By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
The 38-year-old fiancé of a missing Gillette woman and person of interest in her disappearance has pleaded not guilty to five felonies relating to crimes against her.
Nathan J. Hightman has been accused of transferring more than $3,000 from Irene Wairimu Gakwa’s bank account into his account, maxing out her credit card on purchases including boots and a shovel, deleting her email account, and changing her banking password.
Hightman pleaded not guilty to all charges on Tuesday afternoon, according to his attorney, Steven Titus.
Irene, a 32-year-old woman from Kenya, is still missing and the Gillette Police Department have no new updates at this time.
She was last seen alive during a video call with her parents on Feb. 24 and was reported missing by her brother on March 20.
Hightman told the Gillette Police detective that Irene came home from eating in a restaurant one night in late February and said she was leaving Gillette, court documents state. He said she packed her clothing into two plastic bags and was picked up by someone in a dark SUV.
He admitted to police that he had accessed Irene’s bank accounts and removed the money, saying he did so to force her to contact him but said he has not heard from her since she left.
Hightman has been identified as a “person of interest” in Gakwa’s disappearance and has refused to cooperate with investigators, according to police.
It is not like Irene to be out of contact with her family, according to her brothers, Kennedy Wainaina and Chris Gakwa, who both live in Idaho. Irene had moved to the U.S. roughly five years ago to be near them and met Hightman on an online dating website.
The couple lived together for about a year-and-a-half before moving to Gillette last July, where Irene attended nursing school and worked.
Chris Gakwa said he was surprised to learn his sister was living in Wyoming as she told the family she was living in Arizona. He said Hightman encouraged her to lie to her family about where she was living as a means of isolating and controlling her.
Chris Gakwa said his parents in Kenya have been particularly worried and it’s been hard on them all as they continue looking and holding out hope that his sister will be found.
“It’s very stressful,” he said. “We don’t even want to talk about it. You don’t know what to say or what to do. You feel helpless.”
The Gillette Police are asking for the public’s help in locating a gray or silver Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho license plates that may have been seen trespassing on private property or in rural areas of Campbell County between Feb. 24 and March 20. The department is also seeking information regarding possible sightings of a 55-gallon metal drum, which may have been burned and/or abandoned within the county.
Gakwa is described as a 5-foot-1, 100-pound Black woman.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Gillette Police Department at (307) 682-5155.