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Grace Hubbard FORTESCUE





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Revenge for the alleged rape of her daughter
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 8, 1932
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: Novembe3 3, 1883
Victim profile: Joseph Kahahawai (one of the defendants in the alleged rape of her daughter)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Status: Sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 3, 1932. Under pressure from the Navy, Territorial Governor Lawrence M. Judd commuted the 10-year sentences of the convicted killers to one hour, to be served in his office
photo gallery 1 photo gallery 2

Grace Hubbard Fortescue, née Grace Hubbard Bell (1883–1979) was a New York socialite who took the law into her own hands and killed a defendant charged with the rape of her daughter, an act that earned her a one-hour sentence for manslaughter.


Grace Hubbard Bell was born November 3, 1883 in Washington DC. Her father Charles John Bell was first cousin of inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who married her mother's sister. Her grandfather Gardiner Hubbard was the first president of Bell Telephone Company. Her mother was Roberta Wolcott Hubbard Bell (1859–1885). The family lived in Twin Oaks in Washington, DC. Newspaper reports indicate that Grace could be classified as a prankster when a youth she and her friends stole a trolley car for a joy ride through the streets of Washington and on another occasion she blocked traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue by joining hands with friends and roller skating down the avenue.

She married U.S. Army Major Granville "Rolly" Fortescue (1875–1952), one of the sons of Robert Barnwell Roosevelt. Her husband was first cousin of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. The marriage was not financially successful as she would have wished. She was the mother of three daughters: Marion Fortestcue who married Daulton Gillespie Viskniskki in 1934, Thalia Fortescue Massie (1911–1963), and Kenyon Forestcue Reynolds (1914–1990), better known as actress Helene Whitney.

Outwardly, the Fortescues appeared to be wealthy country gentry. In reality, financial affairs became a primary concern for them after Granville's final retirement from the army. With the exception of a short stint as a fiction editor for Liberty magazine in 1930, he did not have steady employment, preferring to wait for the fortune his wife would inherit at the death of her parents.

Murder trial

A graying woman of fair complexion, standing at 5-feet 6-inches (168 cm) tall and weighing 134 pounds (61 kg), Grace Fortescue was charged with murder and convicted by a jury of manslaughter after the death of Joseph Kahahawai, one of the defendants in the alleged rape of her daughter.

Also charged and convicted with Fortescue were two sailors, Edward J. Lord and Deacon Jones, as well as Fortescue's son-in-law, Thomas Massie who participated in the abduction and murder of Kahahawai.

As of January 8, 1932, a criminal record indicates that while in Honolulu, Grace Fortescue lived on Kolowalu Street in Manoa Valley, a short distance from her daughter's home on Kahawai Street.

Attorney Clarence Darrow defended Fortescue, Jones, Massie and Lord and obtained a commutation of their sentence of ten-years imprisonment for manslaughter to one-hour in the executive chambers of Territorial Governor Lawrence M. Judd.


The Massie Trial for what was known as the Massie Affair, was a 1932 criminal trial that took place in Honolulu, Hawaii. Grace Hubbard Fortescue, along with several accomplices, was charged with murder in the death of well known local prizefighter Joseph Kahahawai. Fortescue was the mother of Thalia Massie, who had brought charges that Kahahawai was one of a group of men that had raped her.


Grace Hubbard Fortescue was the granddaughter of Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society. Her marriage to Major Granville "Rolly" Fortescue, one of the sons of Robert Barnwell Roosevelt, did not leave her as financially successful as she would have wished, but she nevertheless kept up appearances and raised her daughter Thalia with an American upper class lifestyle.

Thalia Fortescue married Lieutenant Thomas Massie, a rising United States Navy officer. In 1930, Massie was stationed at Pearl Harbor, where Thalia considered herself "above" the rest of the officers' wives and soon became an outcast. The marriage, apparently not terribly successful to start with, degenerated into heavy drinking and public fights.

On September 12, 1931 the couple attended a Navy event at the Ala Wai Inn, a Waikiki nightclub. Thalia had another argument which ended with her slapping an officer and then storming out. Massie, not having witnessed the event, assumed she was tired and had gone home.

Territory of Hawaii v. Ben Ahakuelo et al.

Massie eventually tried to call his wife to make sure she had arrived safely—after several calls Thalia finally answered, but in a state of shock. Massie returned home and heard from Thalia that while walking home she had been assaulted and raped by several Hawaiian men. Over Thalia's objections, Massie immediately phoned the police, who arrived to take her statement. Initially she could not provide any details at all, stating that it was too dark to identify any of the men or to see any details of the car they emerged from.

Several hours later the story changed. Thalia now not only described the assailants as "locals", but gave police a license plate number. Within hours the police arrested Horace Ida. Ida was not entirely surprised at first, as only a few hours earlier he had been involved in a near collision while driving his sister's car. Although there was no damage, an argument broke out with the other driver and one of his friends, boxer Joseph Kahahawai, slugged the woman. Upon his arrival at the police station, the charges with the altercation were never brought up—instead he found to his dismay that he was being charged with rape.

