They are angry, frustrated and ashamed. The fear on their faces is palpable.
Convincing them to come out and speak to us was an uphill task, and they wanted certain conditions met.
But when they finally agreed to meet us, Joseph Okumu Nyateng’ and Syprose Okumu, the parents of suspected serial killer Harrison Okumu, known in the village as ‘Boyi’, poured their hearts out, in the belief that this would calm the irate residents of otherwise sleepy Miguye, in Nyando constituency of Kisumu County.
In the end, both mother and father were categorical: they don’t want to see their son ever again. They hope the police and the prosecution will present a strong case and have the 25-year-old Harrison sent to the gallows.
They also would not accept to inter his body in case he gets the maximum sentence. Instead, they want the younger Okumu’s body buried in a place they do not want to know, or better for them, be dissolved in concentrated sulphuric acid never to be remembered.
SHOULD BE KILLED
They are both willing to testify against their son, and they have told the police as much. Luo customary law forbids a parent from testifying against his own child. But all the Okumus want is to forget that they ever gave birth to Harrison.
“Harrison is my son, and I loved him. But I want to forget I ever gave birth to a son who would put us through such harrowing experience and shame. I would be happy never to see him again,” the distraught Mrs Okumu said in an interview.
Mr Okumu added: “I am ready to testify against him any day because I want the government to help us. I indicated so in my statement to the police that I am fed up with frequent cases involving this boy. I want help. I am his father, not the police, and I have allowed the government and the public to kill him. I have accepted that he be sentenced to death. I will not accept that he be released because we are worried for our lives. He is no longer my son.”
Suspicions that Harrison could be a serial killer began when the bodies of two young men he had been seen with the previous day were discovered, one in a water pan and another in the stream.
According to the father, Harrison came home in the company of a strange young man at night. Harrison is said to have introduced his friend as a Ugandan who had come to visit him.
During the introductions the parents asked how or when the two got to know each other.
The Ugandan, Mr Okumu recalls, said they had been friends for some time and that he had come all the way from his country to know Harrison’s home.
“The Ugandan stranger said he was related to the family of Idi Amin. The two said they had spent their evening at a nearby pub in Rabuor called Home Ground where the Ugandan had supposedly left his car. The stranger said he would leave the following morning and promised to get Harrison a car which he could use for taxi services.
He said the next time he comes back, he would like to see ‘Boyi’ leading a good life,” said Mr Okumu.
When they finished their dinner, Mr Okumu says Harrison sent one of his siblings to bring him his gumboots from his house. “I wondered why he was asking for the gumboots but I did not want to question him because that could lead to a fight,” said the father.
Harrison, perhaps realising that his father was suspicious of the odd request for gumboots yet it had not rained, offered that they were going back to the pub. And with that they left.
The following morning, Mr Okumu went to work. He deals in electrical fittings and wiring. His wife later informed him Harrison said he had seen the Ugandan off and that he had arrived back safely after she inquired about the stranger’s whereabouts.
IRON ROD FORCED THROUGH ANUS
“So we let the matter rest. But three days later very early in the morning, I heard people wailing some distance from my home and we started asking ourselves who may have died. I left for work, but when I came back in the evening, I was told that a body had been discovered in a water pan behind my father’s (Harrison’s grandfather’s) home,” said Mr Okumu.
The victim had an iron rod forced through his anus all the way to his abdomen. The body had been tied with a rope and wrapped in some net before being dumped in the water pan.
At the time, the village was also searching for 25-year-old Shem Onyango, a motorcyclist and a neighbour of the Okumus. Onyango went missing at around the same time the Ugandan was around.
His motorcycle could also not been traced. Onyango had been seen with Harrison earlier in the day near the chief’s camp.
So when the body was found in the water pan, Onyango’s elderly mother Esther Nyambok who had been frantically searching for her son, thought it could be his. The police, led by Kondele OCS Johnstone Wanyama were also at the scene.
The body was removed and transferred to Nyanza Provincial General Hospital in Kisumu. The body could not be easily identified because it had been mutilated. But still Onyango’s mother believed it could be that of her son and even managed to raise Sh3,000 in mortuary charges.
As events were fast unfolding to find the killer of ‘Onyango’ Mr Okumu’s second-born, Rodgers, told the parents a story that would help unearth more gruesome murders. The night the Ugandan had supposedly departed and Onyango went missing, Harrison arrived on a motorbike at their late grandparents’ home where Rodgers was sleeping at around 2am.
Harrison requested that his younger brother take him to Kisumu, but Rogers declined, saying it was too late in the night to risk riding that distance.
