Husband-killers do not tick all the “usual suspect” boxes. However, society has conditioned us to believe that they fit certain descriptions. That they have distinct mannerisms, mental dispositions, unique socio-economic backgrounds and physical features that are dead giveaways to their killer instincts.
Criminologists concur that women who commit crimes of passion come from all creeds, cultures and classes. They live – and love – among us. And many are, seemingly, functional even if they are living in dysfunctional families. They cut the picture of a perfect family life; until one fateful day they snap and shatter the family portrait to smithereens, and neighbours are left gasping, “That’s not the good neighbour we know”. Or, “Yeah, we saw some subtle signs”.
At the age of 18 years, Elizabeth Wanjiku shattered the myth of husband-killers being older women, who had been in marriage longer, when she became, probably, the youngest husband-killer in Kenya.
When Elizabeth spoke to KTN’s Dennis Onsarigo, for his crime and investigative programme, Case Files in 2012, the-then 21-year old woman was serving a jail term for killing her husband of barely four years, Allan Njunge in Kibiku Village, Kiambu, on November 5, 2010.
“I killed my husband and I am sorry about it,” Elizabeth told Dennis, impassively, without a tinge of emotion.
Elizabeth might have dropped out of school in Form 3, but, when she did an interview with Dennis, she spoke in well-articulated and measured words. Besides, she appeared to be emotionless. Which can turn a jury against an accused, even if the only thin string that holds the case is circumstantial evidence.
Small wonder that, in her ruling, Justice Philemona Mwilu said in part that, “This is a very detailed probation report of an offender who appears not repentant and who does not seem to acknowledge the magnitude of what she did.”
Well, perhaps bringing on the waterworks is not her forte.
Elizabeth grew up in a family of boys. She was the only girl child, and her mother was never home. She said she felt deprived of motherly love and attention.
“My mother worked in Mombasa, and my father stayed in Wangige, Kiambu County with my other two young brothers and me. When my mother went to Mombasa, I felt lonely because I did not have anyone to talk to. There were so many issues that, as a girl, I would have loved to share with her, but she was not around. I felt frustrated and dropped out of school in the first term of Form 3. And then I decided to get married to this guy.”
At 16 years old, Elizabeth eloped with her lover, Allan Njunge. “I stayed in his home, and he gave me the protection and love that I needed. It was nice in the beginning. I got a baby boy, whom we named, Promise”.
Like in many cases that lead to the killing of one's spouse, the journey to the tragic inevitability starts with one incident, and then, over time and familiarity, it steadily escalates. It gathers steam and momentum. In such cases, one thing always leads to “another”. But the problem is that this “another”, whatever this “another” is – if left unchecked – can either lead to a turning point or a point of no return.
“We used to fight with my husband … there is another day that I had cut him on the hand with a knife, and then his parents told him to report me to the police. But he said he could not report me because he loved me. He said it was just a bad accident. So his parents knew that we used to fight.”
Elizabeth said that she suspected that her husband was having an affair. A day after her husband’s 30th birthday, she stumbled on a bill that she claimed confirmed her worst fears: Allan was seeing another woman.
“I was worried when I saw a receipt of alcoholic drinks. I felt bad because the receipt amounted to 3000 shillings, and that week I was sick. I asked him, why are you doing this to me? Why didn’t you give me money and you can afford money to buy other people drinks? We used to fight every Friday because of him being drunk all the time. I felt like he had another woman. So I felt insecure and I had dedicated my whole life to him, loving him without thinking twice.”
On the day before their last fight, which led to the death of her husband, Elizabeth went to visit a cousin. They ate lunch at her cousin’s house and she returned home at around four pm, and started preparing supper.
After cooking, she waited for her husband, but then decided to go to bed at 9 pm.
“He came home at around 1am, and I really felt angry. I told him that I could not take it anymore. And then I found that I had already taken the knife and stabbed him in the chest. The stabbing was not intentional, but as a result of anger that had built up over a period of time.”
Her husband slumped on his weight and uttered his last words. Four words. Four words that she said would haunt her for so many years to come.
“He asked me, ‘Ciku, you’ve killed me?’. I panicked and I called my mother. I told her that I had fought with my husband and he is telling me that he is going to die. My mother told me to run away from that house."
Confused and terrified, Elizabeth turned herself in. It was only after she was booked at the police station that her husband had succumbed to the stab wound.
And that is when it dawned on Elizabeth that she had killed her husband and the father to their two-year old son, Promise. “I was shocked and I started crying,” she said.
When Elizabeth finally stood trial, the murder charge was dropped to that of manslaughter, which saved her from a long stint in jail. In the probation report, the Probation Officer (PO) recommended that the accused be set free. The report said in part, “We plead for leniency and consider a non-custodial sentence. She loved her husband and left school to live with him. She will need to explain to the son what happened to his father.”
But Justice Philemona Mwilu could not let her walk to freedom just like that. Before sending her to jail Justice Mwilu ruled that “a custodial sentence is what is appropriate in the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, I sentence her to serve five years in prison”.
Elizabeth told Dennis that her son, Promise was her first priority the moment she stepped out of prison. Just like the PO said, she has a lot of explaining to do to a little boy. And now that she is free, she has to find words to explain to Promise, like a two-year-old, how you can love someone and take their life.
When Dennis asked Elizabeth about her deceased husband, how she felt about him, she replied impassively, in that same measure tone she had used in the interview, that she loved him.
“I love him even up to now, because I feel I will not love anyone else the way I loved him. And I am scared to fall in love with anyone else. I just want to be with him and no one else.”
Elizabeth is dead right about being scared to fall in love again. Because she does not know if she has healed. Let’s face it; if she gets into another relationship as she is, without resolving her inner seething issues, she is another disaster waiting to happen.
And what will Elizabeth tell prospective lovers when it is time to disclose their pasts? “I killed my husband and I am sorry about it.” That line, said impassively, will send many a potential lover scampering for dear life.
Elizabeth has a lot on her shoulders. One of the crosses she will carry – probably as long as she lives- is the guilt, pain, stigma and odd distinction of being the youngest husband-killer in Kenya.