Skip to main content

The Crime Story of John Kibera, Kenya's First 'Most Wanted' Grave Robber Criminal

Reformed Grave Robber

Reformed Grave Robber

Born in 1973, John Kibera entered into Kenya's police 'Most Wanted' criminal list in the 1990s in his involvement in bank robbery, kidnapping, and car jacking, in the company of the 1990s infamous gangsters - Gerald Wambugu Munueria aka Wanugu, Anthony Ngugi Kanagi aka Wacucu, and Bernard Matheri Thuo aka Rasta. When the gangsters were felled by the police, Kibera turned to grave robbery, a new type of robbery that was unbeknownst to Kenyans.

Early Life of John Kibera

Kibera was first arrested at the age of 11, for stealing Kshs. 150 from his aunt to buy food, and sentenced to 6 years imprisonment at Shikusa Prison's youth detention facility in Kakamega.

His action to steal from his aunt resulted from his father's mistreatment and being denied the right to education. His parents had divorced prior to being arrested at the young age, and, subsequently, his mother was married to his 'second' dad. The first born in a family of five, Kibera, while in class three, had to learn to fend for himself.

At the prison, Kibera learned a lot in the world of crime from hardcore inmates. Following his release, in the mid-1990s, at the age of 17, Kibera saw himself in-and-out of police cells and the prison for engaging in petty crimes such as theft and mugging.

Kibera's criminal activity escalated to robbing banks, kidnapping, and carjacking, when he joined the 1990s notorious gang of Wanugu, Wacucu and Rasta.

The 'Most Wanted' Grave Robber

When Wanugu, Wacucu and Rasta were gunned down, Kibera continued with his criminal activities.

One of his gang members who was gunned down, had left his girlfriend and child, to his care. Kibera used her as a distractor - pretending to be a prostitute - to lure motorists and rob them. However, in 1999, at Westlands, Nairobi, the police ambushed them. The young woman was shot dead, and Kibera managed to escape with a bullet injury. Following the death of the young woman, Kibera didn't abandon the child as he continued caring for him.

The death of the woman led to Kibera to come up with a plan of stealing from the dead. He formed a team consisting of 8 members whom he had made friends with at the juvenile prison.

Kibera reasoned it'd be better stealing from the dead as they wouldn't find themselves in confrontation with the police since police, like many people, feared the dead. Police officers wouldn't stop people carrying a coffin at night because of what such a scenario portrayed such people.

The 'Most Wanted Grave Robber,' Kibera was perceived as a maniac, bewitched, and cursed.

What troubled him, and the gang, in the grave stealing business, was not mostly the police but the foul smell emanating from the dead, the state of the bodies while decomposing, and the dealing with the dead (touching the corpse).

The gang found smoking gang, or cannabis, increased their confidence when engaging in this criminal activity. Stealing coffins, according to Kibera, was a safe and easy task. They would steal the coffins in the middle of night or early in the morning before five.

They would buy newspapers, turn to orbituary pages, and from the description provided select the dead from whom they would steal the coffins they were buried in.

After having selected the dead from whom they would steal the coffins they're buried in, they would attend the mourning ceremony, and from the announcement made of the burial, would determine where the body would be buried. They gave a tenth of the money they earned from crime during the mourning period before a body was burried.

During the burial ceremony, they would note where the dead was buried, which type of clothes and shoes they're worn (cheap or expensive), and other valuable things they were buried with e.g. necklaces, rings and watches.

When the night approached, they head to the grave site, and begin their robbing the dead. They mostly targeted the rich who were buried in slab graves. The task of removing the body, and coffin, was easier than removing soil which would take them more than 3 hours.

The gang members would take turns in removing slab, the body, getting out the coffin, returning the body, and if time allows, the slab. Also, a member would be tasked in informing the members of any activity that would require them to abandon their activity, and run for their dear lives.

Scroll to Continue

On one occassion four of the gang's members were caught while in the process of stealing a coffin in Maragua, Murang'a County, and were lynched by the locals who had silently waited for them to remove the coffin from the grave. Kibera was lucky as he had a day-off then else he would have been among the dead.

