Saturday, May 25, 2013

1930s Injustice - The Massie Travesty

Thalia Massie
Thalia Massie
Injustice in the justice system is nothing new, and it certainly does not only happen to one segment of the population. A prime example of injustice in the 1930s was the Massie Trial which took place in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1932.

This gripping real-life tale of race, prejudice, money, sex, murder, and politics exposed the tensions, racial and political problems in Hawaii's territorial era.

It all started on September 12th in 1931, Thalia Massie, the 20-year-old wife of United States Navy lieutenant Thomas H. Massie, attended a party at Honolulu’s Ala Wai Inn in Waikiki, and was later beaten and assaulted with her jaw broken in two places.

Supposed over Thalia's objections, her husband immediately phoned the police, who arrived to take her statement. Initially she could not provide any details at all, stating that it was too dark to identify any of the men or to see any details of the car they emerged from.

But then several hours later, her story changed. She now not only described her assailants as "locals", but gave police a license plate number.

Before September 13th dawns, the young Navy wife will tell her story three times -- each time differently.

And yes, each time saying that she cannot identify her assailants or their car. In the coming months, Thalia Massie, the defendants, and eyewitnesses will offer contradictory testimony when describing the evening's events.

On September 13th, Honolulu police arrest five suspects in the Massie case: Horace Ida, Benny Ahakuelo, Joseph Kahahawai, Henry Chang and David Takai.

The five were accused of assaulting Thalia Massie. A police report filed at 1:35am has implicated Horace Ida on another charge. One of the four passengers in Ida's car has been in a fight with a Native Hawaiian woman, who reports Ida's car and license plate number.

When the police arrested Horace Ida. Ida was not entirely surprised at first, as only a few hours earlier he had been involved in a near collision while driving his sister's car.

Although there was no damage, an argument broke out with the other driver and one of his friends, Joe Kahahawai who some say was a well known local prizefighter, slugged the woman. Yes, the young boxer actually punched the lady.

Upon the boxer's arrival at the police station, the charges with the altercation were never brought up - instead to his dismay he found that he was being charged with rape.

At first glance, Thalia's story seemed to hold water. Thalia's license plate was off by only one digit (or letter) and her description of the men, Ida and his friends, was fairly accurate.

However, it later became known that the police taking Thalia's statement had in fact "told her" both pieces of information, apparently after hearing the name and description from the initial complaint filed by the woman driver.

This is the account of the earlier incident involving Horace Ida:

"Horace Ida, a young Japanese man, had borrowed his sister's two year old car and had attended a luau accompanied by his pals Joe Kahahawai, Benny Ahakuelo, David Takai and Henry Chang.

(Left to Right) Horace Ida, David Takai, Henry Chang, Joe Kahahawai and Ben Ahakuelo.

At about 12:30 A.M, Horace suggested they call it a night. He and his friends piled into the car and left the luau. As the car passed through an intersection in downtown Honolulu, Horace barely missed colliding with an automobile coming from the opposite direction.

There was no contact between the two cars, but both drivers stopped and everyone piled out to argue the fine points of Hawaiian motor vehicle law.

The occupants of the other car were a Mr. and Mrs. Peeples. Mrs. Peeples was voicing her opinion of Horace Ida's driving skills when Big Joe Kahahawai (all six feet and more of him) hauled off and punched her in the face.

Mrs. Peeples was equal to the challenge. She gave as good as she got. She clenched her fist, wound up, and to Big Joe's surprise, slugged him in the mouth!

The incident was about to become a small riot when cooler heads prevailed, and the Peeples drove off to the police station to report the incident. At the station, the Peeples gave Horace Ida's license plate as 58-895, and the police put out an all points bulletin for the car and its occupants.

At about the same time, the police learned of the rape in Ala Moana Park, so it was only natural that they would assume that the occupants of the Ida car were more than likely the perpetrators of the assault on Thalia Massie.

Horace Ida and his friends were eventually located through the car's license plate and were brought before Thalia at the police station.

She was unable to identify Horace Ida, who was wearing a brown leather jacket when she saw him. When asked the license number of the assailants' car, she did not remember it, but she later heard the plate number 58-895 being broadcast at the police station.

The next day, under further questioning, Thalia Massie's story began to change.

She now "remembered" that one of her assailants had been wearing a brown leather jacket and the license plate of the assailants' car was 58-805, only one digit was different from the number of Horace Ida's plate.

To the police, the case against Horace Ida and his friends began to look stronger. The five men insisted they were not part of any assault on a lone white woman walking through the darkness of John Ena Road. They explained their movements on the night at length. But the police were not persuaded. The five young men were indicted and charged with "rape and assault."

