Modern technology could shed light on 30-year cold case

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Who killed Diane Suzuki?

The mystery has gone unsolved for more than 30 years.

However, there’s evidence that a former Honolulu Police Department homicide lieutenant believes could shed light on the case.

If you were in Hawaii during the 1980s, you probably remember the tremendous effort by police and volunteers to find the 19-year-old.

Suzuki was last seen on July 6, 1985 at the Rosalie Woodson Dance Academy in Aiea, where she was a teacher. Initially, the case was classified as a missing person.

“Prior to 1986, 1984, 1985 a typical homicide investigation involved interviews, diagrams, and photographs. We had very little scientific work,” said Gary Dias, a retired HPD homicide lieutenant.

But six years after Suzuki disappeared, police went back to the scene with a new tool called luminol, a chemical that can cause blood and other substances to glow

“Luminol did not exist when the Diane Suzuki case was first investigated,” Dias explained.

The luminol was sprayed in the upstairs dance studio bathroom. Tests showed what police believed to be blood and the case was reclassified to murder.

Police never found Suzuki’s body, and the prime suspect was never charged.

“How do you think modern technology could have helped in the Diane Suzuki case?” KHON2 asked.

“Well, we did have some very good technology at the time. We didn’t have the full understanding of all the players within the justice system about the Diane Suzuki case,” he replied. “We had lots of evidence, that we felt was evidence, that could be used to convict, much less charge, a particular person in that individual case.”

Current prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro was also prosecutor back then. He declined an interview for this story, but told us when we asked about Suzuki’s case back in 2010: “You have to have evidence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict at trial. You have to have evidence of probable cause to arrest someone.”

“Personally, I feel we’ve collected as much evidence as we could possibly have done in the Diane Suzuki case,” Dias said.

Dias would like to see HPD revisit the case.

“In that 31 years, she’s lost a parent who never did find out what happened to their child. I find that particularly heartbreaking,” he said. “I think revisiting it would open up the thought process of the people responsible for collecting evidence and examining evidence and making decisions on the evidence. Perhaps the technology with DNA can examine that same blood evidence and work through the decontamination processes that might have occurred over time.”

He also feels today’s technology, including surveillance video, would’ve helped in the Lisa Au murder case. Au disappeared three years before Suzuki and, at the time, was also 19.

Her decomposed body was found days later, but no one was ever charged with the crime.

“Perhaps we would have been successful in identifying the location where her body was held after her murder,” Dias said. “It would’ve led us directly to the suspect.”

HPD has a unit dedicated to reviewing cold case files, which includes submitting old evidence for retesting, and reinterviewing witnesses.

KHON2 asked HPD if it would consider retesting evidence from the Suzuki and Au cases. A spokeswoman returned the following statement:

“Earlier this year, homicide detectives stepped up their efforts to review unsolved murder cases, looking for untested evidence and any evidence that should be retested using updated DNA technology. HPD also created a database with information that thoroughly documents which items of evidence have been tested and which items should be retested when new technology becomes available. The database will serve as a resource for both current and future investigators.

We can’t comment on open cases. However, because there is no statute of limitations for homicide, a case will remain open until a suspect has been identified. We will pursue all leads, whether it’s from someone who has new information or a new form of DNA testing. We are committed to getting justice for victims and their families, no matter how long it takes.

DNA technology played a key role in the 2014 prosecution of Gerald Austin, who was convicted of murdering 81-year-old Edith Skinner in her Kalakaua apartment in 1989. Twenty-five years after the victim’s death, Austin was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

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