(Editor’s note: The family of Boaz Johnson is here on Hawaii Island seeking clues to the disappearance of their son and the murder of his girlfriend Brittany Jane Royal. Bo’s mother Kathy, father Tom, older brother Mark and friend Matt Hale sat with Big Island Chronicle editor and publisher Tiffany Edwards Hunt at a Pahoa restaurant for two hours on Wednesday, June 12.)
By Tiffany Edwards Hunt
The family of Boaz Johnson is here from Petersburg, Alaska, desperately trying to find answers to disappearance of 22-year-old Boaz and the strangling death of Boaz’s girlfriend.
The morning after Memorial Day, Tuesday, May 28, a fisherman reportedly found Brittany Jane Royal, 25, floating in the ocean fronting the lava viewing area. The fisherman was said to have left the body with a lava tour boat operator before authorities arrived. Neither the fisherman nor the lava tour boat operator have been publicly identified.
For a couple of days before police publicly identified Royal, all the public knew was her physical description — “a Caucasian woman possibly in her late 20s or early 30s, about 5-foot-4 to 5-foot-8 with a slim build, short brown hair and a tattoo of ‘Veritas’ on her lower back.” Veritas, meaning truth, was the goddess of truth, a daughter of Saturn and the mother of Virtue. See details of the Roman mythology pertaining to Veritas here.
Within days of announcing the discovery of Royal’s strangled body, police issued a release seeking Boaz Johnson, who they said family members had not heard from since Memorial Day. Another release stated Boaz was a “person of interest” in Royal’s death. Johnson and Royal had been camping together before Royal was killed and Johnson disappeared, according to the police issued statement.
To date, that’s all the public officially knows. But the family of Boaz Johnson want the public to know this wasn’t just two people camping together, they were in love and planning a life together.
The Johnson family is here on the island, digging deeper into the mystery, hopeful to find Boaz alive but fearful of what that could mean, and scared too that he also was a murder victim alongside his girlfriend.
Within days of Johnson family members’ arrival here from Alaska here, they realized that police were following them. During the two-hour interview at a Pahoa restaurant with the Johnsons, an unmarked patrol car sat in the parking lot in plain sight. The Johnson family is not sure why police are following them, and at first were disturbed by it, but are now getting used to it. They say they haven’t had much contact with the police, that they are treating Boaz like a suspect because he is missing, and, in the course, acting very elusive with the family. In fact, the Johnson family says one of the two detectives assigned to the case, Det. Robert Almeida, has been in Florida since they’ve been on the island.
As the family spoke with BIC, Almeida called them. “It’s nice that they’re calling right now, it’s the first,” said Tom Johnson and his wife Kathy answered. “It’s kinda hard to run a police investigation from Florida, isn’t it?” Kathy told the detective.
“Ar you investigating anybody else besides Bo?” she asked.
“Can you answer me the reasons police are following us?” She also inquired about whether police were able to obtain Boaz’s phone records.
After Kathy ended the phone call, she told her family what was said. “A bunch of non-responses,” Mark Johnson surmised. Kathy said police want Boaz Johnson’s bank records from them. They don’t even know where he banked.
The Johnson family is horrified that police are focusing on their son as a suspect, since they believe he is either a victim alongside his girlfriend or hiding out from whoever killed Brittany.
They described Boaz as a naturalist who could shimmy any coconut tree who was in love with Brittany, who was about three months pregnant, and who wanted to make a life with her in Kalapana.
Boaz brought Brittany to Alaska in late April, so he could introduce her to his family. For a few months before the Alaska trip, the couple and Boaz’s sister Ruth rented a house for $700 per month in a kipuka out on the lava field.
The house was surrounded by lava and did not have any vehicular access; none of them had a vehicle. They hitchhiked or caught rides from friends, and hauled their supplies out to the house in backpacks.
While Boaz and Brittany were staying with the Johnson family in Alaska, Brittany took a pregnancy test and announced that she was expecting. They went on to see Brittany’s family in Tustin, Calif., before returning to the Big Island on May 9.
While with the Johnson family, Brittany and Boaz had discussed their plan to buy 10 acres in Kalapana and start up an organic farm.
