Kenya: Puzzle of Missing Thika Millionaire

1 October 2020

Around 9.30am on September 21, millionaire Julius Gitau, 46, left his general merchandise wholesale shop in Thika in his yellow lorry. Mr Gitau said he was going to a gym in Ngoingwa estate, some three kilometres away.

Gitau wa Mali, as he is locally known, never reached the gym. Thirty minutes after he left the shop, Mr Gitau reportedly called his driver Geoffrey Wachira - who is his second wife's brother - directing him to get the vehicle from Blue Post Hotel.

The truck keys and his phone were left on the dashboard.

The disappearance of the tycoon has been the talk of wholesalers in Mt Kenya - many who knew Mr Gitau, who was once a hawker.

Mr Gitau may have plotted his disappearance to look like suicide after complaining of the Covid-19 pandemic eating into his finances.

Police also want to establish if another party played a part in the tycoon's disappearance.

Note

In the vehicle was a note that read: "Kwa familia yangu, nimechoka na mashida ya maisha. Najitupa kwa mto (to my family, I am tired of problems. I am jumping into a river," a police witness statement reads.

Detectives have not determined if it is Mr Gitau's handwriting.

Kiambu County Business Community chairman Alfred Wanyoike told the Nation that Mr Gitau had been lamenting about falling business.

"He even told me how his cash flow had gone down, from around Sh300,000 a day to less than Sh20,000," Mr Wanyoike said.

"He was saying banks and other creditors were on his neck. Gitau's main complaint was that financial institutions were promising to give him credit servicing holidays on condition that he accepts to pay double interest."

Generous man

The Thika town community is stunned as it attempts to comprehend the turn of events in the life of one its most generous sons.

The circumstances of Mr Gitau's disappearance have left Gatanga police boss Peter Mucheru and his juniors burning the midnight oil in trying to unravel the mystery.

How a businessman who did not appear to have any enemies vanished in broad daylight still remains unclear.

That morning, according to a police statement, Mr Gitau had walked from his Maporomoko home to the matatu terminus with his second wife.

It was odd for the millionaire who owns four cars and a mini-truck, locals said.

According to the statement, Mr Gitau did not have money to fuel his car, opting instead to use public transport.

Mr Gitau, whose business empire runs under the name Jugi Investments, was brought up in Kaharati village, Kigumo Sub-County, Murang'a County.

Became a hawker

After completing his primary schooling, Gitau left home and ended up in Thika in 1992 where he became a hawker. He was an 18-year-old then.

"From a Sh100 daily profit from hawking, Mr Gitau worked his way up financially.

"He had opened several kiosks by 2000, dealing in general merchandise," Mr Wanyoike added.

"By 2005, he had opened two wholesale outlets, which performed very well, catapulting him into the millionaires' club."

Eight wheel trucks from major manufacturers queued at his two shops to unload goods into the night daily.

Mr Gitau's rags-to-riches fairy tale is best told by 36-year-old Derick Kivuva, a hawker in Thika.

"When money started to rain in Mr Gitau's life, it poured. It was as if profit opportunities in were competing to end up in his pockets," Mr Kivuva said.

In 2001, Mr Gitau had a wedding at Thika Full Gospel Church.

As he grew wealthier, he married two more wives. His 11 children are aged three to 19.

Apart from wholesale business, Mr Gitau also dealt in transport, real estate, farming and stocks.

Hated alcohol

Mr James Githuku, a hawker in Thika, said Mr Gitau hated anything to do with alcohol.

"He kept telling us that liquor is the worst enemy of youth development. Gitau never got tired of telling us that his father Wanyoike Magondu was among the 20 people who died in Kaharati and Kirere villages in 1996 after drinking chang'aa laced with methanol," the 23-year-old said.

"He used to tell us how his father's alcoholism denied his mother peace and a decent education to the family's eight."

Mr Gitau's mother Wanjiru Wanyoike 65, is at loss.

"A day before my son was reported missing, he drove into my compound in Kaharati and picked his second wife. They drove to Nakuru and back," the distraught elderly woman said.

"He had gone to show his wife a plot he bought for her.

"He appeared uneasy, saying he wished his polygamous family remains peaceful and financially stable if he dies."

Mr Gitau retired to his first wife's house in Maporomoko when he arrived in Thika.

Mr Mucheru said police investigations show the two arrived at their Gitau wa Mali shop in the town centre ready for business.

The police boss added that when the driver went for the mini truck - a Mitsubishi Canter - he found a diary, sticky tape, a phone and the note which he never bothered to read.

Mr Wachira then drove the lorry to and parked it outside his employer's shop.

He then reportedly went about other chores.

"I became worried when hours passed since Mr Gitau had not been seen and was not calling anybody. Around 4pm, I remembered his phone and the note were still in the lorry. I looked at it keenly. Strangely, Mr Gitau never went to the gym as he had planned," Mr Wachira said.

Water levels low

"Had he taken the decision to fling himself in River Chania or Thika, which are near Blue Post Hotel, he would not have died since their water levels are low. Even if he died, Mr Gitau's body would have been found by now."

Police officers, family members, friends and the business fraternity have been looking for the body for almost two weeks.

"It is very unlikely that the businessman jumped into one of these rivers," the police boss said.

Mr Mucheru added that detectives are treating the case as that of a missing person.

"This is until we get a reason to escalate our suspicions," he said.

"We have the suicide note, which will be subjected to forensic analysis. We are also looking at his call history. We want to know if indeed it is Mr Gitau who called his driver to get the lorry from Blue Post."

Mr Gitau's younger brother Titus Karuga said the family still hopes to find him.

"Perhaps my brother is depressed and is at a hotel. We are hopeful the issue will end well and not in mourning," Mr Karuga said.

He described his brother as "a peace-loving man, who is always ready to help".

"Gitau is a philanthropist. He wishes to see everybody else become self-reliant, arguing that the poor are a burden who should be helped to become economically free," he said.

Whatever the case, the puzzle of the missing millionaire is keeping his family, businesspeople, friends, police and many other people awake.

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