The Unsolved: Lisa Au
This month’s unsolved murder case takes us somewhere we haven’t been yet: Hawai’i. I want to be up front before we get into things…this is new territory for me. I have learned a lot about Hawaiian culture while researching for this post, but I’m not naïve or arrogant enough to believe I know everything. If I get something wrong, please let me know! Now onto the show…
Lisa Au was only 19 years old when she vanished off of the island of O’ahu. She vanished into thin air for ten days before she was found in her car, with no apparent cause of death. By everyone’s account, Lisa had no enemies. So who would have wanted to hurt her? Let’s explore.
Who Was Lisa?
Lisa Au was born on July 25, 1962 to parents Chester Dennis Au and Patrice Mahiaikalani Akim Au-Kaunamano. Lisa had a rich cultural heritage from each of her parents – Chinese on her father’s side and Hawai’ian on her mother’s. In 1982 Lisa was 19 years old. She stood at about 5’5” tall and weighed around 120 lbs. She had long, wavy black hair, and worked as a hairdresser. According to everyone – her roommate, family, friends – she was a hardworking, responsible, conscientious, and careful person. She was excited for her future, and had just gotten her driver’s license on January 18, 1982. And then, she vanished.
January 20, 1982 was a rainy night on the island of O’ahu. Lisa had just finished her shift at the Susan Beers Salon, which was located in Kailua. She was procrastinating leaving the building, hoping to wait out the downpour. Eventually, though, she decided to head out, as her boyfriend Doug Holmes was waiting for her at her sister’s appointment in Makiki. She’d told her coworkers of her plans for the night. They didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary when speaking with Lisa that night – she was just as steadfast and friendly as always. They had no way of knowing that they would never see Lisa alive again.
On her way home, Lisa stopped to grab something to eat. She grabbed Poke on the way. This was the last time anyone, apart from her murderer. She never arrived at her sister’s apartment, nor did she arrive home to her parents’ house that night. Worried, Lisa’s parents called Doug the next morning to ask what had happened. He claimed not to know, but agreed to search for Lisa. And then he found Lisa’s car.
Body Discovery and Investigation
This is where things get strange. Doug called the police to report that Lisa had not returned home the previous night and that he had found her car in a strange state. When the office arrived at the scene, he examined the car – it was parked on the side of the highway with windows rolled down, despite the previous night’s rain. There was a substantial amount of standing water in the car. The seats were sopping wet. Lisa’s purse was on the passenger seat, but was not wet. It would seem that the purse had been returned to the scene once the rain cleared up. The officer also mentioned that there were apparent scratches on Doug’s face.
Despite its weirdness, the car did not provide any leads as to where Lisa went or what happened to her, so the community sprang into action. The island was paperedin thousands of missing posters, begging anyone with information to notify police. Lisa’s parents gave several teary interviews. Search efforts consumed the island for ten whole days, and came to a screeching and devastating halt on January 31, 1982.
A man jogging with his dog on Mount Tantalus made a horrifying discovery. Lisa had been found. Her body was nude and badly decomposed, which prevented the coroner from determining an accurate time or cause of death. Despite this, Investigators believed that they have worked out a loose chain of events in this murder. A witness came forward shortly after the search to report that they had seen a car with lights in its grill following Lisa’s car on the night of her disappearance. Investigators believe that Lisa was abducted from her car, murdered, and then the killer attempted to hide her on Mount Tantalus. But who would want to do this?
There are really only three theories here – 1) Lisa was killed by a stranger in a crime of opportunity, 2) Lisa was killed by someone she knew, or 3) Lisa was a victim of the as-yet unidentified serial killer known as the Honolulu Strangler, who was confirmed to have killed five young women in 1985 and 1986. Let’s look at the theories one at a time.
The idea that Lisa was murdered as a crime of opportunity is one that has several subtheories. First let’s cover the basic one: someone saw Lisa driving and was compelled to kidnap and murder her – it’s rare, but it does happen. Another thought I have under this theory is whether Lisa was having car trouble that night. The car itself may have been fine, but Lisa was an inexperienced driver and the weather was bad. It’s possible that someone pulled over under the guise of checking on her or helping her and struck once her guard was down. Another possibility here is that a police officer or someone impersonating a police officer got Lisa to pull over, hence the witness coming forward.
Lisa being killed by someone she knew is a bit less likely to me, but it’s possible that a friend or an acquaintance took advantage of Lisa’s friendliness for their own nefarious means. Something that comes to mind here is that perhaps she had turned down dating someone and they took it badly, or this person believed she slighted or disrespected them in some way. This is pure speculation, but it’s a scenario that is disturbingly common.
The final theory is that Lisa was one of the first victims of the Honolulu Strangler. This serial killer has remained unidentified for over thirty years and has been conclusively linked to the murders of five women, all aged between 17 and 36. Lisa does fall into this victim profile. The confirmed murders also seem to line up with the highway system on the island, and Lisa’s car was found on a highway. This theory closely coincides with the first theory in that he would have been a stranger to Lisa and may have lulled her into a false sense of security before striking. The only difference here is in stating that the stranger could have been a serial killer.
This type of case is impossible to come to a conclusion on, as there is so little to go on. I lean towards Lisa pulling over for someone she thought was a police officer. She was an inexperienced driver and would likely not know how a traffic stop is likely to go. This, in addition to the inherent power differential in the encounter, would have left Lisa incredibly vulnerable. This theory also explains the witness seeing the car with lights in its grill. Whether this stranger was the Honolulu Strangler or not is impossible to say, however, especially due to the fact that we do not know how Lisa was murdered.
This past January marked 39 years since Lisa was murdered. That’s nearly four decades that her family and community have gone without answers. Nearly four decades of Lisa’s murderer not being brought to justice. If you or someone you know has any information about Lisa’s disappearance or subsequent murder, no matter how small, please report it to the proper authorities. At this point, any small clue could be the key to pulling the bigger picture together. While I can’t find any up to date information regarding detectives or agencies assigned to Lisa’s case, it seems that the Honolulu Police have ownership over Lisa’s case. There is also our old fallback: Crimestoppers. Crimestoppers Honolulu accepts tips via their website.