Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Officials inspect a forested where 145 bodies were found near the Good News International Church in Malindi town of Kilifi, Kenya on May 11, 2023.

Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Death Toll in Kenyan Cult Investigation Surpasses 400, Unveiling Grisly Practices of Starvation

As former taxi driver Paul Nthenge Mackenzie remains in custody, a disturbing case is unfolding during the police investigation into his Good News International Church.

In a shocking revelation, the death toll linked to a Kenyan cult that practiced starvation to "meet Jesus Christ" has risen to 403, with 12 more bodies discovered on Monday. Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha confirmed the devastating toll, with ongoing exhumations in the Shakahola forest, where cult leader Paul Nthenge Mackenzie allegedly urged followers to starve themselves.

Authorities continue their investigation, searching for more graves in the forest, where the first victims were found on April 13. According to government autopsies, starvation appears to be the primary cause of death, although some victims, including children, showed signs of being strangled, beaten, or suffocated.

Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a former taxi driver turned preacher and self-proclaimed pastor with seven children has been in police custody since mid-April. His detention was extended by a month pending investigations into terrorism or genocide-related charges, although he has not yet entered any plea.

Mackenzie established the Good News International Church in 2003, raising questions about how he managed to elude law enforcement despite a history of extremism and previous legal cases. The case has drawn attention from President William Ruto, highlighting the issue of unregulated churches and cults engaging in criminal activities within Kenya's homegrown religious movements.

With over 4,000 registered churches in the country of approximately 50 million people, authorities face a challenge to regulate and monitor these religious organizations.

Mackenzie had previously faced legal trouble in 2017 for discouraging children from attending school, claiming that education was not recognized in the Bible. In March, he was arrested again after two children died of starvation in their parents' custody but was later released on bond.

The discovery of mass graves near Malindi led to the arrest of Mackenzie, his wife, and 16 other defendants. The 16 men are accused of operating an armed "enforcer gang" responsible for enforcing the fasting regimen and ensuring that no one left the forest hideout alive. They remain in custody pending further legal proceedings.