The police have released me, that’s all I know. They (the investigators) have plenty of good cause. They’re doing their job.Gay after his release.
Howard Andrew Gay, also known as “The Honolulu Strangler” or “The Honolulu Rapist”, was an American serial rapist and serial killer who, between May 1985 and April 1986, killed five women in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was arrested ten days after his last murder but never brought to trial because evidence against him, however abundant, were circumstantial. Gay died in November 2003, he was the Aloha State’s first known serial killer.
Gay was born in 1943 in Buffalo, New York. Not much is known about his personal history other than he joined the army and was stationed at George Air Force Base, a 30-minute drive from Apple Valley, California, where he lived for fifteen years. He was eventually discharged in 1965. Gay attended Victor Valley College, received his associate degree, and was employed by Continental Telephone in Victorville, where he held jobs as a lineman and teletype repairman. In the same year as his discharge, he married Rita Thompson, his college sweetheart, and fathered two children with her: Justin and Jason. In 1968, he was employed by Flying Tiger Line at Los Angeles International Airport.
Gay’s role was to train cargo aircraft mechanics around the world and, in 1980, he was relocated to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Howard lived in a rented three-bedroom home in Ewa Beach. He divorced from his wife in 1983. One day, his family decided to surprise him by traveling to Honolulu, but when they showed up he was upset and even refused to let them in his home. He made them stay in a hotel and shipped them back to California two days later. His neighbors told reporters he was a gentleman, always willing to help others. A female assistant manager who worked at La Mariana Sailing Club in 1986 recognized Gay as a man who routinely stared at her, asked her to accept rides from him, and once reacted furiously when she once again refused.
Killings and Investigation
On May 30, 1985, the strangled body of 25-year-old video store employee Vicky Gail Purdy was found by civilians along the embankment of the Keehi Lagoon, near Lagoon Drive, stretching alongside the Honolulu International Airport. She was found clad in her yellow jumpsuit, without her underwear, hands tied behind her back with parachute cord. Vicky was last seen the evening before by her husband, Gary, while leaving their Mililani house on her way to a nightclub in the Waikiki neighborhood of Honolulu. Since it was unusual for her to stay out overnight, Gary began calling her on a telephone paging system they shared. On May 30, he was finally able to locate her car in the parking garage of a Waikiki hotel. A cab driver would later say that he had driven Vicky from a club to the hotel, where he left her at midnight. This scenario suggested she probably met her killer while returning to her vehicle. Autopsy findings revealed Purdy had been strangled with a ligature, while other injuries indicated she fought with her assailant to pull away the rope. Presence of sperm also suggested she was sexually assaulted or at least had a sexual intercourse. On January 15, 1986, another strangled body, that of 17-year-old student Regina Sakamoto, was found by fishermen along the embankment of Keehi Lagoon, about one mile from the first crime scene, near the airport. Regina’s hands were tied with parachute cord and in the same manner as those of Vicky Purdy. She was unclothed from the waist down, and one of her feet was tied to a rock through an electrical extension cord, as if the killer wanted her to be found. Sakamoto was last seen on the morning of January 14, near a Waipahu telephone booth, from which she called her boyfriend and told him she had missed her bus to school. The autopsy revealed she had high levels of acid phosphatase in her intimate parts, but no sperm, suggesting she had a sexual intercourse with a man who couldn’t ejaculate, possibly due to a vasectomy. On February 1, 21-year-old secretary Denise Hughes was found on the bank of the Moanalua Stream, near the area in which it flows into the Keehi Lagoon, not too far from the airport. She had been strangled and her hands were tied behind her back with parachute cord, in the same manner as the first two victims. Denise’s body was found clad in a blue tarp and in a state of moderate decomposition. She was only identified on February 5, when dental records were sent from the U.S. Hughes was last seen by her husband when they had dinner together on the night of January 29, but she never made it to work on the following day. Like Sakamoto, Denise was supposed to take a bus from Waipahu to his downtown office on the morning she failed to show up at her job. The medical examiner couldn’t ascertain whether she had a sexual intercourse or not, although it was deemed possible.
