Lisa Au has her whole life ahead of her.
As a 19-year-old hairdresser at Susan Beers Salon in Kailua, a small town on the leeward side of Hawaii’s Oahu Island, Au “has always been a happy girl with big dreams” who strives to do her best. myself to help people.
Roy Chang, the lawyer for the Au family, told The Daily Beast: “Lisa is a beautiful girl and a very pleasant person. “I have never heard anything negative about it. She seems to be a very nice girl and has a bright future. “
But the young girl’s bright future fell apart on January 20, 1982, after she finished work around 9 p.m. and went to meet her boyfriend at his sister’s apartment in Makiki a half way away. hour. The police report says she came home shortly after dinner amid a particularly heavy rainstorm.
That was the last time Au was seen alive.
The Honolulu Police Department told The Daily Beast they first received word of the teenager missing the next morning, when Au did not return home or respond to his family. Police say Au’s parents called her boyfriend, who was out looking for her — and instead found her 1976 Toyota parked on the side of the Maunawili highway and flooded with at least 2 inches of water. .
The astonishing find prompted a 10-day search and immediately caused fear in the Honolulu community. Thousands of flyers were distributed across the island and hundreds of volunteers searched for the teenager.
Finally, on January 31, 1982, police said Au’s nude body was found in a ravine off Tantalus Drive, about three miles from the apartment where she was last seen. This discovery turned the case of a frenzied missing person into a murder — which four decades later remains unsolved. While authorities have never officially identified or charged an individual in Au’s murder, the case has been marred by false accusations that a police officer may have been involved and a civil lawsuit filed by the teenager’s family for the department’s inaction.
Even more heartbreaking is the fact that Au’s parents, Patrice and Chester Au, will never know what happened to their eldest daughter. Chang, who was hired by the family to help “find answers and hold the police accountable”, said the couple were never the same after their daughter’s death and never “felt peace of mind”. before they die.
“Unfortunately, there are no closings,” Chang said. “They were looking for some answers and they were never answered. It’s sad to know that they’ll never know what happened to their daughter, even after they’ve struggled so hard to find answers. “
But despite past mistakes and unanswered questions, the Honolulu Police Department insists the case “is still considered an open investigation because there is no statute of limitations for murder.”
The Au family did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
Questions about what happened to Au began nearly hours after she left her boyfriend’s apartment that rainy January night.
Based on police report obtained first by Hawaii News Now, Au’s parents and roommate called the teenager’s boyfriend, Doug Holmes, on January 21, 1982 after receiving no word from their daughter. Holmes, a University of Hawaii student, immediately started looking for his girlfriend and made her last steps again.
“[Holmes] told the police that he said good night to Au in her car and didn’t actually see her drive away”, in February 1982 Honolulu Star-Bulletin The article reported, noting that it was “a stormy night and Au had called her roommate to say she was on her way home” but failed to make it. “Holmes went out to find Au out of fear that she might have a traffic accident.”
During the search, Holmes found his girlfriend’s car — and immediately called the authorities. The police report notes that Holmes indicated that there was “about two or three inches of water” on the floor of Au’s car and that the driver’s seat was completely “soaked.” But the teenager’s wallet, which contained her wallet and keys but no provisional license, was completely dry in the driver’s passenger seat. (Holmes, who now lives in Australia, did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.)
“It was one of the first signs that something bad might have happened here,” Chang said. “If she had a car accident and was with someone, why did she leave her wallet? And why is her wallet dry but everything else wet from the rain that night? “
The oddity of Au’s disappearance quickly spread throughout Honolulu, and a series of volunteers came to assist in the search for the missing teenager. An article dated January 30, 1982 in Honolulu Advertisers reported that 150,000 leaflets were distributed by seven Oahu high school students on Au’s behalf.
The desperate search ended on the afternoon of January 31, when one Man jogging on Mount Tantalus with his dog made a horrifying discovery: Au’s body. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported at the time Au, who was naked, was found about “40 feet down an embankment” and witnesses at the scene claimed she was “lying face down in the tall grass as if it had fallen from the side” Street.”
