Joseph Kahahawai Murdered by Naval Officer Tommy Massie and Grace Fortescue in Hawaii After Hung Jury for the Alleged Gang Rape of Thalia Massie (1931)

joe-kahahawai

Joseph Kahahawai, Jr.

On the evening of September 12, 1931, Thalia Massie was walking home from a party she attended in Honolulu when she says she was pulled into some bushes and gang raped by some natives of Hawaii. She told her husband Tommie Massie, a Naval Officer who worked on a submarine, that she was raped. He immediately wanted justice for his young wife and insisted on calling the police. Thalia came from a very prominent family and led a privileged life that honored privacy; she did not want this information to go public. Once the Navy found out, they contacted the police department in an effort to exert pressure to get a conviction so their image was not impacted and the spouses felt safe again. As a result, the allegations were taken very seriously by the police and the case was investigated. Another woman reported that same night that she had been harassed by a group of Hawaiian natives and the police couldn’t help but suspect the two cases were related. After interviewing this woman, they were able to determine who one of the men were because she was able to provide a license plate number. The police brought the first suspect into the station for questioning and were able to find out who the other individuals were.

All of them were placed in a line-up together and Thalia Massie was asked to choose the men she thought were the ones who raped her. She picked two of the five men. Regardless the police charged all five men with rape and took them to trial. In the meantime, Thalia’s mother, Grace Fortescue, came to support her daughter through the trial. In the end, all five of the men were set free due to a hung jury; the jurors were deadlocked six to six. Tommy Massie and Grace Fortescue were especially upset with the outcome of the case and believed these men were guilty and only free because of a technicality. But what they didn’t consider is that Thalia’s identification of the accused was not credible because she could not see well without her glasses, it was dark that night, and she was only able to identify two of five individuals in a flawed police line-up. The other mitigating factors were no semen was found inside Thalia when the doctor’s performed an examination and she had bathed after the alleged rape so that evidence was lost.

Before Honolulu civilian investigators even initiated a second trial, Tommy and Grace decided they would get confessions from the accused so this time it would ensure a guilty verdict. They decided they would pretend to be the police and abduct Joseph Kahahawai with the help of one of Tommy’s Navy co-workers. They took Joseph back to the Massie home, held him at gunpoint, and asked him to admit to the crime. Joseph refused to admit guilt and would not sign the statement admitting guilt. He also let them know they cannot hold him captive because they are not the police. Joseph attempted to leave and it was at this point that he was shot and killed in a foiled abduction to elicit a confession gone wrong. In the meantime, Joseph’s cousin contacted the police to report that Tommy Massie abducted Joseph. Tommy Massie and Grace Fortescue were caught red-handed with Joseph’s dead body in the car after the Massie vehicle was spotted and police pulled them over. The two were on their way to a location where they could have dumped Joseph’s body and he would never be found again.

Tommy Massie and Grace Fortescue were both arrested for the homicide of Joseph Kahahawai. The Navy personnel, spouses, and other white people treated them as if they were celebrities. The duo never thought the jury would convict but they did. They convicted them of manslaughter and sentenced them to 10 years. Unfortunately, the Governor of Hawaii pardoned them and reduced the sentence to 1 hour in jail. They were freed after abducting and murdering a man they were not even really sure was a perpetrator. Despite evidence that a rape may have never happened, it didn’t matter to Tommy and Grace. They wanted someone to pay for the crimes against Thalia and believed it was the truth. Supporters celebrated the victory with them. It appeared that Joseph Kahahawai’s life didn’t even matter to them, but his life did matter to those native to Hawaii. Hawaiian natives knew that the island was safe prior to Hawaii becoming a territory of the United States. This was the case that changed the image of Hawaii, now a paradise lost to the natives.

Related Links:
Trouble in Paradise
Massie Case Revisited
Massie Trials (1931 & 1932)
Getting Away with Murder: The Massie Case
The Crime That Changed the Islands
The Massie case: Injustice and courage
Rich, Famous, and Questionably Sane
Civil rights and murder in 1931 Hawaii
LAW ’N HISTORY: Thalia lied, Joe died
The legacy of the Massie-Kahahawai case, 80 years on
Local Story: The Massie-Kahahawai Case and the Culture of History
The 1932 murder that exposed the hole in Hawaii’s idyllic facade
Post Time: Palm Beach suicide had link to race-charged Hawaii trials
Post Time: The Thalia Affair, Part 2: A trial, a murder, another trial
Thalia Massie: White Navy Wife Blamed Hawaiian So-Called Thugs in Alleged Rape


Honolulu, HA, 1931: When the young aristocratic wife of a Naval Lieutenant is discovered bruised and beaten by the side of a dark road, a hackneyed scheme and a trigger-happy hand will lead to the most sensational murder trial in Hawaii’s history. -Investigation Discovery

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