At first glance, the story seemed to hold water. Thalia's license plate was off by only one digit (or letter) and her description of the men, Ida and his friends, was fairly accurate. However, it later became known that the police taking Thalia's statement had in fact "told her" both pieces of information, apparently after hearing the name and description from the initial complaint filed by the woman driver. Riccio offers the following account of the incident involving Horace Ida:

Horace Ida, a young Japanese man, had borrowed his sister's two year old car and had attended a luau accompanied by his pals Joe Kahahawai, Benny Ahakuelo, David Takai and Henry Chang. At about 12:30 A.M, Horace suggested they call it a night. He and his friends piled into the car and left the luau. As the car passed through an intersection in downtown Honolulu, Horace barely missed colliding with an automobile coming from the opposite direction. There was no contact between the two cars, but both drivers stopped and everyone piled out to argue the fine points of Hawaiian motor vehicle law. The occupants of the other car were a Mr. and Mrs. Peeples. Mrs. Peeples was voicing her opinion of Horace Ida's driving skills when Big Joe Kahahawai (all six feet and more of him) hauled off and punched her in the face. Mrs. Peeples was equal to the challenge. She gave as good as she got. She clenched her fist, wound up, and to Big Joe's surprise, slugged him in the mouth! The incident was about to become a donnybrook. However, cooler heads prevailed, and the Peeples drove off to the police station to report the incident. At the station, the Peeples gave Horace Ida's license plate as 58-895, and the police put out an all points bulletin for the car and its occupants. At about the same time, the police learned of the rape in Ala Moana Park, so it was only natural that they would assume that the occupants of the Ida car were more than likely the perpetrators of the assault on Thalia Massie. Horace Ida and his friends were eventually located through the car's license plate and were brought before Thalia at the police station. She was unable to identify Horace Ida, who was wearing a brown leather jacket when she saw him. When asked the license number of the assailants' car, she did not remember it, but she later heard the plate number 58-895 being broadcast at the police station. The next day, under further questioning, Thalia's story began to change. She now "remembered" that one of her assailants had been wearing a brown leather jacket and the license plate of the assailants' car was 58-805 (only one digit was different from the number of Horace Ida's plate). To the police, the case against Horace Ida and his friends began to look stronger. The five men insisted they were not part of any assault on a lone white woman walking through the darkness of John Ena Road. They explained their movements on the night at length. But the police were not persuaded. The five young men were indicted and charged with rape and assault.

Rear Admiral Yates Stirling, Jr., Commandant of the US Navy's 14th Naval District (which included the islands), suggested that he simply collect up several Navy men, hunt down the group, and "string them up". In stories printed as the case developed, the local newspapers referred to the men as "thugs", "degenerates" and "fiends", while Thalia was described as "a white woman of refinement and culture".

As the case developed, cracks in the story immediately appeared. In order to have assaulted Thalia—an event so far unproven to have even occurred—it would have been extremely difficult to have then been involved in the near accident across town. Witnesses soon came forward who reported seeing Thalia followed by a white man only minutes before the alleged assault took place. This information was never reported in the trial that was to follow, nor was the fact that the police planted information. The police themselves were split on the case—many of the detectives were locals who saw the case was a sham and when they were denied access in the courtroom, they started to talk directly to the press.


While the good citizens of Honolulu waited for the trial to begin, rumors began to develop and spread through the city. There were those who whispered that Thalia had not been raped at all. It was said that she was having an illicit relationship with one of the five beach boy suspects, and that she was on her way to a rendezvous with him when she found him in the company of four drunken friends. It was also speculated that Thalia was having an affair with one of Tommie's shipmates. When Tommie came home after the party, so the gossip went, he found his wife and his friend in flagrante delicto and it was Tommie who beat up his wife and broke her jaw.

Grace Fortescue, enraged by the stories and what she saw as an attempt to sully the name of her daughter and the family, arrived and started a public campaign to attack the defendants. Admiral Stirling was worried that if the story reached the mainland he would be made to look as if he did not have control of the situation. The two groups successfully managed to keep the story out of the mainland press while the trial continued. Yet they also pressed the courts for a quick and aggressive prosecution to placate an enraged Navy.

In court the case quickly fell apart. After a three-week trial and lengthy jury deliberation, the jurors declared themselves deadlocked and a mistrial was declared.

Territory of Hawaii v. Grace Fortescue, et al.

Grace Fortescue was not willing to wait for another trial; she first arranged for the kidnapping and vicious beating of Horace Ida. Next, she talked Thomas Massie into kidnapping Joseph Kahahawai, the darkest skinned of the five defendants, with the help of two Navy enlisted men-Albert O. Jones and Edward J. Lord. Kahahawai underwent "interrogation", as Fortescue, Massie and the two Navy men attempted to beat a confession out of him—eventually, one of the group of four shot Kahahawai.

Debating what to do, they eventually decided to dump Kahahawai's body off Koko Head, at the time a desolate area far away from urban Honolulu. Although he would eventually be found, it seemed to them unlikely that anyone would care. They wrapped Kahahawai in a sheet and put him in Fortescue's rented car, pulling down the shades to hide the interior. A police motorcyclist, alerted to the kidnapping, saw the blinds and considered it suspicious. He pulled them over and immediately arrested all four for murder.

This time the story could no longer be kept under wraps. The mainland press soon started printing stories where "the roads go through jungles and in those remote places bands of degenerate natives lie in wait for white women driving by". The fact that the men had not been convicted of the alleged rape only proved to the mainland press that Hawaii itself was a hotbed of anti-white racial hatred, not that they were innocent. That Fortescue herself had actually admitted to the crime was insubstantial. While the tensions in Hawaii were ready to erupt into race riots.

Clarence Darrow, perhaps the most famous lawyer of his era, decided to dump his work on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys and take on the defense for the sum of $40,000. Darrow was brought out of retirement by Eva Stotesbury {wife of Edward T. Stotesbury}, an old family friend. Darrow, Fortescue, and the rest of the Roosevelt family were all Progressives.

Throughout the trial, Thalia attempted to present herself as an innocent victim. This fell apart when the prosecutor, John Kelley, played on her feelings of superiority. She became enraged, ripped up a piece of evidence, and stormed from the stand. Although this would seem to be a prosecution victory, the courtroom erupted in supportive applause from the spectators.

The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder. Racial tensions were so high that everyone had expected another hung jury. The mainland press exploded with even more stories and the situation in Hawaii grew more tense. Martial Law was considered if rioting were to begin, by Admiral Stirling, who had considered imposing it from the start.