As soon as the Honolulu Police Department connected all these incidents, on February 5, police major Chester Hughes (no relation to the victim) announced the formation of a 27-person task force made up of homicide, sex crimes and other detectives, whose mission was to investigate links between the murders, as well as two unrelated assaults against as many women. On April 2, the body of 25-year-old Louise Medeiros was found by road workers under a bridge in the Waikele Stream in Waipahu, twelve miles from the previous crime scene. She had been strangled and her hands were bound with parachute cord in the all too familiar fashion. Despite the distance from the killer’s usual area of activity, the murder was connected to the others because of the same M.O., the fact that Louise disappeared from a bus stop (like Regina Sakamoto and presumably Denise Hughes), and the fact that the bus stop was near the airport (the killer’s dumping ground). Also, Louise’s body was found in Waipahu, where the two previous victims disappeared. Medeiros was three months pregnant and had just returned from his mother’s funeral on the island of Kauai when she vanished on the evening of March 26. Due to the above moderate state of decomposition, the medical examiner couldn’t say for sure whether there had been sexual activity or not. On April 30, 36-year-old paging service employee Linda Pesce was reported missing by her roommate when she never got home from a work meeting the evening before and didn’t show up at her job that day. That same afternoon, Linda’s car was found abandoned and unlocked at an intersection near the Keehi Lagoon. Motorists claimed that on the evening of April 29 they saw the car’s emergency lights flashing, indicating it had stalled. They also described a Caucasian or mixed ancestry man in his 30s or 40s, of medium build, and a cream-colored, american made van with letters on its rear windows, both beside Pesce’s vehicle. Finally, on May 3, a civilian discovered Linda’s nude body in a secluded area on Sand Island, in the general vicinity of the Keehi Lagoon. She had been strangled and her hands were bound with parachute cord like the other victims. It appeared that the killer had tried to conceal the body with debris and dirt. The autopsy found high levels of acid phosphatase and some sperm in her intimate parts, suggesting she was raped.
Arrest and Aftermath
Howard Gay first came to police attention when Linda Pesce’s body had not yet been found. He voluntarily presented himself to the authorities claiming he had found some bones on Sand Island. When investigators processed the bones they discovered they were from a pig. Gay was put under surveillance and, on May 9, was arrested due to circumstantial evidence linking him to the serial killings. He perfectly matched the behavioral profile, was connected to all the crime scenes since he worked at the airport (where most of the victims were dumped) and lived in close proximity to Waipahu, where two victims disappeared and Louise Medeiros’ body was found. He also drove a cream-colored, american made van with letters on its rear windows, had a vasectomy like the man who raped three of the victims, and possibly had access to parachute cord due to his job. If that were not enough, Linda Pesce’s boss claimed she had written down Gay’s phone number on a note pad on the day she disappeared, since at that time Linda was looking for customers in the airport area. Also, much like Regina Sakamoto’s killer had fastened the body to the shore to ensure its discovery, he had brought police on the dump site of the Pesce murder. Gay offered to take a polygraph examination which gave an inconclusive result, and consented to a search at his home. Despite all the elements against him, he was released after being held and questioned for ten hours, since prosecutors Peter Carlisle and Michael McGuigan decided they had insufficient evidence to win a case (DNA evidence was not available at the time).
The killings stopped after Gay’s arrest and release. The latter returned to California in June 1986 to see his son, Jason, graduate from high school. Three days later, Jason was killed in an automobile accident, which prompted Howard to become a born-again Christian. Gay later worked for FedEx in Memphis, Tennessee, presumably when the latter acquired Flying Tiger Line, in 1988. He died of kidney failure in November of 2003. Despite the fact that Gay was never brought to trial nor convicted, Louis Souza, the lieutenant leading the task force, Jeff Yamashita, a homicide detective who worked on the Medeiros case, as well as Peter Carlisle, were all absolutely convinced that he was the Honolulu Strangler.
