Massie case

"The Massie Case" remains one of the most notorious criminal incidents in the modern history of Hawai'i, especially as it reinforced suspicions about ethnic groups in Hawai'i generally, and the Japanese in particular in the pre-World War II period. [1] On 12 September 1931, Thalia Massie, a Navy wife from a prominent east coast family, arrived at the police station to report a rape by a group of "Hawaiians" on an unpaved road in Waikīkī one fateful September evening. [2] Due to the lack of credible evidence and the shifting testimony of the key witnesses including Massie herself, the Ala Moana assault trial ended in a mistrial on 6 December 1931. In the ensuing outrage by many members of the white community and the military who regarded the decision as a miscarriage of justice, one of the Japanese defendants, Horace Shomatsu Ida, was kidnapped and whipped by a group of navy personnel and another, Joseph Kahahawai, was killed. Yet unlike the local men who underwent a lengthy legal process and who were victims of retaliatory violence, authorities never arrested those responsible for these crimes and, in the case of the murder of Kahahawai, the governor commuted the perpetrators' sentences to "one hour in custody of the Territorial High Sheriff." [3]

Despite this legal imbalance, local officials were no longer trusted with preserving "American womanhood," and military officials publicly joined with civilian white elites in calls for greater military control over the local population that included the institution of martial law. [4] At this time, fears of the Japanese who had spearheaded community resistance during the largest labor strikes and in other highly publicized criminal trials had merged with suspicions of the growing ethnic population, which—like the group of defendants—was perceived as "local" or as part of the "darker stained races" increasingly aligned with one another against white authority. [5] According to scholar John Patrick Rosa, the narrative of the Massie case was used to support an understanding of local identity in Hawai'i, elaborating on the idea first proposed by sociologist Andrew Lind, who suggested that the Massie case was the first time that the term "local" was used with any salience in the Islands. Most recently, scholar David Stannard argued that these events resulted in a "growing sense of multiethnic solidarity" in Hawai'i that led not only to whites challenging the "arrogance" of the planter elite but also to the building of close ties among the Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino communities that had long-lasting historic repercussions. [6] The Massie Case signaled growing tensions between whites and non-whites, the military and the local population, and between the upper and lower classes in the islands that took place on a local and national stage, advertising to many Americans the threat that existed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Honolulu Record Publishing Co., Ltd. The Navy and the Massie-Kahahawai Case. A Timely Account of a Dark Page in Hawaiian History Worthy of Study . Honolulu: Honolulu Record Publishing Co., Ltd., [1951].

Landauer, Lyndall and Donald Landauer. Pearl: The History of the United States Navy in Pearl Harbor . S Lake Tahoe, California: Flying Cloud Press, 1999.

Marumoto, Masaji. "The Ala Moana Assault Case And The Massie Fortescue Case Revisited After Half a Century." University of Hawaii Law Review 5.2 (Winter 1983): 271-287.

Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Ala Moana Assault Case . New York: n.p., 1932.

Rosa, John Patrick. "Local Story: The Massie Case and the Politics of Local Identity in Hawai'i." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California Irvine, 1999.

Stannard, David E. Honor Killing: How the Infamous "Massie Affair" Transformed Hawai'i . New York: Penguin Group, 2005.

Takayama, Eric. "Error in Paradise: Race, Sex and the Massie-Kahahawai Affair of 1930s Hawaii." Master's thesis, University of Hawaii at Manoa, May 1997.

Van Slingerland, Peter. Something Terrible Has Happened . New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Incorporated, 1966.

Wright, Theon. Rape in Paradise . Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 1966.

Yamamoto, Eric. "From 'Japanee' to Local: Community Change and the Redefinition of Sansei Identity in Hawaii." Honolulu: n.p., 1975.


  1. Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities .
  2. Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Ala Moana Assault Case (New York: n.p., 1932), 8.
  3. Chuck Frankel, "'Pressured' in Massie Case, Says Ex-Governor," Honolulu Star Bulletin , February 13, 1967, A-1.
  4. Peter Van Slingerland, Something Terrible Has Happened (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Incorporated, 1966), 283.
  5. John Patrick Rosa, "Local Story: The Massie Case and the Politics of Local Identity in Hawai'i" (Ph.D. diss., University of California Irvine, 1999); Eric Yamamoto, "From 'Japanee' to Local: Community Change and the Redefinition of Sansei Identity in Hawaii" (Honolulu: n.p., 1975).
  6. David E. Stannard, Honor Killing: How the Infamous "Massie Affair" Transformed Hawai'i (New York: Penguin Group, 2005), 410, 414.

Last updated June 10, 2015, 1:09 a.m..