After a flurry of diplomatic maneuvering between Washington, DC and Honolulu, martial law was avoided. Instead, under pressure from the Navy, Territorial Governor Lawrence M. Judd commuted the 10-year sentences of the convicted killers to one hour, to be served in his office. Days later the entire group, including the Massies, the two other Navy men, Fortescue and Darrow, boarded a ship and left the island in turmoil. Thalia and Massie divorced in 1934; she committed suicide in 1963; he died in 1987. Grace Hubbard died in 1979. Albert Jones died on September 23, 1966.

Charges against the surviving four defendants in the rape case were dropped since the prosecution's lead witness, Thalia Massie, had left the Territory and could not be forced to return to testify.

In popular culture

In February 1986, CBS-TV aired a four-hour miniseries produced by Lorimar Productions titled Blood & Orchids, written for television by Norman Katkov, who based his teleplay on his own novel of the same title. Though Katkov said that he based his novel on the Massie Affair, his novel and teleplay bear only a superficial resemblance to fact. Katkov changed all the names of the principal characters and added other characters for whom no historical warrant can be found (most notably, Police Captain Curtis Maddox, supposedly the one conscientious law-enforcement officer who ever investigated the affair). Katkov's story also departs significantly from actual events in many ways, such as making the murder of Kahahawai look like a crime of passion—and laying all the blame on Lieutenant Massie and not on Grace Fortescue.

Max Allan Collins's 1996 novel, Damned in Paradise, follows the facts of the case more closely than Katkov's book. An entry in his series about Depression-era private eye Nate Heller, Damned in Paradise casts Heller as the personal investigator for Darrow after the famed attorney is retained to represent Lt. Massie, Grace Fortescue, and the other defendants accused of Kahahawai's murder. Collins also includes fictionalized depictions of such historical figures as John Jardine, one of the actual Honolulu police detectives who investigated the case, and Chang Apana, the real-life inspiration for Charlie Chan, who was still an active-duty detective in HPD at the time of the Massie case (though there's no official record to suggest that Chang was actually one of the investigating officers). As is often the case in the Heller series, Collins provides an alternate solution as to who might have been responsible for Mrs. Massie's rape.

In his afterword to Damned in Paradise, Collins suggested that Robert Traver's 1958 novel, Anatomy of a Murder, was loosely inspired by the Massie case, involving, as it does, a military officer who murders the alleged rapist of his wife and the subsequent trial arising from that murder, with the setting changed from Honolulu to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and the Naval officer changed to an Army officer. However, in 1952 Traver himself defended an Army officer accused of the murder of his wife's alleged attacker, and, despite the striking parallels to the Massie incident, it is more likely that this was case from which Traver derived his plot.

2006 mock trial

During the American Bar Association convention at the Hawai'i Convention Center in Honolulu, on August 3, 2006, Lt. Gov. James Aiona served as the judge at the mock trial, using a copy of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency report compiled by the then Territorial Government and using 21st century forensic techniques, looked into the rape case once more. Lawyers attending the convention acted as the Jury.

After testimony from two experts, and new arguments about the case, the lawyers voted with a unanimous "Not guilty" verdict for all defendants. Among other deciding factors was the defense's evidence that the five men accused of the rape had been involved in violence on the other side of Honolulu (the near collision with the Peeples's car) near the time of the alleged attack on Massie and would not have been able to reach Waikiki in time to have also raped Massie as she described.

In a coincidental historical twist, the Hawaii Convention Center — where the mock trial was held — sits on the former Ala Wai Inn, where the case first started.


The Massie case: Injustice and courage

By David Stannard -

October 14, 2001

Seventy years ago last month, in the pre-dawn hours of a Sunday morning, two Honolulu police officers awakened a young man named Horace Ida at his home in Kalihi-Palama. Ida dressed hurriedly and went with the detectives, thinking he knew what they were after.

Two hours earlier, while driving his sister's car, Ida had a near collision with another auto at the corner of King and Liliha streets. An argument broke out and one of the men riding with Ida got in a brief scuffle with a woman in the other car. Ida assumed the woman remembered his license plate number and decided to file charges.

But soon after arriving at police headquarters Henry Ida found himself under arrest for a far more serious crime. The 20- year-old wife of a Pearl Harbor Navy officer identified him as one of five local men who allegedly had kidnapped, beaten, and repeatedly raped her earlier that evening after she had left a Waikiki nightclub alone.

The woman's name was Thalia Massie, the daughter of a wealthy and politically powerful Washington, D.C., couple. And for the better part of the next year Honolulu was swept up in an unprecedented frenzy of accusations, threats, and violence.

"The Massie case" remains the most notorious criminal incident in the modern history of Hawai'i. Associated Press editors in 1932 voted it, along with the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the biggest criminal case in the country. Books and articles have been written about it, and at least one Hollywood film was based — very loosely — on it. But by now many people have forgotten what actually happened, and many more have never heard of the case.

The story deserves retelling because it remains powerfully relevant today. Not only because of the tragedy and racial injustice associated with the case but also because of its less-heralded lessons in straightforward moral courage.

Controlling the story

All the men accused of raping Thalia Massie were from impoverished or working class backgrounds. Two were Hawaiian, two were Japanese, and one was Chinese-Hawaiian. From the start, based on little or no evidence, local newspapers assumed the men were guilty and referred to them in print as "thugs," "degenerates," and "fiends." Their alleged victim was described as "a white woman of refinement and culture."

Although the Honolulu press would be filled for months with racially inflammatory articles and editorials on the case, few in the business, political, or military communities wanted the story to spread beyond the Islands. During the preceding decade tourism had begun to take off, Hawai'i's semi-autonomous political status remained precarious, and the Navy commandant at Pearl Harbor was not eager for Washington to question his ability to maintain order. A blanket was thrown over news of the events, and at first the story was confined almost entirely to local newspaper accounts.

