Mystery Remains Decades After Hawaii Teen Lisa Au Was Found Dead In 1982
The 19-year-old was an ‘ideal young lady’ and daughter who ‘you’d never think this would happen to,’ a former investigator says.
Honolulu Police Department
Over 40 years ago, a 19-year-old woman in Hawaii had just gotten her driver’s license and was to drive home after spending a rainy winter night with her boyfriend and his sister. The teenager went missing and was discovered dead over a week later — and her murder has never been solved.
On Jan. 20, 1982, hairdresser Lisa Au finished her shift at the Susan Beers Salon in Kailua and went to meet her boyfriend, Doug Holmes, for dinner at his sister’s home in Makiki, Oahu. The pair left the sister’s house around 12:45 a.m.
KHON reported that Holmes said at the time he and Au went downstairs, where they were both parked, and they said goodnight to each other. “And that was the last I saw her,” he said.
A Honolulu Star-Bulletin article from February 1982 reported Holmes explained to investigators he had “said goodnight to Au in her car and did not actually see her drive away.”
According to the story, Au had called her roommate to tell her she was on her way home, but she never arrived.
She was reported missing the following morning. After the teenager’s family called Holmes, the University of Hawaii student began searching for his girlfriend. “Holmes went out looking for Au afraid that she may have gotten into a traffic accident” since it had been storming the previous evening, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Holmes eventually located Au’s Toyota on Maunawili highway in Kailua. A police report stated there was “two or three inches of water” in the car and the driver’s seat was “drenched.”
On the wet seat lay Au’s purse, which was dry, police said. While the teenager’s keys and wallet were inside the purse, her license and her vehicle registration were both missing.
“That was one of the first indications that something bad may have happened here,” noted Roy Chang, a lawyer who worked with Au’s family, The Daily Beast reported. “If she had had car trouble and got a ride with someone, why would she have left her purse? And why was her purse dry but everything else was soaking wet from the rain that night?”
At the time, Au’s father, Chester, said his daughter had just received her driver’s license two days before she went missing, and he went with her to buy her 1976 Toyota, which he said “checked out alright” and didn’t appear to be in need of repair.
Witnesses later recalled seeing a vehicle following behind Au that had blue flashing lights on the grill, leading to speculation she could have been stopped by a police officer or someone posing as one.
On Jan. 31, 10 days after Au disappeared, a jogger stumbled upon her nude body in a ravine in Makiki.
“Her body was decomposed to the point where it was not possible to identify the cause of death, so to this day, we don’t know how Lisa died,” former Honolulu police homicide Lt. Gary Dias said, KHON reported.
According to Dias, “Several theories have emerged that she was on her way home when she was stopped and abducted from that Kailua location, or that she was killed elsewhere, and the vehicle was staged in Kailua to make it look like that’s where she was stopped.”
Holmes denied he had anything to do with Au’s death, and he told Hawaii News Now in 2019 that his former girlfriend “and her memory deserve justice.”
There have been no arrests in connection with Au’s murder, and her parents both have died without knowing what happened to their daughter.
“Everyone who knew [Lisa] that we spoke to would describe her as being someone who was just an ideal young lady, an ideal daughter, somebody you’d never think this would happen to,” Dias said.
Anyone with information that could aid investigators in the still-open Lisa Au murder case is urged to contact the Honolulu Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division at (808) 723-3609.
“Even someone with second or third-hand information about what happened may hold the missing piece of the puzzle,” Palo Alto police say.