Harrison, it is said, is not a good rider and therefore was likely looking for assistance from his younger brother.
As a frustrated Harrison was pushing the motorcycle along, Rodgers reportedly followed him stealthily to establish where he was taking it.
This was a crucial clue that led the family and other villagers to believe that Harrison had a hand in Onyango’s mysterious disappearance. It did not take long before a second body of a young male person was discovered dumped in a different stream.
A day after the first body was taken to the mortuary, the villagers removed another one from the stream. It was quickly identified as Onyango’s despite some decomposition.
At the time the second body was discovered the suspected serial killer was still around, but when he saw the police milling around he began accusing his parents of planning to have him arrested.
“He vowed to kill us all. We raised the alarm and over 50 people armed with various weapons responded but he did not appear. They took us indoors and spent the night at my home waiting for Boyi,” said Mr Okumu.
In the morning, the villagers helped Harrison’s parents to escape from possible harm from their son.
As soon as the parents and the siblings left, they said Harrison arrived home asking for the whereabouts of his parents and siblings whom he had vowed to kill. But when the villagers spotted him he escaped into a sugarcane plantation. He was seen a day later at the Kisumu showground. That was the last time he was seen until he was tracked down and arrested in Mombasa where he had gone into hiding following an elaborate police operation. He is to be charged on September 4.
After Harrison’s escape, the police who had been looking for him also joined in turning the homestead over. The police conducted a search in all the houses in Mr Okumu’s homestead before they were burnt down by people Mr Okumu claims were touts from the nearby Rabuor market.
In Harrison’s house, the police found some blood in a water container. The walls had also been splattered with blood which the suspect is believed to have been trying to scrape off.
In his bedroom, they found police uniforms among other things.
A shallow hole outside the house held the darkest secrets. It was initially to be a pit latrine before it was abandoned, according to Mr Okumu.
Decomposing bodies and human remains were discovered inside.
Harrison’s father denied prior knowledge of a mass grave within his compound during the interview. “The distance between my house and his is a bit far. In any case, once I give my son a piece of land to build his house on, what business do I have monitoring what he does?”
In any case, Mr Okumu said, Luo customs prohibit him from going into his son’s house or cultivating nearby.
Mr Okumu also denied having known of his son’s alleged atrocities though he acknowledged that he was aware of a single case of commotion in Harrison’s house long before the recent discoveries were made.
Then, Mr Okumu said, he was at work. He is an electrical contractor but also owns a number of rental houses in Nyalenda estate, Kisumu. His wife, who was at home, had gone to Harrison’s house to ask him to come for his lunch.
“There was no padlock on the door, but it was locked from inside. The mother then peeped through the window because she thought he could be asleep. He called out his name out but Harrison ordered her to leave if she valued her life,” said Mr Okumu.
It was not the first time the suspect had threatened to kill his mother and father. He had once beaten his mother and his third follower and threatened to kill them unless they gave him money. In another case, Harrison reportedly broke into his parents’ house while they were asleep. He was wielding a machete. He attacked his father and broke his collar bone while demanding money.
“I pleaded with him to spare our lives and gave him my wallet, which had Sh16,000. He took all the money and threw the wallet back at us and said we should count ourselves lucky to be alive,” said Mr Okumu.
The matter, Mr Okumu says, was reported to the Kochieng East location chief Peter Nyambok, but the administrator did not act. The chief, however, denied being complicit. He would not discuss the matter further after local District Officer Lillian Itubo directed him over the phone in our presence not to discuss the matter with the media.
Mrs Okumu said when Harrison bellowed the order, she quickly retreated. Before Mrs Okumu could get back to her house, a girl who had apparently been in Harrison’s house stormed out of his house screaming.
“I was shocked beyond words. I asked Christine Achieng’ to run to a neighbour’s home to get help otherwise he could have killed us both,” said Mrs Okumu.
The neighbour happened to be Mrs Jane Wadulo who together with the late Onyango’s mother have different versions of things. Mrs Wadulo claims the girl told her that Harrison’s mother allegedly pushed her and ordered her to go away from her. But Mrs Okumu said she politely requested the girl to run away as far as possible.
Mrs Okumu blamed her son’s behaviour on the company he kept. “This is my son and we struggled to provide for him. But in truth, he has taken us through hell. I believe he kept the wrong company who led him astray,” she said.
Harrison dropped out of school, and took to drinking and smoking bhang. Most of his friends were in Kisumu, his parents disclosed, and he didn’t have friends in the village.