At the same time, authorities pressed for an aggressive prosecution to placate an enraged Navy and local haole community. Few expected anything but a quick conviction and lengthy prison sentences for the five men.

Vicious, racist violence

But after a three-week trial and the longest jury deliberation ever in Hawai'i, the jurors declared themselves deadlocked. A mistrial was declared. Before a decision could be made about retrying the five men, however, Thalia Massie's supporters and family took matters into their own hands.

First, Horace Ida was seized on a Honolulu street by a carload of sailors and was beaten, clubbed, and whipped with leather belts. Then, with the aid of two Navy enlisted men, Thalia's husband and mother kidnapped and murdered one of the other defendants, Joseph Kahahawai. Police captured the killers with Kahahawai's naked corpse, wrapped in a bloody sheet, lying on the back seat of their car as they were driving toward Koko Head to dispose of it.

At this point the story could be contained no longer. As the story erupted in the United States, the president called a special Cabinet meeting at the White House. Congress held emergency weekend hearings. The Justice Department and the FBI sent a team of investigators to Hawai'i. Every major American newspaper ran front-page stories on the case.

Sympathy for white woman

Almost without exception, the expressed sympathy of America's politicians and journalists was not for the murdered young man, but for his killers. From coast to coast newspapers, magazines, and radio commentators described Hawai'i as — in the words of a syndicated Hearst editorial — a place where "the roads go through jungles, and in those remote places bands of degenerate natives lie in wait for white women driving by."

Not to be outdone, Time magazine blamed the killing of Joseph Kahahawai on the victim and his friends, describing them as "five brown-skinned young bucks" who demonstrated the well-known "lust of mixed breeds for white women" when they raped Thalia Massie in the first place. The fact that the men had not been convicted of the alleged crime by a local jury only proved to the American press that Hawai'i itself was a "cesspool" of anti-white racial hatred that did not deserve territorial status.

Accordingly, the New York Post called for a battleship to sail into Honolulu harbor and rescue the killers from the civil authorities who had them under arrest. And everywhere the cry went up for the United States to impose martial law in the Islands.

Darrow defends killers

Into this furor, then, stepped Clarence Darrow, the most famous criminal lawyer in American history. Much of Darrow's celebrity was based on his spectacular courtroom defenses of the oppressed and downtrodden.

But now, at age 74, he was broke, financially ruined by the Depression. So, for the equivalent of about $400,000 today, he agreed to defend four white people charged with killing a young Hawaiian man — a murder that even Darrow later admitted they were guilty of committing.

To a large extent Darrow's strategy was the same one used by defenders of lynching in the South. Asserting flatly that Kahahawai had indeed participated in a gang rape of Thalia Massie — something that Honolulu prosecutors had been unable to prove — Darrow took the position that the murder was a justified "honor killing." As such, he contended, customary "unwritten law" demanded that the accused should go free.

Facing Darrow across the courtroom was Honolulu's newly appointed prosecutor, John Kelley. From the first day of jury selection until their final summations Darrow and Kelley went to war with one another.

Years later the New York Times, which ran nearly 200 stories on the case while it was in progress, would recall it as one of Darrow's three most compelling trials ever. The others were the Scopes "Monkey Trial" over the teaching of evolution in Tennessee and the Leopold and Loeb murder trial in Chicago. But neither of the other two, the Times said, contained a moment of high drama to compare with Thalia Massie — under cross-examination by prosecutor Kelley — tearing a piece of evidence to shreds on the witness stand and rushing across the courtroom in tears to the waiting arms of her husband and the applause of a standing-room-only crowd of

Getting away with a lie

Reporters from throughout the world were in Honolulu for the trial, and a special radio hookup was installed so that Darrow's closing argument could be carried live on the American continent.

Few juries have ever been under as much pressure as this one. On the one hand, there was no doubt that the four accused defendants had killed Joseph Kahahawai. On the other hand, there was equally little doubt that a conviction would bring, at the very least, what was called a "commission" form of government to Hawai'i, an arrangement only one step short of martial law. Congress and the American press had openly warned of such a consequence, and even prosecutor Kelley — while appealing to the jury for a verdict of guilty — admitted that a fair and honorable decision by them could mean the end of civilian rule in the Islands.

In addition, many of the jurors were employed by companies controlled by the corporate oligarchy that then dominated business in Hawai'i or they worked for firms with close connections to the Navy. Thus, their livelihoods and the economic well being of their families were at stake, in addition to the threatened political status of the place that was their home.

Surprising many who expected another hung jury, the panel reached a verdict. The defendants were found guilty of manslaughter. It wasn't murder, but it was a conviction carrying a mandatory sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

Predictably, the national uproar grew louder. The thought that three white U.S. Navy men and a middle-aged Washington socialite might spend time in the Territorial prison — even if they had kidnapped and murdered a young Hawaiian man — seemed unthinkable.

And, as things turned out, it was. Despite the verdict, the killers would never spend a day in prison. After a flurry of diplomatic maneuvering between Washington and Honolulu, Territorial Governor Lawrence Judd commuted the sentences of the convicted killers to one hour, to be served in his office. In return, Hawai'i was spared martial law until the outbreak of World War II.

Within days of the commutation the Massies, Thalia's mother, the convicted Navy men, and Clarence Darrow boarded a ship and left Hawai'i forever. Months later, an independent investigation by Mainland detectives, funded by the Territory, demonstrated beyond doubt that the accused men could not possibly have committed the alleged rape. Indeed, compelling evidence suggested that the supposed crime had never even occurred.

Cult of the killers

The first historical assessments of the Massie case were not written until the mid-1960s.

Although not without sympathy for the accused, most accounts then and since have focused with tabloid-like fascination on those characters in the drama who behaved most contemptibly.

