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A suspect in the killing of a Boston nurse eluded authorities for months. Then police spotted him at a Kenyan nightclub

<i>Office of Suffolk County District Attorney</i><br/>Kevin Kangethe
Office of Suffolk County District Attorney
Kevin Kangethe

By Larry Madowo and Faith Karimi, CNN

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) — It had been three months since Maggie Mbitu was found dead at Boston’s airport, and authorities seemed no closer to finding the man suspected of killing her and fleeing the country.

But this week, they finally got a break. On Monday night an undercover officer spotted someone who looked like the suspect at a nightclub 7,000 miles away in Nairobi, Kenya, and struck up a conversation with him, a police official told CNN.

Within hours authorities identified the man as fugitive Kevin Kangethe, a Boston-area man who US investigators said boarded a plane to Kenya shortly after killing his girlfriend. Authorities in Massachusetts had obtained a warrant for Kangethe’s arrest on a murder charge.

Mbitu’s body was found in Kangethe’s SUV in a parking garage at Boston Logan International Airport on November 1, two days after she was reported missing. The 31-year-old had slash wounds on her face and neck, Massachusetts State Police said in an affidavit.

The arrest in Nairobi happened after someone alerted police that a man at the club resembled images of the suspect they’d seen on social media, said Adamson Bungei, the Nairobi regional police commander.

An undercover police officer sent to the club spotted Kangethe and notified a team of fellow undercover officers, who then approached him and interrogated him “in a friendly way,” Bungei told CNN.

Through the conversation, officers “made the connections positively identifying him,” Bungei said.

Kangethe did not resist arrest and had his passport with him, which helped confirm his identification, said Francis Sang, a subcounty police commander. Sang declined to say whether it was a Kenyan or American passport or share what officers and Kangethe talked about before his arrest.

Kevin Hayden, District Attorney of Suffolk County in suburban Boston, thanked the US State Department, the FBI, the state police, the Kenyan government and Kenyan law enforcement agencies for facilitating the arrest.

“Their tremendous and untiring efforts will provide Margaret’s family and friends the opportunity to see Kevin Kangethe face justice for this terrible crime,” Hayden said in a statement.

Authorities are seeking to have Kangethe extradited to the US

Kangethe arrived in Kenya last fall through Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the nation’s director of public prosecutions said in a statement. He went into hiding in the city’s suburbs but stayed in touch via phone with his friends and relatives, including those in the United States, the statement said.

The 41-year-old appeared in court Thursday for a hearing on his extradition.

Kenya has an extradition treaty with the United States. The nation’s director of public prosecutions said Kenya has received a formal extradition request from the US and determined there’s “sufficient evidence” against him.

“The threshold for his extradition has been met,” the director of public prosecutions wrote in a motion filed in court. The prosecutions office also said it opposes Kangethe’s release on bail during the extradition proceedings.

His attorney, David Muthama, told CNN that he plans to challenge the extradition request.

“He is innocent until a court of law finds him otherwise. I’m aware he has been condemned by the court of public opinion,” he added. Muthama said his client plans to plead not guilty.

It was Kangethe’s second court appearance since his arrest. His first hearing was Wednesday, a day after his arrest. He wore eyeglasses and occasionally looked down as the prosecutor asked the court to detain him for 30 days so US officials can work out the extradition process.

“Have you understood the application by the prosecutor?” the judge asked. Kangethe nodded. “Do you have any objections?” The judge asked. Kangethe shook his head.

A US Diplomatic Security Service official declined to comment on how the extradition process works.

“As a matter of longstanding policy, the Department does not comment on pending extradition matters, including whether or not a particular request has been made,” the official told CNN in an email.

Police have not revealed a motive in the killing

Mbitu lived in Whitman, a Boston suburb, and was the youngest in a family of health care workers. Her two older sisters and her mother are all nurses.

She was reported missing in late October after she didn’t show up for work, which was uncommon for her.

Her family notified the police and called nearby hospitals to check if she was a patient. The next evening, police made a gruesome discovery: her bloodied body, in the SUV inside a parking garage at the airport.

In a criminal complaint from the Massachusetts State Police, authorities say they “were led to Mbitu’s boyfriend” after she went missing.

The day before her body was found, Kangethe boarded flights from Boston to Kenya. Surveillance footage showed him leaving the parking garage and entering an airport terminal, police said.

Investigators learned he had bought a plane ticket the previous morning, state police said.

Kangethe lived in Lowell, a suburb northwest of Boston. License plate recognition cameras had picked up the whereabouts of his Toyota SUV and it appeared consistent with the location of Mbitu’s phone, according to the criminal complaint.

Authorities tracked the vehicle from Lowell to the Logan Airport parking garage, where they found her dead in the car.  Police have not divulged a possible motive, leaving her family and friends to grapple with unanswered questions — and their grief.

“I’m so angry, I’m still trying to process everything,” Ann Mbitu, her older sister, told CNN in November. “At 31, we’re not supposed to be planning her funeral. We’re supposed to be planning celebrations, birthdays, weddings, travel.”

Law enforcement officials in Kenya tracked Kangethe’s whereabouts there while US state and federal authorities coordinated his arrest, the Massachusetts State Police said.

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