The defendants were represented by William Haehae Heen. This time the power of the Navy in Hawaii couldn't keep the story under wraps. And yes, believe it or not, in 1931, this story got national attention for all the wrong reasons.

Despite evidence pointing to the innocence of the detained men, they were assumed guilty by the national press, which ran stories about the locals who were preying on white women.

Journalism at the time was as bad as it is today, and subsequently the newspapers at the time made it sound like Hawaii has filled with local boys all trying to rape the first "white" woman they could find.

Hawaii's newspapers, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser, all but convicted the suspects in print.

On September 14th, the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, report the assault without naming Thalia Massie. Instead, the newspapers describe her as a "woman of refinement and culture" and the suspects as "fiends."

The trial started on November 16th.

At the trial, Thalia Massie’s testimony was inconsistent, and was contradicted by much of the evidence. After record-length deliberations, the local jury deadlocked, setting off an outpouring of racially charged invective in both the national and local press. Hawaii, it seemed, was a place where "white women could be raped at will."

On December 6th, less than a month later, the first trial of the accused men ended in a deadlock, and a mistrial was declared. The accused men were later set free due to lack of evidence, with a deadlocked jury that had taken 97 ballots in more than 100 hours of deliberation.

The release of the accused men fueled racial tensions and violence in Honolulu, including animosity between military personnel, people from the "Mainland", and locals. With the defendants out on bail, Massie’s family took it upon itself to mete out its own brand of justice.

On December 12th, Horace Ida was forced into their car in front of a beer shop in Ida's neighborhood. They drive him to an isolated part of Nuuanu Valley and beat him with belt buckles until he pretends to be unconscious.

It's true! Thalia's mother Grace Fortescue was not willing to wait for another trial or let justice rest. She arranged for the kidnapping and vicious beating of Horace Ida.

Meanwhile, police track down and guard the other four, who are all free on bail pending a new trial. But then on January 8th, Thalia Massie's mother, Grace Fortescue, her husband, Thomas Massie, and two other Navy men, Albert Jones and Edward Lord, kidnap Joseph Kahahawai as he leaves the Judiciary Building with his cousin.

Remembering what happened to Horace Ida, the cousin immediately tells a probation officer, who alerts Honolulu police and the Shore Patrol.

Imagine for a moment, after viciously beating of Horace Ida, Grace Fortescue, Thomas Massie with the help of two Navy enlisted men, kidnapped Joe Kahahawai. That takes incredible nerve. 

Joseph Kahahawai's death was brutal as he underwent "interrogation."

Yes, Grace Fortescue, Thomas Massie and the two sailors attempted to beat a confession out of him. When it didn't come, one of the group shot Joe Kahahawai in the head - executed for a crime many believe he did not have anything to do with.

Joe Kahahawai's dead body was then placed in a bathtub to clean off the blood. The murderers wrapped Joe Kahahawai in a sheet and placed his body in the back seat of their car and drove toward the rocky coastline near Koko Head where they planned to dump his body.

After killing him, they decided to dump Joseph Kahahawai's body near Koko Head at the Ha-lona Blowhole, which at the time was a fairly desolate area away from busy downtown Honolulu. The killers had figured his body and the evidence of what they did would demolished on the rocks before disappearing into the sea. And if not found, they assumed it unlikely that anyone would care.

A motorcycle policeman, who was already alerted to the kidnapping, stopped a car that was speeding toward the Ha-lona Blowhole. The officer saw the blinds on their car pulled down and considered it suspicious. When Mrs Fortescue and Tommie Massie, Thalia’s husband, emerged from the car -- there lay the bloody body of Joe Kahahawai in the backseat. The officer arrested all four for murder.
On January 9th, in response to the sensational newspaper accounts of the so-called "Honor Slaying," believe it or not, supporters send flowers and notes of sympathy to the Navy ship where Grace Fortescue and the other defendants are being held.

On January 22nd, a grand jury assembles to hear details of the murder and determine whether there is evidence sufficient for a trial.

The grand jury initially returns a "no bill" vote, failing to indict the murderers. Judge Albert Christy does not accept their vote and reminds the jurors that their job is not to determine the guilt or innocence of the murderers, but simply to vote that there is sufficient evidence to try the accused.

The grand jury continues to stall until January 26, when Judge Christy refreshes the jurors' memories of their responsibilities and of the overwhelming amount of evidence against the accused. The grand jury indicts the foursome on the charge of second-degree murder.

In other words, the grand jury said that Navy Lt. Thomas H. Massie, Grace Hubbard Bell Fortescue, E. J. Lord, and Albert O. Jones, did not plan the murder. Imagine that!

