Dear friends, Kenyans and other kind concerned persons,
I have tracked down more specific information about the hanging death of the young Kenyan woman in Alabama, which many of you know I became aware of only because of an Internet posting by a nurse in Alabama. This nurse expressed concern for Catherine, a friend of her 17 year old son, in Alabama.
Unfortunately, no national newswire stories have been run and I had to hand type the following attached stories from faxes I was able to needle out of the local paper in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I hope that you will join me in disseminating this information to persons and organizations capable of bringing some focus and attention to Catherine's death and the circumstances surrounding them.
The nurse in Alabama who originally posted the messages that made me aware of this story expressed concerns about the strange nature of this hanging death and the timing of it. Unfortunately, there seems to be a push by local authorities toward labeling this hanging death a suicide. If you read the stories, I think you'll agree that this story does require further investigation.
Catherine Mutheki was a 20 year old Kenyan woman who came to the U.S. only in March of this year. She had a perfect 4.0 grade point average and had never missed a class before Monday. There is no indication that she was emotionally disturbed from any of the articles I read (see those attached). In fact, everyone who knew Catherine felt she was a very happy and determined person, including one of her teachers who has come forward to say she does not think it was a suicide. As you may already know, Catherine was found hanged by her sweater, from a railroad spurabout 200 yards from her dorm room on Wednesday, August 13th.
More surprising about her death, Catherine was hanging low enough from the tree that she could have placed her feet on the ground at any time to stop it. As far as I know, that is an a-typical form of suicide and, unless Catherine had been intoxicated or had some other condition, I can't imagine that this form of self-asphyxiation would be easy. Moreover, it simply doesn't sound consistent with the picture of Catherine painted in the the articles by her specific friends. (Apparently, the RN and her son, who knew Catherine, didn't think it sounded likely either.) I believe that there is a strong possibility that Catherine Mutheki's death was no suicide but could have been precipitated by anger over the bombings of the Embassy in Nairobi.
Because I'm in NYC, I have no basis for this belief other than the facts as you shall read them below, and my reading of a variety of posts on the Internet last week which suggested a great deal of hostility toward Kenyans for the bombing. The other basis for my belief is the concern and fear of the local nurse, whose son knew Catherine.
If you know anyone who you think should know about this story or who could get it into the media (investigative media, preferably) or into a human rights organization which will investigate it, I would much appreciate it. I have contacted the Kenyan Mission to the U.N. in New York - and the person I spoke to knew nothing about this story until my contacting them. I have also delivered this material, or given specific pertinent information via voice mail, to a Kenyan paper (The Nation), the Alabama State NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center (which didn't know anything about it), the offices of Senator Carol Mosley-Braun, Congressman Charles-Rangel's office, Bill Clinton's and Al Gore's e-mail addresses and to a variety of other sources.
I have so far been less effective with the media, counting on organized human rights organizations to give weight to the story. As an individual who lives in New York City, it is difficult to speak credibly to media and others about a story in Alabama. Please, however, if you think of someone who might be motivated to investigate this story, forward this e-mail to them, and send it to anyone you know that might be interested.
I have also included various telephone numbers for relevant elected officials below. If you feel so inclined, you might call them to express concern about the manner of Catherine's death and you might expand the circle by calling your own Congressmen, Senators, news media or other concerned organizations. It would be important, given the circumstances surrounding Catherine's death and given their proximity to the international events that transpired in Nairobi on August 7th to strongly suggest that you feel that this might be a hate crime and therefore subject to investigation by federal authorities, like the recent case outside of Houston - the dragging death of the Texan man.
Please do not hesitate to contact me at MSWNY@aol.com if you would like to discuss more coordinated efforts on this matter.
Martin White (Mwangi)
August 30th, 1998
Dear Friends, Kenyans and Kind Concerned Persons,
I spoke to members of the Kenyan community in Alabama this evening about Catherine's death. They had organized themselves from a city in Alabama and had gone up to Catherine's college. They arrived just in time to prevent Catherine's body from being rapidly cremated by the college. Apparently, the school had "not yet reached Catherine's family" and was anxious to have her body cremated. An odd thing to do with a foreign woman's body - where the cause of death has still not been officially determined by the local police.
I learned the following details with regard to Catherine's death:
1. Catherine called a friend in Birmingham the week before her death, at 3:00 a.m., frightened terribly, to say that she had been threatened and was very afraid. I will be speaking to the young friend of Catherine's tomorrow to find out what Catherine told him/her specifically.
2. A member of the staff of Catherine's College has come forward to the Kenyans and told them that she/he does not believe that Catherine committed suicide.
3. Apparently the Muscle Shoals Police Department is still investigating Catherine's death and has NOT determined that it was a suicide. However, THEY have received many calls from local persons in the community telling them that it was a suicide. [A pretty brazen community - if they feel they can call the Police and demand a specific finding]
This is just to keep you posted. I have encountered some disbelief that this is a story from members of the press. The fact that this story has not received national attention and that it has barely even received coverage in Alabama - seems to be determinative to members of the press.
Please, if you feel as strongly about this case as I and many Kenyans do, then make yourself heard to your Congresspersons, Senators, the Justice Department (Civil Rights Division) and local newspapers that this IS a hate crime and a news story and must be covered and must be investigated as a Hate Crime, under Federal Hate Crime laws. Mention the Federal Hate Crime Prevention Act of 1998 if you want to make it seem relevant to current Congressional business (just about every Democratic and many Republican Congressmen and Senators sponsored this bill this year - hopefully they weren't just going through the motions).
So long as this story only gets local coverage of the type you saw in my last e-mail, and the only people demanding an investigation are foreigners (or New Yorkers), Catherine's death will continue to be investigated under questionable and difficult circumstances - for the Kenyan Community in Alabama and for the local officers who are subject to local pressures.
Please pass this e-mail on to as many people in the community of kind concerned persons as you can and try to add your voice to any e-mails you can send. I thank you in advance for forwarding this and past e-mails and for sharing the burden.
Thank you and Peace, Martin White (Mwangi)
P.S. I apologize if this e-mail is vague with regard to the identities of the persons mentioned. However, due to the fact that members of the Kenyan Community in Alabama might be further threatened, I have tried to keep identities vague. However, if you're a bona fide member of the press or a human rights organization, upon their permission, I will be happy to release the names and contact information of those referred to herein. Attached below are the local press stories and original e-mail:
The Kenyan community in Alabama will attempt to have a gathering sometime this week to discuss how we should proceed in order to ensure that Catherine Mutheki's death is properly investigated and that no conclusions are forced in order to close the case.