On June 26, 1978, Kenya's first 'Most Wanted' criminal, Nicholas Mwea Wakinyonga, was slain by police at Nyakiambi Lodge & Nightclub in Kangemi, Nairobi. A generous, and at the same time, a ruthless thug, he became a sort of 'Godfather' in the minds of future gangsters.
On June 27, 1996, the nation's second 'Most Wanted' gangster, Gerald Wambugu Munyeria, was gunned down at a trading centre, Kabati-ini Shopping Centre, Nakuru County. He's accused of committing several murders, kidnappings, rape, bank robberies and carjackings.
The two deaths occurred eighteen years apart, on the same month, and almost on the same day.
The third and fourth 'Most Wanted' gangsters, Bernard Matheri Thuo and Anthony Ngugi Kanagi, who partnered in crime with Gerald Wambugu, were also brought down, in the late 90s, by an elite force that was formed to halt the thugs' criminal activities.
This is the story of three gangsters - Gerald Wambugu Munyeria, Anthony Ngugi Kanagi and Bernard Matheri Thuo - who terrorized Kenyans, particularly in Nairobi, during the 90s.
The Trio-Gang's Dealings
Conceivably, the most notorious criminals in the country whose memories are etched in the minds of Kenyans are Wanugu, Wacucu and Rasta. Their criminal dealings and daring acts (engaging the police in a standoff), resulted in the creation of a special police force whith the task of bringing to an end the three thugs' criminal activities. Not only had they become a threat to Kenyans, and the police, but also to the tourism industry.
Their aliases were deceptive meant to disguise their identities from security officers. Their real names were Gerald Wambugu Munyeria (Wanugu), Anthony Ngugi Kanagi (Wacucu) and Bernard Matheri Thuo (Rasta).
Police traced their criminal activities from 1993 to 1997 when the last of the trio died under a hail of bullets.
Their criminal activities ranged from bank robbery and car theft to murder, kidnapping, and raping.
On August 21, 1995, the then Police Commissioner, Shadrack Kiruki, announced a reward of Kshs. 100,000 to anyone who would offer information on the whereabouts of the trio gangsters. The bounty on each of their heads would later be doubled to Kshs. 200,000 as they had become unstoppable.
On January 1, 1996, an elite force, Alpha Romeo, was formed from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) - later renamed Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) - with the task of hunting down the criminals. Daniel Seronei was assigned the duty of leading the team.
With the assistance of Flying Squad, the newly formed elite team, Alpha Romeo, brought down the three thugs marking an end to their criminal activities.
Three days after the unit was formed, the team received an Intel on Wanugu and Wacucu's location. In civilian clothing, and in a civilian car, the detectives trailed the duo who were driving in a stolen car heading towards Wanugu's rented house in Ongata Rongai, Kajiado County. They'd been to a shop to buy a packet of maize flour.
The duo spotted the car, and stopped to watch it. Not realizing the civilians in the car were cops, they attacked them with the intention of stealing their car. The police retaliated.
In the ensuing gunshot exchange, Wacucu was fatally shot on the head. Wanugu picked up the deceased's gun, AK47, and continued engaging the police, in a defensive mode. He managed to escape in the dark with an inflicted bullet wound on his head.
Among the items that were recovered that night were a bullet proof jacket weighing 4kg, a Toyota Corolla with a counterfeit number plate, and a cassette radio.
Born in Kamuyu village, Nyeri County, Wacucu was staying in Nairobi with his father while his mother was living at the countryside. They were staying at the compound of Shauri Moyo Baptist Centre.
Wacucu went on to stay in the Church's compound following his father's death from cancer at a local hospital before moving out and renting a room at Dandora, Nairobi.
He worked on several jobs as a mechanic, a bus driver (for Rusinga Primary School), a matatu tout, and later as a matatu driver.
An altar boy in his teenage years, it came as a surprise to those who knew him how the compassionate young boy would turn out to become a gangster, and at that, a ruthless one.
It's thought he was the leader of the gang.
He died at the age of 29.
Despite his colleague at crime having been brought down by police, Wanugu continued on with his thuggery.
The Alpha Romeo squad had determined Wanugu's location in Mombasa. However, Wanugu managed to evade a week-long ambush by the elite force on April 1996.
A massive manhunt for him was set into gear when in the company of two people, he killed a British aid worker at Farm Africa, Mr. Christopher Maurice. It isn't known why he killed the Briton.
After committing the murder, he dived into a nearby forest to evade the police. A manhunt for the runaway criminal involving both air and land search was set into motion. Mr. Maurice's family helped in the search by donating a helicopter. Later, they withdrew it but the police went on with the hunt that took about four hours. That was in the late month of May, 1996.
He slipped through the forest without having been caught or gunned down, and went into hiding in Nakuru.
His end came on June 27, 1996. Seronei's team, Alpha Romeo, received a tip-off of Wanugu's location - he had been sighted at a shopping centre in Nakuru. According to the locals, the gangster was first seen on Friday - nearly a week before he was shot dead. He had rented a room situated one kilometre from Kabata-ini Shopping Centre for two weeks leading up to his death.
Wambugu was rarely seen outside of his room. When outside, he would wear a red cap or a blue woollen one. These actions were designed to conceal his identity from the public.
A young woman was sighted in the company of Wanugu in his rented room, and at Kabata-ini Shopping Centre. It was alleged the young lady was Wanugu's girlfriend. Other reports indicated she's his trusted relative.
Seronei set on finding out the exact location of Wanugu, and if possible, arrest him. He had left his team from Nairobi and their counterparts from Nakuru at Nakuru National Park. According to an interview with a Kenya Television Network's (KTN's) crime investigative team, 'Jicho Pevu', Seronei said his colleagues feared ambushing the deadly thug.
