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20060729: Charles Kembo: I am not a serial killer Vancouver Serial Killer News

Charles Kembo arrives at the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre visitor cubicle wearing scarlet prison-issue sweats and a toothy grin.

"I just finished working out," the athletically built 37-year-old says. "You having a good day?"

Pleasantries aside, the gregarious accused serial killer launches into his spiel. "I was arrested a year ago this week," says the handsome, garrulous man charged with slaying two lovers, his 21-year-old stepdaughter and a long-time pal.

"I was headed from my home in Surrey to Vancouver with a friend when I was pulled over by the RCMP and told I was under arrest."

Kembo held up against the security glass a copy of the original charge sheet listing four allegations of first-degree murder.

"No details at all," he complained. "They added names later."

His alleged victims include:

- Margaret Kembo, 44, who disappeared sometime around October 2002.

- Arden Bernard Samuel, 38, killed in October 2003.

- Siu Yin Ma, 55, found stuffed in a hockey bag in a slough near the Massey tunnel in November 2004.

- Rita Yeung, 21, slain days before Kembo's arrest in July 2005 and dumped in the Fraser River.

Police describe Kembo as "his wife," Yeung as his step-daughter, Ma his mistress and Samuel his former business partner.

Kembo bristles: "Allegedly! Allegedly!"

Who are they?

"It's not about whom I say or think they are," he says with a smile. "It's rather who committed the murder. I have not murdered anyone. Not a single person has lost their life to these hands of mine."

He held them up theatrically.

"My connection to these people is quite innocent. My connection to, for example, let's start off with," he paused: "The so-called ex-wife."

He affected disdain.

"First of all, that is misinformation by the RCMP. My wife is alive and well. And I also believe that Margaret Kembo is alive and well."

He waited for a reaction, and continued: "I want the public to know the allegations against me are false. I'm not a murderer."

A philandering Mr. Goodbar maybe, but not since the mid-1990s a rogue. And back then, Kembo assured me, his misdeeds were not because he was bent, they were a product of his addiction to heroin.

"What the public has not been told is that I have been sober for nine years, dealt with all charges associated with my life of addiction and went on to own and operate two profitable businesses that have employed scores of Canadians," he said.

"I have since my arrest sold off my business and laid off employees."

Kembo thinks the wheels of justice are grinding too slowly and he is scornful of the RCMP investigation that put him behind bars.

"In one hand, they claim to have an irrefutable case against me," Kembo said, "yet, ironically, they continue to advertise in various media seeking public assistance for leads. They also continue to visit me here fishing and pushing for information and making various offers in exchange for cooperation. My position has been steadfast: If they have a case against me, prove it in court with hard, cold facts, rather than try me in the media through innuendo, outright lies and conjecture, passed off as facts to the public."

He's particularly peeved at being labelled a skilled manipulator and liar, as someone who may have killed others.

"The Crown/RCMP currently believe I will not talk to the media on the advice of my attorneys, allowing them to continually disparage my name," Kembo said. "But such is not to be."

He flashed a grin: "We both know the RCMP are not infallible judging from their record of wrongful arrests and convictions. I am 100 per cent one of those."

He paused.

"This is very surreal," he said. "I'm not a person of violence as the RCMP would like to project me. Do I have a temper? Yes, I do have a temper but who doesn't? Show me a person who doesn't have a temper given the right reason."

His face assumed a serious cast: "I am not a person of violence."

n

Kembo, who says he legally changed his name in the summer of 2002 from Charles Gwazah, grew up in Malawi, one of the world's poorest and least developed nations in East Africa, nestled between Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.

"My father was a priest -- God bless his soul -- he passed away three years ago, a Presbyterian priest," Kembo told me. "I was raised by the same values, wholesome values: Sunday school, good education, respect for the law, respect for your elders, and for your culture."

But during the final years of the corrupt authoritarian rule of Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Kembo came to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee.

Indeed, a spate of publicity followed his arrest, not only because of the heinous nature of his alleged crimes but also because former MP Randy White saw him as a avatar of all that was wrong with the immigration and refugee system under the old Liberal government.

Kembo arrived on Sept. 29, 1989 and by 1991 he was before the court in Toronto and convicted in April and July of theft.

Later that year, he masterminded a series of welfare frauds that in 1993 landed him in prison for three years. Paroled in 1994, he was ordered deported. But for a variety of reasons, that didn't happen.

By 1997, Kembo was a thief in Vancouver -- he was sentenced to a year in jail for break-and-enter, but again immigration authorities failed to toss him.

Kembo says his lifestyle during that first decade in Canada should not be used to gauge his character and paint him as a murderer.

"That was 15 years ago," he said. "I mean, it's hard to explain: It was about drugs and it got out of hand."

For the last nine years, he claims to have become an affluent businessman.

"I don't mean to boast but I've done well," he insisted. "I run a financial project management company, a capital trust. From this I was able to buy properties -- a gas station in Kitimat, then I sold that off and bought a convenience store in Richmond, and for nine years that has been my primary source of income."

