The mystery of a murder

By Linda Herrick

New Zealand-born photographer Trent Keegan was murdered in Kenya.
New Zealand-born photographer Trent Keegan was murdered in Kenya.

We expect a mystery to be solved when it's in a film or TV drama but real life is not so tidy. The question of who killed New Zealand photographer Trent Keegan in Nairobi in May 2008 is unlikely to ever find a resolution.

Before his death, Keegan, 33, had been filming Masai tribespeople in Tanzania caught in a vicious land dispute with a US-based safari company. Keegan had told his family that he had witnessed beatings, and he'd interviewed a Masai tribesman who'd been shot in the face. His interest was unwelcome in some quarters (see africanfarmersjournal.blogspot. com) and he was advised to leave Tanzania for his own safety. He was killed in Nairobi shortly afterwards.

Auckland-based journalist and documentary-maker Rob Harley, who made a programme about Keegan's murder that aired on TV One and on international networks, is screening Who Killed Trent Keegan tomorrow as part of the Auckland Festival of Photography Talking Culture Sunday Series.

"There came a point when Trent was emailing people saying, 'I don't feel safe'. So he got out and went to Nairobi," says Harley.

For reasons we will never understand, Keegan went for a walk along central Nairobi's highly dangerous Uhuru Highway on the night of May 28, 2008, carrying his laptop and camera, as well as cash, credit cards and passport. His body -- beaten to death -- was found in a ditch. Unusually for a "mugging" in Nairobi, just the camera and laptop were taken. Then a Kenyan man, Hesbon Amadade, already in prison on a previous murder charge, confessed to the killing but, says Harley, the police were dragging their feet and "there was this air of mystery around what had happened to Trent".

He contacted Keegan's sister, Nikki, of Oakura. "I asked if there was any possibility of advancing this thing a little further, seeing if we could get this investigation going," he recalls. "We pitched the idea of a documentary to TV One and they liked the idea." Harley and Keegan's brother-in-law Scott McKinnon flew to Nairobi where they retraced the photographer's route along the Uhuru Highway -- or tried to. "That walk along the highway is dangerous," he recalls. "It's adjacent to a park where lots of heavy-looking dudes hang out. We got out of our cab and almost immediately some really heavy-looking guys started advancing on us. We leaped back in the taxi and got out of there, lickety-split."

To gain access to the accused man, Hesbon Amadade, Harley and McKinnon posed as human rights workers, visiting Nairobi's huge Industrial Prison, population 3500, accompanied by a local human rights lawyer. They filmed their time in the prison, complete with working scaffold, in secret. "We were in there for a couple of hours. We paid a guy to go and find Amadade and they brought him back but the language difficulty was quite hard. He was a very menacing-looking character. He was in there charged with the murder of a Kenya Airways pilot and at that stage he hadn't been charged with Trent's murder. I asked him if he had anything to do with the death of the New Zealander. There was a suggestion that he had admitted to it at some point and then retracted. The impression I got was that his story varied, that 'I might have confessed but they tortured me'."

Harley and McKinnon then met a senior police officer and let him know they believed Amadade had likely killed Keegan. "He rather reluctantly admitted, 'Yes, we think he did too and we are now going to gather the information necessary to prosecute him'."

Shortly, afterwards, Amadade was arrested in prison and charged with Keegan's murder. "But when the case went to trial, the police had done such a poor job with cataloguing the evidence the judge had no choice but to throw the case out," says Harley. "He said the police had lost crucial evidence."

Harley says there has been no further investigation into Keegan's murder.

"One theory you might postulate is that he was being watched. On the face of it it's impossible to prove a connection [with the work Keegan had been doing in Tanzania]. Safari companies boast that they get a lot of kudos from the Masai for having looked after them but it depends which tribesman you talk to."

Auckland Festival of Photography

What: Who Killed Trent Keegan, a documentary by Rob Harley

Where and when: Auckland Art Gallery Auditorium, tomorrow at 1pm; free

- NZ Herald

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