They include Thalia Massie, who falsely charged the five men in the first place; Thalia's husband and mother, and the Navy enlisted men who helped the other two murder an innocent man; Navy Adm. Yates Stirling, who fabricated lies about conditions in Hawai'i in an effort to advance his own career; and Clarence Darrow, who borrowed a tactic from the Ku Klux Klan to defend his clients.

Heroism left out of story

In contrast, little attention has been paid to those who behaved well under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. And yet it is with them — a true racial and ethnic cross-section of Hawai'i then and now — that the valuable lessons of the Massie case reside.

First there are the accused men themselves. Horace Ida, Joseph Kahahawai, Henry Chang, David Takai, and Benjamin Ahakuelo. One of them was nearly beaten to death. Another was kidnapped, then shot and killed with a single bullet to his heart. All of them endured months of vicious defamation in the press and the threat of lengthy imprisonment for a crime they did not commit. And police and prosecutors tried all the usual tactics — including individual offers of immunity if one would inform on the others — and some that were not so usual, such as pitting the men against one another racially. Despite the threats and enticements, none of them ever budged from their insistence that they had done nothing wrong.

Then there were the lawyers who stepped forward in the first trial to defend the accused men without compensation. William Heen, of Chinese-Hawaiian ancestry, perhaps the best attorney in the Islands and the first non-haole Circuit Court judge in the Territory. A young local Japanese lawyer, Robert Murakami, recently graduated from the University of Chicago Law School. And a prominent haole originally from Mississippi, William Pittman.

Not only did they put their careers on the line, defending five almost penniless young men amid racial and political near-hysteria, but they did so by publicly exposing that turmoil for what it was. And none did so more effectively than Pittman, in a Southern drawl, summing up his defense by accusing the prosecution of bending to the will of "a conspiracy of white people — the small group of hypocritical haoles more anxious to satisfy the Navy than to seek justice."

After the murder of Joseph Kahahawai the grand jury at first refused to indict the killers, despite the fact that they had been caught with the dead man's body in the back seat of their car. Of the grand jury's 21 members 19 were white. And, as one of them openly said, they were fearful of what would happen to their "standing in the community" if they voted to indict four well-connected white people for the murder of a poor Hawaiian. But the judge, Albert Cristy, who also was white, risked disqualification from the case and possibly his entire judicial future by repeatedly demanding an indictment from the grand jurors — and finally getting it.

Then there was Jack Kelley. Originally from Montana and a former law partner of William Heen, Kelley was trying his first case as a prosecutor when he went up against Clarence Darrow. Not intimidated by the immense political pressure he was under or by the legendary reputation of his opposing counsel, he matched Darrow point for point. Describing Darrow's defense as advocacy of the "serpent of lynch law," he warned the jury that nothing could be worse than allowing that to become the law of the land.

The jury was made up of three haole-Hawaiians, two local Chinese, one Portuguese, and six whites. After two days of deliberation — and fully aware of the ominous larger consequences — they brought in their unanimous verdict of guilty.

Darrow was outraged. Of the non-white jurors, he complained that during the trial "it was not easy to guess what they were thinking about, if anything at all." Adding that "obviously they do not think as we do," he concluded that "a jury of white men would have acquitted." With this last comment Darrow conveniently forgot that a single negative vote from among the jury's half-dozen haole members would have blocked the convictions.

Together with the first jury that had deadlocked in the rape trial, 24 jurors had heard both cases in an intensely politicized and menacing environment. Among them were seven whites, nine haole-Hawaiians, four Chinese, two Portuguese, and two Japanese. None had anything personal to gain — and a great deal to lose — by facing down the local and national white power structure and voting their consciences. They did it anyway.

There were others. Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, Hawai'i's conservative Republican National committeewoman and a wealthy heiress to the Hawaiian monarchy, received a telephone call one night at her elegant home. It was from someone she had never met, a poor Hawaiian woman whose son had been arrested for a crime she said he didn't commit. After speaking to Joseph Kahahawai's mother for a while, the Princess hung up and called William Heen, urging him to take the case. She followed the subsequent events closely, speaking out publicly against what she called the "travesty" of a two-tiered justice system in the Islands, "one for the favored few and another for the people in general."

At a very different place on the Islands' social scale, George Wright was the haole editor of the English-language section of the Japanese newspaper Hawaii Hochi. Wright had been a civilian machinist at Pearl Harbor before being fired for union activities. Along with his boss, Hochi publisher and editor Frederick Makino, of haole and Japanese parentage, Wright maintained a lonely editorial drumbeat of criticism throughout the entire Massie affair — pointing out crippling flaws in the charges against the five men from the very beginning and never wavering from a demand for justice in the face of an avalanche of racial prejudice.

Need to remember

Just as it is essential that we continue to remember those who stood up to the likes of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, so it is important that we honor those who publicly opposed the forces of racism and oppression during the Massie case.

It took character and courage to speak out against the racial and political injustices that permeated life in Hawai'i at that time, at a time when a former Advertiser assistant editor recalled how American naval officers commonly referred to Hawaiians as "niggers."

The example should cause all of us to consider what we would have done under those circumstances — and to reflect on what we are doing now, as more subtle forms of oppression tear at Hawai'i's social fabric. What will people think, 70 years from now, as they look back on how we treat the poorest and the weakest and most damaged among us? How we behave now will be our most enduring legacy.

David Stannard is a professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai'i. He is writing a book on the Massie case that focuses on the involvement of local people in that struggle for justice. He would like to hear from anyone with personal memories or family stories or photographs about the events of that time. You can call him at 235-4924, e-mail him at, or write to him at the Department of American Studies, University of Hawai'i, Hono-lulu, HI 96822.


