The Honolulu Strangler: “Breaking Homicide” Tracks A Serial Killer In Hawaii

HONOLULU, HI — On May 30th, 1985, 25-year-old Vicki Purdy’s body was found at the edge of Waikele Lagoon in Honolulu. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled, and her hands were tied behind her back.

Though police did not know it at the time, Purdy would become the first known victim of a serial killer the press nicknamed “The Honolulu Strangler.”

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Four more women would be murdered between May 1985 and April of 1986. All of the victims were between 17 and 36 years old. All were left nude or partially nude, had been sexually assaulted — and were bound.

Omar Sakamoto [Investigation Discovery]

The murders terrorized the islands’ residents, and, to this day. the killer has never been caught.

The Honolulu Strangler case is the subject of an episode of Investigation Discovery’s Breaking Homicide. In the episode, former police detective Derrick Levasseur and forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie meet with Omar Sakamoto, the brother of the Strangler’s second victim, 17-year-old Regina Sakomoto. Regina was last seen sitting at a bus stop in Waipahu in January 1986.

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Investigators found her body floating off of Keehi Lagoon, and later confirmed that her murder fit the patterns of the other killings.

Omar, who was in fifth grade when his older sister was murdered, said that his life has never been the same. “She was fun-loving, Everybody looked up to her,” Omar said.

The five victims of the serial killer known as "The Honolulu Strangler" [Investigation Discovery]

The five victims of the serial killer known as “The Honolulu Strangler” [Investigation Discovery]

After the body of the third victim, a 21-year-old secretary named Denise Hughes, was found in January 1986, police assembled a serial killer task force.

The fourth victim, Louise Medeiros, vanished after a red-eye flight to Oahu on March 26. She had told her family that she planned to get a bus from the airport. Her body was found by road workers on April 2 near a stream.

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The fifth and last known victim of the Honolulu Strangler was 36-year-old Linda Pesce. Her roommate reported her missing after she failed to come home on April 29, 1986.

Regina Sakamoto [Investigation Discovery]

Derrick and Kris talk to Louis Souza, a former homicide detective with the Honolulu Police who led the task force. Souza revealed that all five victims were bound with the same type of parachute cord.

He also said that, due to the fact that the women did not have extensive injuries on their bodies, he believed that the killer was a “smooth talker” who was able to entice the women to get into his van without much of a struggle.

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Souza told Derrick and Kris that the police did have a prime suspect: After the final victim was killed, an informant called police in 1986 and told them that a victim was buried in Sand Island. The informant, Howard Gay, worked as a mechanic at one of the air freight companies along Lagoon Drive.

Gay was a middle-aged Caucasian male who, in some ways, fit the task force’s profile. They described a Caucasian male in his thirties to forties with no criminal record. The profiler also suspected the killer targeted women near where he lived or worked. After police found Pesce’s naked body on Sand Island, they arrested Gay.

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According to later reports, the suspect’s ex-wife and girlfriend said that his sexual tastes included a preference for bondage, and that he tied their hands behind their backs during sexual encounters.

Souza said that Gay was interrogated, but that a lie-detector test he took was inconclusive, and prosecutors felt that police did not have enough evidence to proceed.

Howard Gay [Investigation Discovery]

Derrick and Kris also look into other suspects, including a Honololu policeman.

They also examine cases prior to 1985 to see if they could link the Strangler to any other unsolved cases — including Lisa Au, a 19-year-old who was murdered in 1982.

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Kris and Derrick appear to get a major break after reviewing the autopsies with a forensic pathologist, who said that the results could indicate that the killer had a vasectomy.

Former prosecuting attorney Peter Carlisle also delivers his opinion on the case. He explained why the limitations of DNA technology meant that, in his opinion, the man who he believed was the killer could not be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt with the technology available at the time.

In the end, Kris and Derrick deliver their results to Omar and, for the first time, the suspect is publicly named.

Watch “The Honolulu Strangler” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Breaking Homicide on ID GO now!

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Main photo: The locations where the five victims of the Honolulu Strangler were found [Investigation Discovery]



  • Cheryl

    We belive he is back. We believe he murdered the 19 year old Special Needs girl that was found in rhe fresh water park in Wahiawa. We believe the Investigation was to fast and hurried. The young man that was charged was also Special Needs never got into trouble and there are at the very least 20 neigbors and friends plus relatives that can testfiy he was home or with friends every day and every night every week. The family found out the Detectives pressured him and scared into confessing. He is 21 but not able to comprehend not able to read well and write well. He never goes anywhere alone. They violated him and arrested and charged the wrong person. We believe the Detectives took advantage of him because they new he had several diabilities his willingness to cooperate doing what they asked and being very respectful. The serial killer get off again . People, he’s back, and one of us women might next . Linda, the last victim was my friend. And shame on you Detectives for railroading and pressuring and scarring a confession out of a Special Needs person . Find the right killer. Find theHonolulu Strangler . Rest in Peace all you beautiful women.

  • Linda Rivers

    If there’s sperm and body fluid on a slide from the original investigation, why can’t they do DNA testing on that now and check it against one of Howard Gay’s kids to see if it’s a partial match? That could at least close the files, couldn’t it?