THE SEARCH FOR IRENE: Witnesses Named in Trial for Fiancé of Missing Kenyan Over Alleged Financial and Intellectual Property Crimes

Witness linked to Irene Gakwa’s reported Texas address set to testify

Court documents show there will be 33 witnesses in the upcoming trial of Nathan Hightman, pictured above after his pretrial hearing, for his alleged financial crimes against Irene Gakwa, who mysteriously disappeared nearly a year ago. (Courtesy photo from Stacy Koester)

Special to the Wyoming Truth

GILLETTE, Wyo.—In the latest twist in the Irene Gakwa case, court records show 33 witnesses will appear in the upcoming trial of Nathan Hightman, including the owner of a house in San Antonio where public records indicate Gakwa may have lived.

In May, Hightman, 39, was charged with five felonies related to financial and intellectual property crimes against Gakwa, a 33-year-old Kenyan native and nursing student, who mysteriously disappeared in late February.

The charges include allegedly transferring over $3,600 from Gakwa’s bank account and maxing out her credit card in over 90 separate transactions, according to court documents. Hightman also has been charged with two additional felonies, including allegedly changing the password to Gakwa’s bank account and deleting her email account. 

Additonally, Hightman is considered a “person of interest” in Gakwa’s disappearance, police said. According to court records, Hightman told police that Gakwa left in February in a dark SUV with her belongings packed in two plastic bags.

Public records list Gakwa living at a Texas address since April—two months after she disappeared without a trace from the home she shared with Hightman in Gillette. 

Public records link the mortgage and landline for the Texas residence to George Babeti, who is listed as number 33 on the witness list. The Wyoming Truth reached out to Babeti to verify whether Gakwa lives there; he did not respond.

Two investigators from the U.S. Post Office also are listed as a witnesses. Among the expertise they will provide is “how postal records are kept and documented; date, time, and address change requested for this case,” as well as “records surrounding the address change; IP address and device used to process address change,” among other duties.  

Campbell County Attorney Nathan Henkes did not respond to a request for comment on whether the witnesses might be linked to a separate charge involving the address change.

Other witnesses include over a dozen Gillette police officers and dispatch workers, as well as representatives from Walmart, Menards, Google, Zelle and T-Mobile, among others. Character witnesses for Gakwa on the list include her two older brothers Kennedy Wainaina and Chris Gakwa.

Neither Hightman or his public defender Dallas Lamb responded to a request for comment.

Texas address

Gillette police told the Wyoming Truth that they have vetted the Texas address and that Gakwa is not living there.

“We have not found any connection between Irene Gakwa and that address,” Brent Wasson, deputy chief of police, said in an email.

Deepening the mystery of Gakwa’s whereabouts is the fact that she initially told her family she had moved to Arizona, not Wyoming.

In reality, Gakwa moved to Gillette with Hightman in July 2021. She met him on a Craig’s list forum in 2020 after moving to Idaho from Kenya to be near her brothers. Gakwa and Hightman lived together for a year before relocating to Wyoming.

Gakwa was last seen in a video conference with her parents and was reported missing by her family on March 20, 2022. 

Hightman’s trial has been postponed from its early February date after both the state and defense requested a 10-day trial to accommodate the more than 30 witnesses and family members to testify. Both sides also have discussed the possibility of a venue change due to the high-profile nature of the case, which has garnered extensive local and national media attention.

The trial date and venue have not been set as of Jan. 13, according to staff in the Campbell County District Court office.

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