By Muhammad Bello
Even when they are seriously ill, in so far as they are conscious, women often take care of their looks before they go to the hospital to see a doctor, not to talk of when they are going to see their sweethearts. That was what late Peace Matthias did on the fateful day that she had a rendezvous with death at the hands of her man-friend, Jim Zaccheus.
She made her hair, wore her best and tried to look as presentable as she could be.
From an unknown destination in the densely populated city of Port Harcourt, she may have walked or boarded a commercial vehicle from Education Bus Stop at Ikwerre Road to the junction of Elechi Beach Waterfront, a squatter settlement on the Western coastal fringes of the city.
Once at the junction, she turned left and walked more than a hundred metres to the concrete steps that she descended to take a further short walk to the dank, water logged, unpainted shack of her lover.
From her vantage position before she went down the wide concrete steps, she took in the breath-taking vista beyond the slum she was about to enter.
Faraway in the landscape is the new 17-storey Rivers State Secretariat tank farms at Abonnema Wharf near Kidney Island, one of Shell Production Development Company (SPDC) operations location.
She also took in the image of the brackish, silky river water peacefully cocooned by a dense, dark-green foliage mangrove. Realising the sharp contrast between the images at the far reach of her sight and the one immediately before her, she shut out the beauty and descended towards the squalor.
She may have walked without exchanging banter or greetings with anybody since she knew nobody there and nobody seems to care who she is. This is because the person she is visiting is almost a total stranger in the area he has been living for the past four or five months.
Zaccheus, according to his neighbours, is a loner, sneaky and nocturnal. Very few of them even know how he looks like. He does not associate with any of those around him.
The only time he is available is on weekends when he launders his dirty clothes, spread them out to dry and while waiting, retires into the sanctuary of his single room.
Peace, perhaps without any premonition of danger and brimming with the expectation of a fun-filled day, may have met her lover inside his room. He too, after welcoming her would have assessed her carriage and grace and come to the weird conclusion that somebody is sharing this enchanting figure in his presence with him.
So, instead of small, romantic talks, hugs and offer of drinks to cool her off, he resorted to challenging her, wanting to know how she got the money to put herself, specifically her hair in good, attractive shape.
She may have tried to explain to him in a soothing manner, but blinded by the fury of jealousy and red-eyed with envy, he engaged her in a brawl. Apparently stronger than her, he subdued her by beating her to pulp. She became pulverised by his superior strength and gave up the ghost.
Then his eyes cleared. He now frantically sought to cover up his misdeed. He dug a hole in the middle of the one room and rolled the immobilised body into it. The exercise may not have been difficult because the entire area south of the room is waterlogged, so much so that there is a tell-tale sign of where the water level reaches when the area is submerged. With no drainages, narrow maze of tight alleyways, the rain water stagnates and forms a pool in the yet to be developed plot of land which the only window in the room overlooks.
Unsatisfied with his handiwork, Zaccheus went to town to buy a mattress which he placed over the makeshift grave he had invented in his room earlier. All this while nobody suspected a thing as even children kept their distance from him. Hours after nature started to take its own course. The body started decaying. When the decomposition reached an advanced stage, an offensive smell started to waft out of the crevices of the dank structure.
This made his neighbours to alert security operatives who forced the door open and exhumed the victim’s decomposing body. Rivers State Police Commissioner, Muhammad Indabawa, who assumed duty in the state a couple of weeks ago, revealed at his maiden media briefing four days after the incident occurred, the gory details of how Zaccheus killed the innocent Peace.
Explaining that the suspect would soon be charged to court, Indabawa said: “Jim Zaccheus was arrested for killing his girlfriend and burying her in his room on April 7. We think that he had a quarrel with her before she was killed. We (the police) have exhumed the body of the victim this morning (last Wednesday).”
According to him, “the suspect was arrested last Tuesday and has confessed to the crime. We are yet to contact the parents of the deceased, but investigation on the incident is still on.”
Efforts made by THISDAY to locate the whereabouts of the deceased’s parents were not successful as she did not live in the area as her boyfriend. But it was however learnt from Zaccheus’ neighbours before his arrest that after the incident, police swooped on them and arrested 16 men. As at the weekend when THISDAY visited the locale, only three of those apprehended had been released.
The Police Public Relations Officer of the Rivers State Police Command, Ben Ugwuegbulem, refused to share information about the background of Peace. Instead, he said a unit of the police, most likely the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was still investigating the case. “It is when their investigation is completed that we will tell you anything about her,” Ugwuegbulem said.
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