CULT, POWER, PLEASURE

Killers’ motives lie in troubled past

In Summary
  • There is a type of killer motivated by fantasies about power and wanting to forcibly overpower other people
  • They tend to pick on those physically weaker than them. That is why women and children often fall victim to serial killers
Masten Milimo Wanjala, the self-confessed serial killer of at least 12 children. He escaped from custody in Nairobi on October 13 and was lynched in Bungoma two days later.
VAMPIRE KILLINGS: Masten Milimo Wanjala, the self-confessed serial killer of at least 12 children. He escaped from custody in Nairobi on October 13 and was lynched in Bungoma two days later.
Image: HANDOUT

With four notorious killers apprehended between July and October this year, combined with an increase in spousal murders, Kenyans are understandably anxious about their safety.

These types of murders, previously only seen on television, seem to be slowly taking root across the country. An increase in abductions noted this year is further adding to the anxiety of Kenyans.

While the bodies of some abducted victims have been recovered, the fate of many other disappeared remains unknown. The lack of information about the missing persons is agonising to their families.

Experts in criminal behaviour say that psychopathic killers have always existed. They develop that way because of an unfortunate combination of forces in their lives. Contrary to popular views that these types of killers are isolated, lonely men, recent events show that killers can appear normal except to those who know them well.

Like a dangerous predator laying a trap for its prey, killers can be quite charming. The perpetrators can be of either gender though female killers are rare.

“Killers are motivated by the need to have power and control over their victims,” Dennis Miano, a lecturer in criminology and forensic science explains. “That’s why they abuse their victims in very horrific ways.” Many of the killings reported recently have elements of torture.

Miano believes that the spate of killings currently seen in Kenya is not a sign of a broken society as some have suggested. The killers are not a symptom that society is beyond redemption. Killers existed in African traditional history.

Miano, who works for the Institute of Forensics and Security Studies at Dedan Kimathi University, says that serial killers fall into four categories; the visionary killer, the mission killer, the hedonistic killer and the killers playing out their power and control fantasies.

Control over other people

Visionary killers are those who claim to be heeding the instruction of spiritual forces. "They will say they heard voices in their heads telling them to kill," Miano explains. An example is Philip Onyancha, arrested in 2010 for the deaths of at least 17 people. He is said to have told police that a cult allegedly convinced him to kill 100 people and drink their blood to become rich.

The latest suspect to be arrested (as of the writing of this story) is Paul Magara Morara. Apprehended on October 14, Morara is linked to the deaths of at least three women in Ruiru. Investigations reveal that Morara was part of a cult that recruited him to kill. The proof of killing was the victims’ underwear. Seven panties were reportedly found in Morara’s backpack when he was arrested.

Mission killers are driven by a purpose, such as to eliminate a particular group of persons. Genocide falls into this category. Members of criminal gangs such as the mafia can be described as mission killers.

Hedonistic killers do it because killing gives them pleasure. Not just killing, but hunting down the victim, inflicting pain then ultimately striking the fatal blow. These are the kind of killers who say killing satisfies an inner urge.

Examples include Evans Juma Wafula and Masten Milimu Wanjala. The two are linked to the disappearances and murders of at least 18 boys and girls this year. Evans is suspected to have committed the murders in Uasin Gishu county while Masten had a rather large area of operation in and around Nairobi.

Aged 22, Masten was the youngest killer caught so far. He was lynched by a mob in Bungoma on October 15 just two days after escaping from Jogoo Road police station in Nairobi where he was awaiting trial.

Then there is a type of killer motivated by fantasies about power and wanting to forcibly overpower other people. They tend to pick on those physically weaker than them. That is why women and children often fall victim to serial killers.

The sole woman implicated in multiple killings was police officer Caroline Kangongo. In July, she suddenly killed two men before going into hiding. One of the men was a fellow police officer.

Think of the stories about giants and ogres eating humans. Perhaps those stories were meant to explain mysterious deaths and disappearances in ancient times.
Dennis Miano, lecturer in criminology and forensic science

After a search that captivated the entire country, Caroline was found dead shortly after arriving at her parent's homestead. Police say she committed suicide rather than get captured. It is not clear what made her kill the two men.

Why do some people become killers?

How does a seemingly normal, perhaps charming person, become a killer? Various explanations narrow down to childhood experiences. Most notorious killers grew up in abusive, dysfunctional homes. For example, Masten once spent time in an approved school, which is a rehabilitation centre for offenders under the age of 18. Onyancha was allegedly abused as a child, something a judge mentioned in one of his cases.

Not much is known about Kangongo’s childhood but workmates told journalists that she had a troubled romantic life that included multiple partners. It is also said she was temperamental.

A 2018 report on the development of serial killers confirms that childhood experiences such as abuse, loneliness and abandonment are a big factor. Childhood humiliation, neglect and early adoption are factors listed in the report written by Meher Sharma of the Eastern Illinois University in the United States.

“Adults who were emotionally, physically and sexually abused during their childhood were three times more likely than non-abused adults to act extremely violently during adulthood," Meher noted in her report. These unstable and unhealthy relationships hinder the child's ability to form emotional attachments with other people.

Stories of man-eating giants

Miano believes that the spate of killings currently seen in Kenya is not a sign of a broken society as some have suggested. The killers are not a symptom that society is beyond redemption. Killers existed in African traditional history.

“Think of the stories about giants and ogres eating humans. Perhaps those stories were meant to explain mysterious deaths and disappearances in ancient times,” he proposes.

He however agrees that modern media can influence the minds of children through constant exposure to violence on television and video games. Though not yet a problem in Kenya, school shootings perpetrated by children elsewhere in the world are attributed to violent media content.