Saturday, 31 July 2010


The stories are the stuff nightmares are made of. They read like one of those horror fiction novels that are written to shock and instil fear, yet they are real, happening to real people and are what every parent prays he or she will never have to live through.
We’re talking about the increasing cases of child kidnappings in the country; kidnappings that are being instigated by the very people you have entrusted your home and children to.
It could be your house help of many years, or that young woman that your pastor’s wife recommended the other day.
A year ago, Fiona Achieng returned home only to find her house empty. Her daughter, then one year old, and her house girl of nine months were missing.
“That morning, I woke up with a bad feeling. For no reason, I didn’t want to leave, and ended up getting out of the house at 8.30am, my reporting time,” Fiona recounts.
But still, she couldn’t concentrate on her work and at 1.30pm, she shut down her computer, took her bag and drove back home, even though she was due for a meeting at 2pm.
“I just had a feeling that something was not right,” she explains. When she got to her house, she found it locked.
She called her house help several times. The first time, the phone went unanswered, the second, the call would not go through. On inquiring, neighbours informed her that they had seen her leaving with the little girl strapped on her back right after she left for work.
Alarmed, Fiona went to her area police station, but was informed that she had to wait 24 hours before reporting a missing person. By then, she had called her husband, who in turn sought the help of a friend who worked with a security firm. It is this friend, using the firm’s sophisticated tracking system, who assisted them to locate the runaway house help.
“She was accosted just before 12 pm in Machakos soon after alighting from a matatu,” narrates Fiona.
Fortunately, besides fatigue, hunger, and shivering with cold because she had only a light dress on, her daughter was unharmed. When interrogated, the young woman said that she had been taking the little girl for “anointing.”
Nothing, not even being remanded in the police cells for a week prompted her to change her story. Eventually, Fiona, had her released without pressing charges.
“I just couldn’t cope with the emotional trauma that I knew would come with the trial,” she explains.
It might be a year ago but this mother of one is yet to come to terms with what happened. The incident shook her so much, that she has now installed a cctv system in her house, so that she can watch her new house help’s every move while away from home either from her laptop or mobile phone.
“For several months, I spent every waking minute either staring at my laptop or phone, until I realised that I wasn’t being productive at work.”
It is only recently that she managed to tame her obsession and she now switches off the surveillance camera once in a while.
What happened to Fiona could befall any young working or newly married mother who, more often than not, only has the househelp in the house. Older mothers usually have live-in relatives or older children around the house.
Like so many working young parents who rely on paid help to look after their young children and keep a semblance of order in the homes, Fiona knew little about her former house help, who had been recommended to her by her pastor. All she knew is what the girl had told her about herself.
She also says that in the 11 months she had lived with her, the girl had given her no reason to suspect that she would be capable of such an act.
“She was quiet and very religious. She spent her spare time either praying or reading the Bible,” says Fiona.
“I dread to think of what she planned to do with my baby since she had no intention of bringing her back,” says Fiona.
She advises fellow parents to heed their intuition and also to go that extra mile to know as much as possible about the people they employ in their homes. They say once bitten, twice shy.
Her current house help’s finger prints are with the CID, she knows her next of kin, has their phone numbers, knows where she comes from and even knows the woman’s area chief personally.
The watchmen who guard the estate are also under strict instruction not to allow the house help to go through the gate with her daughter. Further, she has made her daughter understand that no one, apart from her and her father, should walk out of the gate with her.
She also encourages the little girl to report should the house help mistreat her or bring strange people into the house.
“When you go through what I went through, you understand how important it is to take the steps I have taken.” 
But even that house help who has worked for you for years is still capable of such an act. If anything, according to the next woman’s story, she is the most dangerous because she knows practically everything about you.
Two years ago, Janice Kerubo’s three-year-old daughter went missing. She had been playing outside the family home. One minute she was there, the next she had disappeared.
The call from her hysterical house help came through on a Friday evening just as she was about to call it a day at work.
“She informed me that she had looked for Connie all afternoon and could not find her, even at the neighbours”, she says.
Janice immediately called her husband who also worked in town and together, they rushed home. By the time they arrived at about 7pm, their last born daughter was still nowhere to be found.
At about 7.30pm, Janice’s phone rang. The menacing voice on the other end wanted a million shillings the next day or they would kill the little girl. He would call an hour later to give instructions, he continued. If she dared to inform the police, she would never see her daughter again.
The line went dead
By the time the kidnappers called again some 45 minutes later, Janice was nearly out of her mind. This time, her husband, who was more composed, picked up the phone.
“He tried to negotiate with them because we did not have even a fraction of money they were asking for, but they stood their ground. They wanted the entire amount the following day.”
What shook them even more was the fact that the faceless man seemed to know so much about them.
“Si mnajenga nyumba kubwa sana Ruai? Hiyo pesa yote mna toa wapi?” the man asked. (Where are you getting that money you’re building your big house in Ruai with from?)
The man also knew about the new car they had bought earlier that year as well as the wholesale shop the family owned.
“We were shocked because these are people who seemed to know us so well,” Janice says.
When the kidnapper failed to call the following morning as promised, the anxious family decided to involve the police. The decision turned out to be what would bring their little girl back home. But barley 30 minutes after the family called the police, the kidnapper called again, using a different number.
“You have just killed your daughter, why did you call the police after we ordered you not to?” then he disconnected.
“We were all surprised at how they could have found out, and within such a short time, that we had called the police,” Janice narrates.
When they briefed the police after their arrival at their home, they called Janice and her husband aside, and asked them whether they had any reason to suspect their house help.
Janice’s first reaction was to dismiss the idea. The house help, a middle-aged woman, had been with the family for over seven years. She was practically Connie’s second mother, having helped care for her from birth.
“She was the last person I would have suspected.”
Undeterred, one of the two policemen called their house help, a mother of two, and asked her to hand over her phone.
After scrolling through the phone for less than a minute, the policeman, who had been consulting a piece of paper with the two numbers the kidnappers had used, singled out two numbers recorded in the house help’s phones.
To the family’s disbelief, they matched. It turned out that their house help had started communicating with the kidnappers two days before the actual kidnapping took place. 
“I could not believe it – this is someone I treated like family and on two occasions, her children had spent Christmas holidays with us,” says Janice.
She is the one that led the police to the kidnappers’ hideout. Luckily, the little girl was unharmed. Of course, not all cases have such happy endings.

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