Interview with Deacon Jones about the Massie Affair

Confession of the Killer of Joe Kahahawai, Deacon Jones

(from Peter Van Slingerland, Something Terrible Has Happened (1966), pp. 316-322.)

Peter Van Slingerland interviewed Deacon Jones in the 1960s while conducting research for his book, Something Terrible Has Happened.

The Day of the Murder

Q: The next morning, when you did go down to the courthouse, did you carry a gun?

A: Oh, I had my gun. Of course, in those days-well, I was 29 years old. I was no kid, but I was ready to brawl. Then, again, you don't tangle with a big bastard like that. You need a bit of false courage.

Q: Did Massie bring a gun?

A: I don't believe he did. Tommie never carried a gun. Tommie Massie was a very well-educated boy.

Q: Did Lord bring a gun?

A: I don't know. Maybe he did.

Q: Now, was the plan to bring Kahahawai back to Mrs. Fortescue's to get him to confess?

A: Well, that's what Tommie thought he could do.

Q: Did someone else, Mrs. Fortescue, for example, have some other idea?

A: I don't know. I guess she was like the other two of us, Eddie and me. She had a lot on the ball. She's a pretty smooth woman, you know. But I think the main idea was the psychological effect of the three of us firing questions at this kanaka [Hawaiian].

Q: How long did you have to wait in front of the courthouse for Kahahawai?

A: Five or six minutes. You see, we knew when they had to report. It just so happened that it was Kahahawai. It could have been any one of the other four. Had it been, he'd have got just exactly what Kahahawai got.

Q: Did Mrs. Fortescue point him out to you?

A: I don't think she did, because I wasn't anywhere near her.

Q: What did you do when Kahahawai came out of the building?

A: I showed him this thing I had.

Q: The bogus summons?

A: This paper with the gold seal from Massie's diploma. I showed it to him and put him in the back seat. Tommie was sitting in the front seat, driving, and I was sitting in the back seat with Kahahawai.

Q: Was there any conversation?

A: He wanted to know where we were taking him and I said, "Don't worry." We tried to give him the impression that we were the police.

Q: Where did you go?

A: Mrs. Fortescue's. We drove the car into the driveway. I think we come in the back door. We come in the kitchen and the dining room into the living room.

Q: Who do you mean by "we"?

A: Tommie, Kahahawai, and me. I was bringing up the rear. Tommie unlocked the back door. We come in the kitchen; come through the dining room. You come in the kitchen this way [demonstrates] into the dining room. Then there was a big door.

Q: A door or an archway?

A: An arch. It wasn't a door; it was an arch. There was a chaise longue just inside the arch. Tommie made him sit on this chaise longue. Tommie pulled over a hassock and sat down facing him. I brought in one of the dining room chairs and sat on Tommie's right, facing the kanaka. I had my gun in my fist, pointed right at him.

Q: Where were Lord and Mrs. Fortescue at that point?

A: They hadn't come back from the courthouse yet.

Q: What happened then?

A: Tommie began asking him questions.

Q: What questions?

A: Naturally, one of them was why he done such a thing. The whole conversation seemed to be about not only the violation but the terrific beating the girl took. That was what Tommie was trying to get at. He was trying to get this kanaka to admit it, see.

Q: What was Kahahawai's response?

A: He was scared. He was scared almost white. Let's put it this way: supposing you and me are sitting here and we got a nigger sitting right there and I got a gun. He's going to be scared, isn't he? Unless he's a God damn fool, and this guy was no fool. Then, as this little set-to kept going along, he started getting his nerve back. He was just going to run a bluff. You could almost see that in his attitude. It changed from fear to kind of overbearing. I suppose he was thinking what he would do to either one of us if he could get us alone.

Q: How did Tommie appear to you?

A: Lieutenant Massie was a very direct personality. He was all man and all officer. You'll have to try to put yourself in his place. He had a really high-class academic training. A fellow with that background, academically, would no doubt feel tense or nervous, because we were breaking the law. There was no doubt about that.

Q: Now, you had no personal reason for animosity toward Kahahawai?

A: Well, I don't hate anybody. Hate is another expression of fear and I didn't fear this black bastard, although I had no use for him. To me, it was a challenge.

Q: You say Massie was questioning him. Then what happened? A: Massie asked him a question and Kahahawai lunged at him. I say, "lunged." Somebody else might say he just leaned forward.

Q: And then?

A: I shot him.

Q: You shot him?

A: You're God damn right I did. I shot him right underneath the left nipple and to the side. When that slug hit him he just went over backwards on the chaise longue. The bullet didn't go through him. It stayed in his body. That was the climax, right there.

Q: Did you know what you were doing?

A: When I shot that son-of-a-bitch, I knew what I was doing.

Q: How did you feel then?

A: When that shot was fired, it had completely gone out of our hands. We were in a peck of trouble and we knew it.

Q: How long after you arrived in the house was this?

A: Maybe eight minutes.

Q: How much blood was there?

A: Oh, just a little trickle.

Q: Where were Mrs. Fortescue and Lord when the shot was fired?

A: Just as we killed this joker, in they come. Obviously, they had heard the shot. They were that close. I guess there was maybe a lapse of a minute at the very most.

Q: What was Mrs. Fortescue's reaction?

A: She was a scared woman. I think she took a hold of Tommie and hugged him. You know, she liked Tommie.

Q: Then what happened?

A: I don't know why, but it was my suggestion to put him in the bathtub. Of course, the way I was thinking then I was frightened, excited, all that. Well, God damn it, it's easier to clean a tile bath­tub than a rug. I was scared. God bless my soul, after that kanaka was dead, we had 170 pounds of carcass on our hands. So Eddie and I put him in the bathtub and we turned the water on. I had the asinine thought that the water would pull the blood out of him.

Q: Did Mrs. Fortescue come in the bathroom with you?

