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Honolulu Star-Bulletin from Honolulu, Hawaii • Page 6
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Honolulu Star-Bulletin from Honolulu, Hawaii • Page 6

Honolulu, Hawaii
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A 6 Monday, October 7. 1991 Star-tfullctm Many believe it is not too late to bring the case to a conclusion. SPECIAL REPORT Stories by Charles Memminger L3L McGuoan Mil 1 r' 5 I jt- I j' I By Craig I. Kolmo, Star-Bulletin Patrice Au, for the first time since her daughter's death, recently visited the Tantalus site where Lisa's body was found. Dispute moited invfigofiora any touched by Lisa Au mystery want fresh look The years may have given all involved in the case a new perspective, "I nONOLULU police say the Lisa Au case is open, but Au's par- 1 ents and others connected to the case would like to see a new look taken at what has become one of the state's biggest mysteries.

"I want justice," said Patrice Au, Lisa's mother. "If (the original investigation) got messed up, it got messed up. I'm not going to worry about the politics now." Au said that if she could speak directly to city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, she would say: "Think of the girl's life. It could have been your own child." "It would be wonderful to have a whole new team go in there, even (if) it was just to reread the reports objectively," Au said. "Stop thinking about the political thing.

Stop thinking about the tersonal things. Stop thinking about awsuits. Think about getting a murderer. Think about the child who was killed." The Aus' feelings were echoed by a number of other people initially associated with the case, including the attorney for Thomas Byrne, whom police considered the key suspect. Attorney John Yamane said he has not seen his client for years.

The Star-Bulletin also was unable to reach him. Yamane still believes that his client is innocent and thinks a new look at the Au case would clear Byrne. "Tommy basically got a raw Yamane said. "They focused on hinv and because they went that way, the real killer went free." Yamane said he believed the evidence was stronger against a second suspect. "The evidence was there.

I've seen them indict on less," he said. "Someone needs to reopen the case and take a hard look at what they've got," Yamane said. "Let the chips fall where they may if only for the family. My guy went through hell, but the family went through worse." f' Former Deputy Prosecutor Michael' McGuigan, who presented the Au case to the investigative grand jury, also! believes the case should be reviewed. Now in private practice, McGuigan said that just because the grand jury could not reach a decision does not mean the investigation should have stopped.

"My recommendation would be for all i cases of this type to be reviewed periodi- cally, whether it be every five years or whether there's a new development in technology that would have a bearing on the case," McGuigan said. "Lisa Au seemed to be the first (case) in my mind that shook the community." Attorney Roy Chang, who repre-v sented the Aus, would like to see the reactivated. But he doesn't want personality battles to erupt as they did during the first inves-; tigation. "I'd like to see some resolution of the," matter for the sake of the family," he said. The Aus lost their suit, which charged the police were negligent for failing to help Au when her car apparently stalled on the Pali Highway.

The Aus say they have no further interest in lawsuits. "Even if we could (sue again), we wouldn't," said Chester Au, Lisa's father. "I couldn't go through that again. It was bad enough to contend with our daughter being murdered and then to have to contend with political opposition. They just came flat out and told us they were going to put it on the back burner." "Time has healed the hurt to us by the authorities," Patrice Au said.

"I'd love to see the case reopened," Chang said. "I'd love to see someone else take a look at it now that time has passed." Bert Corneil, the private detective Chang hired to reinvestigate the case in 1983, admits his findings caused some disputes between police, prosecutors and the family. But those differences should be put aside now and the case looked at anew, he said. "I think they should reassess the investigation in its entirety, both what was done in the private sector and with the police," Corneil said. "If they start from square one, they can determine who was responsible." Police keep mum on investigation Officially the hunt for a killer remains open The Police Department and city prosecutor's office are remaining silent about whether pleas from Lisa Au's parents will result in any new investigation of her death.

Technically, because no charges have been lodged, the case remains open. As such, officials will not specifically comment on the investigation. "The Lisa Au case was never closed, and therefore it would be inappropriate to publicly speculate on evidence that may be used in a criminal trial," said Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. "Everything that can be done is being done," said police Maj. Boisse Correa, on behalf of Police Chief Michael Nakamu-ra.

"When we have new leads, we will follow new leads." Correa said open cases are routinely reviewed, but he would not say what has been done since 1984 in the Au case. prosecutor .7 Charles Odom 1, City medical examiner who conducted the first autopsy of Au's Oetermmoiho ThePTrTf' of death. tnr WDf "neni Drought in a Doughs Gibb As police ch'eUt fern oeaui, i' together I conflicting LJ-J-----re'S now neau Bert Corneil A former police detective who was temporal head of the homicide detail at time of Au's death. After becoming a private detective, he was selected by the Aus' attorney to re-investigate the case. He poked holes in the government's case and dug up evidence implicating a second suspect in the killing.

