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Likeness of murder victim created in hope of solving decades-old case

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 5:01 a.m. HST, Jul 29, 2011

Honolulu police detectives are hoping to draw leads on a mysterious, decades-old murder by releasing photos of a clay likeness of the victim's head.

The skeletal remains of the man were found in October by construction workers who first unearthed a sock that contained what appeared to be a human foot and leg bones while digging in the backyard of a Manoa residence.

An excavation later revealed a body, partially under a concrete slab, with three gunshot wounds in the head.

Various clues point to the body being more than 3 decades old. The man's remains were the only ones found on the site, police said. 

After months of dead ends, police decided to attempt to reconstruct the victim's skull and face and ask the public for help in identifying him.

It is only the fourth time that Honolulu police have created a replica of a missing person and the first involving a murder victim, said Chun Yee, a veteran graphic artist for HPD's Scientific Investigation Section.

The skull, which was partially damaged by the bullet wounds, was reconstructed by the military's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. A copy was sent to the police Scientific Investigation Section, which put a face on the skull.

Besides unveiling the bust to the news media Thursday, police released images of what the man might look like with different hairstyles, facial hair and even eye color.

"I know it was a long time ago, but someone may have known something at the time and with this reconstruction, and what he may have looked like, they may have seen him," said Sgt. Kim Buffett, Honolulu CrimeStoppers coordinator.

Police believe the man died no earlier than 1982 because a coin in his pocket was from that year, she said.

He appeared to be in his 40s or 50s, and was 5 feet 6 inches to 6 feet tall, Buffett said. He was wearing Levi Panatela pants, a dark polo shirt and white tube socks with blue trim.

HPD's Missing Persons Detail went through each of the unsolved missing-persons cases in both the 1970s and 1980s and has not been able to find a match.

Initial public outreach on the case netted some leads, but none proved significant, Buffett said.

Homicide Lt. David Kamai asked that the public examine the picture and take themselves back some 30 years.

If he were alive today, the man would be about 60 or 70 years old, he said.

Kamai said a series of homeowners, including the current one, have been questioned, as have various contractors who have worked on the house.

None are suspects, he said.

The owner of the residence, who asked not to be identified for fear it would hurt his business reputation, said he has owned the property for about 31⁄2 years. He said he never met the previous owners and that he was told the property had changed hands a number of times through the last few decades.

City records show the original, front dwelling was constructed in 1939 with several improvements made over the years, while the second dwelling was first built in 1983.

Area residents in the tree-lined Oahu Avenue neighborhood, a short distance mauka of the Waioli Tea Room, were surprised by the grisly findings.

Gail Campbell, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 35 years, said the property where the body was found has long been a transient rental property.

"People are going in and out," she said.

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