Lisa Au had dinner with her boyfriend on January 20th, 1982 and never made it home that night. The next day, her car was discovered, and 10 days later, her body was found too. This case sent fear and shock waves through the community. Not just because Lisa had been murdered, but because a policeman was the suspected killer. This case is still unsolved. If you have any new information regarding the Lisa Au murder case, please contact the Honolulu Police Department at 808-723-3609.
19-year old Lisa Au (OW) was a hairdresser. When her body was discovered, it sent fear and shock waves through the community. Not just because she had been murdered, but because a policeman was the suspected killer. This story starts on January 20th, 1982. It was pouring rain in Oahu and Lisa was just finishing her shift at the Susan Beers Salon in Kailua. As she headed out the door, she told her co-workers that she was going to see her boyfriend, Doug Holmes at his sister's apartment in Makiki. Lisa had only had her license for two days and the rain was not making this an easy drive. She made a quick stop to purchase Poke (Pokay), which is a traditional Hawaiian dish with raw, diced, seasoned fish. After dinner, Lisa headed back home to Kailua, but she never got there.
On the following day, Lisa's parents called her boyfriend at his University of Hawaii dorm to ask where she was. He told them he would go look for her and he's the one that ended up calling the police to report that he found her car. Lisa's 1976 Toyota was parked on the shoulder of the highway in Maunawili near the old Kailua Drive-in. The driver's side window was rolled down halfway. When the officer arrived on the scene, it was noted that there was about 2-3 inches of water on the floor of the vehicle and the seat was soaked. Lisa's purse was sitting on the seat and it was completely dry. The officer felt like the purse had been placed on the seat after the rain had stopped the night before. He also reported that he saw scratches on the boyfriend, Doug's face. It was determined by crime scene technicians that the car had been wiped clean of any evidence. The police brought Doug in for a lie detector test twice and he failed both tests. He had an explanation for this though, he said he felt guilty for not driving Lisa home and that's why he failed. She was an inexperienced driver and the rain was very heavy. The detectives accepted the explanation, this was good enough for them and they didn't feel that they had any other reason to suspect Doug.
I do want to mention that I really don't believe in lie detector tests because innocent people can fail and guilty people can pass, it happens all the time. I just find it odd that he was so easily dismissed as a suspect when Doug was the last person to see Lisa alive and he had scratches on his face.
People in the community were very hopeful that Lisa would be found alive. Thousands of flyers were distributed all over the island and hundreds of volunteers showed up to help search. The search lasted 10 days. On January 31st, 1982, Lisa's nude and decomposing body was discovered in a ravine off Tantalus Drive by a jogger and his dog. The case moved from the Missing Persons Unit to homicide detectives and the Honolulu Police Department's Bert Corniel was the lieutenant assigned to the case. Just days after Lisa's body was found, detectives began suspecting one of their own was involved and this theory got leaked to the public which caused a full blown panic. Women were terrified if an officer pulled them over and feared they'd be attacked. There was also a tip called in to the police that began fitting their theory. They were told that on the night of Lisa's disappearance, they had seen her car being followed by another car with flashing blue grill lights on.
For about a year, an investigative grand jury heard evidence against the officer suspected in the case, but they didn't have enough to indict. Lieutenant Corniel felt that they were just jumping at any clue that pointed to the officer's involvement and were just wasting time trying to make the pieces fit. Lisa's temporary license was missing from her purse and her car window was rolled halfway down. The detectives believed this may have meant that Lisa had been pulled over, rolled down her window, and handed her ID to an officer. Once the suspected officer's name was leaked, another woman claimed she had been pulled over by this officer and he used blue lights on his unmarked car.
After this new allegation, the department had to do a lot of damage control. They attempted to reassure women that they didn't need to stop for unmarked police cars and eventually, they had to ban flashing lights on car grills altogether. They also made it a rule that off-duty officers were no longer allowed to stop vehicles.
