In 1931, five young Hawaiian men were wrongfully charged of raping the white wife of a U.S. Navy officer stationed at Pearl Harbor. Her name was Thalia Massie, and she alleged it happened around midnight when she decided to go for a walk and get some air. The case was declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict, and the men were released.
In what became known as the Massie trials, the family of the accuser—including her mother and husband—then kidnapped and killed one of the five accused men in January of 1932. He was a Native Hawaiian boxer named Joseph Kahahawai.
Portraits of Joseph “Joe” Kahahawai circa 1931 (left) and his brother, Joseph Kahahawai circa 1954. Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress and the Kahahawai family.
The Massie’s were tried and sentenced to ten years in prison for manslaughter… But under threats of Martial Law from Congress, they were pardoned by the territorial governor of Hawaii, who commuted their sentence to one hour in his office. The Massie family fled to the mainland, and never returned.
After decades of silence, the Kahahawai family has started speaking publicly about the case, and the impact “Joe” Kahahawai’s murder had on their family and the broader Hawaiian community.
At StoryCorps, his nieces, Kim Farrant and Joy Kahahawai-Welch, remember their uncle, and how the family has kept his name and legacy alive.
Joseph Kahahawai’s gravesite, at the Puea Cemetery in Kalihi, Honolulu, HI, on January 8, 2022 (the anniversary of his murder). Courtesy of the Kahahawai family.
Top Photo: Kim Farrant and Joy Kahahawai-Welch at their StoryCorps interview in Honolulu on June 17, 2022. By Ben DeHaven for StoryCorps.
This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Originally aired Jan. 5, 2024, on NPR’s Morning Edition.