Paradise Lost, Part 3

If you’re new to Mystery Dancer, welcome! The best place to start is at the beginning and go from there…Please note: Below is Part 3 of a three-part post. Need to catch up? Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

AS OF THURSDAY AFTERNOON, SEPTEMBER 20, 1928, following the discovery of 10-year-old Gill Jamieson’s body just blocks from Ursula’s apartment, the search for his kidnappers turned into a manhunt for a murderer.

Some front-page headlines in the September 22, 1928 issue of the “Honolulu Star-Bulletin”

Though several suspects were in custody, none of them panned out and the police were short on clues. They appealed to the public, as well as merchants and service stations, to study every $5 bill that came into their possession and compare its serial number with the list of numbers published in Friday’s paper identifying the 800 $5 bills paid in ransom money.

By Friday, the focus of the search had shifted from Ursula’s Waikiki neighborhood to the downtown district bordering Gill’s Punahou school. That vicinity was where the perpetrator first appeared and where the mysterious “Three Kings” had bought a bouquet of flowers to send to Gill’s funeral. Friday night, National Guardsmen and local schools’ ROTC units patrolled street corners throughout the city “in an effort to apprehend the murderers.”

By Saturday, many members of the Honolulu community—individuals, businesses, and organizations—had pledged or donated a total of nearly $28,000 in reward money for evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of the “kidnappers and murderers of Gill Jamieson.”

Aloha Tower in Honolulu Harbor

On Saturday at 5:47 pm, wherever she was, Ursula (and everyone else in Honolulu) would have heard an ominous series of loud, shrill signals—two long and two short, over and over—blasted across the city by the siren of 184-foot tall Aloha Tower in Honolulu Harbor. According to the Honolulu Star Bulletin (September 24, 1928), this was the signal “to summon the National Guardsmen together for special duty in preventing any disorder or violence in the city.”

The Governor of Hawaii had issued the order to mobilize the National Guard as soon as he received word of a major development in the case: The killer had been captured! Word had spread as the perp was being brought to the station, and a crowd of 10,000 to 20,000 people was gathering in the area.

Though the mob was described as more curious than ill-tempered, officials prepared for violence. Armed with rifles and bayonets, National Guardsmen reported for duty, and a city fire truck was at the ready to spray water if needed to keep the onlookers back. But the throng dispersed in an orderly fashion, and there was only one casualty, according (tongue in cheek) to The Honolulu Advertiser:

“Mrs. James F. Gilliland, at the station waiting for her husband…had a good looking orchid dress soiled when water spurted from an open valve on a fire engine near which she was standing.”

Myles Fukunaga after his confession

This time the police were certain they had the right man: Myles Yutaka Fukunaga. He was the sole perpetrator; there had been no band of “Three Kings.” At 7 pm on Saturday, just 4 days after the brutal crime, city attorney Charles S. Davis stood in front of the police station and announced to the crowd:

“…[T]he guilty person is in custody. He has made a full and complete confession, covering every minute detail of his dastardly deed. He has admitted his sanity—that he knew fully that what he did was wrong. He alone was implicated in this crime…Justice will be swift and speedy.” (The Honolulu Advertiser, September 23, 1928)

Myles Fukunaga was a 19-year-old Nisei—American-born child of Japanese immigrants—described by a former classmate as “nice, quiet, studious, and well liked.” He loved reading and graduated at the top of his 8th-grade class. Receiving no further education, he found work as a hospital clerk and later as a “pantry boy” at the Seaside Hotel. He was a steady worker who quoted “yards” of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The day before he was arrested, Mr. Fukunaga took a taxi to Waialua, a town on the other side of the island, where he had gone to junior high school. (The driver later reported that the car had been stopped three times on the way and searched by police officers, but they had not recognized the passenger as fitting the description of the suspect.) He spent much of the day there, eating lunch at a local restaurant and chatting with the waitress, visiting a store and talking with some boys he knew there, and then stopping by the Oahu railroad station. There, he conversed with the station-master and paid for a ticket back to Honolulu with a $5 bill marked with serial number 78,573,886.

Waialua station-master Robert Adams

The next morning, when the station-master realized this serial number matched one of those listed in the paper, he contacted a cashier at a Waialua bank branch, and a “citizens committee” started a local investigation. Once they positively identified who had bought the ticket, the gig was up. They questioned some of Mr. Fukunaga’s former classmates, obtained photos of him, got his Honolulu address and notified the authorities.

