Twenty-eight-year-old Julie Ward, daughter of British billionaire hotelier John Ward, was last seen alive while on a game-drive at Maasai Mara on September 6, 1988. Then she vanished.
She had travelled to Kenya in the company of her Australian boyfriend, Dr Glen Burns.
While at Maasai Mara, the story went, their Suzuki Jeep broke down.
The boyfriend reportedly travelled back to Nairobi to get spareparts. Instead, he flew back to wherever he had come from.
With all the resources, Kenyan authorities, we were told, couldn’t tell what happened to the British girl.
It took seven days for her father to travel from England and conduct an aerial search that found her vehicle stuck in a gully at the deep-end of a forest where no vehicle had been driven to before.
But Julie was not found inside the vehicle. Three days later, Police Commissioner Philip Kilonzo released a statement that a British tourist had been mauled by wild animals after she lost her way while on a game-drive.
Having smelt a rat, Julie’s father commissioned an independent post-mortem based on samples supplied by the Kenyan authorities.
The report returned was that the British girl had been murdered.
The day the post-mortem results were shown to the Police Commissioner, Government Pathologist Dr Jason Kaviti rushed to the Kenyatta National Hospital mortuary where Julie’s remains were preserved and altered the independent post-mortem report.
In the new version, he implied the tourist had died from animal bites.
But, just in case of doubt, he said that she could also have been struck by lightning!
Dr Kaviti was a curious specimen. Two years later, he had said with a straight face that Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko had committed suicide – first by breaking his leg, shooting himself in the head, putting his revolver beside the bullet wound, and then setting himself ablaze!
Even in those days when Kenyan authorities ruled through fake news, everybody thought Dr Kaviti had elevated this art to new heights of insanity.
When he appeared as a witness at the Ouko Murder Inquiry, one of the presiding judges, Justice Otieno Kwach, had to remark that it was a good thing that Dr Kaviti was only consulted by dead patients.
WILD GOOSE CHASE
Back to the story. On realising that the Kenyan authorities were taking him on a wild goose chase, Julies’ father, a man of means, set out to get to the bottom of the murder.
When he still had the energy, Mr Ward, now 87, made about 10 trips to Kenya; spent about a billion shillings; wrote a book, and had a dozen independent post-mortems done, in an attempt to get to the bottom of his daughter’s murder.
I met him in one of his many trips to Kenya. The appointment was secured by politician Kenneth Matiba, my employer at then People Weekly newspaper.
A little digression: In many ways Mr Matiba and Mr Ward are photo-copies and alter-egos of one another. When they decided to do something, they did it big, and in their own way.
While ordinary folks get half-way Mt Kenya and make a song and dance out of it, Mr Matiba scaled the heights of the Everest.
When he was chairman of the Kenya Football Federation, he used personal resources to fly to Nairobi Brazilian soccer magician Pele, just to make point that football would be serious business under his watch.
As the first indigenous Kenyan to grow carnations, when he felt foreign cargo airlines were giving him a raw deal, he came up with the idea of acquiring a private long-haul jet.
When elected Murang’a Kanu branch chairman in the 1980s, he furnished his office better than that of the party national chairman at the headquarters.
When he was rigged out of the position, he carted away the furniture. Asked why, he replied: “You mean they have rigged in a chairman who has no chair of his own!”
Back to the story. Mr Matiba happened to have lunch with Mr Ward at the Nairobi Safari Club.
As they munched the delicacies, Mr Ward gave Mr Matiba the story of how his daughter met her death.
Mr Matiba couldn’t wait to get back to his office across the road from the hotel and call my Managing Editor George Mbugguss, with instructions that we get Mr Ward’s story.
I had just come back from lunch when my boss told me: “Call this number right away.
Mr Ward expects you at his suite in 20 minutes. Record everything he tells you and report back to me immediately you’re back.”
I literally dragged photographer Evanson Chege from his desk and jumped into a cab. In 10 minutes, we were at Nairobi Safari Club.
As we got into the lift to take us to the sixth floor presidential suite where Mr Ward was booked, I noted two gentlemen hurry into the lift.
One disembarked a floor below, the other one a floor above.
“Welcome,” Mr Ward told us in a heavy English baritone as he ushered us in. He was a bear of a man with the piercing eyes of a ferret.
Then he began his story: His daughter was murdered by the son of a prominent politician from Rift Valley, he told us.
They had stumbled on one another at a high-end restaurant in Nairobi where Julie had lunch with her Australian boyfriend.
The son of the prominent politician reportedly fell in love with his daughter.
In the process, the man offered to escort the couple to Maasai Mara. While there, the story went, the Suzuki Jeep broke down.
The Australian boyfriend had to fly back to Nairobi to get spareparts.
But instead of returning to Maasai Mara, the boyfriend flew out of the country reportedly after he was ordered to do so by Kenyan authorities.
Julie didn’t like the turn of events. Subsequently she picked a quarrel with the son of the prominent politician. Then she vanished.
As we left his suite, Mr Ward was pleased that the “story” of his daughter’s death would finally be published.
Mark you that was in mid-1990s when anything on the matter was spoken in whispers – unlike now when anything to be said has been said.
As he saw us off, he suddenly pulled out a $100 (Sh10,300 at current rates) bill from his wallet and put it in my shirt pocket.
“That’s for your cab charges. Pay me back when you get your monthly wages,” he said with a sneer.
Downstairs, I saw the two men who had been with us in the lift walk about the parking lot.
“Those must be state agents keeping tabs on John Ward,” I told our photographer.
Back in the office, I gave my editor a detailed account of what Mr Ward had told me. As usual, he had a long puff of his cigarette and said: “That is an explosive dossier. Let me consult our directors. I will call you back after 10 minutes.”
When he called me, my boss said: “It has been decided that you get back to Mr Ward. Tell him we’re going to publish his story, but first he must get his lawyer to swear it as an affidavit.”
This time I went back alone. As I told Mr Ward about the decision reached by my bosses, I could see furrows forming on his forehead and knew I was headed for trouble.
I was hardly done with my explanation when he unleashed a fusillade of four-letter words.
In the unfriendly circumstances of our parting, I forgot to give him back his $100. I still owe him the money — of course minus interest since it was an unsolicited “friendly” loan.