Julie Ward: Unsolved Murder in Kenya


Julie Ward was a British publishing assistant with a passion for wildlife photography who was in Kenya in September 1988 when she died.

In February 1988 Julie Ward left Suffolk, UK to travel to Kenya for a seven-month trip to photograph African wildlife.

Near the end of the trip, Julie went with her Australian friend Dr Glen Burns to Masai Mara game reserve to photograph the migrating wildebeest. On September 5, 1988, they were having trouble with her car. The jeep broke down, and the two spent a night in a lodge on the reserve. The next morning, September 6, Burns then returned to Nairobi, to send spare parts to Julie, meaning Julie was now on her own. Julie was meant to be in Nairobi on the 7th, so after she repaired the Jeep she drove it back to her campsite to collect her things.
This was the last day she was seen alive. She had plans to have dinner with a friend in Nairobi on the evening of September 7, but when Julie did not appear for dinner her friend reported her missing. This prompted Julie’s father to fly down to Kenya to help with the search in Masai Mara game reserve where she was last seen. Julie’s jeep was found in a gully around five miles from her campsite. The letters ‘SOS’ were written on the roof in dust. Julie’s signature had been forged on signing out forms for the reserve. Unfortunately, her mutilated and burnt remains were found in the game reserve on September 13, one week after she was last seen alive. Her father was the one to find some of her remains.

Kenyan authorities asserted that Julie had been killed by wild animals and that she had bite marks on her body consistent with animals. They stated that burning of her body was due to her remains being struck by lightning. Her father fought back against these findings, citing the fact that gasoline was found on Julie’s body as proof that animals were not responsible. The Kenyan authorities refused to conduct a murder inquiry until more than a year later.

The post-mortem report done in Kenya had been altered on the orders of a corrupt government official. The original post-mortem stated that Julie’s body showed ‘clean sharp cuts’. This was changed to ‘breaks and tears’ so the authorities could insist her death and the mutilation of her body had been done by animals. Julie’s cause of death has not been revealed. Dr Adel Yousef Shaker, pathologist, confessed that he had changed the post-mortem report on the instructions of his superior, Jason Kaviti, who was then the head of public health in Kenya. It is unclear whether Kaviti was influenced by someone even higher in the government, as Kaviti never gave a clear reason for why he ordered the autopsy to be changed.

In 1992, two game rangers, Peter Kipeen and Jonah Magiroi, were charged with Julie’s murder. They were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.  In 1999 chief warden of Masai Mara reserve, Simon Ole Makallah, was tried and acquitted. Suspicion had been cast on Makallah because he appeared to know information he shouldn’t; such as the exact location of Julie’s then-missing jeep and the location of Julie’s remains. He was suspected to have moved the car to the location in which it was found. He refuted these claims, saying he could not drive, however this was found to be untrue. Julie’s father believes that Makallah was somehow involved in Julie’s death.

Evidence in the case includes several DNA samples, from one individual, found at the scene of the crime. In 2010, it was reported that saliva swabs from a number of suspects were being compared to the DNA found at the scene. The results of these tests were not reported in the media, however as it’s now 2017, we can assume that no significant leads were identified.

These are the facts of Julie’s case, a case which has been unsolved for nearly thirty years. I will now discuss rumours which have circulated, however I will underline that these are not facts.

The first rumour is that Julia had been having an affair with the son of the Kenyan president. The Kenyan President at the time was Daniel Moi, his son Jonathan Moi. There were supposed sightings of Julie and Jonathan at an airport and a restaurant, though these could not be corroborated. It is alleged that Jonathan Moi ordered Julie’s murder. An alternative rumour involving Jonathan was that he was at the game reserve and talked to Julie, and when the conversation turned sour, he raped her. Later in the day he ordered his men to murder her to cover up the rape. British High Commission official Jenny Jenkins told the 2004 inquest into Julie’s murder: “The suggestion that President Moi’s son was involved in the death of a British tourist would have caused severe embarrassment to the Kenyan government.”