An informer, one of Wanugu's men, who had an in-depth knowledge of Wanugu's dealings, assisted Seronei in locating the gangster at the shopping centre. Seronei noted Wanugu was in the company of a young woman estimated to be in her 20s, and four men who acted as his bodyguards (and accomplices in crime). Including the informer, Wanugu's men totalled five.
Seronei racked up his mind whether he should confront the gangster, wait for his team to arrive or ask for a backup. Considering Wanugu had ordered for some guns from Nairobi, having run out of money, Seronei came to the conclusion he should confront Wanugu. If Wanugu wasn't stopped, he thought, it'd take a considerable time to halt him from committing more crimes.
Wanugu, the young woman and the men had ordered ugali and meat stew at an eatery located at the centre. While the evening meal was being readied, they decided to approach a butchery which was opposite the small restaurant. Therein, they ordered meat soup.
Seronei was at the eatery when Wanugu and his group had ordered the evening meal. He'd disguised himself as a mechanic to the customers at the restaurant, and offered to buy some of them a meal. Probably, he'd been heard by Wanugu and his group. A few minutes after the thuggery group had left, Seronei emerged from the restaurant, and stood a few centimetres from its exit.
Facing him was the butchery. The distance between him and his fate was about 7 metres. Having made up his mind, he pulled out one of the two pistols from his trouser, and pointed it at Wanugu.
He ordered Wanugu to surrender. Instead, Wanugu grabbed the young woman and used her as a human shield while firing at the cop. The cop returned the shots.
The two - Wanugu and the young woman - died on the spot from a severe bullet wound on their heads. Their bodies were also riddled with bullets.
The other thugs also fired at the cop, and escaped through the butchery's hind door.
Wanugu's mother opposed the notion the mugshot of the most wanted man published on newspapers was her son. She asserted that her son was born in 1973 meaning if he was killed he would be 23 years, and not 26 years as stated by the Police Commissioner. Even so, she said she would co-operate with the police if the wanted criminal was her son according to a local newspaper that interviewed her.
Before turning to crime, Wanugu worked as a matatu tout, and later, a matatu driver. He had also worked as a Karate trainer at Kariokor Hall, Nairobi.
Some of the crimes Wanugu was wanted for included:
- Murder of 2 CID officers from Thika, Kiambu County, who were killed in their car in Isili, Nairobi (June 5, 1995)
- Murder of two women (August, 1995)
- Murder of 2 General Service Unit (GSU) officers
- Murder of a bus driver working for Nuclear Investment, Mr. Mbaki Nderitu. It's suspected Nderitu was murdered by Wanugu for having divulged information to police on his location.
Wacucu and Wanugu were involved in an intricate network of car thefts, both in and out of the country. According to a former police spokesman interviewed by the KTN's investigative team, the duo's syndicate stretched as far as Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, and South Africa.
Rasta, the last surviving gangsterism among the three most wanted gangsters in the 90s, managed to stay away from police radar for a year following the death of his comrades. Bribing police officers who provided him with Intel on the Alpha Romeo's and Flying Squads' next move, and partly coupled with people's fear of providing police with information on his whereabouts, enabled him to hide from the police in that duration of time. He was known to pull nails off his victims in his rural village, Kiria-ini, Murang'a County.
A sharp shooter, Rasta would leave his men to deal with police whenever they were ambushed. His henchmen would at times take the fall but Rasta wouldn't let it pass by. One instance occured at GSU roundabout on Thika Highway when his men were gunned down. Rasta retaliated by throwing a grenade inside the unit's headquarters, injuring some soldiers. That was in 1996.
He didn't take it lightly those who betrayed him to the police - be it his colleagues in crime or informers. If he suspected an individual had informed the police of his location, he'd kidnap that individual and torture them. Some would be killed.
He had the audacity to confront the police on his own. At one time, he emptied a whole magazine on police who had to run for safety.
The breakthrough came in September 1, 1997, when Alpha Romeo and Flying squads, having received a tip from the public, finally caught up with him. They had located his hideout at a goat's pen in his mother's homestead in Kiria-ini, Murang'a County.
On this particular day, at around 5.00 p.m., the police trailed Rasta's sister who entered the hideout to deliver tobacco to her brother who was addicted to it. A dry spell of the drug would make him sick.
Rasta, being the first one to spot the police, emerged from his hideout, jumped out of the fence that surrounded his parents' homestead, and ran towards the nearby valley while firing at the cops.
Rasta died on the spot - at the valley - from severe bullet injuries that had ripped through his body.
Two of the police officers were injured during the confrontation - one on the knee, and another one, on the left arm.
Several months before he met his death, Rasta's insistently claimed he's innocent of the crimes he's accused of by the police.
Some of the crimes he's accused of having commited included:
- Murder of 2 General Service Unit (GSU) officers and a driver working for a government-run television station, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), in 1993.
- Murder of Senior police officer, Mr. Bernard Kihumba (May, 1995).
- Murder of Colonel Augustine Kunyiha, head of the military intelligence (December, 1994).
- Murder of 2 women at Ruiru, Kiambu County (August, 1995).
- Murder of 3 CID officers at Githurai roundabout, Nairobi ( August, 1995).
© 2020 Alianess Benny Njuguna
Alianess Benny Njuguna (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on August 11, 2020:
Thank you, Mariah Bruce for your comment. Indeed, their stories sound like something taken out of a movie.
Their notoriety came into national limelight mostly starting in1995.
Thank you for taking your time to read this story.
Mariah B from OR on August 10, 2020:
Wow! An incredible story, and a very thorough examination. It's hard to believe this really happened, it seems like something out of a movie. Thank you for sharing this information, as I have never heard of these infamous gangsters before.