The wicked sisters of Egypt: Raya and Sakina
In the first part of our series about Africa’s serial killers, we bring you the twisted tale of Raya and Sakina, the two sister Serial killers from Egypt whose brutal killings are so firmly etched in the collective memory of Egyptians that mothers today refuse to call their daughters by either of their names.
Egypt’s most notorious sisters, the serial killers Raya and Sakina Ali Hammam, had a difficult start in life. Not well-off to begin with, their father abandoned the family while they were still young. The sisters were left under the care of their mother, a woman described as “unable to bestow love on her children”, and an older brother who was always down on his luck.
Life was rough in Egypt and the family did everything it could to get by. Desperate to get by, their mother reportedly introduced them to the life of crime. When things were tight, Sakina, the younger of the two sisters, would sell her body in return for fruit and vegetables.
A house of ill repute
As adults, the pair didn’t stray far from the criminal path their mother had put them on. After the outbreak of World War I, the economic situation in Egypt was desperate. At that time the two sisters, then severally married and divorced, had landed in Alexandria with new partners and their brood. Alexandria then was a paradise to an elite few. The sisters and their new husbands lived outside that bubble but they yearned for a taste of the good life.
The four of them decided to turn their home into a house of pleasure where people would come to indulge their vices. Hashish was smoked and sex was traded. The sisters later strenuously denied that they allowed prostitution in their establishment but it was widely understood that they did. It was also known that secret lovers would come use their home for their trysts. To fend off the attentions of nosey neighbours likely to report them to the authorities for running a house of ill repute, the sisters engaged the services of a local protection racket.
The sisters would need these underworld figurers in the deadly acts they were about to engage in.
Alexandria then was a paradise to an elite few. The sisters and their new husbands lived outside that bubble but they yearned for a taste of the good life.
Death lurks in the shadows
The business they had set up did well for some time but, as Egypt pushed for self-rule, the economy plummeted and so did their business. Before long, the sisters and their husbands had resorted to stealing food just to get by. But the two sisters wanted to live well, not just survive. So they hatched a plan. They would turn their rich clients into their prey. In effect, their plan was to do a half Robin Hood. They would take from the rich and give to themselves.
Alexandria’s elite, especially the women back then did not deposit their money in a bank but rather wore it on their bodies in the form of gold jewellery. Raya and Sakina lured these wealthy women to their home with the promise of the pleasures it had to offer. Little did the women know that death lurked in the shadows of the house. Once they were inside, their fate was sealed. Raya and Sakina would ply the rich women with alcohol and then when were sufficiently inebriated, they would put a wet piece of cloth into their mouths and struggled them.
Between 1919 and 1921, Raya and Sakina did this to at least 17 women whose bodies they then buried around their home. But trouble was afoot. As Raya and Sakina’s body count piled up, the police were flooded by complaints from the worried relatives of the missing women. A rumour went around that the missing women had last been seen in the company of the two sisters. The pair were arrested but at the police station they outsmarted their interrogators and walked free.
Raya and Sakina’s luck was however about to run out.
In effect, their plan was to do a half Robin Hood. They would take from the rich and give to themselves.
At first, the police in Alexandria appeared to have been outsmarted by the two sisters. They strongly suspected Raya and Sakina had something – if not everything – to do with the disappearance of the wealthy women but they had no direct evidence to tie them to the case. As luck would have it, the police were about to catch a break. It came in the form of a blind man.
Sakina had recently moved out of the place she was renting. One of her neighbours there, a man who had lost his vision in both eyes, was trying to install water pipes into his home. As he dug outside his home where the pipes would be laid, he was suddenly overwhelmed by a powerful stench. He reached into the ground and felt about. To his horror, he realised he was touching human remains. Completely by chance, he had found where Raya and Sakina had buried some of the bodies.
As luck would have it, the police were about to catch a break. It came in the form of a blind man.
“Death had passed”
After being arrested, the two sisters accused each other of being the killer. They only began to speak the truth after Badia, Raya’s young daughter, told the police the dark deeds her mother and aunt had been up to in the last few years. She had seen everything through a hole in the wall at their home. The police had a witness but in the end they really didn’t need her to confirm the guilt of the two sisters.
At their trial, Sakina unburdened her soul. Newspaper accounts from the time are full of the gory details contained in her courtroom confession. The newspaper men – they were almost always men – appeared to have been particularly fascinated by the bland expression Sakina used to describe taking a life: “death had passed.”
“I myself have cut the throats of six women,” the murderess told the court.
“My first victim was called Hanem. I leaned over Hanem as if to whisper in her ear. Soon after death had passed,” she said.
“After a throat-cutting or smothering we took off the jewellery and searched for the valuables, which were divided. I had to look sharp to make sure I was not cheated out of my share,” she explained.
The court had enough evidence to find the two sisters guilty and sentence them and their husbands to death on 16th May 1921. Thus Raya and Sakina, the two wicked sisters of Alexandria, became the first Egyptian women to be executed by the modern state of Egypt.
At their trial, Sakina unburdened her soul. Newspaper accounts from the time are full of the gory details contained in her courtroom confession
Source of endless fascination
In Egypt the dark tale of Raya and Sakina is the source of endless fascination. Movies, plays and books have been written about them. Almost a century later, their dark deeds have still not retreated from memory in Egypt. They are still the most infamous set of female killers the country has ever produced.
Fearful of the hold the names of the two sisters still have in the popular imagination, mothers in Egypt have all but stopped giving the names Raya and Sakina to their daughters.
But wait…….there is more
From beyond the grave, Raya and Sakina appear to be partly responsible for the death of at least one more person. Badia, Raya’s daughter who testified against the two sisters in court, was killed when the hostel she was living in was set alight. Many say the fire was started by the relative of one the victims killed by Raya and Sakina.
Badia arguably died a more horrific death than any of the people killed by her mother and aunt. Ultimately, in more ways than one, her death too was on Egypt’s wicked sisters.