A the local task force and the FBI are working feverishly to create a profile of a serial killer. Evidence suggests he is not a stalker but an opportunistic, organized killer who abducts women from vulnerable locations, such as bus stops and parking lots.
Homicide detectives believe he is white, 30-40 years old, drives a van and has no criminal record. He has already killed four women and is likely to strike again. Police warn women to avoid public transport.
It’s not a Hollywood movie or a mini-series on Netflix. This is Hawai’i, home of white-sand beaches, laid-back surf vibes, and romantic sunsets. But in 1984 it also housed The Honolulu Strangler.
PBS Hawaiʻi CEO Ron Mizutani recently sat down with Robbie Dingeman, award-winning journalist and editor of HONOLULU magazine, to discuss the details of the first serial killer reported in Hawaiʻi. Former KHON2 colleagues Mizutani and Dingeman reconnected on the PBS Hawai’i podcast, What school did you go to? Launched in August 2021, the podcast features all things Hawai’i, including local culture, food, nostalgia and crime.
Their conversation takes listeners back to May 29, 1984, when 25-year-old Vicki Purdy disappeared after a night out with friends. Police found her body near Ke’ehi Lagoon with her hands tied behind her back. She had been strangled.
The case remained cold until January 14, 1986, when Regina Sakamoto, a 17-year-old student at Leilehua High School, disappeared. She was last seen waiting at a bus stop in Waipahu. A day later, police found Sakamoto’s body less than a mile from where they had found Purdy’s, his hands also tied behind his back. She too was strangled.
SEE ALSO: Hear local success stories about PBS Hawai’i’s new program, ‘Home Is Here’
Two weeks later, on January 30, 1986, three men found the body of 21-year-old Denise Hughes in a drain in the same area. Hughes was last seen at a bus stop and found strangled with her hands tied behind her back.
The killer struck again, seven weeks later; police found the body of Louise Medeiros, 24, in an underpass near Waikele Stream. Medeiros had the same injuries as the other women; she was three months pregnant.
Then, on April 29, 1986, a woman reported her 36-year-old roommate, Linda Pesce, missing. Police found his car on Nimitz Highway, but there were no leads until May 3, when investigators received a call from Howard Andrew Gay, 43, who claimed a psychic had told him the location of Pesce’s body.
Gay took police to Sand Island but noticeably avoided an area. Police eventually discovered Pesce’s body with injuries similar to those of the other victims and arrested Gay on May 9. At various times, police said the victims were bound with duct tape or zip ties. Gay worked in an air cargo operation where he had daily access to these materials. Although he monitored Gay for years and offered $25,000 for information, police were never able to directly link him to the murders. Gay died in 2003 in California at the age of 60, never charged with the murders of Vicki Purdy, Regina Sakamoto, Denise Hughes, Louise Medeiros or Linda Pesce.
Learn more about the case in the next episode of What school did you go to? which will be released at 5 a.m. August 17 online at pbshawaii.org and wherever you get your podcasts. What school did you go to? is hosted weekly by Mizutani and explores the traditions and stories that make up modern Hawaiian culture.
Each month, HONOLULU publishes a blog written by the folks at PBS Hawai’i, the only national television station in Hawaii.ʻi which receives support primarily through donations. Visit pbshawai.org to learn more about exceptional locally produced shows and the largest provider of educational and national programming. Explore music and the arts. Discover in-depth documentaries. Find out what makes Hawaiiʻi so special. Open your mind to the cultures of our peoples near and far. Expand your knowledge of community issues. Share your voice. Follow PBS Hawai’i on all platforms: @pbshawaii