Puna News — MacKenzie Park’s Dark Past Revisited

(A version of this story — including a video segment posted online — appeared in the Wednesday, April 1, 2009 edition of the Big Island Weekly: http://www.bigislandweekly.com/articles/2009/04/01/read/news/news03.txt) The discovery of

Chris Randrup

Chris Randrup

Randy Randrup

Randy Randrup

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.

Residents both revere and fear MacKenzie. Situated atop sea cliffs with scattered Ironwoods, the King’s Trail runs right through the middle of the park, which is about 10 miles away from Pahoa and void of cell phone service.

Over the years, waves have claimed fishermen and opihi pickers from the shoreline, and thecampground itself has played host to a number of crimes, including beatings, rapes and murders.

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.

The KKK group didn’t get a warm reception from then Mayor Herbert Matayoshi and then Police Chief Guy Paul, according to media reports from the time.

KKK Hawaii Chapter, May 1980

KKK Hawaii Chapter, May 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.”

11 replies
  1. Hugh Clark
    Hugh Clark says:

    Factually, I never, ever toiled for Star-Bulletin. Tiffany drew the reference from a Sunday edition (Mom’s Day 1980) in which both Bulletin and Advertiser were named.

    In fact, under the then former joint operating agreement, Advertiser did entire news, editorial and sports sections while Star-Bulletin had a feature section. The joint operating agrement died when Gannett, after acquiring Advertiser, decided to bury the Star-Bulletin but forces on Oahu had other ideas and it has survived, though barely now.

    So the point-of-view piece I wrote in an effort to dispell notions the attack was the work of coordinated local haole haters was mine and on behalf of Advertiser. MacKenzie has an more sordid history over the years and I would today avoid it at nighttime because of the prior bad acts and the sheer remoteness.

  2. John Burnett
    John Burnett says:


    Mahalo for this disturbing but timely and thought-provoking stroll down Amnesia Lane. We use the word “aloha” and many of us truly mean it and live it or, at least, aspire to and do our best.

    I believe for the polyglot of people that is Hawaii, we usually do a pretty admirable job of getting along despite our differences. But for those naive enough to think that our collective consciousness is so evolved as to make our peaceful paradise a true Utopia, this is a stark reminder of how racism, which is usually subtle and institutionalized nowadays, can raise its ugly and destructive head among us — and that bigots need no proof of their half-baked theories to believe they’re right (political orientation pun not intended).

    And Hugh, thank you for being both the gatekeeper to history and in this case, the voice of reason, both then and now.

  3. Leona
    Leona says:

    I am a fan of Naeole, she has great ideas and solutions for those idea. This is just one example of how others overlook some of the small but important problems the Hilo/Puna faces. Only someone who is raised here or who have family raised here would know these problems. I think SOMEONE should do something about this MACKENZIE STATE PARK. It NEEDS to have some sort of Ranger/Security at this park. People should not avoid going to an area of the fear of being raped, murdered, beaten!!!

  4. Jeff Wilson
    Jeff Wilson says:

    Racism by locals against White people in Hawaii is an accepted institution, from the Hawaiian mafia that controls the taxis at the Kailua-Kona pier, to the hate stares that tattoed Hawaiian men give to White men, to the tailgating, speeding and reckless driving in South Kona, to the police who care about NOTHING, to the HAWAIIAN POLICE PROVIDING PROTECTION TO THE PIER TAXI RACKET, to the hate-filled Hawaiian women who have called me “fucking haole” for absolutely no reason, to the beating that my wife and I took at the Old Kona Airport because I complained that a woman parked her car too close to mine, to the Hawaiian thugs who chased me through ChoiceMart because I asked them not to urinate in the parking lot, to the Hawaiian supervisors I’ve had who have scraemed at me and treated me like garbage.

  5. silver hensley
    silver hensley says:

    I was w0ndering h0w the park g0t the name mackenzie, wh0 named it and why they named it mackenzie? i did s0me reserch and what i f0und was sh0cking? is there a link? the name mackenzie is irish, it means fire b0rn, s0n 0f the wise ruler…. there has been multiple murders inv0lving the name “mackenzie”,is it a c0uincidence? i d0n’t kn0w f0r sure, but i kn0w Emily’s plan was a w0nderful idea. The fact the kkk being in the park definately d0esnt help the mana… i feel that we need tutu t0 g0 and bless the park, and rename it perhaps. I have much respect f0r the kings trail and pers0naly beleive that if it is disrespected that bad things may happen t0 y0u. i l0ve hawaii and want t0 pass that park with g00d vibes, but as f0r n0w i d0n’t. mahal0 f0r d0ing this st0ry.As fr the last c0mment that was p0sted, i wish i c0uld tell him that n0t all l0cals are like that, it all depends where y0u g0 and if y0u have al0ha 0r n0t. i am a white girl b0rn and raised in puna and respect is earnd.

  6. silver hensley
    silver hensley says:

    i als0 wanted t0 add that i knew chris and he was a wa0nderful pers0n, i want the murders, deaths, and assults t0 end as well, and if it d0esn’t st0p the park sh0uld be cl0sed t0 the public, besides the kings trail d0es in fact g0 right thr0ugh the park!!! i was als0 w0ndering why the park didnt cl0se after that huge lawsuit ageinst the state after th0se murders? why w0uld the state keep it 0pen after such a l0ss?

  7. Daddio
    Daddio says:

    Hey silver hensley, I think the native Hawaiians (who are not the first native hawaiians, the first natives were all slaughtered) also need to realize that respect is earned. They do not deserve it simply by being born here. Those born in Hawaii do not own it and it’s time they realize that. You want to own your own piece of it? Buy it. Pretty simple concept, huh?

  8. Lynn Hammond
    Lynn Hammond says:

    This remote but beautiful 13-acre park is named after Albert J. MacKenzie, a dedicated forest ranger on the Big Island who died in 1938.This was my Great Great Grandfather. MacKenzies were also some of the first missionaries after Cook. Later they married into the Royal family and therefore through blood they have Hawaiian running through them. It is all documented in the history museum. Just thought you would like to know.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Private Investigator from Northern California.  I am beginning a preliminary investigation in to the 1980 attack and slaying of Dr. Phillip Wolsk.  I have seen your article and video piece on the topic.  I was wondering if you would be willing […]

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