(A version of this story â€” including a video segment posted online â€” appeared in the Wednesday, April 1, 2009 edition of the Big Island Weekly:Â http://www.bigislandweekly.com/articles/2009/04/01/read/news/news03.txt)Â The discovery of
Chris Randrup’s bullet-riddled body on the sea cliffs fronting MacKenzie State Park a few months ago recalls the dark past of this remote Puna state park.
Randrup’s father, Randal K. “Randy” Randrup, is accused of killing his son. The trial date for the father is at 8:30 a.m. on June 1. The Randrup killing shocked and saddened a tight-knit surfer community in Puna, but this is not the first tragedy to occur along the shoreline of MacKenzie State Park.
In April 1980, Dr. Philip E. Wolsk and Judy Panko, both 28, were reportedly camping in MacKenzie State Park when they were beaten with a blunt object from outside their tent. Discovered by fellow campers an estimated 18 hours after the attack, Wolsk was dead and Panko had suffered severe head trauma from the attack.
Wolsk, a native New Yorker, was an intern studying internal medicine at the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, having come to the islands from the University of Illinois. Panko had quit her job in January 1980 to join Wolsk in Hawaii. They intended to marry and had just moved to the Kohala area before their camping excursion, according to news accounts. The couple was not robbed and Panko was not sexually assaulted in the attack.
After Panko’s recovery, her parents and brother ultimately took her to their home in Chicago. News accounts indicate Panko was initially paralyzed on her left side and underwent physical therapy, and continued to have weakness in the left side of her body, along with being “overwhelmingly depressed.”
Within a week of the attack, a group representing the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) surfaced. They obtained a P.O. Box in Hilo, and they passed out flyers with KKK letterhead in Hilo and Puna offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the murder of Wolsk and attack of Panko.
“Senseless beatings, murders, assaults, rapes and robberies of white people in Hawaii will stop only with your help and support,” the circulated flyers stated.
An April 30, 1980, a Hawaii Tribune-Herald article quotes then Hilo college student David Quigley as claiming to head the KKK of Hawaii, saying a group of about 25 had held a “memorial cross lighting” at the victims’ campsite in MacKenzie and intended to conduct “armed patrols” in the state park and around the Puna area.
A photograph of five men said to be with the KKK of Hawaii wearing camouflage and posing with rifles around the MacKenzie State Park sign was published in the HTH on Friday, May 2, 1980.
Chief Paul issued a press release on May 1, 1980, warning against vigilantism, saying, “Enforcement of the law is a function of the Police Department — allow us to do it properly.”
Former Star-Bulletin and Advertiser writer Hugh Clark, in a May 11, 1980 column, asked and answered, “Has race been a factor in crime? Analysis of violence discounts this.”
This was the lead paragraph of Clark’s column: “No one disagrees that murder, robbery, rape and assault are sharply on the upswing on the Big Island. But the question is: Have the ‘locals’ really declared war on the haoles?”
In July 1980, attorneys representing Panko and the Wolsk family filed a $40 million lawsuit against the State of Hawaii, citing negligence in the operation of MacKenzie.
“In operating MacKenzie Park as a public camp site, the state implied the isolated park was ‘reasonably safe and secure for camping,’ the suit alleges,” Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporter Frankie Stapleton wrote on July 8, 1980.
“The suit also claims there have been ‘prior criminal attacks in the vicinity’ of the Puna park and cites the state for failing to warn park users of possible dangers there,” Stapleton wrote.
She also made mention of a rape and assault on a couple that occurred at the park in 1976, and various other assaults that did not result in murder.
Police told Stapleton then that the 1976 case did involve similar circumstances, because a couple in a tent was attacked.
“The police captain said the 1976 case was resolved with the arrest and conviction of two adults and two juveniles,” Stapleton wrote, adding police said information at the time was inconclusive regarding a pattern of attacks.
Judy Panko-Reis, now the co-director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s Health Resources Center for Women with Disabilities, declined to be interviewed for this story. Neither Clark or Stapleton can recall whatever became of the lawsuit filed by Panko and the Wolsk family.
Both reporters who covered the Wolsk and Panko crime 29 years ago, Police Chief Harry Kubojiri and Councilwoman Emily Naeole all agree that MacKenzie is the same remote and dark place it has always been.
“There is a thin line, at times, between behaving cautiously and public safety,” Clark said recently. “I guess the Ho’okenas and MacKenzies are known trouble spots and should be avoided at night and by women traveling alone. Police coverage in rural South Kona and Puna is spotty at best.”
“We shouldn’t even be having this discussion because people should be able to go out and enjoy nature, and everything it has to offer, whether it be hiking or fishing or camping,” Kubojiri said. “When camping in places such as MacKenzie, have common sense. There are certain things that you do and don’t do … Let someone know where you are going, when you’re expected to be back. Don’t go camping in places that have a history of problems, or that you’re not familiar with, period.”
Both Kubojiri and Naeole agreed that local residents have always referred to MacKenzie as having a supernatural aura about it.
“Having grown up in Puna, MacKenzie has always had a lore related to the supernatural,” Kubojiri said. “You always hear the same stories, of ancient Hawaiian lore, sacrifices being made there. Maybe it is the nothingness you experience there, or it’s the eery sound of the wind blowing through the trees.”
“It’s a spiritual place, too,” Naeole added. “As a little girl raised in Opihikao and Kalapana, MacKenzie Park has always had this eery kind of feeling, kind of like spooky, scary.”
Naeole said the Night Marchers walk around the Mamalahoa Trail, or King’s Highway, which runs right through the park.
“As a Native Hawaiian and someone raised in lower Puna, when you hear or see something strange that is not of this realm, you have to get out of the way — because it’s just going to run you over,” Naeole said. “It’s all about respect, you’ve got to respect the spirit world. That’s how I look at it. If you disrespect, you know you’re going to have trouble.”
Kubojiri also referred to the King’s Highway that runs through MacKenzie.
“You can’t disrupt the path around the island,” he said. The police chief said Waipio Valley and Papa Bay Estates along the southern coastline have similar reputations as spiritual places.
“Even Kalapana had its dark places. It’s not in the sense of crime, but in the spiritual or supernatural. It’s nothing like today, when you talk about the dark side, the criminal elements,” he said. “Today that is considered the dark side.”
With limited police presence in these remote places, Naeole has an idea for Puna — a ranger program, or a cross between a neighborhood watch patrol and a park ranger. Yet to be determined are the logistics of the program — how it would operate, be funded, and under what jurisdiction. If Naeole has her way, it will be paid for with geothermal royalty funds and won’t be a state-funded program.
Naeole added, “The state people are so negligent on all these things they are supposed to be taking care of.”