At this point, the investigators were completely focused on the suspected police officer and the main evidence they had was that he lived near Lisa's home and there was a sexual harassment complaint against him from a woman that did a police ride-along. When the grand jury failed to indict the officer, it ended up exposing the mistakes that were made in this case and prosecutors didn't want to try again.
Lieutenant Corneil wanted to find answers for the family and this is the case that just haunted him. He decided to go back and interview witnesses that the detectives ignored or flat refused to track down. Even though many people firmly believed a cop killed Lisa, the lieutenant found evidence that pointed in a different direction. The missing driver's license was a key part in the killer cop theory, but it was later discovered. Lieutenant Corneil found it months later after retracing Lisa's movements. After she left the hair salon, she stopped to buy poke and showed her ID at the checkout because she wrote a check for the payment and Lisa left the ID at the store.
Like I said earlier, Lisa headed to her boyfriend Doug's sister's apartment after work. The lieutenant tracked down a security guard at the Makiki apartment building. The security guard, Thomas Thornburg, had never been contacted by the police until this point. He said that he saw Lisa and Doug arguing around 11PM and then, about an hour later, Lisa left and Doug drove off after her. Doug later explained this away by stating that he left at the same time to drive back to his dorm. The lieutenant found another interesting witness. Charlotte Kamaka was a newspaper delivery driver and she later testified before a grand jury. She was on Tantalus during the hours after Lisa went missing. She said she was out doing her regular route about 2:30 AM. She said a man drove past her in a blue car with a female passenger and she appeared to be asleep or unconscious. She said, “What alerted me was her head fell, when the car made the turn, her head just fell.” Charlotte says she got a good look at the driver as he turned in a paved lookout. She said that later, she saw the driver and he just stopped and stared at her and the female passenger was gone. Charlotte heard about Lisa's body being discovered in the same area 10 days later and she went straight to the police station to report this. She says the detective took the information, but she never got a call.
Another interesting thing about this case is that Lisa's car broke down in Maunawili near a mudslide on the night of her murder. An officer, Michael Rehfeldt was directing traffic in this area and he doesn't recall the Toyota car being there. Months later, he was asked to tell the grand jury that he did see the car and to report that he saw a patrol officer at the car as well. Officer Rehfeldt said he refused to lie and never testified.
In 1985, the lead detective on the case, Nelson Lum, wrote a sworn statement about his investigation and basically said that their thorough investigation produced no evidence against the accused police officer. He also didn't believe that the boyfriend Doug had anything to do with the murder because, “there was no third party involved, which ruled out jealousy, there was no money involved. There was no baby coming. There was no reason for him to do it.” Doug had admitted that he was trying to end the relationship with Lisa because he was going to college and trying to get somewhere in his life and he felt that Lisa was just staying still.
More than a year after Lisa's murder, her body was exhumed. The police knew they needed to get the cause of death, so they took her skull and jawbone and sent it to a coroner in Los Angeles. By this time, lieutenant Corneil had left the police department and was working as a private investigator for the Au family. He believed that the Honolulu coroner had missed key evidence during the autopsy and didn't do a thorough job and boy was he right. Once the body was actually exhumed, they learned that Lisa's remains were still in the police body bag and there were leaves and dirt inside. She was never even washed. I seriously find this to be so incredibly disrespectful. Unfortunately, the advanced decomposition made it very difficult for the new coroner to determine the cause of death. There was another person that said they'd be willing to take a look at Lisa's skull to see if they could find anything, but there was a problem.......there seems to be some dispute about where the skull and jawbone are now. The Honolulu Police say that the medical examiner's office has the remains, but the medical examiner says no way jose, they were returned to the casket.
Lisa's family has asked that her remains be exhumed and re-examined. They believe that the advanced technology could help to determine the cause of death. Unfortunately, Lisa's parents ended up divorcing and have both passed away. Many of the witnesses from this case have also passed away, but people are still clinging to hope that this will get solved.
If you have any new information regarding the Lisa Au murder case, please contact the Honolulu Police Department at 808-723-3609.