So with all four, Navy Lt. Thomas H. Massie, Grace Hubbard Bell Fortescue, E. J. Lord, and Albert O. Jones, indicted for second degree murder, a family friend gets the famous Clarence Darrow to defend the four.

On April 4th, the Territory vs. Grace Fortescue, et al. opens for jury selection. Celebrity attorney Clarence Darrow represents the defendants.

Jack Kelley represents the Territory, with Judge Charles Skinner Davis presiding. The jury is finalized seven days later, comprised of seven Caucasians, two Chinese, one Portuguese, and three Hawaiians.

Thomas H. Massie took responsibility for shooting Kahahawai, but his lawyer, the famous Clarence Darrow, told the court his client was temporarily insane with grief at the initial crime.

The defense was when the jury in the rape trial deadlocked, Thalia’s husband and mother murdered Kahahawai as an "honor killing." Even more than the rape trial, the "honor killing" murder trial rocked the nation, as did its unexpected verdict.

On April 20th, Thalia Massie testifies for the defense. She recounts the events of the night of September 12th, but this time adding that she told her husband that Joseph Kahahawai beat her more than the other men.

It seems her story changed every time she opened her mouth.

On April 27th, Clarence Darrow delivers a four-and-a-half-hour closing argument that is broadcast over radio across the United States.  Jack Kelley follows with his own summation. The jury is sent to deliberate at 5:00pm.

On April 29th, just over 48 hours later, the jury returns with a verdict. The jury finds the defendants guilty of manslaughter and recommends leniency. The courtroom and the American audience are shocked that the group have been convicted.

Yes, the four were convicted. But not of murder, but only of the lesser crime of manslaughter.

On May 4th, Judge Charles S. Davis sentences the defendants to the mandatory sentence for manslaughter in Hawaii which was then ten years hard labor at Oahu Prison.

But wait, remember with money and power, you can get away with murder. Governor Lawrence Judd, who was a political appointee, under pressure from the Navy and the U.S. government, immediately commutes the sentence. Incredible as it might seem today, Governor Lawrence Judd immediately commuted their sentences to one hour - to be served in his office.

Yes, image the nerve it takes to pull of such an atrocity of justice in plain view. The convicted killers and Thalia Massie walk across the street to the governor's office to serve their time. Imagine that! They served only one hour for killing someone! 

Hawaii's Princess Kawananakoa spoke for many less powerful, and less white, voices in Hawaii, when she said,  "Are we to infer from the Governor's act that there are two sets of laws in Hawaii -- one for the favored few and one for the people generally?" 

To me, that was definitely the case. And yes, it had a lasted effect on race relations in Hawaii. And no, not in a good way. The effects of what took place, the murder, the injustice, the actions taken by her, her husband, her family, the controversial court decisions, the Navy cover up, the open racism demonstrated by all including the Governor Judd, all contributed to racial tensions between locals and Whites in the Islands.

On May 8th, Thalia Massie, Grace Fortescue, Thomas Massie, and  the two other Navy men, all depart Hawaii aboard the ship Malolo, steaming to San Francisco. By boarding the ship, Thalia avoided being served a summons to appear in the retrial of the four surviving men she claimed had assaulted her. The retrial will never take place. And yes, it is said they left the islands with racial tensions and in turmoil.

Now for the rest of the story.

Grace Hubbard Fortescue was the granddaughter of Gardiner Greene Hubbard, who was the first president of the National Geographic Society. So yes, the family had big money behind them.

Though she was married to Major Granville "Rolly" Fortescue, one of the sons of Congressman Robert Barnwell Roosevelt who was also an uncle of Theodore Roosevelt, that did not leave her as financially successful as she would have wished. But she being the phony pretentious person that she was, Grace Hubbard Fortescue nevertheless kept up appearances and raised her daughter Thalia with an "upper class" lifestyle. Thalia Fortescue married Lieutenant Thomas Massie, who was a rising United States Navy officer.

In 1930, Lt. Massie was stationed at Pearl Harbor, where Thalia considered herself "above" the rest of the officers' wives and soon became an outcast. The marriage, not very successful to start with, degenerated into heavy drinking and public fights. And yes, infidelity. Supposedly, Thalia Massie's infidelity was widely known among Navy officers.

As we know, on the night of September 12, 1931, the couple drove to a Waikiki nightclub and attended a Navy event at the Ala Wai Inn. What should be mentioned is that Thalia Massie had an argument with another Navy officer at that party. It was an argument which ended with her slapping that officer and then storming out.

