill, they hardly use firearms. More often than not, the murder weapon will be something that was at the women’s disposal, fire, poison, knives, knives, forks. How a woman kills also depends on her financial ability and level of education. Those without much financial muscle do the killing themselves while the rest seek hitmen to do the work on their behalf.

Jane Muthoni, the former principal of Icaciri Secondary school in Kiambu belongs to the latter group. In April 2021, Miss Muthoni was convicted of murdering her school principal husband five years earlier and sentenced to 30 years in prison. In the months leading to the murder, Jane found out that her husband Solomon Mwangi was having an affair with a younger woman, an M-Pesa shop attendant close to the school he worked. Her first plot was to kill her husband’s mistress but this failed as her place of work was next to a police station. She was successful in her second plot which saw her drug her husband and hand him over to his killers while unconscious. The three men tied up his hands and hang him from a tree. It was a classic case of if she couldn’t have him, then no one would.

Infidelity, gender violence among top reasons stated in court cases

According to court data, out of the 10 cases where women killed their partners, four were because of provocation and self-defense, three because of suspected infidelity, one because of jealousy, and two because of gender violence. 

The court cases also indicate that some women do not pre-meditate to kill while others kill their husbands for neglecting their families or for being irresponsible. 

Ms. Truphena Ndonga from Siaya, was found guilty by Justice Roselyne Aburili of killing her husband as a result of prolonged violence. In the judgement delivered on March 9, 2021, she was handed a non-custodial sentence of one-day imprisonment, which lasted at the end of that court session following a finding that she killed her husband in self-defense.

Jane Muthoni Mucheru, former Icaciri School principal is serving a 30-year imprisonment term over the murder of her husband Solomon Mwangi Mbuthi. The man was also a Principal of Kiru Boys High School. The Prosecution theory is that she became disenchanted with what she suspected was her husband’s infidelity with a certain woman referred to as MWK (or “Mpesa Lady”).

The murder plan – which included a combination of administering drugs to stupefy the deceased and then manually strangling him — only succeeded at its second attempt.

Ruth Wanjiku Kamande, a life prisoner, killed her lover Farid Mohamed Halim on September 20, 2015, after suspecting infidelity. She stabbed him 25 times.

In court, she pleaded provocation. She explained that the reason for the attack was that, on the morning of the incident, she had discovered in their bed a card with Mr. Halim’s name on it and the words “Aids Control Program”.  After demanding an explanation from him and threatening to expose him to their families and his close friends, she stated that he attacked her. Ms. Kamande further explained that the day before the incident, she had quarreled with Mr. Halim about some love letters from his previous friends. 

Collet Thabitha Wafula was placed under a three-year non-custodial sentence after being found guilty of killing her husband, Lukas Oduor Abok, in a domestic row on May 7, 2016 at Ugunja Siaya County.

Abok had returned home drunk and engaged in a domestic quarrel with his wife, Collet. He accused her of infidelity, and of having an extramarital affair.  

The two engaged in an argument for a while which turned violent, a fight ensued between the two, and in the process, she proceeded to another room, picked a kitchen knife, returned to where Abok was and stabbed him in the back once. 

She was convicted of manslaughter after killing her husband Dennis Murithi over alleged extra-marital affairs. The incident occurred on October 15, 2019 at Miruriri Market, in Imenti South Sub-County.

In court, she stated that on the material night at about 7.30 pm, her husband asked her where she got money to make her hair and accused her of having extramarital affairs with other men. A quarrel ensued and her husband picked the knife and a struggle ensued. In the process, she realised that her husband was bleeding. She denied stabbing him.


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