A: She was standing at the door when we put him in the tub. We told her to shove off, because we was going to undress him. We were all excited. I think Eddie said, "Mrs. Fortescue, get the hell out of here." We had this joker in the bathtub. The water was on. I don't know why, but we were going to undress him. We had his pants down, trying to get them off his feet. He was exposed.

Q: Tommie was in the bathroom, too?

A: Yes.

Q: What was his reaction?

A: You know, I had never killed a man before. Believe me. Now Tommie, of course, was a brilliantly educated boy. I was just an ordinary, everyday seaman. Maybe this was to boost my own ego or maybe I said it to quiet things down, but I said to Mr. Massie, "For Christ's sake, didn't you ever kill a man before?" He said, "No, Jones, I never did." Well, I hadn't either, but I was going to be something I wasn't.

Q: After the bathtub episode you took the body out to the car?

A: After the gunfire was all over there was an interval there. Maybe thirty or thirty-five minutes.

Q: You helped them carry the body to the car?

A: Yes. As I remember, Tommie said, "Go over and stay with Thalia until I come back." Then they shoved off.

Q: But didn't you go back into Mrs. Fortescue's house instead?

A: Yes.

Q: Why?

A: To have a drink, I guess.

Q: As I understand the testimony, the Attorney General called Mrs. Fortescue's. Was it you who answered the phone?

A: Yes. I remember that call. I picked up the telephone and answered.

Q: Did you unload your .32 at Mrs. Fortescue's?

A: I didn't unload my gun. If you shoot a man, you certainly aren't going to unload your gun. Not if you're a service man. That's plain old common sense to have protection for yourself. While I may be an idiot in a hell of a lot of things, I don't walk around with an empty gun.

Q: Did you stay at Mrs. Fortescue's to clean the place up?

A: No, because there was no disturbance.

Q: Then you went over to Massie's?

A: Then I went over to the Massies'.

Q: When you first arrived at the Massies' house, were Helene and Thalia awake?

A: One of them was up, because I knocked on the door. They were in pajamas. As I recall, Thalia answered the door. I guess my face showed there was something wrong, because she asked me what had happened.

Q: Did you have your.32 with you?

A: I did.

Q: What did you do with it?

A: Little Helene-that pistol-I handed it to her and she says, "I'll take it." She was as smart as a whip. You know what she done with it?

Q: I know what she told me.

A: What?

Q: You tell me.

A: She hid it in the bottom of a Kotex box. Is that what she told you?

Q: Yes. Her hobby used to be painting landscapes. In fact, it still is. She said that, the day before all this happened, she was painting way off on some deserted beach. When you gave her the gun she hid it in her Kotex box. She said that was a place she used to hide things when she was at boarding school. Then she said she took the box in Tommie's car out to this beach where she had been painting. She remembered there was a pool of quicksand there and she tossed the gun into the quicksand. For all she knows, it's still there.

A: Leave it there, pardner.

Q: When you were at the Massies', did you telephone Massie's skipper?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Why?

A: Just an idea. I called him and I says, "Captain, take care of Tommie Massie." You know what he told me? He says, "You go to hell." Hung up on me. I can't recall I ever met Lieutenant Pace before that.

Q: Did you tell him what had happened?

A: No. You see, we were over-leave. We were in town without authorization.

Q: Did you call anyone else?

A: Not that I can recall.

Q: Where did you have the clip to your .32?

A: It was in the damn gun I gave Helene.

Q: But a clip for a .32 was found in your pocket?

A: Oh, that was a spare. When I bought the gun it came with two clips. That's the reason for an automatic-so you can reload in a hurry. I had the spare in my pocket, along with that summons thing. That just shows you how stupid I was. Instead of throwing the whole damn business away, getting rid of the damn stuff-of course, I was excited and scared.

Q: Wight and McIntosh came into Massie's house twice, didn't they?

A: You mean the law? Yes. The second time they took me.

Did Darrow Know?

Q: After you had time to think it over, how did you feel about the killing?

A: I can't say I shed any tears.

Q: You weren't upset?

A: No, I can't say I was. In fact, I slept very good that night.

Q: What night?

A: That night I was in the pokey.

Q: Did Clarence Darrow ever quiz you about what happened that morning in Mrs. Fortescue's house?

A: No, he never did, although he knew what happened there.

Q: How do you know?

A: I told him.

Q: When?

A: At the very end of the trial; just about the last day or two.

Q: Under those circumstances, how did you feel in court?

A: I didn't think nothing of it. I figured, the hell with it. That seemed to me Mr. Darrow's idea to let Tommie take the rap, because, if it had been either Lord or I that was up there, they'd say, "What in hell was he doing in it, anyway." But Tommie had a motive and the reason. After all, it was his wife.


