By John Ward for Nairobi Law Monthly
In September 1988, Julie Ward, a young woman enjoying her holiday, disappeared in Kenya‚Äôs Masai Mara National Game Reserve.
Immediately, Jonathan Moi was rumoured to have been involved in Julie‚Äôs death. The first information concerning Jonathan, the son of Kenya‚Äôs former President Daniel Moi, came from a Swiss TV crew working in the park.
They had offered their five radio-equipped vehicles to assist in the search for the missing tourist. Senior warden Simon ole Makallah abruptly told them to mind their own business. The crew had heard rumours about Jonathan being seen with a group of men in the park.
After six weeks of filming, the Swiss left Kenya. By now, some of the dismembered remains of Julie Ward had been discovered in a remote corner of the game park rarely visited by tourists.
Before leaving, they went to the Makallah‚Äôs office to settle their account, and found him sitting head in hands. He said he had been summoned to a meeting with President Moi.
Simon ole Makallah
On September 12, 1988, I arrived from the UK to search for my daughter, six days after she was reported missing. I launched an air search on September 13 and located Julie‚Äôs Suzuki Jeep. It was in a deep gully, several miles into the harsh bush.
On arrival at the scene, I found an empty vehicle. I assumed that Julie had somehow got stuck in the mud of the gully and was now attempting to walk to safety. Why and how the vehicle had arrived at that remote location remained baffling. But that could wait; the priority was to find her.
Although Makallah was aware of the situation and responsible for all activities and tourists in the park, he had not ordered a search by any of the 113 rangers under his command.
At 11 a.m., on the day Julie‚Äôs Suzuki was spotted, Makallah was informed immediately. Instead of rushing to the scene to take command of the ground search, Makallah drove to Serena Lodge, 50km in the opposite direction.
Makallah already knew a search would be pointless. It was not until mid-afternoon that Makallah finally arrived at the scene. By then, over 30 other people ‚Äď rangers, police, council workers ‚Äď had been to the scene and left for the search. Before leaving the vehicle, a police inspector known as Anthony Mwaura instructed two constables to remove Julie‚Äôs personal possessions from the vehicle and take them to the Sand River Police Post for safe keeping. The constables removed maps, a pair of trainers, two bottles of beer, a pair of binoculars and various other items, including tents and sleeping bags.
Then the police and rangers commenced the search. When Makallah arrived at 3p.m., there was no one at the vehicle.
While giving evidence in court during the trial of two rangers, Makallah was asked by the trial Judge, Mr Justice Fida Hussien Abdullah, what he had done when he arrived at the vehicle. Makallah said he ‚Äúpeeked‚ÄĚ inside the vehicle. He listed what he saw: some maps, a pair of trainers, two bottles of beer, a pair of binoculars. These items had already been removed by the police three hours before he arrived.
However, Makallah was only a witness. The accused were two rangers, who had been arrested and charged with murder on the advice of Scotland Yard. They were eventually acquitted. Nonetheless, the trial Judge said that Makallah must have had prior knowledge of Julie‚Äôs Suzuki before the afternoon of the September 13. Therefore, Makallah had knowledge of the circumstances of the murder that he had not disclosed to the Court.
The spotlight of suspicion fell squarely on Makallah ‚Äď and for good reason.
Back to the afternoon of the September 13, the vehicle was discovered. Makallah had stayed at the scene of the stranded Suzuki for an hour. This was confirmed by several witnesses, including his driver John Teeka, an inspector Odhiambo (who was in Makallah‚Äôs vehicle), a group of rangers and Assistant Warden James Sindyo, who arrived at the scene in a separate vehicle.
At 4p.m., Makallah joined the ground search. The gully where Julie‚Äôs Suzuki was found is a tributary of the river, on the north side of the Sand River. The river flows through the game park contained within steep sided banks. There is no vehicle crossing at this point.
Even on foot, the river would normally be impassable. On this day, September 13, the water level was low and it would have been just possible to slide and scramble down the steep bank, wade across the river, and scramble up the opposite side.
Why on earth would anyone think Julie had done that? Her vehicle had left clear tyre marks in the long grass on the North side. Logically, if she had got the vehicle stuck in the gully, she would have followed these tracks across country, back to the road between Keekorok and Sand River Gate, from where she had allegedly started her journey.
However, logic has no place in the events surrounding Julie‚Äôs disappearance. She was returning to Nairobi to fly home, after her brief visit to the Masai Mara. The allegation that she had decided to turn off the main road, drive across the trackless, rockstrewn bush before attempting to drive through a deep gully, is as ridiculous as it is illogical.
