By Anthony Sommer
Chapter 8 : The Serial Kiler
In the spring and summer of 2000 on Kauai’s west side, three white women were stabbed and sexually assaulted. Two died. The third was left for dead and so severely injured that it took her three hours to crawl to a telephone only a few yards away and call for help.
It was the first time in recorded history that Kauai had a serial killer on the island.
KPD detectives quickly identified a prime suspect but insisted they could never gather enough evidence to arrest or charge him.
The suspect’s brother was a veteran KPD officer. Property crime and assaults are common but murder is very rare on Kauai. Until the series of killings of women on the west side, there had not been a homicide on Kauai for almost three years.
No detectives on the KPD are designated or trained to investigate murder.
The fact is, in every area of police work, the KPD lacks sophistication in both training and experience.
The KPD runs its own police academy. Many states have a central police academy, usually run by the state police, to provide uniform training to officers from rural departments, but not Hawaii. The popular television series “Hawaii Five-0” is about a state police force that never existed.
The Honolulu Police Department has offered to train “neighbor island” police officers for a set price but Kauai has chosen to remain the “Separate Kingdom” in its police department as in all things governmental.
The primary purpose of the KPD Police Academy is to train new officers in the cultural and political aspects of police work on Kauai, not in law enforcement skills.
The instructors at the KPD Police Academy all are KPD officers. “The blind leading the blind” is an apt description: Poorly trained, unskilled officers teaching raw recruits. The KPD does send its officers to off-island training courses but there is no guarantee they will attend the classes.
For example, a group of officers recently sent to Maui to be trained in narcotics investigation didn’t show up for a single class. They treated the trip as a taxpayer-funded vacation and drinking binge.
So when a major crime occurs on Kauai and there are no obvious suspects, the handling of the cases by the KPD is somewhat less than the stuff of great detective fiction. If a suspect is a friend or a relative of any KPD officer, the investigation becomes even more like the farcical plot of an Inspector Clouseau movie.
The West Side of Kauai is the most traditional area of the island. It is on the leeward, or kona in Hawaiian, side. Mount Waialeale, termed the spot with the most rainfall on the planet, blocks the trade winds carrying in moisture from the sea to the northeast.
The West side is dry, dusty (red dust from the volcanic soil) and in the summer very hot.
One of two remaining sugar plantations (the other is on Maui) in Hawaii grips the west side of Kauai firmly in the past.
Life is simple. Communities are strong. Native Hawaiians gather salt from an ancient lava field near the surf line. Even the students at Waimea High School are polite to their elders.
On April 7, 2000, the battered body of Lisa Bissell, 38, was found in a roadside ditch near Polihale State Park on Kauai’s west side. Polihale is one of Hawaii’s most spectacular beaches connected to the rest of Kauai by a web of haul cane roads winding through old sugar cane fields.
Bissell technically lived in Hanapepe where she had a post office box but she was considered a harmless and homeless street person frequently seen in many different towns on the West Shore.
Some of Bissell’s belongings were found in a street in Waimea, indicating she had been abducted there. She was raped, beaten, stabbed. Police said the cause of her death was that her throat had been cut.
Police found an abandoned, bloodstained car. Their theory was Lisa Bissell was killed in one location and her body dumped at Polihale.
On May 22, 2000, a 52-year-old haole woman was beaten and stabbed in the yard of a remote Kekaha beach home where she was house-sitting.
The woman never has been identified in the media, although she was well known on Kauai.
Late one night, a year and a half after she was attacked, she called a newspaper reporter at home and gave the only interview she ever has given. A mutual friend convinced her the reporter was trustworthy.
The woman said she was working in the yard of a home she was maintaining for an absentee owner. The house was isolated and right on the beach on the west end of Kekaha. She said a man walked up to her and said, “My name is John and I’m homeless.”
She suggested he go to a house down the beach where the owners often let transients camp on their property. She turned and went back to work. The man picked her up from behind and took her behind the house where he beat her, breaking one of her arms.
She said he pulled out a knife and stabbed her in the chest but the blade hit her sternum and was bent. The man cursed and threw the knife into some bushes.
She said she believes the only reason her throat was not cut like the two victims who died was that the knife was bent and discarded.
Afterward, she went to the mainland and lived with her family while she recovered.
Months later, KPD flew her to Oahu—not Kauai—where she was shown a lineup. She was able to eliminate two of the men in the lineup but her retinas were detached when she
was beaten and her eyesight never was fully restored. She was not able to pick a suspect from the remaining men. The third victim was found on Aug. 30, 2000, at her camp site near Pakala Point Beach, a popular surfing spot. She was identified as Daren Singer, 43, of Paia, Maui. Paia is a hippie community, much given to alternative lifestyles.