The police went to his family’s home and in his bedroom found a map of the Punahou school campus and another map of the spot at Waikiki where the body was found, along with references to the “Three Kings.” With Mr. Fukunaga’s 12-year-old sister in tow, detectives started searching for him in likely places around the city, visiting two YMCAs, the library and, finally, the vicinity of two movie theaters. There, they spied a young Japanese man matching his description—“slight build, handsome, with clean cut features and sleek pompadour”—leaning against a store window. His sister confirmed the man was indeed her brother, and they nabbed him there.

From the Honolulu Advertiser, September 24, 1928

In the car on the way to the police station, when asked if he’d killed the “Jamieson boy,” Mr. Fukunaga weirdly replied, “I killed the boy. I am a bad, bad boy…I was just on my way home to confess…to my mother.” At the station, he made a full and detailed confession to the authorities. Upon searching his room at the Serene Hotel, where he said he’d been staying for the past week, police found a pair of bloody pants and most of the ransom money.

Inspired by the Leopold and Loeb kidnap/murder case, Mr. Fukunaga said that he had chosen Gill to kidnap because his father was an officer of the Hawaiian Trust Co. The bank had been pressing the Fukunaga family to pay their rent and threatening eviction. For that, he hated the company and wanted revenge. Another motive was money: he wanted to help his family financially and bring his mother happiness by getting enough money for her to travel to Japan. But a darker, underlying objective seemed to surface during the confession.

Mr. Fukunaga said he had planned to confess all along; he had even picked the day and marked it on his calendar. He knew getting caught for murder would likely mean the loss of his own life, as Hawaii authorized capital punishment back then (the state outlawed it in 1957). But it’s possible that is what he wanted; he had a $1,000 life insurance policy that he assumed would pay out to his parents. Earlier that year, he had twice attempted suicide, once by poison and once by hanging. He said he hatched the kidnap/murder scheme after he had failed at killing himself.

Justice was, indeed, swift. Jury selection was completed and the trial began on October 1, 1928. His confession was admitted into evidence, and three doctors—though none of them recognized psychiatric experts—testified to his sanity and fitness for trial. The defense called no witnesses, and the prosecution rested on October 4. The jury deliberated for one hour and 45 minutes. The verdict: Guilty of first-degree murder, as charged. On October 8, 20 days after kidnapping and murdering Gill, he was sentenced to death by hanging.

Racial tensions emerged during and after the trial (you can read more about that here). One of Honolulu’s Japanese newspapers spearheaded an effort to stay his execution and retry the case, contending that Mr. Fukunaga was legally insane and would have been deemed so if a qualified psychiatrist had been called to the stand on his behalf. The case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but a retrial was ultimately denied.

On Tuesday, November 19, 1929, 14 months after snuffing out the life of Gill Jamieson, 20-year-old Myles Yutaka Fukunaga was hanged to death at Oahu prison at 8:12 am. He was buried at Mo’ili’ili Japanese Cemetery, Honolulu, about 4 ½ miles from Gill’s grave in Oahu Cemetery.

I’m glad Ursula had left Hawaii by then. But immediately following the crime that shook Honolulu to its core, she stayed a few more months in this tropical “paradise” before heading back home, to her mother, in California.

4 Replies to “Paradise Lost, Part 3”

  1. I have looked forward to part 3 all day and was not disappointed – thank you ! Your telling of this story is the best I have read. The only thing I wish I could figure out is how much the train ticket cost. I was telling my co-worker the story and she was confused on how they figured out in Waialua who he was based only on the fact that he paid with a $ 5.00 bill. All I can think is that the $ 5.00 must have been a big amount of money compared to the cost of the ticket that the station master remembered him and gave the police a good description. I was not aware that anyone had ever been executed in Hawaii so the death of Miles Fukunaga was a eye opener for me. I knew he tried to kill himself but had never heard anything about a life insurance policy. Something to think about because there is a real thing called suicide by cop and that is kind of what he ended up with.

    • Thanks! The Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspapers from that time have so much information on the case, including a transcript of Fukunaga’s confession, which is where I found the information about his life insurance policy. I accessed these papers at newspapers.com. You might be able to get a free trial subscription if you want to read more details about the case. It was fascinating researching the story!

  2. I signed up for the free trial but already know 7 days will not be nearly enough. My first search pulled up quite a lot to look at. I am so excited to see old articles about my grandfather who ran for mayor of Honolulu in the 1950’s as well as other kolohe ( rascal ) family members. I never knew that newspapers.com even existed. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it with me !

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