The Death of Father Kaiser

Was it a Kenyan assassin who killed the Minnesota-reared missionary—or was it madness? Seven years later, the verdict is in.

Mahoney believes Kenya's inquest probe was far more complete than the "official" one by the FBI. "So many people who should have been interviewed came forward at the inquest," she says.

On August 1, 2007, the inquest finally came to an end. Kenyan Magistrate Maureen Odero ruled that John Kaiser did not commit suicide, thus rejecting earlier findings by Kenyan authorities and the FBI that he shot himself in the back of the head with a shotgun. Kaiser was murdered.

Kevin Foust, the FBI agent who led the investigation, offered but two words last week when asked to square his determination of suicide with the findings of the inquest: "No comment."

"The wonderful thing about this whole thing is that there are thousands—thousands—of Kenyans who absolutely knew John was murdered," Fran Kaiser, the priest's brother, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "He had been their greatest advocate for years. Their hope for any justice was bashed, but now it is resurrected again."

Mahoney, though, is not optimistic about the Kenyan government's chances of ever finding her brother's killer. "It's a cold case," she says. "Whoever pulled the trigger is probably dead themselves."

Four thousand people attended Father John Kaiser's funeral on August 31, 2000. They packed the basilica in Nairobi and stood in the street outside. Pigeons circled the rafters of the cathedral—"like the Holy Spirit," Mahoney says—as the crowd sang the missionary anthem, "Here I Am, Lord." As Kaiser himself had requested, his body was laid to rest under a fig tree in Lolgorien. His family covered the grave with a protective layer of cement.

In Kenya today, the American missionary remains a national hero. Children are named after him. "Every August 24 is celebrated like Martin Luther King Day here," says Father Vos. "He's a focal point for anyone working for peace and justice in that country."

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