Don Chapman has a new book out titled “The Goodfather: The Life of Larry Mehau.” Chapman is the former editor of “MidWeek” and has been a journalist in Hawaii for 40 years.
Larry Mehau (1929-2015) headed the Honolulu Police Department’s Metro Squad. He began its K9 corps. He was a sumo champion, martial arts black belt, cowboy and rancher.
Mehau was also an adviser to governors, businessmen, athletes, police officers and security driver to U.S. presidents and foreign leaders.
Some said he was the godfather of local organized crime, a term Chapman disputes. Any way you look at it, Mehau was an interesting character. Let’s take a look at his life.
Larry Ehukai Mehau was born on Hawaii island and attended Kamehameha Schools. He joined the Honolulu Police Department in 1953. Three years later he was promoted to sergeant.
Metro Squad leader
In 1961 he took over the legendary Metro Squad, a group within HPD of fearless, specifically selected officers, personally trained by Mehau.
“Mehau hired big, strong guys,” Chapman wrote, “often Kamehameha graduates like himself and trained them in martial arts and sumo. They wore jeans and aloha shirts and rode into the Honolulu night to fight crime.”
“I really used to feel like I could fight 10 regular guys and not get hurt,” Mehau said. “Well, I might get hurt, but I could not lose.”
While on the vice squad, Mehau and two other officers raided a gambling den with 24 card sharks inside. Sensing an advantage, the gamblers decided to teach the officers a lesson.
Mehau picked one up and threw him out a window. Ten ran away. Fourteen were captured.
In one 11-month period, he raided 485 gambling games and made 4,126 arrests.
Mehau also started HPD’s K9 corps, training the police dogs on his own time in his backyard and paying for their food himself.
Three German shepherds — Lady, Rinny and Kimo — joined the Metro Squad in 1961. The police officers said they expected no arguments from anyone facing the alert, eager canines. Eight other dogs were still being trained.
Actor Marlon Brando, who coincidentally starred in the 1972 film “The Godfather,” had a ride-along one night with the Metro Squad. Four men jumped out of an automobile on Kapahulu Avenue and attacked the squad car, Eddie Sherman wrote in a 1964 column.
“The police officer loomed up large as Diamond Head,” the actor recalled without identifying the officer. It didn’t take long to “convince” the men that they belonged home in bed.
Robert Conrad, the star of TV’s “Hawaiian Eye,” was on a ride-along of his own. He witnessed a shakedown of a downtown dance hall that produced 36 knives, razors and blackjacks.
Chapman says Mehau’s mental side seemed equal to his physical prowess. Faced with a problem, he always tried diplomacy first. Mehau was called on to mediate gang disputes. Criminals knew he was always true to his word and trusted him.
He used common sense to cool things down and convince them that continued violence would only hurt both sides.
His police duties included driving Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon; the Shah of Iran; Syngman Rhee of Korea; the king of Nepal; and Madame Chiang Kai-shek of Taiwan.
Mehau was the amateur sumo champion in Hawaii, but at 250 pounds would be small by today’s professional sumo standards. The smaller guys are 300 pounds, and the biggest, closer to 500 pounds. He led a team to Japan in 1961 and won five of six tournaments.
It was Mehau who convinced Jesse Kuhaulua to pursue a professional sumo career. Kuhaulua wavered but Mehau persuaded him. He became a star in Japan known as Takamiyama, the first foreign-born wrestler to win a top-division championship in 1972.
Mehau was physically strong. He could tear phone books apart with his bare hands. He could break curbstones, bricks and bamboo poles, using karate.
Chapman said Mehau often placed two chairs 5 feet apart, then, putting his heels on one and shoulders on the other, held himself in the air with his abdominal muscles.
A 400-pound rock was placed on his stomach. Another policeman would split the rock with a blow from a sledgehammer. “Through blow after blow, Mehau’s torso never bent.”
Mehau, who had been promoted to lieutenant, turned in his badge No. 84 and left HPD in 1963. He went into the security business, buying out Hawaii Protective Association, which at the time provided security to Hawaii airports.
At the height of Don Ho’s stardom, a representative of a mainland mafia family flew to Hawaii to extort protection money from him, Chapman says.
Ho called Mehau. Mehau met with the gangster and told him to call his bosses right then. “If you’re looking for trouble, I’m gonna help you find it.
“So call whoever it is told you, you could come over here and do whatever you want. I hope you can swim good because there’s no place for you to hide, and you’re going to have to swim a long way.”
Concert promoter Tom Moffatt found himself in similar trouble. A Korean national who was trying to get into the concert business here blamed Moffatt for his lack of success and put out a hit on Moffatt’s life. Mehau intervened, and the whole thing was called off.
“The guy saved my life, right? I’d have done anything for him,” Moffatt told Chapman. “But he never asked me for anything.
“I mean, if you’re going to ask anyone for something, it’s a concert promoter — free tickets, better seats, backstage passes. Larry never asked.”
Don Ho was invited to a conference in Japan in 1999, his wife, Haumea Ho, told me.
Don asked Mehau to provide security for the trip. The two of them were surrounded by well-wishers when they arrived — all wanted to see Mehau and shake his hand.
Chapman believes Mehau was mislabeled the godfather of organized crime. He says that the appellation came from Maui newspaper publisher Rick Reed, who told Chapman recently that he did a lot of drugs back then!
Reed wrote in the Valley Isle newspaper in 1977 that Mehau was the godfather of local organized crime, and that was quickly picked up by other media outlets.
Mehau sued Reed, who issued an apology, and others who repeated the allegation. Mehau settled lawsuits with KHON TV2 and United Press International, with them paying him over $75,000.
Multiple state and federal agencies, including HPD, the FBI, and the IRS, investigated Mehau, Chapman says. None found any wrongdoing, much less evidence that he’d acted as a criminal godfather.
“Larry was often called on to settle differences between local underworld factions, just as he had in his days as a cop. There is no disputing that he knew all the bad guys and had their respect. But I don’t believe he was one of them.”
Former state Attorney General Michael Lilly said he looked into the allegations and found no truth to support them.
Former Judge James Burns said his mother and father (who had been a police captain) had a deep bond with Mehau, and “we watched him, the poor guy, catching hell in the press for alleged connections, but as far as we were concerned, he was a really good man, a good citizen, very honest and very loyal.”
Eddie Sherman said, “Larry Mehau was a cop’s cop, a man’s man, and true friend.”
Mehau was a man who went through life looking for ways to help others and to do good, Chapman concludes. “He was not an angel, not above making a buck, but he was as thoughtful as he was tough.
“He was investigated as much or more than anyone in Hawaii, and every time came up clean.”
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