MelSOn Llim heheadedthe 5 nation and en NoW ne is a Key pWcrs What happened Jan. 21 1 982: Lisa Au leaves work at a Kailua beauty shop at 9 p.m. and drives to the Makiki apartment of her boyfriend's sister. Jan. 22, 1982: Au is last seen alive at 12:30 a.m.

after saying good night to boyfriend Doug Holmes and driving toward Kailua. Her car is found later that morning abandoned on Pali Highway near Kailua Drive-In. Jan. 31, 1982: A man walking his dog discovers Au's nude, decomposed body on a Tantalus hillside. Feb.

5, 1982: A Kailua supermarket cashier identifies police officer Thomas Byrne as the person who pulled her over on the Pali Highway the night Au disappeared. Byrne is suspended from the force the same day. Feb. 9, 1 982: Police dogs trained primarily to find bombs or drugs are used to search Byrne's car for scent of Lisa Au. Dogs "alert" to Byrne's trunk.

Aug. 1 982: An investigative grand jury begins hearing evidence in the case. May 3, 1983: Former police detective Bert Corneil is hired by the Au family's attorney to re-investigate the case. June 1 6, 1983: The body is exhumed and re-autopsied. The cause of death remains undetermined.

Aug. 6, 1983: Newspaper delivery woman Charlotte Kamaka identifies a second suspect as having been on Tantalus on the night Au disappeared. Aug. 7, 1 983: Police chief Douglas Gibb calls a meeting of key people involved in case, including detectives and prosecutors, to hear evidence against the second suspect. Jan.

6, 1984: Corneil testifies before the grand jury. Jan. 27, 1 984: Thomas Byrne files a $20 million lawsuit against KHON-TV and police for identifying him as a suspect in the Au case. March 1984: The investigative grand jury disbands. No indicting grand jury is convened.

May 1 985: Byrne's suit against KHON is dismissed. i. i Z'T" 0 Mile 1M Hawaiian Tel. Co.Rd. I laniaiua Dr.

By Bryant Fukutoml, Star-Bulletin Thousands of fliers were distributed seeking any information about Au's disappearance. Newspapers were filled with stories of women who said men in mysterious police-type cars attempted to pull them over. Soldiers and other volunteers combed the island, mainly the Windward side, looking for Au. Psychics came forward to venture guesses as to where the body would be found. None were correct.

POLICE PROBLEMS The police, meanwhile, had their own problems. Several officers remembered seeing Au's car on the side of the road, and some even remembered seeing a man and woman by the car. But none could identify a possible suspect. Initial clues seemed to point suspicion at either a police officer or someone posing as one. Holmes had told police that when he found the car, the driver's window was partially down.

Au's purse and wallet still were inside the car, which was soaked from rain, but her temporary driver's license was missing. The investigation focused on Byrne, whose car and house were searched. Two police dogs, primarily trained to find drugs and bombs, were used to see if they could detect Au's scent in Byrne's car. Out of a parking lot full of police cars, the dogs "alerted" to Byrne's. But officials later said they could not be sure about what the dogs were alerting to.

The police went to extraordinary lengths to get some sort of identification of the person seen near Au's car that night. Officer Michael Rehf eldt was hypnotized to try to improve his memory. A report of Rehfeldt's interview by Detective Jimon You makes it clear how much pressure the department felt to solve the crime. "I really didn't want it to be Tommy Byrne," Rehfeldt said. "I was really, really hoping it was not a policeman.

Because I just saw all of the ramifications of this The public is not going to trust us. But I have yet to place (Byrne) behind the wheel of that car. And I know that if I did, that's going to nail it shut. And I'm not going to say I saw it if I don't remember seeing it to nail it shut for them." In the meantime, the police also received evidence implicating a second suspect. That suspect, never publicly identified, failed two lie detector tests administered by the police polygrapher.

Lum also knew that a Hawaii Newspaper Agency delivery woman named Charlotte Kamaka said she had seen some i I Ik sZ I Tantalus Round Smith 1 I "wilder Kr )' 4 suspicious activities on Tantalus the night Au disappeared. While delivering papers about 2:30 a.m., she came face to face with the second suspect in his car, just a few yards from where Au's body eventually would be found. By May 1983, there still had been no arrests. Chester and Pat Au hired attorney Roy Chang to sue the city for negligence. He hired private investigator Bert Corneil, who had more than passing familiarity with the case.

As a police lieutenant in the Criminal Investigation Division, Corneil was temporarily in charge of the homicide detail when Au's body was found. He was briefed on the investigation by Lum at the time. A year later, it was Corneil, as a private eye, who challenged Lum's basic assumptions. Corneil was given unusual access to police files by then-Chief Douglas Gibb. But he also unearthed new evidence that implicated the second suspect.

A major problem with the investigation was that, because Au's body was decomposed, City Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Odom couldn't say how she died. On June 16, 1983, police had the body exhumed from the Valley of the Temples and reautopsied by Dr. Ronald Korblum, chief of forensic-medicine for Los Angeles. Korblum went only a little further than Odom and ruled that the death had not been by natural causes.