Given the lack of defensive wounds on the majority of the victims, it was assumed they were not forcefully abducted but rather Gay would lure them in his van with a ploy. Based on the fact that he had a prior contact with Linda Pesce, as well as the testimony of the assistant manager at La Mariana Sailing Club, it cannot be ruled out that he pre-selected at least some of his victims, stalked and talked to them, and eventually struck when opportunity presented itself (e.g. when they needed a ride). This would explain why he was able to win the trust of the women he killed. In at least two occasions (possibly three), he lured his victims while they were standing at a bus stop. When he had them under control, he would bind them with parachute cord, rape them, and strangle them, presumably with the same type of ligature. On ”Breaking Homicide”, it was suggested he used the back of his van to avoid being seen while he did all this. When he was done with his victims, Gay would dump them in bodies of water close to the airport area, where he worked. In one occasion, he dumped a victim within a short driving distance from his home.
The FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit profiled the Honolulu Strangler as being a Caucasian male in his late 30s or early 40s who had no prior criminal record, may had been experiencing marital or girlfriend problems at the time, drove a cream-colored, american made van, and may have lived or worked in the area between Sand Island and Waipahu. He was also an opportunist who cruised for victims and struck when opportunity presented itself, rather than a stalker who chose his victims. Nevertheless, the theory that the killer might had been surveilling his victims was recently proposed by retired profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole, on the true crime tv series Breaking Homicide.
All of the following were attacked in Honolulu. Locations refer to where the victims were last seen:
- May 29, 1985: Waikiki: Vicky Gail Purdy, 25 (bound and strangled, was also raped)
- 1986:(all were bound and strangled)
- January 14: Waipahu: Regina Sakamoto, 17 (was also raped)
- January 30: Waipahu: Denise Hughes, 21 (possibly raped)
- March 26: Honolulu Int. Airport: Louise Medeiros, 25 (possibly raped)
- April 29: Nimitz Highway-Middle Street intersection: Linda Pesce, 36 (was also raped)
- Note: A former female assistant manager at La Mariana Sailing Club, known only as Naomi B., claimed a man very similar to Gay, who also had a cream-colored van, insistently asked her to accept a ride from him in 1986.
|Name:||Howard Andrew Gay|
|Alias:||– The Honolulu Strangler|
– The Honolulu Rapist
|Birth Date:||January 1, 1943|
|Birth Place:||Buffalo, New York|
|Death Date:||November 2, 2003 (aged 60)|
|Death Place:||Inglewood, California|
|Occupation:||– Airline mechanic|
– Phone company employee
– U.S. airman
|Classification:||– Serial killer (sexually-based)|
– Sexual homicide (organized)
|Modus Operandi:||– Binding|
– Ligature Strangulation
|Signature:||– Fastening one of the bodies in place to make sure it was found|
– Going to the authorities to make them find his dead victim
|Number of Victims:||– 5 killed|
– 3+ raped
|Span of Crimes:||May 29, 1985 – April 29, 1986|
|Capture:||May 9, 1986|
|Status:||Deceased (kidney failure)|
- Wikipedia’s article on Flying Tiger Line
- Howard Gay Obituary – 2003 – Victorville, CA – Daily Press
- Howard Andrew Gay – Ancestry.com
- The Honolulu Advertiser – Saturday, May 10, 1986 – Pages A1-A4
- The Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
- Hawaii Tribune-Herald – Thursday, February 6, 1986 – Page 2
- Breaking Homicide – 1×05 – The Honolulu Strangler. 2018
- Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspective for Investigators – FBI
- John E. Douglas, Ann W. Burgess, R.N., D.N Sc., Allen G. Burgess, Robert K. Ressler. Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books. 1992. ISBN: 978-0-669-24638-4