Like the others, she had been sexually assaulted and stabbed. Police said her face was beaten beyond recognition and her throat had been cut.
In each of the three investigations, the first patrol officers on the scene thoroughly contaminated the crime scene by tramping all over any tracks and touching physical evidence.
One of the first things taught in most police academies is that the primary duty of a uniformed officer arriving at a crime scene is to secure the area and protect the evidence so the police technicians will be dealing with an uncontaminated crime scene.
That class apparently is not taught at the KPD Police Academy.
A forensic team flown over from the Honolulu Police Department had almost nothing to work with. DNA evidence, at best, proved “inconclusive.”
The KPD had a contract with a mainland lab to conduct DNA testing of evidence. But they went with a lowest bidder that was taking several months to provide results.
It isn’t as though the KPD detectives didn’t care. If anything, they cared too much. The problem was lack of skills and training and resources.
“One of my biggest concerns when I took this job was the possibility of a serial criminal, a murderer, or a rapist and whether we were equipped to deal with that,” said KPD Chief of detectives Lt. Bill Ching, a second-generation Kauai police officer.
“I’ve seen the resources and manpower serial crimes require and the record-keeping alone is a gigantic task.” Ching’s newspaper interview was in itself remarkable. KPD officers in general are not open with the press. Not just because they’re cops but also because they’re local, and locals don’t often share their feelings with haole reporters.
The disappointment of West Side residents in their police department had become both obvious and acute. West Side women repeatedly came into Ching’s office and yelled at him for not solving the crimes. Others kept calling him and asking when it would be safe to take walks alone again.
Ching, who has lived his entire life on the West Side, said he and his 10 detectives were taking their inability to arrest anyone very personally. The detectives worked themselves to states of near exhaustion, and many couldn’t sleep when they did go home.
“It’s hard to step back when some of the people involved are people you’ve known all your life,” Ching noted. Chief George Freitas attempted to take some of the load off of Ching by forbidding Ching to attend public meetings on the west side with his friends and neighbors. Freitas said he would conduct the meetings.
Ching went to the meetings anyway.
“I told the chief that I didn’t want anyone else to have to answer the questions that I was supposed to answer andI went.
“Those community meetings are hard. I reminded people that this is real life, not a television series and nothing is going to be solved in the next hour.
“I had to exercise a lot of control so I didn’t give anyindication I believed the case was going to be solved in the next day or two, or any indication I believed the case is never going to be solved.
For similar reasons, Ching said he had taken to avoiding friends who are not police officers because they invariably asked him about the investigation.
“It’s really hard because I can’t say anything.” Ching said he was conducting regular debriefings both with his detectives and west side patrolmen that were as much therapy as police business.
“The first thing I do is let them expose their emotions— good feelings, negative feelings—I let them get it all out. Then we debrief the case itself.
“With these cases I keep reminding them we did everything right. We did everything we were supposed to do. But the waiting for a break is stressful.
“I have two young kids, both in elementary school, and I have to make sure I don’t go home and take out my frustrations on them or my wife,
“I was born on the West Side,” Ching said. “My mom had 17 brothers and sisters, so I have a lot of relatives holding me accountable for what we were doing. And I have a lot of detectives from the West Side. It’s very stressful.”
Despite beefed up police patrols and even police horse patrols (with borrowed horses; the KPD doesn’t own any) on the beaches, women on Kauai were thoroughly terrified. KPD and the island’s only gun store were deluged with telephone calls from frightened women wanting to buy pepper spray for self defense.
Pepper spray was the weapon the women wanted most but they couldn’t get it.
Kauai was the only county in Hawaii to require a permit to carry pepper spray and the ordnance covering it was passed by the County Council at the request of KPD to keep it out of the hands of criminals.
No store on the island stocked pepper spray and the police permit required to carry it required a 14-day waiting period for a criminal background check—the same requirement to buy a handgun.
“A lot of husbands and boyfriends are calling for their wives and significant others,” said Emily Fabro, who processed permits for the KPD.
“Personally, I think most women would be better off carrying pepper spray than the short-barrel shotguns they’ve been buying,” said Mike Rosa, co-owner of The Hunting Shop of Kauai.
There is no waiting period on Kauai for purchasing a shotgun. In light of the permit requirement for pepper spray, the logic appears a bit flawed.
Rosa said he didn’t carry pepper spray because of the permit requirement and the fact that it has a very short shelf life.
The only other permitted licensed pepper spray dealers were two Kauai police officers who also were licensed gun dealers and they didn’t stock it either.
