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The tragic deaths of five women and an escaped murderer known as the “Honolulu Strangler”

portrait of a picture of a balding man in green collared shirt and dark sunglasses
Picture of Howard Gay, who police believed was the "Honolulu Strangler" but was never convicted due to insufficient evidence.
Photo provided by The True Crime Database

This story is heavily based on information provided by the “Case File Podcast”, or “Casefile”–an award-winning Australian crime podcast with an anonymous host. Any other sources used in the story will be stated. 

He walked into the Honolulu Police Department and claimed to know where her body was. The police followed the suspicious informant in hopes of finding answers to four other unsolved murders.

The First Victim: Vicki Purdy 

Vicki Purdy, age 25, was described as a feisty woman who could hold her own. Her husband said she always dreamed of living in Hawaii. Although she struggled to adjust to the laid-back lifestyle on Oahu, she became more settled when she started working at a video store.

On May 29, 1984, after a night out with friends, Purdy was reported missing. She was last seen at midnight by a taxi driver who dropped her off at her car.

Her husband said Purdy planned to be home around 9 p.m. When he went looking for her, he found her car parked in the same place she left it with a new dent and no sign of Purdy.

The Honolulu Police Department later received a phone call reporting a body in the Keehi Lagoon. It was Purdy. She was found in the same clothes she was wearing the night she disappeared and had injuries consistent with homicide.

The True Crime Database said after months of no leads, the case went cold until the morning of Jan.14, 1986, when the second victim was found.

Illustration by Emily Hendrickson
Illustration by Emily Hendrickson

The Second Victim: Regina Sakamoto

Regina Sakamoto, age 17, went missing after calling her boyfriend to let him know she would be late to school. According to, she took local transit because she missed the school bus and was last seen waiting at the bus stop.

No alarm was raised until later that night when she didn’t return home from school. Her family called the police and reported her missing.

Sakamoto’s body was found in the Keehi Lagoon, less than one mile from the location where Vicki Purdy’s body was found. Due to the similarities of the two murders, the police began to believe they were facing a serial killer.

The Third Victim: Denise Hughes

According to The True Crime Database, two weeks after they found Sakamoto, they found the body of 21-year-old Denise Hughes. She lived in Pearl City with her husband and took the bus every day to work. One day, she was believed to be at the bus stop earlier than usual and was later reported missing.

She was found by three teenagers in a drainage canal around the same area where Purdy and Sakamoto were found. She had similar injuries to the two previous victims.

Once it was confirmed these cases were related, the police created a task force to solve the murders with help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The True Crime Database shared the FBI’s profile of the killer, saying, “[He] was an opportunistic but organized killer because he left very little evidence. He most likely works or resides in the area.”

The Fourth Victim: Louise Medeiros

Seven weeks after Hughes’ body was found, 24-year-old Louise Medeiros’ body was found. She was three months pregnant.

Medeiros had returned home from visiting family in Kauai and planned on catching a bus from the airport to her boyfriend’s apartment. She was last seen at the Honolulu airport bus stop and was reported missing on March 26, 1986.

Road workers found Medeiros’ body under a freeway overpass near Waikele Stream. Her body had the same injuries as the other women.

Major Louise Susa, the head of the task force, said the department didn’t have any leads, but women were warned to be on high alert and avoid public transportation.

The Fifth Victim: Linda Pesce

Linda Pesce, age 36, was known as streetwise and tough. When she moved to Hawaii, she was married and had a daughter. However, she later separated from her husband and moved in with one of her friends. She was reported missing by her roommate on April 29, 1986.

The police found Pesce’s car on the side of Nimitz Highway. They theorized she had car trouble and left on foot to the bus stop.

A Penn State University website reports witnesses reported seeing “a light-colored van nearby and a possibly Caucasian man near her car.”

Four days after Pesce’s disappearance, a man matching the witnesses’ description walked into the Honolulu Police Department claiming a psychic told him where they could find Pesce’s body.

Howard Gay, age 43, took the police to Sand Island, but was noticeably avoiding one area. The police moved to this spot and found Pesce’s body with injuries similar to the other victims.

A Suspect 

Gay was arrested for Pesce’s murder on May 9, 1986 and was questioned for several hours. When confronted directly about the crime, Gay put his head down and said he didn’t do it.

According to the Penn State University website, Gay’s girlfriend “told investigators that some nights when they fought, he would leave the house. These nights were the same nights the murders occurred.”

One woman claimed she saw a man with Pesce on the night she was killed and picked Gay out of a lineup. However, the woman did not consent to be a witness in court out of worry for her safety.

The police were convinced they found the deemed “Honolulu Strangler.” However, there was not sufficient evidence to convict him.

Gay died in 2003 and was never charged for the murders of Vicki Purdy, Regina Sakamoto, Denise Hughes, Louise Medeiros or Linda Pesce. There have been no other murders linked to this case.•