Shideler Harpe, the ‘Soviet spy’ detained on Ni‘ihau

In October 1959, Shideler Harpe, a reporter for The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, was assigned by the paper to make his way to the island of Ni‘ihau — then as it is today the private property of Kaua‘i’s Robinson family — to spend several days there and write an expose of his experiences upon his return to Honolulu.

Harpe arrived on Ni‘ihau at about 2 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 22, 1959 — by what means he never revealed — and was discovered at 6:30 a.m. about 10 miles from Ki‘i Landing by several unsmiling Ni‘ihau cowboys who appeared in an old Navy six-by-six truck and woke him up.

He was dressed in a T-shirt and dungarees and wore a small black beard, and it was his beard that somehow made the cowboys suspect he was a Soviet spy fresh off a submarine.

Since he was trespassing, the cowboys detained him and took him to the landing with its crumbling stone pier and half dozen small rotting houses.

Meanwhile, they sent a message by carrier pigeon to Aylmer Robinson at Makaweli, who immediately notified the Kaua‘i police, who then arranged with Robinson for police Capt. Antone Vidinha Jr. to go to Ni‘ihau aboard the Robinson’s landing craft Friday morning.

Vidinha arrived shortly after 8 a.m. Friday, accompanied by brothers Aylmer and Lester Robinson, and questioned Harpe at the landing.

No, he certainly was not a Soviet spy, he said, and he also admitted that he’d been assigned by the Star-Bulletin to slip ashore at Ni‘ihau, and had stayed at a Nawiliwili hotel upon is arrival on Kaua‘i.

But, he would not confess how he actually got to Ni‘ihau from Kauai, and when asked how he’d planned to get back to Kaua‘i from Ni‘ihau, he replied, “I expected to go back on the Robinson boat.”

Vidinha returned to Kaua‘i with Harpe later on Friday. The Robinsons did not press charges against Harpe, and he returned to Honolulu on Saturday, where he wrote an article of his experience that appeared in the Nov. 5, 1959 edition of the Star-Bulletin.

Hank Soboleski has been a resident of Kauai since the 1960s. Hank’s love of the island and its history has inspired him, in conjunction with The Garden Island Newspaper, to share the island’s history weekly. The collection of these articles can be found here: and here Hank can be reached at

  1. Dave Henriques March 1, 2020 12:50 pm Reply

    They should have taken him just past the half way point, Showed him the way to Kauai, then throw him in. A short swim would be good for him.

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