It was a federal violation to ship pepper spray on an airline without declaring it, which appears to be exactly what many Kauaians did.
A thriving black market for the spray developed on Kauai and the demand was met by supplies smuggled in from the other counties where no permit was required.
On Kauai’s West Side, where the assaults took place, the three attacks were not something that some women would talk openly about.
“But it’s always behind our heads, especially if we go to the beaches or out of the way places, parks,” said a woman convenience store clerk in Kekaha. “We stay in groups and use the buddy system.”
None of the women ever worked alone without a male co-worker present in the store, which is open evenings, she said.
Billi Smith, the popular and charismatic principal of Kekaha Elementary School on Kauai’s West Side, said the school’s students had many questions and she and her teachers didn’t duck any of them.
Men who lived on the West Side were pondering it, too.
“When I’m working it doesn’t cross my mind,” said a Kauai firefighter.
“But when I go home and sit down and think about it, it really bothers me.
“Somewhere on this small island is someone who is very capable of very violent attacks on women and it’s probably someone many of us see every day.”
In early September, KPD detectives rounded up all 70 registered sex offenders on the island. They said they didn’t find any suspects but, of course, they had.
On Sept. 12, 2000, the KPD announced it had arrested a convicted rapist on a parole violation. The man’s name and mug shot were released through the mayor’s office.
The press release was almost instantly followed by another insisting the parole violator was in no way a suspect in the west side attacks and his only crime was violating the conditions of his parole.
The KPD was so vehement in pointing out that the man was not the serial killer, every editor in the state bought it. Except for one Honolulu television station, which used his name and broadcast his picture, all the “news executives” were frightened by the KPD’s threat of libel suits.
The next day, the KPD, through the mayor’s office criticized the lone television station that identified the arrested man for “irresponsible reporting.”
The television station was correct. It was the KPD that was lying. And the mayor’s office knew it but lying to the press was pretty much standard operating procedure. Next, Inspector Mel Morris, head of the investigations bureau, began dragging a red herring claiming, “KPD has not ruled out the possibility that there may be more than one person responsible.”
He said the man arrested is “unrelated to any of these cases. Any impression that might have been given that these cases are close to being solved is flat-out wrong.”
The arrested man was, of course, KPD’s primary, in fact only, suspect and (off the record, of course) they were certain he was the killer but they couldn’t prove it.
His name was Waldorf “Wally” Wilson, and his name and picture were all over the west side on anonymously printed flyers.
But the Honolulu media executives would not publish his name until two years later—and then only because Wilson filed a lawsuit against KPD, a newspaper and a magazine.
Wilson was convicted in 1983 of a brutal rape on Oahu. He was paroled on Jan. 9, 1999 and in January 2000 moved to Kauai. The attacks began three months later.
Wally Wilson’s brother was a KPD officer, Buddy Wilson, a long-time member of the Vice Squad known for his somewhat less than subtle tactics in investigating narcotics cases.
(Once again the circle that began with the Randy Machado trial looped back. Kelly Lau was a witness for Machado at his trial. Lau indicated quite clearly she was a confidential informant working for Buddy Wilson.)
All the while, KPD insisted Wally Wilson was not a suspect. For the next two years, the KPD engaged in tactics that Wally Wilson later claimed in his lawsuit violated his Constitutional rights.
But he was kept off the streets without ever actually being charged with any crime.
And there were no more attacks.
According to Wally Wilson’s lawsuit, KPD “coerced” him into taking a polygraph test on Sept. 12, 2000 and then “strongly pressured” the Hawaii Parole Authority to revoke Wilson’s parole. The results of the polygraph test were not given in the lawsuit.
A judge ultimately threw out Wilson’s lawsuit but by then KPD’s tactics were pretty obvious, as was its complete inability (or unwillingness) to bring criminal charges against him involving the three attacks.
Initially, Wilson’s parole was rescinded because he had been in contact with a woman on Kauai that his parole conditions specifically directed him to avoid. The revocation lasted until Feb. 28, 2002, when he was set free. On June 15, 2002, Wilson was again sent back to prison for violating his parole by failing a polygraph test.
To this day, KPD never has stated Wilson was a suspect at all in the West Side attacks. Yet every time he was released, his parole was violated on one technicality or another, and he was sent back to prison.
The problem is, Wilson has now “maxed out,” served the full term for his earlier conviction, and is back on the street. Since he no longer is on parole, he can’t be hauled in for parole violations.
The case of the one and only serial killer in Kauai’s history remains unsolved.
c2008 Anthony Sommer