Kenya Nakuru
Stranded passengers wait for transport to return to their rural homes in Nakuru in the Rift Valley Province. Reuters/Antony Gitonga

In a case that has gripped Kenya, suspected serial killer Ashton Wachira has been charged with the murder of a sex worker. His arrest on Monday (18 January 2015) comes in the wake of a spate of killings of commercial sex workers in the Kenyan town of Nakuru by one or more murderers.

Ten sex workers murdered

The bodies of 10 sex workers have been found in the town so far in the last five months. Most victims appeared to have been strangled, while others had their throats slit. A number of the bodies had been mutilated: many of the victims were disfigured and had their private parts removed, leading to the killer being dubbed the Kenyan 'Jack the Ripper'.

Hundreds of sex workers paralysed local business when they took to the busy Kenyatta Avenue in Nakuru last week demanding a proper investigation into the latest death. The 20-year-old sex worker Maureen Wanjiru, known locally as 'Wahu', was killed in a hotel on 17 January. Waving placards, the women chanted, "sex work is our right and the government should protect us".

While the police had been looking for a short man in relation to the murders, some commentators also raised the possibility that a street gang – potentially the 'Mungiki' group – may have targeted the prostitutes. Mungiki members are youths of Kenya's largest tribe, the Kikuyu. They began as a hardline offshoot of the Tent of the Living God, a banned religious sect that rejects Western values and religions and espouses a return to traditional tribal beliefs.

'Arrested with a female body'

Wachira, 32, was arrested by police officers on patrol near the murder scene at Free Hold on the same day, after police said Wachira was allegedly transporting Wanjiku's body in a tuk tuk. According to reports from the Nakuru High Court, police on patrol stopped the tuk tuk after they noticed that a female passenger on the back seat was unconscious. The woman was rushed to hospital, where she was later confirmed dead.

IBTimes UK spoke to one of his former classmates, James Ndegwa a private security guard who currently lives in Nakuru. "I have discovered that I schooled with the suspect. Very shocking," Ndegwa said. "He did not seem disturbed at the time – he was a neat-freak. That's all I remember."

Ndegwa explained Wachira's sister, Claris Muhoria, who was allegedly battling with drug addiction, died "a few years ago in a road accident. "They [the family] loved her very much, and that must have affected him," Ndegwa claimed.

The guard described the "sense of relief among the sex workers" in Nakuru following the arrest.

Strange behaviour

During his hearing at the Nakuru court, high court judge Maureen Odero referred him to a local hospital, where he is expected to be examined by a psychiatrist to ascertain his mental status. The suspect, who has recently converted to Islam, caused a stir in court when he disowned his own name. "Those are no longer my names," the Standard reported him as saying. "I changed them and I am now a Muslim, so please change them."

After asking the judges to edit the charge sheet to reflect this, he caused further drama when he requested that the charges be read to him in English instead of Kiswahili, the national language. "I understand Kiswahili perfectly but I want to be addressed in English," he said.

However, Odero pointed out that his religion "was currently not a concern of the court". The judge ordered he be remanded at Nakuru GK Prison until his next appearance on 1 February.

There are thought to be around 4,000 sex workers in Nakuru. Although prostitution is illegal in the East African nation, sex workers have been advocating for legalisation.