A Crime To Remember on Investigation Discovery is crossing the seas to bring you an old tale out of Hawaii, about the tragic death of Joe Kahahawai Jr., a local man who many believe was falsely accused of raping and beating Thalia Massie, an American white woman and the wife of a Navy lieutenant. The murder case, which happened over 80 years ago, is one that was never forgotten due to its overtones of racial injustice and prejudice, which some allege, was based on the blatant lies of one woman. On Tuesday night’s A Crime To Remember, in the episode “Paradise Lost,” you’ll hear from local historians and crime experts.
A Beautiful Place To Murder
The “Paradise Lost” episode of A Crime To Remember is based on the 1931 case of a woman who accused a group of local Hawaiian men of beating and raping her.
The events occurred after 20-year-old Thalia Massie stormed out of a party and into the night, leaving her husband, Thomas Massie, behind. According to those who knew Thalia Massie, this was nothing new since she had quite a reputation for getting angry, lashing out, and then abruptly leaving whatever event was going on.
In fact, her behavior was so bad that Thomas Massie wanted to divorce her. But after discovering that his wife had been found beaten and raped on the side of the road in Hawaii, he wanted justice, and was prepared to get it for her, even if he had to take the law into his own hands.
According to Thalia, she was walking on the road when five men dragged her inside of a vehicle and later stopped along some brush, where they proceeded to rape and beat her.
A Violation of White Purity: Someone Had To Pay
Police quickly zeroed in on a group of men who were all arrested and charged with her rape. However, they all emphatically denied having anything to do with this. But the police were determined to pin it on them, even without evidence. It was also apparent that even the local newspapers had chosen sides judging by the way they referred to the Hawaiian men as thugs and the white woman as refined and cultured, according to the Honolulu Advertiser.
However, they say the real Thalia Massie was no lady. She was a drinking, wild-behaving woman who engaged in extramarital affairs. Still, the Navy’s higher-ups were incensed that this esteemed white woman had been raped by common thugs, especially since they were darker-skinned.
Despite taking the case to trial, the jury could not be convinced that these men had done it. A mistrial was declared and they were freed.
But the whites on the island and in America wanted justice. They didn’t seem to care whether these guys were guilty or not. To them, they were all evil men who had violated someone who was good and pure.
And the situation worsened once Thalia Massie’s mother arrived in town. Originally from the South, Grace Hubbard Fortescue, aka Grace Hubbard Bell, once stated that southerners had their own way of dealing with “nig—rs.”
In her mind, if the courts were not going to do their job, then she was going to mete out her own justice with the help of Thalia’s husband and two other men, according to Law2.
“Shortly after 8 a.m., Kahahawai is kidnapped and taken Grace Fortescue’s home. Kahahawai is sharply questioned, and then shot and killed. (It is not known who fired the gun. The defense will suggest Thomas Massie, but other evidence suggests it was Deacon Jones.) Kahahawai’s naked body is stuffed in a Buick and driven in the direction of the Halona Blowhole, a perfect place to dispose of bodies. Police spot the car as it approaches the ocean and arrest the occupants: Grace Fortescue, Thomas Massie, and Edward Lord. Deacon Jones is found at the murder scene and picked up for questioning. The prisoners are housed in luxurious surroundings aboard a ship in dock at Pearl Harbor.”
The plan was to drive the body to the edge of the cliff and push it over the side, hoping that it would be lost into the ocean forever. However, their plans changed after the police caught them with Joe Kahahawai’s dead body in the back of the car. Grace Hubbard and Thomas Massie were arrested and sent to trial for the murder. In an interview with the New York Times, she was candid and unapologetic as she openly admitted to killing Joe Kahahawai.
Believing she would get away with murder, she was horrified when she and her son-in-law were found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. However, that sentence was commuted and reduced to a shocking one hour.
The documentary American Experience: The Massie Affair gives some insight as to what happened to the trio once Grace and Thomas were freed.
- Grace Hubbard Fortescue and Thomas and Thalia Massie were shipped out of Hawaii and welcomed with open arms by Americans.
- Thomas Massie stayed married to Thalia for only two more years. He later remarried but lived a bitter life for the rest of his days, according to
- Thalia tried several attempts to kill herself. She finally committed suicide in 1936.
- Thalia’s mother, Grace, lived well. She went on to become a writer, inherited her father’s money, bought a mansion, and lived the good life until her 90s. She died in 1979, according to the story Those Other Roosevelts: The Fortescues by Raymond E. Spinzia.
“Mrs. Fortescue subsequently spent most of her time in Palm Beach taking up water-skiing at the age of seventy-five and parasailing at age eighty-seven.”
The story is examined further in the book Honor Killing by David Stannard. To step back in time to 1931, watch A Crime To Remember this Tuesday, at 9/8 p.m. Central on Investigation Discovery (ID).
[Featured Image by AP Photo/AP Images]