National Post (Latest Edition)
WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION
Accused serial killer’s wife impersonated missing woman, court hears
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 Yes, she had withdrawn funds from Margaret’s bank account.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.