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Timeline: Hawai'ian History and the Massie Case

1778-1919 | 1931-1959  


Thalia Massie September 12: Thalia Massie claims she was assaulted by a group of Hawaiian young men in the late night hours of September 12. Before September 13 dawns, the young Navy wife will tell her story three times, each time saying that she cannot identify her assailants or their car. In the coming months, Massie, the defendants, and eyewitnesses will offer perplexingly contradictory testimony when describing the evening's events.

September 13: Police arrest five suspects in the Massie case: Horace Ida, Benny Ahakuelo, Joseph Kahahawai, Henry Chang and David Takai. They are accused of assaulting Thalia Massie. A police report filed at 1:35am has implicated Horace Ida on another charge. One of the four passengers in Ida's car has been in a fight with a Native Hawaiian woman, who reports Ida's car and license plate number. By virtue of circumstance, the police immediately suspect Ida and his four friends of assaulting Thalia Massie.

September 14: Hawai'i's two major English language newspapers, the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, report the assault without naming Thalia Massie. Instead, the newspapers describe her as a "woman of refinement and culture" and the suspects as "fiends."

Thomas, Thalia and Grace arrive at courthouse November 16: The trial opens in the old Territorial Courthouse. Two days later, Thalia Massie testifies as the first witness for the prosecution. She states that she noticed the license plate of the car and that she recognized Ben Ahakuelo from a gold filling she saw in his mouth while she was in the car. Her testimony recalls much more detail than she revealed initially to police.

December 6: After ninety-seven hours of deliberation -- the longest in Hawai'i court history -- the jury informs the judge that it is unable to reach a verdict in the Massie case. The judge declares a mistrial. The story breaks in the mainland U.S. press as a miscarriage of justice, and many mainland Americans clamor for reform in what the press portrays as savage Hawai'i.

Horace Ida shot from behind showing the bruises December 12: A vigilante group of Navy men force Horace Ida into their car in front of a beer shop in Ida's neighborhood. They drive him to the Nuuanu Valley and beat him with belt buckles until he pretends to be unconscious. Meanwhile, police track down and guard the other four suspects, who are all free on bail pending a new trial.


Officers gathered around the car where Kahahawai's body was found. January 8: Thalia's mother, Grace Fortescue, her husband, Tommy Massie, and two other Navy men, Albert Jones and Edward Lord, kidnap Massie case suspect Joseph Kahahawai as he leaves the Judiciary Building with his cousin. Remembering what happened to Horace Ida, the cousin immediately tells a probation officer, who alerts Honolulu police and the Shore Patrol. Meanwhile, attempting to force a confession, one of the kidnappers shoots Joseph Kahahawai. Kahahawai's dead body is placed in a bathtub to clean off the blood before the kidnappers decide to drive to the famous blowhole at Koko Head. There, the body and evidence can be tossed into the churning water to be demolished on the rocks before disappearing into the sea. An alert police officer notices a car driving past with its window shade pulled down. Seeing the drawn shade, he pursues the car, discovering the four kidnappers with Kahahawai's body. They are arrested for kidnapping and murder.

January 9: In response to the sensational newspaper accounts of the "Honor Slaying," supporters send flowers and notes of sympathy to the Navy ship where Grace Fortescue and the other defendants are being held.

January 22: A grand jury assembles to hear details of the murder and determine whether there is evidence sufficient for a trial. The grand jury initially returns a "no bill" vote, failing to indict the murderers. Judge Albert Christy does not accept their vote and reminds the jurors that their job is not to determine the guilt or innocence of the murderers, but simply to vote that there is sufficient evidence to try the accused. The grand jury continues to stall until January 26, when Judge Christy refreshes the jurors' memories of their responsibilities and of the overwhelming amount of evidence against the accused. The grand jury indicts the foursome on the charge of second-degree murder.

Jury in kidnap/murder case gathered outside sitting on bleachers. April 4: The Territory vs. Grace Fortescue, et al. opens for jury selection. Celebrity attorney Clarence Darrow represents the defendants. Jack Kelley represents the Territory, with Judge Charles Skinner Davis presiding. The jury is finalized seven days later, comprised of seven Caucasians, two Chinese, one Portuguese, and three Hawaiians.

April 20: Thalia Massie testifies for the defense. She recounts the events of the night of September 12, this time adding that she told her husband that Joseph Kahahawai beat her more than the other men.

April 27: Darrow delivers a four-and-a-half-hour closing argument that is broadcast over radio across the U.S. Kelley follows with his own summation. The jury is sent to deliberate at 5:00pm.

April 29: Just over 48 hours later, the jury returns with a verdict. The jury finds the defendants guilty of manslaughter and recommends leniency. The courtroom and the American audience are shocked that the Navy group have been convicted.

Clarence Darrow, Edward Lord, Albert Jones, Sheriff Gordon Ross, Grace Fortescue, Thomas Massie; WS standing for photo. May 4: Judge Davis sentences the defendants to the mandatory sentence for manslaughter in Hawai'i: ten years hard labor. Governor Lawrence Judd, under pressure from the Navy and the U.S. government, immediately commutes the sentence to one hour served in his office. The convicted killers and Thalia Massie walk across the street to the governor's office to serve their time.

Thomas, Thalia and Grace with dog aboard the Malolo heading for San Francisco May 8: Thalia Massie, Grace Fortescue, and Tommy Massie depart Hawai'i on the Malolo, steaming to San Francisco. By boarding the ship, Thalia avoids being served a summons to appear in the retrial of the four surviving men she claimed had assaulted her. The retrial will never take place.


Devastation from bombing at Pearl Harbor December 7: Nine years after the Massie case, the Japanese attack the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, precipitating America's entry into World War II.


June 27: A majority of Hawai'i's electorate vote to accept statehood, which has been offered by the United States. Many Native Hawaiians vote against it, however.

August 21: Hawai'i becomes the 50th U.S. state. President Dwight Eisenhower signs the proclamation and orders the stars on the existing American flag rearranged. He addresses the American people by radio, saying, "we will wish for [Hawai'i's] prosperity, security, and happiness."

1778-1919 | 1931-1959  

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