On the night of Saturday, September 12, 1931, Navy Lt. Tommie and Thalia Massie went with some of their friends to the Ala Wai Inn, a restaurant overlooking the drainage canal that marked the boundary of the Waikīkī resort area.
“The truth of what transpired on the night of September 12, 1931, at the Ala Wai Inn on the way to Waikīkī or on the Ala Moana Road (which paralleled the shore on the way to downtown Honolulu) will probably never be known.” (Hunter)
Two dramatic criminal trials, one for rape and one for murder and both involving multiple defendants, called attention to race relations and politics. No trials ever had a more significant effect on a state’s history than those that shocked and shook Hawaiʻi in 1931 and 1932. (Linder)
Territory of Hawaiʻi v. Ben Ahakuelo, Horace Ida, Joseph Kahahawai, Henry Chang and David Takai; 1931 (Rape trial) (also known as the “Ala Moana trial;” the name of the street where the assault allegedly took place)
Territory of Hawaiʻi v. Grace Fortescue, Thomas Massie, Edward Lord and Deacon Jones; 1932 (Murder trial)
“That the wife of Lieutenant Thomas Massie, United States Navy, was beaten, was evident; that she was raped was not clearly shown; that the five Hawaiian youths indicted for rape were not guilty was probable; and that she had asked for trouble the evidence shows.” (Hunter)
Back to the night of September 12 at Waikīkī … Thalia left her husband behind and walked out of the Ala Wai Inn, and when she returned home early the next morning … “Something terrible has happened.” (She claimed she had been abducted and raped by five young Hawaiian men.)
The case for the prosecution was shaky. Neither Mrs Massie’s body or her clothes showed that she had been raped. Likewise, after a thorough physical examination of their bodies and the clothes they were wearing that night when they were arrested, the defendants showed no sign that they had had sexual intercourse.
The jury stayed out from the afternoon of Wednesday, December 2, until the afternoon of Saturday, December 5. It was a hung jury (seven for not guilty and five for guilty;) the judge declared a mistrial December 6, 1931. It was the longest jury deliberation in Hawaiʻi’s history. (Hannon) The defendants were released to await a second trial.
The aftermath of the Ala Moana trial reverberated throughout Honolulu and the mainland. The mistrial outraged Navy personnel, the business community and white citizens in Hawaiʻi and government officials throughout the US. (Hannon)
Instead of sticking to the facts, the white press in Hawaiʻi and the mainland press played the race card, which only served to further anger whites. Numerous newspapers and magazines added to the misinformation, hysteria and racial atmosphere surrounding the situation in Hawaiʻi.
Time Magazine reported in an article titled ‘Lust in Paradise’ a few weeks after the mistrial: “Honolulu, paradisaic melting pot of East & West, was tense with trouble last week. Yellow men’s lust for white women had broken bounds. … A tremor of apprehension ran through Hawaiʻi’s motley population…” (Hannon)
Joseph Kahahawai had been released; while out on bail the defendant was required to report in court every morning about nine o’clock.
Fortescue (Thalia’s mother) had a plan … with help, she would pick up Kahahawai at the courthouse after he had reported in and take him to a cottage, about 2-miles away. She wanted to get a confession. She let Tommie in on the plan, as well as a couple Sailors.
Lieutenant Massie, Fortescue and two non-commissioned sailors, Albert ‘Deacon’ Jones and Edward Lord, collaborated on the scheme. Fortescue faked a subpoena addressed to Kahahawai, commanding him to appear before the high sheriff of the island of Oʻahu.
January 8, 1932, Massie and Lord drove to the Judiciary Building in a rented Buick; Fortescue and Jones followed in Massie’s roadster. When Kahahawai came out of the courthouse, Jones waved the fake summons at him, pushed him into the Buick, and they drove off.
In the back of Mānoa Valley, they threatened Kahahawai if he did not admit to the rape. The pistol they brought went off and Kahahawai later died with a gunshot through the chest.
The four were put on trial for murder.
The most notorious trial in the history of Hawaiʻi began on April 4, 1932 and was titled Territory of Hawaiʻi vs. Grace Fortescue, et al., Crim. No. 11891. The trial would be presided over by forty-two year old Judge Charles “Skinner” Davis. (Honnon)
Noted criminal trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow, was hired by the defense. The defense argued the killing was justified under the “unwritten law” – a defense usually used by a husband who kills a man immediately after catching him having relations with his wife or raping her. (Hannon)
The courtroom was jammed with anxious listeners, day after day, many waiting outside all night so they would be sure to get in when the case opened in the morning. The Honolulu papers carried a full stenographic report of the case, and the daily press on the mainland gave almost as full an account.
The main interest of the trial was the testimony of Lieutenant Massie and that of his wife; each of these witnesses was on the stand for two days. No others who were at the cottage testified.
Massie told the jury of his emotions when the man had ravished his wife sat there in front of him, how it called all the anxiety and trouble he and his wife had through for two or three months, and that he proposed to have the matter settled now. (Darrow)
Darrow gave his closing argument on Wednesday, April 27, 1932. The last major courtroom argument of his career, it was heard live on radio stations across the country. Anxious to hear Darrow speak, many people waited in line the night before and some places in line were bought and sold. (Hannon)
The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter, leniency recommended.
The guilty verdicts inflamed the already caustic political atmosphere. Mainland politicians saw it as continued miscarriage of justice in the whole sordid case. They were already angry that Hawaiʻi’s justice system had failed to convict in the Thalia Massie case. The White House was flooded with telegrams protesting the verdict and asking President Hoover to issue immediate pardons. (Hannon)
All four were sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Amid a storm of protest, the Governor of Hawaiʻi, Lawrence Judd, immediately commuted their sentences to one hour in the sheriff’s office.
Thalia and Tommie, along with Mrs. Fortescue, left Hawaiʻi at once and returned to the mainland. (The couple found no peace; they were divorced soon after the trial.)
A couple of years later, Thalia in an unsuccessful attempt at suicide, slashed her wrists during a transatlantic cruise. Tommie left the Navy, took a second wife, and established a career in business. Thalia married a second time, and on July 2, 1963, she died in West Palm Beach from an overdose of barbiturates. (Riccio)
The surviving four Hawaiians defendants in the Thalia Massie rape case (the Ala Moana trial) were never retried.
“Many times I have been asked why I went to Honolulu. I was not sure then, and am not sure now. I had never been to that part of the Pacific … But the more I thought of those islands in the Pacific that I had so long wanted to see, and the more I investigated the strange and puzzling case, the more I felt that I had better go.” (Clarence Darrow)
“The old man (Darrow) came down to the Islands believing his personal presence and his known tolerance and understanding of human suffering would help smooth over any racial problems that might exist. When he left the Islands two months later the racial issues were more deeply graven than ever.” (Theon Wight, Rape in Paradise) (Lots of information here from Darrow and Hannon.)
The image shows (L2R) Clarence Darrow; EJ Lord and AO Jones; Maj. Gordon Ross, Grace Fortescue; Thalia and Lt. Thomas Massie; and George Leisure. In addition, I have added other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
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