It became obvious that someone else had driven Julie‚Äôs vehicle across the bush and into the gully. The spotlight of suspicion on Simon ole Makallah became brighter and even more focused, thanks to his actions.
Instead of searching on the north side of the Sand River (where the Suzuki was stuck), Makallah went to the south.
To cross the river, Makallah had to drive along the top of the bank of the Sand River for three kilometres to a place called the Sand River Crossing. Here the riverbanks are less steep and crossing with a 4√ó4 vehicle is possible at certain times of the year.
Once on the South side, Makallah was confronted with a vast vista of featureless bush, stretching a full half circle of 180 degrees from the distant horizon in the east to the west. For Makallah, it should have been a difficult decision to pick possible directions to take to start his search.
Makallah had left the Suzuki in the gully at 4p.m. At 4.26p.m., he sent a radio signal to park headquarters, informing them he had found Julie‚Äôs remains. The place was 10km, in a south-easterly direction, a desolate corner of the Masai Mara. There are no tracks leading to it and it is identifiable only by a distinctively shaped large tree set among dozens of other smaller trees and bushes.
Police have retraced Makallah‚Äôs movements for that day. They have re-enacted Makallah‚Äôs journey from the gully, across the Sand River, and to the site of Julie‚Äôs remains.
Even though the police now knew where the site of Julie‚Äôs remains were located, the quickest time for their journey was exactly 26 minutes. (And, because this evidence is so crucial, the journey has been re-enacted many times and 26 minutes is the shortest elapsed time).
Twenty-six minutes is also the precise time it took Makallah to drive from the Suzuki in the gully to the site of the Julie‚Äôs remains. Makallah claimed he had no idea which direction to take and that his search had been random and his discovery was just a matter of chance.
It was clear that not only had Makallah lied about his prior knowledge of the items in Julie‚Äôs vehicle, he had also lied about his knowledge of the location of Julie‚Äôs remains. He undoubtedly knew where to go. By sending a timed radio message on his arrival, he confirmed his own lies.
A copy of the timed radio signal was discovered at park headquarters. It is now with British Police.
In trying to extricate himself from the situation, Makallah claimed he had been led by vultures circling in the sky. It was pointed out to Makallah that you could not see an elephant at that distance, let alone the speck of a vulture in the sky. Makallah stopped offering that particular explanation but was not able to offer any alternative.
Within a few days, after the discovery of Julie‚Äôs remains, he disappeared from the park. At first the official line was that he was ‚Äúon leave‚ÄĚ. But when weeks turned into months, the story changed. Makallah had been suspended. In fact, he never returned to his position of Senior Warden of the Masai Mara Game Reserve.
However, before he disappeared, Makallah wrote a report to the clerk of the Narok County Council, dated September 24, 1988. It claimed he was absent from the game park at the time of the murder and implied that Julie had committed suicide.
In an attempt to support this suggestion, he said Julie and her companion had been involved in an argument at Serena Lodge and she was upset. But documentary records show that Makallah was in the game park at the time of the murder.
His allegation of an argument was also untrue. This was subsequently confirmed by her companion, whose passport showed he had left Kenya and was actually in Rwanda at the time of Julie‚Äôs death.
In any case, medical and all other forensic evidence showed that Julie had been murdered.
In an attempt to prove he could not be responsible for driving Julie‚Äôs vehicle into the gully ‚Äď thereby gaining knowledge of the vehicle‚Äôs contents ‚Äď Makallah visited Kilgoris Police Station on September 16, 1989. He recorded a voluntary statement claiming that he could not drive a motor vehicle. He had never driven a motor vehicle. He did not know how to drive and did not possess a driving licence.
A copy of his statement is retained by British Police. Makallah‚Äôs statement was completely untrue.
Makallah‚Äôs driver, John Teeka, has said that Makallah often took over the driving. Makallah‚Äôs assistant warden, James Sindyo, gave evidence that he had often seen Makallah driving. Makallah had, in fact, driven me and Frank Ribeiro to Sand River Gate. The police discovered records of a motor accident involving a vehicle Makallah was driving.
After giving evidence on oath in court, again stating his inability to drive, Makallah was followed by a newspaper reporter. He watched Makallah take his vehicle from Kenya Wildlife Services headquarters and drive to his house. The reporter gave evidence the following morning about what he had seen. Nothing happened to Makallah as a result of his perjur