As he spoke, I could understand why Kembo had been a successful fraud artist -- he has an excessively polite, ingratiating manner.

In 1999, Kembo said he and his common-law wife Jenny separated and he became involved with Margaret Kembo, who worked in his store.

Kembo stressed he returned to Jenny after about six months because they worked out their troubles and they married in March 2000.

Their son Grant was born the following month.

Kembo says he assumed his mother's maiden name in the summer of 2002 because he wanted to do business overseas and ensure his criminal record would not be discovered. "I was working on a pardon, but I hadn't got one yet," he said.

At the same time, he said Margaret changed her name to Kembo, too.

"I didn't agree with it," he said. "She was trying to get closer to me after I got back with my wife."

Still, he maintained the three were friends at the time Margaret disappeared that October -- a month after his daughter Claire was born.

"I should say, now," he added, "Margaret left for overseas travelling. She decided to go back to Asia. These are facts that the RCMP are well aware of. Now to turn around and say because we have been unable to talk with her, or contact her, she could be dead. That's a very long shot as far as I'm concerned because they have given us no proof that she is dead or even a shred of evidence that because of this or that Margaret is dead. It's just an allegation. It is exactly that -- an allegation ... [the investigators say] 'she could be dead and I am the murderer and we are looking for her body.' Well, fair enough -- take me to trial."

He stared: "Our relationship ended like what, six years ago? Right?"

He stopped as if remembering something.

"Now, I even went to the point of taking care of her daughter, my step-daughter, Rita, paying for her university fees, taking care of her upkeep, without any problems, just to show my gratitude to her being a long-time friend."

His voice was calm and he seemed unperturbed even though he was tangled in a macabre web.

"Up until now, it is a blatant lie to say that Margaret Kembo is my wife," Kembo resumed. "We had a relationship, which was brief ... That's as far as my relationship goes. Right?"

I nodded.

That was the same year he became a prime suspect -- after 38-year-old Samuel turned up dead.

"I've known Arden a long time, since university days, a very good guy," Kembo said. "The honest truth is Arden Samuel has received nothing but help from me. When he died he had been on welfare, government aid for three straight years. This despite my help."

Kembo said he initially set up Samuel as a stock trader in 1999.

"One of my sidelines was trading," he explained. "I put up my own money, about $50,000 US, to set up a company ... and he was like the president. He was supposed to be the person behind the trading activity. I put up the capital and he was just like the figurehead. I did that to honour him as a friend, and because I knew he was looking for a job.

"After two, three months it never worked out because, again, it was just a one-sided kind of arrangement where I'm doing all the work. So I closed that account, closed the company and wired my money back into Canada. That was in 1999 ... since then I tried to have him work at my convenience store and, again, that didn't work out."

Kembo acknowledged at the end the two were not best friends.

"After my marriage, we sort of became a little distant because, you know, you are married and have different friends. ... So there was some distance."

Still, when he heard about the murder, Kembo said he went to talk to the detectives.

"Because I was just as hurt and surprised at the untimely death of Arden," he explained. "I shared with them [information] about his lifestyle and what I knew he was involved in, and all the details, just again to aid their investigation hoping that I too might get some information, some answers from them. Two years later I'm a suspect and I'm arrested for his murder."

He looked incredulous.

"With regards to Miss Ma," Kembo said, "she used to deliver goods to my convenience store ... Through that association, [Ma] and I had an affair, which I also have admitted to the RCMP."

Kembo gave a boys-will-be-boys shrug.

"Again, something as innocent as that has been turned into an accusation of murder against me. Saying she was found murdered and I am responsible for her murder," he added.

Kembo seemed befuddled.

"Upon my asking what reason do you think I would have to want her dead? To kill her? They have not been forthcoming. My relationship was nothing but innocent and it ended well, amicably. It was understood by both of us that it was just a one-time thing, it wasn't an ongoing relationship."

What about Rita Yeung?

"With regards to my stepdaughter, I have no reason to want her dead. I have no reason to want her murdered. In fact, I love her," he said.

"In fact, I should say, I loved her as my own daughter and I showed my love in many ways to her including taking care of her school allowances, paying for her tuition at UBC, paying for upkeep, renting her own place in Point Grey, there, and just took care of her."

He wrinkled his brow.

"Now to accuse me of her murder without giving me sufficient reason -- or motive why I would commit murder -- is in fact a mystery ... Everybody is saying what reason would I have to murder Rita? She has nothing I want. I'm the one taking care of her."

Kembo said that since his incarceration investigators have visited him nearly a dozen times -- the last time in March.

"I have not held anything back simply because my life has been under a microscope for three years," he claimed. "I knew [police] had my phones at home, my office, my two vehicles -- my wife's Land Rover and my Range Rover, were all bugged. I knew this."

Kembo shuffled his sheaf of papers.

"Now, here's the interesting part," he said. "When we asked, well, what motive do you have for me to commit murder? They go, 'Well, you know, you wanted their money.' I go, 'Sure,' but I mean, look, I don't mean to disparage the dead, but you look at their lifestyle, their income and what they were doing up to the point of their death. Just what money did they have? These people were being helped by me and my family, my wife and I."

