Serial killer or revenge?
Who is behind the murders of prostitutes?
“I will stop once I have killed 400 prostitutes.” That, according to several neighbors, was the message carved in the belly of Clementine Uwimbabazi, a prostitute who was found dead on August 29 in her house in Nyagatovu cell, Kimironko.
“It looked like the murderer had used a knife to write it,” one anonymous neighbor, claiming to have been among the first to have seen the body told The Rwanda Focus.
While several other neighbors confirmed the story to this newspaper, and it does not sound like something you would make up, police spokesman Theos Badege dismisses it as a rumor, adding that according to the autopsy report, Uwimbabazi might even have died of natural causes.
What the superintendent does not deny, however, is that something is amiss. Over the past two months, 15 prostitutes have been killed in Kigali City, six of them in Gatsata. Another one was murdered in Muhanga in Southern Province. All were strangled. “It’s a rare and strange case. It has become a great security concern,” Badege admits.
“Why now? There have been quarrels about money and infections in that line of work for a long time, we do not know yet why the murders occurred in July and August.”
Two suspects were arrested last week after their names came up in the investigation linking them to two separate murders, one on July 8 in Kamatamu cell, Kacyiru and the other on July 25 in Katabaro cell, Kimisigara. The exact evidence that led to the arrests was not disclosed. “Other suspects may emerge based on the evidence that our team will be able to gather,” Badege says.
Letters indicating that the possible motive was a conflict over money were found in two instances – one in Nyamirambo and one in Gatsata – and the police suspect that it may be one of the two dominating reasons behind the murders. “Conflicts over money and revenge following HIV/Aids contamination are apparently at the root of the problem,” Badege remarks.
Three victims at once
The most notorious case, in which three women were killed, happened in broad daylight, in the afternoon of August 28, in Nyamabuye cell, Gatsata.
Yankulije, a neighbor and also a prostitute, says her colleagues Cynthia and Vestine came home to the house they shared with two men, a dark brown young one and another one in his early 30s. “The girls came back smiling as usual, but the men seemed calm, they were silent,” Yankulije remembers.
After a while, the dark man came outside and asked Alphonsine, who was cleaning her shoes, to join them, as if to show her something. Alphonsine, a former prostitute, was married and pregnant.
Soon, the man came out again and asked Yankulije to bring him matches. Yet she says she felt an unexplained fear, so she feigned to get the matches and went to hide in her house from where she could observe without being seen.
Shortly after, the two ‘clients’ left. When neighbors went knocking on the door, there was no reply so they forced it open. Inside, they found the dead bodies of Alphonsine and Vestine in one room, and Cynthia’s in another.
According to Badege, Alphonsine may have been killed because she had seen the killers and therefore was a liability. If that is the case, Yankulije barely escaped with her life.
In the wee hours of the same day, Uwimbabazi of Kimironko was seen coming home with a man. The next morning, after her 8 year-old daughter came to neighbors in a confused state, she was found dead allegedly with the harrowing message carved on her abdomen.
While police spokesman Badege points out that the two arrested suspects are linked to separate cases, it cannot be denied there are disturbing similarities between the murders: all the victims were sex workers and all of them were apparently strangled – Badege confirms that none of them had injuries to suggest a scuffle before their death.
“The fact that none of the victims has screamed or called for help, and that apparently none of them defended herself, leaves me confused about the killer,” says a former soldier living in Gatsata, on condition of anonymity. “He seems to be a well-trained murderer.”
Flora Uwase, also a sex worker and friend of Uwimbabazi, agrees. “I was the first to see her body, and you would have thought she was sleeping,” she says. “The killer knew very well what he was doing.”
What makes the case more baffling is the contrast between the letters, which point to revenge as the motive (which would confirm the police’s assumption that there are several killers) and the carving, which neighbors say they saw on Uwimbabazi (but denied by Badege), which suggests a psychopathic serial killer. Then again, in the case of the three women killed together, there were clearly two perpetrators acting together.
Yet even if the first scenario were correct, the police spokesman has to admit that the timing of the murders is still a mystery. “Why now? There have been quarrels about money and infections in that line of work for a long time, we do not know yet why the murders occurred in July and August,” Badege says.
On top of that, it should be noted that many of the known serial killers worldwide have been men targeting prostitutes.
Badege explains that the lifestyle of the murdered women makes it hard to track down possible suspects. “They usually just go with anyone, they are easy targets and at high risk.”
Uwase, for her part, is convinced that the women were not killed out of revenge. Like Badege, she points out that prostitutes, and the quarrels that they may cause, have been there for years. “There is something else behind all this, something bigger.”
Whatever the motive, for Uwase the profession is no longer safe. “What if I were the next to be killed?” she wonders. “I am going to quit, I’ll find something else to do.”