The Massie Trials: A Chronology

February 14, 1911
Grace and "Roly" Fortescue (Roly was the illegitimate son of Teddy Roosevelt's uncle) give birth to their first child, Thalia.
November 1927
Thalia marries Thomas Massie, a young naval cadet, in Washington D.C.
May 1930
Thomas Massie is assigned to the Submarine Squadron Four, based at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu.
Summer 1931
Thalia, pregnant, is diagnosed with preclamsia and loses her baby.  She seeks counseling from a psychologist.  The psychologist concludes that Thalia's "personal and emotional problems" are so serious as to require treatment by a psychiatrist.
September 12, 1931
Thalia and Thomas Massie attend a "Navy Night" Saturday dance at the Ala Wai Inn in the Waikiki District of Honolulu.  Thalia leaves the party without Thomas shortly before midnight.
September 13, 1931
Just before 1 a.m., Thalia stops a car on Ala Moana Boulevard.  She has a broken jaw and scuffed cheeks.  She is picked up and driven home.  Although Thalia first claims to have been assaulted, she later tells police she was gang-raped by four or five Hawaiians.  Honolulu police, following up on another police report, arrest and then interrogate five suspects.
September 15, 1931
The Star-Bulletin and the Advertiser, Honolulu's two leading newspapers, launch what will be a relentless front-page campaign for the conviction of the five alleged rapists.
Early October 1931
Thalia's mother, Grace Fortescue, arrives in Honolulu.
October 17, 1931
The five alleged rapists plead not guilty.
November 16, 1931
The rape trial, titled Territory of Hawaii v. Ben Ahakuelo et al., opens in Honolulu.
November 18, 1931
Thalia Massie testifies for the prosecution at the rape trial.
November 23, 1931
The prosecution rests in the rape case.
December 1, 1931
Closing arguments begin in the Massie rape trial.
December 6, 1931
Jury deliberations in the rape trial end without a verdict and a mistrial is declared.  The final vote is 6 for conviction and 6 for acquittal.  (Across most of the nation, the failure of the jury to convict is greeted with alarm.)
January 5, 1932
From Honolulu, Admiral Stirling sends an excited cable to Washington urging the naval fleet stay from Hawaii unless the governor takes certain  special steps to control the native population.  Governor Judd sends a cable to Washington suggesting the situation in the islands was not nearly so bad as reported in the press.  Grace Fortescue and Thomas Massie, meanwhile, begin acting on a plan to kidnap one of the alleged rapists and--they hope--extract a confession.
January 7, 1932
Grace, Thomas Massie, and two enlisted men (Deacon Jones and Edward Lord) work out the details of a plan to kidnap Joe Kahahawai after he completes his scheduled daily visit to his probation officer at the courthouse.
January 8, 1932
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.
Soldiers and sailors are confined to posts as concerns of violence and rioting spread.
January 10, 1932
More Hawaiians turn out for the funeral of Joe Kahahawai than for any funeral since the death of the last queen of Hawaii in 1917.  Mainland newspapers began reporting stories on the killing; reports paint a picture of an island threatened by a race war.
January-February 1932
Congress holds hearings to address what is considered to be a national security emergency in the militarily important island of Hawaii.
January 21, 1932
A grand jury convenes to decide whether to issue indictments for the murder of Kahahawai.
January 26, 1932
On a 12 to 8 vote, after receiving pressure to act from Judge Albert Cristy, the grand jury returned an indictment for second degree murder against Grace Fortescue, Thomas Massie, Edward Lord, and Deacon Jones.
January 29, 1932
At the arraignment, Judge Cristy sets the bail for each defendant at $50,000.  He agrees to lower bail and allow the defendants to remain lodged in navy quarters after receiving assurance from the secretary of the navy that the arrangement won't be used to facilitate an escape.
February 28, 1932
Clarence Darrow, age 74 and retired for years, agrees to represent the murder defendants.
March 24, 1932
A large crowd turns out in Honolulu to welcome America's most celebrated defense attorney to the islands.
April 4, 1932
Jury selection begins in the Kahahawai murder trial opens in Honolulu .  The presiding judge is Charles Davis.  The prosecution is lead by John Kelley.  Few people want to serve as jurors in the highly controversial trial.
April 7, 1932
After over 100 prospective jurors are examined, a jury of  seven whites, three Chinese, and two Hawaiians is selected.
April 11, 1932
Prosecutor Kelley gives the state's opening argument.  The prosecution calls its first witnesses.
April 14, 1932
The prosecution rests after calling its final witness, Joe Kahahawai's mother.  After a recess, Darrow waives his opening statement and calls his first witness, Thomas Massie. It becomes apparent that Darrow is planning to make temporary insanity the defense.
April 15, 1932
Darrow is too hung over to attend court and the day's session is canceled.
April 16, 1932
Darrow announces that "evidence will show Massie...held the gun in his hand from which the fatal shot was fired."  (In fact, Deacon Jones was the more likely shooter.)  Massie testifies that after Kahahawai said (after intense questioning by him and other defendants) "Yes, we done it", he remembered nothing of what happened at the Fortescue house on the day of the murder.
April 19, 1932
Darrow calls the first of his two psychiatric witnesses.
April 20, 1932
The defense rests after dramatic testimony from Thalia Massie.
April 25, 1932
Rebuttal testimony (mostly from psychiatric witnesses) ends.
April 26, 1932
Closing arguments begin in the Kahahawai murder trial.
April 27, 1932
Clarence Darrow delivers the last closing argument of his half-century legal career.  The argument is carried live on radio stations across the country.  Jury deliberations begin.
April 29, 1932 
The jury finds the defendants guilty of manslaughter.  Almost immediately, calls for pardons begin reaching Governor Judd.
May 3, 1932
Judge Davis sentences the defendants to 10 years in prison, but Governor Judd commutes the sentence to one hour in the custody of the sheriff.  The defendants spend the night celebrating their freedom at a Chinese restaurant.
May 7, 1932
Grace Fortescue, Thomas and Thalia Massie, and Clarence and Ruby Darrow board an ocean liner for San Francisco.
October  3, 1932
A 273-page report from the Pinkerton Detective Agency on the Massie case is presented to Governor Judd.  The report concludes that Thalia Massie was not raped.
February 13, 1933
Prosecutor Kelley announces that all rape charges against those initially charged in the Thalia Massie case are being dropped.
February 23, 1934
Thalia Massie files for divorce in Reno.
July 2, 1963
Thalia Massie dies in Palm Beach from an overdose of barbiturates.
In a book (Something Terrible Has Happened) published by a writer for LOOK magazine, Deacon Jones admits that Joe Kahahawai never confessed to having raped Massie after his abduction.  Jones also admits that he shot "the black bastard" because he "had no use for him."  Jones said it was Darrow's idea to "let Tommie take the rap" for the killing



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