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WIT­NESS FOR THE PROSE­CU­TION

Ac­cused se­rial killer’s wife im­per­son­ated miss­ing woman, court hears

- BR IAN HUTCHIN­SON Crime · British Columbia · Vancouver · Guinea · Malawi · Hong Kong · Mercedes-Benz · Land Rover Range Rover · Africa · Infiniti Division

Genevieve Ca­mara fol­lowed ac­cused se­rial killer Charles Kembo’s in­struc­tions to the let­ter. What­ever sub­terfuge her com­mon-law hus­band re­quested, she per­formed, ap­par­ently without ques­tion.

One of her du­ties, she tes­ti­fied this week in B.C. Supreme Court, was to im­per­son­ate an­other Kembo wife, who had dis­ap­peared. Mar­garet Kembo was a mid­dle-aged Asian woman, last seen on New Year’s Eve, 2002. She van­ished un­der very mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances, never to be found, leav­ing be­hind two be­wil­dered chil­dren. Mr. Kembo killed her, and stole her iden­tity for profit, ju­rors at his se­rial mur­der trial in Van­cou­ver have heard.

Mr. Kembo is al­leged to have killed three oth­ers as well. His trial is now in its fifth month.

Ms. Ca­mara emerged this week as a key wit­ness for the prose­cu­tion. She might be very use­ful to the Crown coun­sel; on the other hand, her messy tes­ti­mony could eas­ily dis­rupt their painstak­ingly con­structed, cir­cum­stan­tial case.

Her cred­i­bil­ity is fee­ble. Ms. Ca­mara took the wit­ness stand on Wed­nes­day and ad­mit­ted to a se­ries of de­ceits. Yes, she had signed cheques in Mar­garet Kembo’s name, af­ter the woman dis­ap­peared. Yes, she had with­drawn funds from Mar­garet’s bank ac­count. Yes, she had iden­ti­fied her­self as Mar­garet Kembo to in­sur­ance bro­kers, and even to po­lice. A se­rial liar, she was back then. But it was al­ways Mr. Kembo who di­rected her, she claimed.

The cha­rade ended in 2005, two days af­ter the naked, stran­gled corpse of Rita Ye­ung was dis­cov­ered float­ing in the Fraser River. Ms. Ye­ung was Mar­garet Kembo’s 20-year-old daugh­ter.

She was Mr. Kembo’s fourth vic­tim in three years, the Crown al­leges. Ar­don Sa­muel, a friend of Charles Kembo, was dis­cov­ered, dead, in a Van­cou­ver park in 2003. A year later, mu­nic­i­pal work­ers stum­bled upon the corpse of Mr. Kembo’s mis­tress, Sui Yin Ma. Mr. Kembo had ap­pro­pri­ated their iden­ti­ties for profit too, it is al­leged.

Af­ter Rita Ye­ung’s mur­der, po­lice ar­rested Mr. Kembo and Ms. Ca­mara in Rich­mond, a sub­urb of Van­cou­ver. He was charged with four counts of first-de­gree mur­der. But Ms. Ca­mara was not charged with any­thing. Chi­canery is one thing; she will cer­tainly not claim a part in any mur­der.

She first met the de­fen­dant in a down­town Van­cou­ver book­shop, 11 years ago. A res­i­den­tial care worker, Ms. Ca­mara had em­i­grated from Guinea. Mr. Kembo had come from Malawi and had claimed refugee sta­tus. He handed Ms. Ca­mara his busi­ness card; she rang him a few months later. They dated and soon they moved in to­gether. Three years later, they had a child, Claire Marie.

Ms. Ca­mara says she did not know Charles was then mar­ried to Mar­garet Kembo, or that they had a son. Grant Kembo was born in April 2000, around the time Ms. Ca­mara and Mr. Kembo moved in to­gether, and two years be­fore Claire Marie came along.

Mar­garet, Grant, and Grant’s older half-sis­ter Rita lived to­gether in a Van­cou­ver apart­ment. Mr. Kembo paid them fre­quent vis­its, Ms. Ca­mara tes­ti­fied this week. She un­der­stood Mar­garet to be just an em­ployee and “friend.”