He mimed handing out gifts.

"So you say the motive is money, I say that's just fantastic! Preposterous!"

He shook his head vigorously.

"To say I would commit murder for money because I've done well in the last nine years since I quit using drugs. I have not been in want of anything material or financial. I have been pretty much wealthy and self-sufficient since I quit my addiction."

He said police have pressured his wife, telling her: "Just leave him, he's done, he's going to jail for life, we've got lots of evidence against him, he's going down, leave him, get another man.

"Jenny, unlike me, has not dealt with police before," Kembo said. "She went to school in Hungary and she moved here in 1995 with her family. To first of all have your husband accused of murder -- not one, not two, but four murders! And have the police make all these threats against you -- 'we're going to take your kids away, we're going to charge you with being an accessory' -- it's daunting, it is quite daunting."

He cast his eyes downward.

"They do not seem to believe that she knows nothing of the murders," Kembo sighed. "As much as they don't believe me -- that I'm not the murderer -- in their quest to pin these murders on me they have put so much pressure on her with all these stories."

He stopped.

"Thank god, she's a strong black woman," he said. "She has been steadfast and she's hung in there, waiting to see what happens. The same pressure I assure you the same pressure they have put on my friends and colleagues ... making all kinds of threats to induce false evidence or induce false memories."

I stared at him.

"You have no idea how hard this has been on my family," he continued, "having our lives turned upside down overnight ... it has been heartbreaking, it has been heartbreaking."

Kembo's wife has moved back with her family. His friends are keeping their distance.

I spoke with two who said their phones were tapped, they were questioned by police and their lives disrupted while Kembo was under suspicion in the year before his arrest. Nevertheless, they said he was a generous, even-tempered man who tipped lavishly and rarely got upset.

Still, when one of your acquaintances is murdered, it is a tragedy; when two die violently, it is a horrible coincidence, but when three turn up slain and a fourth can't be found -- it does beggar the imagination.

"Absolutely, absolutely," Kembo agreed. "I totally understand that. But Mr. Mulgrew, the point I'm making is not a single person, not one out there can claim I saw Kembo commit murder. Not one person. And not one person can say Kembo told me that Kembo committed murder. Not one. ... Their case is very short of facts, very short of proof and yet long and heavy on conjecture and theory -- you're the one who did this because of the association. You know what I mean -- that's where their case lies. Very circumstantial."

He was adamant that he had no motive, none whatsoever.

He mimed handing out gifts.

"So you say the motive is money, I say that's just fantastic! Preposterous!"

He shook his head vigorously.

"To say I would commit murder for money because I've done well in the last nine years since I quit using drugs. I have not been in want of anything material or financial. I have been pretty much wealthy and self-sufficient since I quit my addiction."

He said police have pressured his wife, telling her: "Just leave him, he's done, he's going to jail for life, we've got lots of evidence against him, he's going down, leave him, get another man.

"Jenny, unlike me, has not dealt with police before," Kembo said. "She went to school in Hungary and she moved here in 1995 with her family. To first of all have your husband accused of murder -- not one, not two, but four murders! And have the police make all these threats against you -- 'we're going to take your kids away, we're going to charge you with being an accessory' -- it's daunting, it is quite daunting."

He cast his eyes downward.

"They do not seem to believe that she knows nothing of the murders," Kembo sighed. "As much as they don't believe me -- that I'm not the murderer -- in their quest to pin these murders on me they have put so much pressure on her with all these stories."

He stopped.

"Thank god, she's a strong black woman," he said. "She has been steadfast and she's hung in there, waiting to see what happens. The same pressure I assure you the same pressure they have put on my friends and colleagues ... making all kinds of threats to induce false evidence or induce false memories."

I stared at him.

"You have no idea how hard this has been on my family," he continued, "having our lives turned upside down overnight ... it has been heartbreaking, it has been heartbreaking."

Kembo's wife has moved back with her family. His friends are keeping their distance.

I spoke with two who said their phones were tapped, they were questioned by police and their lives disrupted while Kembo was under suspicion in the year before his arrest. Nevertheless, they said he was a generous, even-tempered man who tipped lavishly and rarely got upset.

Still, when one of your acquaintances is murdered, it is a tragedy; when two die violently, it is a horrible coincidence, but when three turn up slain and a fourth can't be found -- it does beggar the imagination.

"Absolutely, absolutely," Kembo agreed. "I totally understand that. But Mr. Mulgrew, the point I'm making is not a single person, not one out there can claim I saw Kembo commit murder. Not one person. And not one person can say Kembo told me that Kembo committed murder. Not one. ... Their case is very short of facts, very short of proof and yet long and heavy on conjecture and theory -- you're the one who did this because of the association. You know what I mean -- that's where their case lies. Very circumstantial."

He was adamant that he had no motive, none whatsoever.

 


Copyright 1995-2006 by Elisabeth Wetsch
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