Due to the severe state of decomposition, it would ultimately take the Honolulu medical examiner’s office several days to identify Au, noting to local stores at the time that it was “impossible to fingerprint the body” and in the end they have to use their teeth. File. Local reports also say that Au’s high school ring, engraved with her initials and worn on her hand when she was discovered, was the key to identification.
Medical Examiner’s Office Can never conclude Au’s cause of death, partly due to the lack of forensic evidence at the time and the state of the body when it was found. The Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
However, this grisly discovery immediately turned the case of a frenzied missing person into a murder investigation – and started rumors in Hawaii about who might be Au’s killer.
One theory is that Au’s boyfriend had something to do with her death. In an interview with the police, Hawaii News Now Reportedly, Holmes even admitted he knew he was a suspect in the case – and had failed two polygraph tests. When asked why he kept failing his tests, Holmes told police he felt guilty about Au’s death because he let her drive alone that night, despite the timing. very harsh weather.
Authorities later believed Holmes’s explanation, noting that he had no motive to kill Au. While Holmes did not respond to a request for comment, he and his family did say Hawaii News Now in 2019 that “Lisa and her memory deserve justice”
Bert Corniel was a lieutenant assigned to the Honolulu Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Team when Au’s case was transferred to his team. In an interview with Hawaii News Now, Corniel said one theory put forward by police is the idea that an officer – or someone posing as an officer – may have been involved in the crime. A witness, according to a police report and local stores at that timesays that the night Au disappeared, she saw a car with blue lights grilling behind her car.
A February 1982 article in Honolulu Star-Bulletin noted that the accusation caused such a big panic in the community that the department was forced to ban hidden green lights on police cars — opting instead for “big green lights — dome-style or bar-style — on roofs.” police car” to identify us. The article notes that after Au was murdered, they received “a series of reports from women claiming they were stopped by men posing as police by flashing hidden green lights.” behind their car oven”.
However, Corniel noted that mass panic about police officers may have prompted the department to continue investigating one of its officers, and even convene a grand jury based on their evidence. . But prosecutors were unable to secure an indictment because of a lack of evidence.
“They reached their conclusions early,” said Corniel Hawaii News Now. (Corniel did not respond to a request for comment.)
That officer eventually filed a $20 million lawsuit against a television station, a former Honolulu police chief, and a detective for misidentifying him as a suspect. James Leavitt, who represented the officer in his 1984 lawsuit, told The Daily Beast that the case has not reached a legal conclusion.
“Our basis for the lawsuit is an invasion of privacy,” Leavitt added. “But it doesn’t go very far. I think we finally came to our senses and realized that it was going to be a huge battle. “
Around that time, Chang said he was raised by Au’s parents after they made it clear they needed help “determining who the killer was”.
“They want answers and want to know the legal avenues they can take to get some,” Chang said.
Among those settlements was a civil lawsuit against the police department, which argued that two officers were driving past Au the night she went missing and had taken no action against her driving officers. her and do nothing. “For us, police officers are supposed to assist motorists,” Chang said. “Don’t drive and skip it.”
Ultimately, however, the civil suit ended in a dead end in the Hawaiian Supreme Court, siding with the Honolulu Police Department’s argument that an officer’s duty is not to stop and bail unless there is any indication that a citizen is in distress.
“The end of our civil case was another shot in the guts of Lisa’s parents,” Chang said. “They lost their daughter, the prosecution was unable to bring an indictment, and then the Hawaii Supreme Court said we had no claim.”
Chang says that after that last bereavement, his services to the Au family are no longer needed – but he’s still following up on a case he says may have been solved years ago.
“It is not shocking that this case has never been solved. All the key witnesses are now gone, so this is even more difficult,” he added. “We tried every avenue in our case and it didn’t work out. I just hope the police are still doing all they can so that the Lisa family can finally get justice.”