And yes, there is only speculation that that officer followed her. No one really knows if he or another spurned officer met Thalia alone that night. It is assumed that one did, and either he or another Navy officer actually beat her.

Her claims of rape were never substantiated by today's standards. She claimed so, and everyone simply believed her. It is assumed that someone did, and beat her. But no, no one really knows if her claims were true or not.

Since she was caught in so many inconsistencies and lies, no one knows if this was a case of a jilted lover in an extra-marital affair, violence resulting from unwanted advances by another officer, or truly a rape case.

There is another point, there really is the possibility that another officer beat her. You see, Lt. Massie, supposedly not having witnessed the event, assumed Thalia became tired and had gone home.

Thalia Massie 
Friends, if my wife became tired and wanted to go home, I would be the one driving my wife home. Thomas Massie said that he did not see her leave, or with who?

That's right, he drove his wife there -- but she left with someone else. She sure didn't walk home, Waikiki is simply not near enough to Pearl Harbor to walk home.

And also, no one asked Thomas Massie who he thought may have driven his wife home? He did not even speculate who drove off with her, why not? 

While Thalia Massie could not have been described as pretty and looked more homely than anything else, why wouldn't a husband know who took his wife home from a party that they were attending together?

It could have been, after all before the supposed "rape" ever took place, Thomas Massie did threaten to send his wife back to her parents on the Mainland if she didn't improve her behavior. It seems that Thomas Massie didn't care about her leaving the party with someone else until his reputation and "name" was on the line -- only after it became public that she was beaten and supposedly "raped".

No one asked him why he didn't care enough to ask who she left with? Was this her way? Did she do this before? Was this commonly done or was this unusual for her to do? Arrive with your husband and leave with someone else? What's that all about? Was she promiscuous? Was her headstrong running around out of hand? 

Why wasn't her behavior part of the issue? Why wasn't it determined who drove her? Who was with her? Where that driver dropped her off? What her condition was when they dropped her off? Did they see anything? The list of questions that needed to be asked by competent investigators is almost endless, yet none of those questions were asked in court.

Why weren't they asked? I believe it was because she was a White women, a Navy Officer's wife, a person from a prominent family, a supposedly wealthy family, a family with political connections. I believe the Navy and civil authorities accepted her ever changing stories because she claimed to have been beaten and raped by locals who were seen as a dark skinned race of peasants, a lower class of people.

In 1934, two years after the senseless murder of Joe Kahahawai, Thomas Massie's subsequent manslaughter conviction, and the sentence's commutation, more public fights and infidelity, Thalia Massie and her husband finally divorced.

In 2006, a mock trial was held.
On August 3, 2006, during the American Bar Association convention at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, a mock trial was held.  

Hawaii's Lt. Governor James Aiona served as the judge at the mock trial, using a copy of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency report compiled by the then Territorial Government and using 21st century forensic techniques, looked into the rape case once more.  

Lawyers attending the convention acted as the Jury. After testimony from two experts, and new arguments about the case, the lawyers voted with a unanimous "Not guilty" verdict for all defendants.

Among other deciding factors was the defense's evidence that the five men accused of the rape had been involved in violence on the other side of Honolulu near the time of the alleged attack on Massie and would not have been able to reach Waikiki in time to have also raped Massie as she described.

In a coincidental historical twist, the Hawaii Convention Center -- where the mock trial was held -- sits on the former site of the Ala Wai Inn where the case first started back in 1931.

As for Thalia Massie? Well, as stated before, Thalia and Thomas Massie divorced just two years later in 1934. Was it a result of his wife's running around? Who knows.

When investigating, Pinkerton detectives reported that the accused young men were undeniably innocent. It's true, the Pinkerton Detective Agency handed Governor Judd a 279-page report of the Massie case. The report concluded, "It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the kidnapping and assault was not caused by those accused."

Thalia Massie rejected their findings, stating, "It's a lie -- and a stupid lie."

In 1963, while living in Florida, Thalia Massie committed suicide. And while some say it was justice finally served, with her death went the secret name of her real attacker, the person she protected. Though her husband said he killed Joe Kahahawai, I believe Thalia Massie did so when she lied -- just as if she pulled the trigger herself.

Fact is, her self-serving version of events implicated five innocent young men in a crime which they could not have committed because they were confirmed as being somewhere else at the time. One of the men was murderer as a result, and the others never fully escaped the shadow of the trial.

Throughout the rest of her life, it is said that Thalia Massie never exhibited any remorse or discussed the possibility that she had identified the wrong men -- and that one man had died because of her lie.

One can only wonder if her soul is not at rest. It wouldn't surprise me if it isn't.

Tom Correa 


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