How JM Kariuki tried to escape death

As chronicled by veteran Daily Nation journalist Kamau Ngotho

43 years ago, someone who only identified himself as “Israeli businessman” telephoned the third wife of Nyandarua North MP JM Kariuki.

The MP had gone missing 10 days earlier.

The mysterious caller had a short message for Mrs Terry Kariuki: “Have you checked whether your husband is lying in the morgue?”

The caller was told the family had twice been to the Nairobi City Mortuary. The caller said, “Just check again!” and disconnected the phone.


Recovering from the shock, Mrs Kariuki collected herself and alerted JM’s two other wives, Nyambura and Mwikali.

They met at the City Mortuary. Inside, they were shown a partially decomposed body of an unidentified male adult and told it had been brought there by police the previous night.

Terry, who was last to see her husband alive, right away identified the body and screamed. “My God, they have killed my husband.”

Though the face was disfigured, the body was in the same green jacket and a dotted red scarf JM had worn on the morning he left his house never to return.

But just to be sure, Mrs Kariuki would tell me many years later, she pulled his torn trousers and spotted a familiar birthmark on his right thigh.


From the mortuary, the three widows headed to Parliament Buildings and straight to the lounge where they screamed: “They have killed our husband JM!”

Butere MP Martin Shikuku, who received them, quickly mobilised a number of MPs and made a dash to the morgue to confirm the news.

That afternoon, the National Assembly chambers went into flames.

When leader of government business Vice-President Daniel arap Moi sought to cool tempers, his voice was drown with shouts of: “Shut up liar! You’re a government of murderers!”


Sensing danger, the VP and Cabinet ministers in the House hurriedly walked out, removed flags from their official vehicles and sped home.

Backbenchers were left to vent their wrath in the most violent language ever heard in the history of Kenyan parliament.

“This is a government of killers, murderers!” shouted Kamukunji MP Maina Wanjigi, to add to Shikuku’s bombshell: “Now the hyenas have eaten one of their own!”

Few weeks to his disappearance, it had become clear JM was living on borrowed time. A decision had been made that he must die.

Nakuru Town MP Mark Mwithaga would tell me many years later that he got a feeling JM life was in real danger one evening when the two were playing darts over a drink at Nakuru’s Stags Head Hotel.


Out of the blue, Nakuru Mayor Mburu Gichua and another man stormed in and headed to where JM was.

Without any provocation the pair poured bile on JM, ending with a warning: “You want to bring trouble to Nakuru. Just be warned. Your days are numbered. We’re going to finish you!”

Back in Nairobi, assistant minister GG Kariuki sought out JM for lunch to discuss a worrying matter.

As they had a meal by the swimming pool of the Norfolk Hotel, GG whispered to JM that a secret meeting had taken place in Nakuru and a decision reached that he be eliminated.

He told him the strategy was to engineer a political and a security scare and blame it on him.

That done, the authorities as well as the public would easily be convinced that JM was a threat that must be stopped by all means, not least death.


The assistant minister further disclosed to JM that the conspirators had been to State House with select excerpts from his speeches as exhibits that the latter was inciting a civilian revolt against the government.

Among the extracts from JM speeches was the famous quote that “Kenya had become a country of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars!”

GG’s advice was that JM urgently secure an appointment with the ageing President Jomo Kenyatta and explain himself. He agreed to do so.

JM’s widow Terry would tell me that her husband actually made an effort to reach the President using then nominated MP Njenga Karume who had the ears of the head of state.

As an indication of the dangerous times JM was living is the fact that Karume, though well-known to him, couldn’t afford to be seen with him in public.


Their meeting was the stuff you read in spy novels. The two would be driving from different directions on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway and pretend to have accidently bumped into each other at a petrol station near Naivasha town.

There, JM opened up to Karume, and requested that he arrange an urgent meeting with the President. Karume agreed but time wasn’t on their side.

Four days to the weekend JM disappeared yet another secret meeting took place in Nakuru to discuss the “JM problem”.

This time it was resolved he “must go without further delay”.


Meanwhile, JM, now increasingly stressed at the turn of events, was advised by his doctor to take a few days rest away from public limelight.

Heeding the advice, he had a female friend by name Elizabeth Koinange anonymously book two bus tickets for her and JM to secretly travel to Mombasa that Friday night.

Come the day, a friend advised JM that he was secretly followed and his phone monitored, therefore he should not travel to Mombasa.

He agreed. Minutes before the OTC bus he was to travel in left Nairobi, a bomb exploded inside killing 27 of the passengers.

JM escaped, but not quite. He would be dead in less than 48 hours.

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