Peter Mwea Wakinyonga, declared Kenya's first worst gangster was slain by police at Nyakiambi Lodge & Nightclub in Kangemi, Nairobi on June 26, 1978. A ruthless thug, he became a sort of 'Godfather' in the minds of future gangsters. He was wanted for several atrocities such as bank heists and car thefts.
On June 27, 1996, the nation's second worst gangster, Gerald Wambugu Munyeria was gunned down at a trading centre, Kabati-ini Shopping Centre, Nakuru. 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. Unbeknownst to the police, the deaths didn't mark the end of crimes in Kenya. Somehow, it led to the rise of gangsters, particularly among the young people.
The Ruthless Trio-Gang
Conceivably, on another note, the most notorious criminals whose memories are etched in the minds of Kenyans are Wanugu, Wacucu and Rasta. Their criminal dealings and daring acts, even engaging the police in a standoff, resulted in the creation of a special force to deal with them.
Their aliases were deceptive with the intention of disguising 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.
Wanugu and Wacucu's Death
The three gangsters were accused of committing several offences, among them murders, carjackings, bank and highway robberies, kidnappings and rape.
On August 21, 1995, Police Commissioner, Shadrack Kiruki announced a reward of Kshs. 100,000 per head to anyone who would offer information on the whereabouts of the trio gangsters. The bounty on their heads would later be doubled to Kshs. 200,000 as they had become a menace, and unstoppable.
On January 1, 1996, an elite force was formed from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) - later renamed Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) - with the task of hunting down the criminals.
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. The team, wearing civilian clothes and travelling in a car registered with a civilian number plate trailed the duo who were in a car heading towards Wanugu's rented house in Ongata Rongai, near Nairobi. The duo spotted the car and stopped to watch it.
Not realizing the civilians were cops, they attacked them with the intention of stealing their car. The police retaliated. Wacucu died on the spot from a severe bullet wound on the head.
Wanugu picked up the deceased's gun, AK47, and continued engaging the police, in a defensive mode. Even though he was wounded on the head, he escaped. He had a bulletproof vest on that partially protected him.
Wacucu's Brief Biography
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 Shauri Moyo Baptist Centre's compound in Nairobi. Outgoing and jovial, Wanugu had hopes of a better future.
He went on to stay in the Church's compound after his father died of cancer at a local hospital before moving out and renting a room at Dandora, Nairobi.
Other than being a matatu tout and driver, Wacucu also worked as a mechanic and a bus driver at Rusinga Primary School.
An altar boy in his teenage years, it came as a surprise to those who knew him that the young boy would turn out to become a gangster, and at that, a ruthless one from the compassionate one they knew.
It's thought he was the leader of the gang.
He died at the age of 29.
Even after the death of his accomplice, Wanugu went on with his thuggery.
On April 1996, Wanugu was successful in evading a week-long ambush by the Alpha Romeo squad in Mombasa.
A massive manhunt for him was set into gear when in the company of two people, he killed a British aid worker, Mr. Christopher Maurice, of Farm Africa. It wasn't known why he had killed the Briton. Also, he killed Mr. Mbaki Nderitu working as a bus driver of Nuclear Investment. It's suspected Nderitu was murdered for divulging information to the police of Wanugu's location in 1995.
After commiting the murders, he dived into a nearby forest to evade the police. A manhunt for the runaway criminal involving 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 managed to slip through the forest without having been caught or gunned down.
His end occurred in June 27, 1996. Seronei's team received a tip-off Wanugu had been sighted in Nakuru. According to the locals, the gangster was first seen on Friday, nearly a week before he was shot dead.
Wanugu rented a room that was about one kilometre from Kabata-ini Shopping Centre in Nakuru. Rarely seen on the outside, to conceal his identity, Wanugu spent most of his time in the room, sleeping for hours. When out, for a short period of time, he would wear a red cap or a blue woolen one.
Seronei set on finding out the exact location of Wanugu. He had left his team at Nakuru National Park. An informer who had an in-depth knowledge of Wanugu's dealings assisted him in locating the gangster. Seronei noted that Wanugu was in the company of a young woman estimated to be in her 20s, and about five men who acted as his bodyguards (and accomplices in crime).
Alone, he racked up his mind whether he should advance by confronting the gangster, wait for his team 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. This meant two things: either he's killed or he succeeds in killing Wanugu if he refuses to surrender.
Wanugu, the young woman and the men were in a butchery. They had ordered a soup and were about to have their supper - meat stew - therein.
Leaving the butchery, he brandished his pistol at Wanugu.
"Put your hands up," Seronei ordered.
Instead, Wanugu grabbed the young woman and used her as a human shield while firing at the cop. The cop returned the shots leading to the death of Wanugu and the young woman. They died on the spot from a bullet wound on their heads; their bodies riddled with bullets.
The other thugs also fired at the cop, and ran away.
His Brief Background
Wanugu's mother opposed the notion that the portrait of the most wanted man published on newspapers wasn't 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 per Police Commissioner's description of the gangster. Even so, if the wanted criminal was her son, she said she would co-operate with the police according to a local newspaper that interviewed her.
Before turning to crime, it is believed he worked as a matatu tout, and later a driver.
Rasta, the last surviving gangsterism among the three most wanted gangsters in the 90s, managed to stay away from police radar for a year after the death of his comrades. This was possible through bribing police officers who provided him with Intel on the Alpha Romeo and Flying Squads' next move, partly coupled with people's fear of providing the squad with information on his whereabouts. He was known to pull nails off his victims in his rural village, Kiria-ini, Murang'a.
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 Road 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 was known 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 finally caught up with him. They had located his hideout at a goat's pen in his mother's house in Kiriaini, Murang'a County. This came about after receiving a tip from the public.
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. He's addicted to the drug. A dry spell of the drug would make him sick.
Rasta, being the first one to spot the police, jumped out of the fence and ran towards the valley that was a few metres from his mother's house while firing at the cops. He was gunned down - several bullets having 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.
Rasta had always insisted, several months before he met his death, that he's innocent of the crimes he's accused of by the police.
He's accused of committing murders, highway and bank robberies and kidnappings. He's accused of murdering:
- 2 General Service Unit (GSU) officers and a Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) driver in 1993.
- Superintendent Bernard Kihumba, head of Anti-robbery unit on May 1995.
- Colonel Augustine Kunyiha, boss of the military intelligence on December 1994.
- 2 women at Ruiru in August 1995.
- 3 CID officers at Githurai roundabout in August 1995.
- Jicho Pevu, Jaramadia la Uhalifu: Mwizi Sugu, Wanugu. Accessed August 2, 2020.
- Jicho Pevu, Jaramandia la Uhalifu Kuhusu Jambazi Sugu, Wanugu. Accessed August 2, 2020.
- The Standard Media, Kenya's ‘Baddest’ Criminals: Wanugu, Wacucu and Rasta. Accessed August 2, 2020.
- The Daily Nation, End of the Road for Criminal Who Gave Police a Hard Time. Accessed August 2, 2020.
© 2020 Alianess Benny Njuguna
Alianess Benny Njuguna (author) from 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 Bruce from Portland, 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.