Valentine Uhuru Kodipo claims he was a former secret agent in the Kenyan government. He states that Ward was murdered on suspicion that she was spying for President Moi’s enemies. Kodipo claims he witnessed Ward’s murder as he was part of a group who was sent to intimidate and kill enemies of the president. Kenyan police state that Kodipo is merely a tea picker with a fake story. Julie’s father has said of this story: “I’m keeping an open mind about some aspects of his account,” however, he later changed his opinion and suspects Kodipo of fabricating the tale. Kodipo died in Denmark in 2009 from heart failure.

Another theory which arised from a tipoff is that Julie witnessed smuggling of drugs or guns on the Kenya-Tanzania border and was killed to make sure she never revealed this. This was reportedly found to be false.

Another rumour, which came from Kenyan sources, probably when they were trying to cover up Julie’s murder, is that Julie committed suicide after a fight with a boyfriend. Julie’s mother Jan Ward has stated `don’t be silly, she would never do that’.

I think what is important with these cases that have so much confusion and rumour, is to start from the facts. First, Julie was almost certainly murdered due to the fact that her body was dismembered and purposely set alight. Motive and cause of death are unclear. DNA samples were found at the scene. Julie’s post-mortem report was altered on direction of the head of public health. The reasoning behind this, or if the corruption goes further up the government, is unknown.The judge of the 1992 trial stated that the murder has been covered up and blamed on animals to protect Kenya’s growing tourist industry.

I think the post-mortem report alteration is the most interesting fact of the case. It has been claimed that the report was changed to protect the tourism industry. I think this angle makes sense if one of the Masai Mara park rangers was involved in the murder. If a park ranger, a government employee, committed such an act, then tourists would be hesitant to visit the game reserves. These reserves are a huge source of income for Kenya. Another sign of employee involvement is the forging of Julie’s signature on signing-out forms for the park. The killer was trying to make it look like Julie had left the reserve. Only a game reserve employee would have access to the signing-out forms. Also suspicious is the writing of ‘SOS’ on the top of Julie’s jeep. Though I’m confused as to why the killer would simultaneously set up the evidence to indicate that Julie signed out, and that she got lost in the park, though perhaps it was done to confuse investigators.
We know that Julie was at the game reserve for a period of time with her friend Dr Glen Burns. The day after Burns left, Julie was killed. I think the murderer was a park employee who was watching Julie, and when her male companion, her protection, left, the murderer took his opportunity. I think this makes more sense than the theory  that the president’s son Jonathan met Julie one day and decided to rape and murder her. That, to me, does not make sense as Jonathan Moi, as a politician’s son, would know how high-profile the murder of a young beautiful British tourist would be.

The park ranger theory takes me back to Simon Ole Makallah, the chief warden of the reserve who was acquitted in 1999 of Julie’s murder. The prosecution in 1999 stated that after her car was found, the Makallah went straight to the place where her remains were later found. He walked directly to the remains. It was theorised that he only could know the location of Julie’s remains if he was involved. I have read the theory that he was ordered by the killer to dispose of Julie’s body. However, I think a simpler explanation is that Makallah himself was the killer. Certainly, I’m not alone in this thought, as Makallah was tried for the murder.

At the 1999 trial, prosecuting counsel stated: ‘Not only did the accused [Makallah] suppress evidence, but he told deliberate untruths in order to steer away any suspicions of his having been involved or having committed the crime.’ It was also stated that Makallah, chief warden of the reserve, failed to take any action when Julie was reported missing, for more than a week.

The judge of the 1999 trial found that the case against Makallah was based on circumstantial evidence and hence he was acquitted. I would really like to know if the DNA swabs, tested in 2010, were tested against Makallah’s DNA and what the results were.

Julie has not had justice for almost thirty years, however, police are still working on her case. In 2013, a Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “The investigation remains open and officers are reviewing previous lines of inquiry.”

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