A controversial Kenyan aristocrat of British descent who killed two local Kenyan men on separate occasions has died aged 48 of a heart attack, following complications after a routine hospital operation in Nairobi.
Tom Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumlee) became the focus of post-colonial anger when he killed two black Kenyans on his father’s vast game reserve in the country; one man was killed in 2005 and the other in 2006.
The Old Etonian was acquitted in the first case and given eight months in jail for the second, but served an additional three years on remand in one of Kenya’s jails.
The 2005 killing was of a Kenyan Wildlife Service employee, Samson ole Sisina, who entered Cholmondeley’s premises dressed in plain clothes, and whom Cholmondeley maintained was attempting to carry out an armed robbery at his farm slaughterhouse.
The Kenyan Attorney General eventually threw the case out, but the decision was widely criticized by the Kenyan media and public, amidst a perception that Cholmondeley got off because of his family’s wealth and connections (his father Hugh, the fifth Baron Delamere who survives his son, is a friend and ally of past and former presidents of Kenya).
Although medics blamed Cholmondeley’s death on ‘complications’ following a routine hip replacement operation, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported claims that Cholmondeley had fallen foul of witchcraft.
The family of the game warden killed by Cholmondeley in 2005 told the Daily Nation that Maasai elders had recently conducted a ritual at the graveside of the dead ranger to curse his killer.
The family’s lawyer told the paper: “It was a serious thing and it was conducted by very elderly Maasai. So when the elders heard the news, they knew it was a confirmation that the rituals still work.”
Sisina’s family has demanded 49 cattle and 27 acres of the Delameres’ ranch, according to the Daily Nation. If their demands are not met, they say the curse placed on Cholmondeley will remain in place for his descendants.
In 2006, Cholmondeley was again arrested for a killing—this time he had shot Robert Njoya, a local stonemason who had trapped a gazelle on his 48,000 acre ranch.
The country exploded into rage and the outcry served to stir up long-festering anger at how white settlers had been allowed to keep vast tracts of prime land after Kenya won independence in 1963; the Delamere estates are among the largest to still be held by the descendants of Colonial-era white families, extending to nearly 50,000 acres (although they were once five times that size).
Since 2007 the ranch has been officially designated a nature reserve and is said to be home to one of Africa’s most impressive selection of animals.
Cholmondeley claimed he was only trying to shoot Njoya’s dogs, and then tried to change his story to blame a friend who was with him for the killing during the trial.
However, he was convicted of manslaughter in May 2009. He had by then spent three years in prison on remand, and was freed early, just five months after the verdict was handed down.
Tom’s grandfather, also Tom, the Fourth Baron, was a central figure in the wartime Kenyan Happy Valley set. A noted big game hunter who walked with a limp after being mauled by a lion, he was the unofficial ‘mayor’ of the licentious ex-pat community.
The major thoroughfare in Nairobi was named for him (although after independence Delamere Avenue was renamed Kenyatta Avenue) and he became the fourth and final husband of the socialite Diana Broughton, whose second husband Jock, committed suicide after being acquitted of shooting her lover, a scandal made famous by the film White Mischief.
The Cholmondeley’s of yore were famous for their wild antics and living a life of unrestrained hedonism an ethos which, friends of the family say, continues to the present day.
Hugh once rode a horse into a party at Nairobi’s famous Norfolk Hotel and jumped the tables in the dining room (stories that he shot out the bar are wide of the mark).
However, he was also a pioneering early conservationist and was said to be one of the few white settlers to learn the Maasai tongue.
The heir apparent to the Cholmondeley fortune is now the eldest of Tom’s two teenage sons, Hugh, whom he fathered with his ex-wife, Sally Brewerton.