Among those attending the second autopsy at the Iwilei morgue were Odom, Lum, Corneil, then-City Prosecutor Charles Marsland and Deputy City Prosecutor Michael McGuigan, Marsland's top murder case attorney. A SECOND SUSPECT On Saturday, Aug. 6, 1983 Corneil interviewed Charlotte Kamaka. She identified the second suspect in a photo lineup. Corneil passed the information on to Gibb, who called an unusual meeting at his office the next day.

At the meeting were Corneil, Lum, Gibb, Marsland, McGuigan, Lt. Merv Lyons, homicide detail head, and other detectives. Corneil presented his evidence against the second suspect, and for the first time, Gibb and prosecutors realized that the case against Byrne had serious problems. The tone of the meeting was acrimonious when prosecutors learned for the first time of the taped statement Kamaka had given Lum. Such a statement surely would come back to haunt them had they indicted Byrne.

"It was frustrating at the time," McGuigan said. "At that point, the investigation was thought to be rather complete, and there weren't new areas we felt we could go explore." Lum continued to discount evidence against the second suspect. "I am aware the woman who works for the newspaper that delivers papers in the Tantalus area as being a witness against the (second suspect)," Lum said in a sworn statement in the state court Au lawsuit. "As far her credibility, I can say that there were three, maybe four, different statements that she has given which have changed from the first statement down on the line to the point where she has identified the (second suspect) as the person seen in the car with Lisa Au on the night she disappeared." "I have no facts or witnesses to say he did it or did not do it," Lum said in the deposition. The government typically takes its best and strongest evidence to a grand jury.

But in the Au case, Kamaka and Corneil were allowed to testify and present evidence that contradicted the government's theory. The result was that the grand jury had evidence against two distinct suspects, could reach no position on what should happen next, and disbanded in 1984. Since then, nothing has happened publicly in the case. Lisa Au's parents believe the system failed their daughter. "Everyone kept saying, we are all working for the same things, but there were all these battles," said Lisa Au's mother, Patrice.

"The bottom line is that we just want her to be at rest In our minds and our hearts, she is not at rest." Police and a private investigator differed on the probe's direction Jan. 21, 1982, the island was being pounded by a winter rainstorm that caused flooding, landslides and possibly led to the death of Lisa Au. But that storm was nothing compared to the one that would swirl around the case of the 19-year-old beauty-college graduate who was murdered. At first, the police and public rallied to search for Au, whose car was found abandoned on the Pali Highway near the Kailua Drive-In. After her body was discovered, nude and decomposing at the top of Tantalus 10 days later, the police marshaled its homicide detail to work on the case.

But in the months that followed, the case became splintered, as the lead police detective led it in one direction while a private investigator produced evidence leading in another. The Star-Bulletin pieced together what happened in the Au investigation based on interviews with many of the people involved and by reviewing police and court records. The picture that emerged explains why an investigative grand jury became stymied and why no one has yet been brought to justice in one of the state's most sensational murders. Just days after Au's body was discovered by a man walking his dog on Tantalus, police Detective Nelson Lum already believed he may have found the murderer. The suspect was Thomas Byrne, a veteran police officer identified by a Kailua supermarket checkout woman as the person who had pulled her over on the Pali Highway the same night Au disappeared.

Byrne later admitted he had pulled the woman over to warn her about her erratic driving. But he denied stopping Au that night, denied killing her and was never charged in the case. FATEFUL NIGHT About 9 the same night she disappeared, Au had left work at Susan Beers Salon in Kailua, where she had worked for five weeks. She had just completed eight months of training at Trendsetters Beauty College in Honolulu and was excited about her new career. Au, who had just received her temporary driver's license, picked up some sashimi and poke at Emjays in Kailua before setting off across the Pali to meet her boyfriend, Doug Holmes, at his sister Kristen's Mott-Smith Drive apartment.

Au insisted on going, despite the pouring rain and against her mother's wishes. "Oh, Lisa, this isn't the night to go to a party," her mother, Patrice, told her in a phone call. "I'll be fine," Lisa said. About 12:30 a.m. Jan.

22, 1982, Candy Maynes, Lisa's new roommate, received a call from Lisa, who said she was about to leave the Makiki apartment and drive home. When Lisa did not arrive several hours later, Maynes called police and reported her missing. Several police officers would later recall seeing Au's car parked on the side of the road through the early morning hours. But because of the storm, no one could say exactly when the car was abandoned. None of the officers stopped to see if anyone needed assistance.

In fact, there were several stalled cars along the roadway because of the storm. Years later, the police would be cleared of charges of negligence lodged by Lisa's parents in a lawsuit. Holmes told police he last saw Lisa at the apartment after they got into separate cars and left sometime after 12:30 a.m. An engineering student who had met Au while working at a Kailua restaurant, Holmes said he returned to his University of Hawaii dormitory room after leaving Makiki. Notified later that morning that Lisa had not arrived home, Holmes drove over the Pali and discovered her car on the side of the road..

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