Island Crime Beat: One cold case down and at least eight to go

The announcement last weekend that an arrest had been made in the 2006 murder of Sandra Galas was met with emotion, surprise and relief. The response of neighbors also expressed some trepidation regarding a suspect that had been free from prosecution for so long.

Two neighbor women said they felt some reassurance with the arrest of Galas’ estranged husband Darren Galas more than six years after the brutal murder. They didn’t live in the neighborhood at the time, but the death of Galas was never far from their minds.

They thought about it whenever they drove by the Galas home that remained vacant for some time. It is now rented, but Darren could still be seen mowing lawns and trimming trees when it was empty.

Darren moved on to live in Kalaheo with his new partner and the two children he had with Sandra. One can only guess how he felt visiting the former ‘Ele‘ele home.

If Darren did commit the murder, what did he feel as he pulled into the garage where she died? If he did not commit the murder, the emotions must have been just as intense.

A male neighbor said it is good to see that CSI technology works in real life, and not just on television. There is a luxury of detachment that comes from following murders about people we don’t know, and the reality of Sandra’s violent end lives on with these people whether they were close to her or didn’t know her at all.

The arrest of Darren is the first cold case arrest to be produced from Hawai‘i’s first prosecutor-directed cold case murder unit, Ke Ahi Pio’ole (fire that never burns out). It was possible with funding from state and county agencies granted to the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney to start the unit in partnership with the Kaua‘i Police Department.

Ke Ahi Pio’ole uses advances in DNA technology and forensic techniques, and affords detectives to dedicate time and resources to actively investigate old cases. Prosecutors assist and gather new evidence that leads to a possible indictment.

The Sandra Galas case is a testimonial to the success of the program in bringing new light to unsolved cases. It is possible with new expert homicide consultants, forensic chemists and re-interviewing witnesses that recall details over time that they didn’t include in the initial report.

The Galas case sheds light on the number of existing cold cases on the island. It offers hope that science and advanced investigation techniques will solve other murders and bring killers to justice.

The prosecuting attorney has reviewed approximately 15 cold cases dating back to 1976. They report having active leads in at least two others besides Galas.

It is a challenge to re-test decades-old evidence, according to the OPA. Witnesses have moved off-island or have since passed away.

Some cold cases are well-known with friends and family keeping the memory alive. Others were alone, and their cold case file is the only recorded legacy they leave behind.

Of these cases, eight of them were written about in The Garden Island.

The most recent cold case is Amber Ellis Jackson, a 57-year-old Kapa‘a resident, and former Hawai‘i State Teachers Association employee. She was murdered on Kaua’i on or about June 23, 2010. Her body was discovered 10 days later on July 3, by a pig hunter in a remote, wooded area of Kealia.

The Amber Jackson Justice Group keeps her memory alive. Just this year the group doubled the award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her killer to $10,000.

Daniel Bonanno, a 47-year-old Kapa‘a man, was murdered on Nov. 9, 2009. He was found dead in his mother’s pickup truck in the Wailua Homesteads.

In 2000, there were two murders and one attempted murder of three women on the Westside. Two of the women were raped and murdered and the other was assaulted and left for dead.

The first was Daren Singer, a 43-year-old Maui surfer, whose body was found strangled, stabbed and possibly raped near her Pakala Point Beach campsite on Aug. 30, 2000.

The second victim believed to be connected to the same killer was Lisa Bissell, a 38-year-old woman whose semi-clothed body was found in a ditch near Polihale State Park on April 7, 2000.

The third case believe connected to the same killer was a 52-year-old Kekaha woman, who escaped with her life after an attempted sexual assault and murder on May 22, 2000. She was stabbed after fighting off an attempted sexual assault and survived by crawling to safety.

An 18-year-old Kaua‘i woman was found dead near an area known as Glass Beach in Hanapepe on Jan. 13, 2005. The victim, unidentified at the time, was stabbed to death.

Fig Mitchell was found murdered in his Kapa‘a home on June 10, 2002. His autopsy revealed that he died from blunt force injuries to the head.

Police responded to a call at Mitchell’s home just three days prior after he called about someone entering the home and stealing his wallet. A neighbor called police the night of the murder, and a suspect was incarcerated at the time of the attack, with a at least one other person of interest.

The body of Lisa Simao was found Aug. 1, 2002 at Palama Pond (Nomilo Fishpond). Simao was reported missing by a friend on July 24 when she didn’t return to their campsite.

After Simao was found, tissue samples were sent for toxicology testing after an autopsy.

Joyce Marie-Lester Fox, 43, was found strangled by her own belt in a ditch along the road in Kapa‘a in July 1992. Her ex-boyfriend was the person of interest.

The man was arrested and released pending charges on July 27, 1992. He left for the Mainland after Hurricane ‘Iniki, never to return, according to a Garden Island news article at the time.

• Island Crime Beat is a weekly column that reflects on the current events and issues regarding the police, courts and criminal justice system of Kaua‘i.


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