Add one more to the list of suspicious deaths on Kauai.
The 91-year-old woman whose body was found in the ashes of a brush fire on Hailima Road in Lawai May 1 was found to have died of cardiac arrest. Police said the woman’s body was found outside her vehicle, which had accelerated down an incline and caught fire in an open space below her home.
The cause of the fire was determined accidental by the Kauai Fire Department, who said the surrounding vegetation possibly caught fire by the vehicle’s movement across the grass, from its exhaust system or catalytic converter.
Florence Au’s body was found burned beyond recognition. Firefighters discovered her remains after extinguishing the brush fire, which was reported at 12:19 p.m. Kauai Police Department Investigative Services Assistant Chief Gordon Isoda said the Au case is still under investigation.
Au’s home overlooks a cemetery at the end of Hailima Road, which nearby residents say has been a point for drug deals and a gathering place for other suspicious passersby. Perhaps adding to the suspicion, glass pipes used to smoke crystal methamphetamine, though labeled and sold legally as “incense burners,” are available at a store in the area.
One neighbor said he called the police and subsequently the drug deals have stopped.
KPD Deputy Chief Wilfred Ihu said that the department is reopening unsolved homicide cases dating back as much as 20 years ago “to look at it with a new angle.” Investigative Services Bureau Lieutenant Regina Ventura was unavailable to comment on which cases they are investigating.
“We are currently looking into old cases but I think it’s premature because obviously the suspectswe don’t want to tip off anybody,” said Detective Marvin Rivera.
He did say that the investigation into the murder of Walter Robert “Fig” Mitchell, 60, has never been closed, and detectives are continuing to attempt to solve the case. This year, detectives received several tips in the murder case, but have made no arrests.
Mitchell was found dead in his Wailua apartment, on June 10, 2002. The cause of death was determined as blunt force trauma to the head.
Police on June 7, 2002 responded to Mitchell’s call that someone had entered his house and stolen his wallet. KPD officers later found Mitchell’s body shortly after a neighbor called for police assistance at his apartment. Of the known murder suspects, one was incarcerated at the time of the attack; another was identified as a black man, shirtless at the time, driving a maroon station wagon. Isoda said the Mitchell case was still under investigation. Isoda maintained that because there is no statute of limitations on homicide cases, all are continually under investigation.
Another suspicious death on Kauai last year was that of Lisa Simao, whose decomposed body was found Aug. 1 at Palama Pond (Nomilu Fishpond). She was reported missing July 24 at her campsite by a friend who had last seen her the day before. Body tissues were reportedly sent for toxicology testing after an autopsy.
Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or 245-3681 (ext. 252).