I hated my life as a grave robber - John Kibera, the street pastor who once loved robbing the dead

I hated my life as a grave robber - John Kibera, the street pastor who once loved robbing the dead

Kibera's Near-death from Police's Bullets

The last grave robbery cost his remaining gang's members life. His three gang members, including himself, planned on stealing a coffin at Langata cemetery, in Nairobi. They had successfully done their criminal task as always, and were awaiting for the vehicle which would ferry the coffin to an Asian trader who bought the stolen coffins from them.

On this particular day, the van didn't arrive at the designated time, 5 a.m. They found themselves in a dilemma. They couldn't leave the coffin behind not with all the work they had put in retrieving the coffin, and the revelation, to the public, the coffin was about to be stolen. The revelation would hinder to their continuing in the activity as families would possibly heighten security on their deceased's gravesites.

They left the body and crossed over to Langata road, and towards the Langata shopping centre. One of them saw a newspaper van and asked the others whether they couldn't use it to ferry the body. Kibera brandished his pistol at the driver who silently gave them the keys. They drove the van to the cemetery, put in the coffin, and drove towards Nairobi's city centre.

The driver alerted police at a local police station of the carjacking. A coordination response was ignited, and when the van was spotted, the police signaled at them to pull over. The request was ignored. Seconds later, Kibera, who was at the back of the van cleaning the coffin with newspapers, heard sounds of 15 gunshots which ripped through the van; killing his colleagues at the spot.

Afraid what might befall him following his coleagues' death, and wanting to live, Kibera opened the coffin's lid, and closed himself in it. Sweating profusely, he took a piece of cotton from the side of the coffin, and put it on his mouth. Therein, he laid still like a dead body.

The police removed the dead bodies of his colleagues from the van, and put it in their van.

He heard the back door being opened, and the police officers wondering loudly what the expensive coffin was purposed for. One of the officers was asked to open the window of the coffin and have a look what was in it. Fearfully, the officer opened and came into contact with the staring eye of the perceived corpse. He closed it immediately, and told the police there's a corpse in the coffin, and it's sweating.

It was decided the body should be removed from the coffin, and put in the police's van, together with the other dead bodies, and taken to mortuary. Six officers lifted the coffin from the van. When they were about to lower it down, Kibera opened forcefully the lid and jumped out of the coffin. Seeing the dead rising from death, the residents, who had crowded at the scene, and the police, filled with dread fled in different directions.

Having planned to use this technique to save his life, when police were deliberating what to do with the corpse in the coffin, Kibera used the opportune - the fright escape of the public, and officers - to run for his dear life.

Thnking of the death of his colleagues, it hit home that life was a reality unlike before when he thought it was an illusion, or fantasy. An increased intensity of fear filled him. He decided to apparoach a local police station, and surrendered himself to a DCI (Directorate of Criminal Investigations) officer. He told him he had a pistol which was at his house. He brought it back, and was arrested and arraigned in court with the charge of disturbing the dead. He was detained at a local police cell in Nairobi for 18 days before being taken to court.

Kibera was sentenced to 6 months in prison.

His Renunciation from Crime

He had contemplated on his life, and what happened to his four colleagues, in crime, who were beaten and burnt alive, and the last three who were felled with bullets, and came to a decision to halt his criminal activity of stealing coffins.

Following his release, Kibera converted to Christianity, and became a street preacher. In his street preachings, he asks the youth to renounce crime, and uses his criminal life experience to impart invaluable information to the minds of the youth.

He is also a motivational speaker, and at the request of UN-Habitat, has traveled to several countries, to "promote a crime-free society."

When he became a Christian, Kibera gave away the proceedings he got from his crime, including buildings, to the needy.

Kibera had stolen more than 1,000 coffins for the five years he engaged in this type of criminal activity that was a first in the country.

He made close to Kshs. 8 million from the grave robbery business. He targeted the rich who were buried in expensive coffins that ranged from Kshs. 100,000 - Kshs. 500,000. On average, he, and his gang, earned an average of Kshs. 70,000 from the sale of the coffins.

© 2022 Alianess Benny Njuguna

Related Articles