Even­tu­ally, she learned that Mar­garet’s last name was Kembo. Charles had an ex­pla­na­tion, she told the court this week. It was “be­cause of busi­ness and fi­nan­cial rea­sons … be­cause [Mar­garet] was help­ing him.” Crown Coun­sel Hank Reiner tried to ex­tract more de­tails, but Ms. Ca­mara just smiled and shrugged.

She strug­gled to de­scribe what

He said Mar­garet left in a hurry to Hong Kong to look af­ter her sick fa­ther

she thought Mr. Kembo did for a liv­ing. It had some­thing to do with “fi­nance,” Ms. Ca­mara said. He drove ex­pen­sive cars — a Mercedes, an In­finiti, a Range Rover — and had a ros­ter of pri­vate com­pa­nies, which he ran from home. The fam­ily kept chang­ing res­i­dences, she said, adding, in the present tense, that “Charles doesn’t like to stay in one place.”

He did own one le­git­i­mate busi­ness, at least. Mr. Kembo had found money to buy a Rich­mond con­ve­nience store called Kash & Karry. Mar­garet Kembo worked there, un­til she van­ished.

Mr. Kembo had mul­ti­ple explanatio­ns for that. “He said Mar­garet left in a hurry to Hong Kong to look af­ter her sick fath- er,” a for­mer Kash & Karry clerk named Jose Ang tes­ti­fied ear­lier.

“From time to time he would tell us that he talked to Mar­garet, and that Mar­garet says ‘Hi’ to us.”

Mr. Kembo fur­nished other sto­ries, his jury has heard. Mar­garet went to Africa to work on a su­gar fac­tory ren­o­va­tion; Mar­garet went to Shang­hai to work as a busi­ness con­sul­tant. Mr. Kembo gave reg­u­lar Mar­garet up­dates. He passed along mes­sages. But Rita and Grant had no con­tact with their mother.

Ms. Ca­mara said she had dis­cus­sions with Mr. Kembo about Mar­garet’s sud­den exit. When Mar­garet was last seen, Mr. Kembo had been “out all night,” Ms. Ca­mara re­called in court this week. “I said, ‘Where have you been?’ He said Mar­garet said she was go­ing to Hong Kong and he was out all night try­ing to con­vince her to stay.”

Grant and Rita came to live with them; Mr. Kembo said he had promised Mar­garet he would look af­ter the chil­dren while she was in Hong Kong. Only much later, said Ms. Ca­mara, did she learn that Mr. Kembo and Mar­garet were mar­ried, and that Grant was their son.

Ms. Ca­mara went to work at the Kash & Karry. “Charles said she would be tak­ing over [Mar­garet’s old job],” re­called Mr. Ang, the Crown wit­ness. “Charles in­tro­duced her as his sis­ter. I al­ways knew her as Charles’ sis­ter.”

Mean­while, Ms. Ca­mara was im­per­son­at­ing Mar­garet Kembo. This week, ju­rors heard a recorded 911 call she made to Van­cou­ver po­lice, claim­ing she was Mar­garet Kembo, re­port­ing a stolen ve­hi­cle. Court also heard that Mr. Kembo was busy forg­ing Mar­garet Kembo’s name on doc­u­ments, such as in­sur­ance claims, tax re­turns and cheques. He maxed out credit card ac­counts set up in Mar­garet Kembo’s name.

He mur­dered Mr. Sa­muel, and then Ms. Ma, the Crown al­leges, and used their iden­ti­ties to en­rich him­self. He killed Rita Ye­ung, his daugh­ter-in-law, it is al­leged, and then called home. To Ms. Ca­mara, half-obliv­i­ous at best, and to the very last.

Ms. Ca­mara’s tes­ti­mony con­tin­ues next week.

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 ?? CAN­WEST NEWS SER­VICE FILES ?? Margaret Kembo, left, van­ished in 2002; the stran­gled body of her daugh­ter, Rita Ye­ung, was found in the Fraser River in 2005.
CAN­WEST NEWS SER­VICE FILES Margaret Kembo, left, van­ished in 2002; the stran­gled body of her daugh­ter, Rita Ye­ung, was found in the Fraser River in 2005.
 ?? CAN­WEST NEWS SER­VICE FILES ?? Charles Kembo, al­leged to have killed four peo­ple, is shown with his wife Genevieve and his daugh­ter Claire.
CAN­WEST NEWS SER­VICE FILES Charles Kembo, al­leged to have killed four peo­ple, is shown with his wife Genevieve and his daugh­ter Claire.

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