The Monster Next Door
Beatrice Munyenyezi claimed she was a refugee from the Rwandan genocide. Federal agent Brian Andersen suspected she was someone far more sinister.
Since around the time that Josef Mengele secretly escaped from Germany in 1949 and eluded prosecution, the U.S. government has been on the lookout for war criminals hiding in our midst. In 1979, the efforts were formally organized under the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations unit. Known as the most active and aggressive so-called Nazi hunters in the world, for more than 30 years the OSI successfully found and removed more than 100 war criminals from the country. After 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, however, there was a push to catch war criminals before they crossed into U.S. territory. This task landed squarely under the jurisdiction of the agency’s border protection division, known as ICE, and soon agents outside of OSI began to take on many of these unique cases. So much so that in 2008, the government created a Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center specifically to target accused genocidaires, torturers, and war criminals hiding out in the suburbs or living as anonymous immigrants in the United States. Now known as Homeland Security Investigations, it still prosecutes these criminals, but every DHS field office in the country has federal agents assigned to investigate possible Nazis, Bosnian soldiers, Latin-American military leaders, and Rwandan executioners. In Boston, that unit includes Special Agent Brian Andersen.
At 6-foot-3 with ash-blond hair cut close to his scalp, Andersen is an accidental cop. He grew up in the picturesque town of Essex, Vermont, a suburb of Burlington. To rebel against his father, a professor at St. Michael’s College, a small Catholic school in his home state, Andersen joined the Marines following high school, only to end up on his dad’s leafy campus years later as a student. Afterward he spent six uneventful years teaching high school, the last three of which he worked part-time as a police officer. “Being a teacher was a great intellectual challenge,” he says, but “what I found I was lacking was any physical challenge.” Bored, he joined the force in Bellows Falls, Vermont. Several years later, the hard-charging former teacher went undercover with the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force.
Gone were the coordinated khakis and button-down shirts. His close shave turned into a goatee, and he pierced his ear. He began wearing a Carhartt jacket, flannel shirt, and boots to blend in with drug dealers in a state that has seen a staggering increase in narcotics crimes and heroin overdoses. Two years later, in 2006, he fulfilled his ambition to work for the feds and joined the Boston division of ICE. No longer working undercover and stuck behind a desk each day, Andersen’s job was decidedly slower paced, and he worried he was not cut out for a career within the federal bureaucracy. He even toyed with the idea of going back to Vermont as a drug cop. “It’s a big machine that I work for,” he says. “It takes some time to find your place in that machinery.” Then Prudence’s case fell in his lap, and he stumbled into investigating war criminals by chance.
From the start, Andersen thought Munyenyezi looked suspicious. For one thing, her husband, Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, stood accused in Africa of being a genocidal madman. When Andersen began working on the case in 2007, he discovered that Munyenyezi had flown to Tanzania the previous year to give testimony in her husband’s defense at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a court established by the United Nations Security Council in November 1994 to prosecute war criminals. Munyenyezi, he found, had a recent paper trail, and it told a startling story.
Pretty and privileged, Munyenyezi was the product of a private boarding school in Gitwe, Rwanda, where she met her husband. In 1993, they married and moved to Butare. The couple lived at the Hotel Ihuriro, a three-story complex complete with numerous guest rooms and a bar that was owned by Ntahobali’s parents. Within a year, Ntahobali followed in his family’s footsteps and became a leader in the Interahamwe, a paramilitary group formed by young members of MRND, the Hutu political party. His mother, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a powerful and outspoken MRND cabinet minister, was the bureaucrat responsible for the “pacification” of Butare, and would soon order her fellow Hutus to rape and murder the Tutsis.
Over the course of a year, Andersen learned that Munyenyezi and her husband’s family had joined a mass exodus of Hutus into the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then into Kenya, following the murderous “100 days.” In January 1995, Munyenyezi and her husband applied for asylum together. But Ntahobali’s and his mother’s high-profile political involvement made them easy targets for the international courts, and before the couple could fly to the United States, investigators arrested Ntahobali at a small convenience store in Kenya on charges of genocide. Police in Kenya also arrested his mother.
Ten years later, after Munyenyezi had settled in New Hampshire, she returned to Africa to testify in her husband’s defense at the ICTR. International authorities accused Ntahobali and his mother of ordering rapes and murdering scores of Tutsis during the genocide. But according to Munyenyezi, Andersen discovered as he pored over court testimony, her husband was a great guy. “Your honor,’’ Munyenyezi told the court, “if there is a person, a nonviolent person that I have known in my life is Shalom. I’ve never seen him carrying a gun or grenade or any such thing like that.” Her husband, she later added, had never targeted Tutsis and did “nothing other than giving them love.”
A world away, reading testimony in an office with a view of the TD Garden, Andersen wasn’t buying it. “She is describing Disney World and I am hearing horror in the street,” he says. “She’s a liar. I knew we have to do something about this.”
The more he picked and scraped away at the edges, the more Andersen believed Munyenyezi wasn’t just lying about her husband. She was covering up something about her own past. Was she a member of MRND? he wondered. Could she have killed someone? If Munyenyezi’s husband was accused of murdering Tutsis, Andersen thought, perhaps she was not simply an innocent bystander. But even if he could prove it, Anderson knew he faced another hurdle: the law.
At one time, only U.S. citizens could be charged with federal genocide, but after the atrocities in Rwanda, that law was modified by Congress to include anyone hiding in the United States. Still, the statute would not apply to Munyenyezi because any human rights violations she may have committed in Rwanda would have taken place before the law was changed. What Andersen and his colleagues were left to work with had never been attempted in a United States court. The only charge they could bring was that Munyenyezi had lied on her naturalization forms—the equivalent, put simply, of nailing Al Capone on tax evasion. After spending a year investigating Munyenyezi, Andersen knew he needed witnesses and additional evidence if he was going to catch her in that lie, so he packed his bags, kissed his seven-year-old son goodbye, and boarded a flight to Rwanda.
The first thing that struck Andersen in August 2008 when he walked off the plane onto a thin runway strip at Rwanda’s Kigali airport was the smell. It wasn’t rank, just overwhelming. Many Rwandans cooked meals in fire pits outside their homes, burning anything to feed the flames. Burnt wood. Melted trash. The humid night air was thick with it. The stench settled in the back of Andersen’s throat. He could taste it.
After traveling for three days, his flight path looked like a map from an Indiana Jones movie: Boston to Frankfurt, a jump to Brussels, then finally to Rwanda. He thought it likely that this could be his only trip to the country. It all depended on what he found. He told himself he would be perfectly satisfied if Munyenyezi was nothing more than a survivor, as she’d repeatedly claimed on government documents and in radio interviews. But the cop in him, his years of experience, told him she was lying.