Twisted murders of the Honolulu Strangler investigated on Crime Junkie

Regina Sakamoto profile pic
Regina Sakamoto was one of the Honolulu Strangler’s victims. Pic credit: @KHONNewsHawaii/YouTube

Crime Junkie is examining the crimes of the Honolulu Strangler, sometimes known as the Honolulu Rapist, who terrorized the Hawaiian island from May 1985 to April 1986.

The killer raped and strangled five women before dumping their bodies in very similar circumstances. The first victim was 25-year-old Vicki Gail Purdy, who vanished during a night out with friends in May 1985.

Purdy’s body was found on an embankment the following morning with her hands tied behind her back. She had been raped and strangled.

The killer didn’t strike again until January 1986, when he murdered 17-year-old high school student Regina Sakamoto. The schoolgirl had missed her school bus and then vanished. Her remains were found with her hands tied behind her back, naked from the waist down.

The cops instantly linked the two cases due to the similarities in how the victims died and how their bodies were dumped.

Over the next few months, the remains of 21-year-old Denise Hughes, 25-year-old Louise Medeiros, and 36-year-old Linda Pesce were all discovered in a similar fashion.

The FBI created a profile for the Honolulu Strangler

After the third murder involving Denise Hughes, the Honolulu Police Department were convinced they were dealing with a serial killer and set up a task force. They requested help from the FBI, who compiled a profile of the killer.

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The FBI concluded that the killer was a Caucasian male between the ages of 30 and 40 and likely had no criminal record. The murderer was opportunistic instead of predatory, meaning he probably attacked only when he encountered women near where he lived or worked that he could easily abduct.

Police Chief Douglas Gibb explained that the killer was likely “experiencing marital or girlfriend problems… the selection of victims is probably the result of opportunity or chance encounters.”

The cops found a suspect when Howard Gay came forward, claiming a psychic had told him where to find the body of Pesce. Gay appeared to fit the profile of the potential killer and could not adequately account for his whereabouts during the murders.

Cops suspected Howard Gay may be the Honolulu Strangler

Howard was arrested in May 1986, but there was not enough evidence to charge him, so he was released after ten hours. The police monitored him closely for years but never acquired the evidence to make an arrest. Gay died in 2003.

In 2016, Regina Sakamoto’s brother Omar Sakamoto spoke fondly about his older sister calling her “smart, fun-loving… and everyone’s friend.” He said he hoped that modern DNA testing could help solve the case.

At the same time, former investigator Gary Dias lamented the lack of DNA testing in the 1980s, complaining that they could only test for blood type during the initial investigation.

In 2016, the cops assured the families and press that the case was still open. Honolulu PD Spokesperson Michelle Yu said, “We will pursue all leads, whether it’s from someone who has new information or a new form of DNA testing.”

SERIAL KILLER: The Honolulu Strangler is available to stream now on Crime Junkie.

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