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Detective McDuffie’s wild goose chase

Soon after “SS Matsonia” docked at Honolulu Harbor on Tuesday morning, Aug. 17, 1915, following its voyage from San Francisco, its officers advised the Honolulu Police Department that they had just learned via telegraph from San Francisco that Frank Tracy — wanted for the murder of a Boston junk dealer — might be aboard the “Matsonia.”

The officers also provided police with Tracy’s physical description — 35 years old, medium height, weight 155, brown hair, hazel eyes and tattoos — but Tracy, had he been aboard the “Matsonia,” had already disembarked and had vanished before police could arrest him.

Police initiated a search for Tracy, and late on Tuesday evening, an informant told police he’d seen a man fitting Tracy’s description boarding the steamer “Kinau” for Kauai earlier that evening.

Detective Arthur McDuffie then wired Kauai Sheriff William Olin Crowell to keep a lookout for a man matching Tracy’s description arriving at Nawiliwili on Wednesday morning.

Acting on this information, Crowell arrested a man with tattoos from the “Kinau” who identified himself as L.B. Smith.

Based on the strength of Crowell’s arrest, McDuffie went to Kauai aboard the steamer “W.G. Hall,” only to learn that the L.B. Smith that Crowell had in custody was not Tracy, but was, instead, Smith, a well-known “wine bum” of Honolulu who’d decided to take a trip to Kauai.

Undeterred, McDuffie continued his investigation by reviewing the “Kinau’s” passenger list, which led him to a stranger named F. Yandell.

After questioning Yandell — who had no tattoos and had come to Hawaii from Texas looking for work — McDuffie determined he was not Frank Tracy, although he bore, by chance, a similar resemblance to both Tracy and “wine bum” Smith.

McDuffie also discovered it was Yandell — not Smith — who the informant in Honolulu had reported seeing board the “Kinau” — a report that resulted in McDuffie sailing off to Kauai on what ended up being a wild goose chase.

In April 1916, Tracy was found guilty of murder in Massachusetts and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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