“Brittany was like-minded. They fit together pretty good,” Tom Johnson said.
Kathy Johnson recalls that Brittany had “an extraordinary voice — a beautiful singing voice.” Boaz and Brittany both played the guitar and ukulele and, during the Alaska visit, they played music with some of Boaz’s siblings. (The Johnsons have 12 children in all.)
Brittany was into yoga and meditation, and Boaz got into the same after he started dating her, said Matt Hale, a longtime friend of Boaz’s from Illinois who visited Brittany and Boaz in April while they were renting the Kalapana house (12-5495 Lokelani).
When they came to visit the Johnson family in Alaska, Boaz and Brittany had sent themselves a box of food, so they could eat like they did on the Big Island. Kathy Johnson recalls the box included coconut oil and “bean sprouts” — they apparently ate a lot of bean sprouts, “and sweet potatoes,” Kathy Johnson added.
The couple wasn’t vegetarian, but the food in Alaska is quite different than it is in Hawaii, and Boaz explained to the family that they didn’t want to “shock their system” by changing their diet so drastically on the trip.
Brittany and Boaz were very holistic and concerned about what they put in their bodies, so they weren’t really the type of people who regularly consumed alcohol, smoked marijuana or did any mind-altering drugs, Matt Hale said. He recalls that, when he came out to visit the couple in April before Boaz and Brittany went to Alaska, Boaz trekked over to the Kaimu Corner Store to get Matt a six pack of beer because he knew Matt liked beer.
Living out on the lava like they were, they would get up when the sun came up, and they would go to bed when the sun went down, Matt Hale observed.
Drug activity in the area was bothersome to the couple, Matt said, recalling Brittany and Boaz telling them about older men taking advantage of young girls after giving them hallucinogenics. Matt Hale recalls sitting on Kaimu beach with Brittany and a friend when the women pointed out to Matt one of the men in the area known to take advantage of young girls.
The Johnson family also said that Boaz, who had sought to make money doing lava tours, had a conflict with another established tour operator. Boaz and his sister had both relayed to their parents details of the conflict after it happened. Tom Johnson recalls telling his son, “Watch yourself” and “Take care of yourself,” and, both Matt Hale and Boaz’s older brother Mark, who also had heard about the conflict with the lava tour operator, remember Boaz “played it off like it was no big deal.”
In fact, Boaz and Brittany loved Kalapana and were committed to homesteading in the area. They worked with a local realtor to find 10 acres out on the lava field and, at the time of Brittany’s death and Boaz’s disappearance, were camping out near the property.
The day that Brittany’s body was found the couple was actually scheduled to meet with the Realtor to finalize the purchase of the property. The Realtor hadn’t heard from Brittany and Boaz, and had Boaz’s parents’ number because Tom and Kathy actually had the money Boaz was going to use to put toward the property purchase.
The Johnsons say they last spoke with their son just after 5 p.m. Hawaii time on Memorial Day. Boaz had talked with his mother a few hours earlier, and then called back to talk with his father.
When Kathy Johnson spoke with Boaz on that Monday afternoon he was clearly out on the lava field. She could tell by the sound of the wind in the phone.
Boaz’s conversations with both parents were about them selling his various belongings to raise money for the land that he was buying with Brittany. But Tom Johnson recalls telling his son he didn’t have to buy the land if he didn’t want to; it wasn’t too late to back out and he could spend his money in other ways. He recalls Boaz telling him how much he wanted to buy the land and how he wanted to homestead out there on the lava and start a hydroponics farm.
The Johnsons also recall talking with Boaz about his desire to rent a house nearby for $350 per month in order to make Brittany more comfortable, because of the nausea she was enduring with the pregnancy.
The Johnsons would like to find the person who was planning to rent the house to Brittany and Boaz. They also want to know exactly where the couple was camping and who might have been camping with them or near them. Since they have been on the island, the Johnsons have heard that there may have been up to three people camping with Brittany and Bo, or near them.
Also, the Johnson family and a Realtor in the same office as the one who was selling Boaz and Brittany the 10-acre parcel all relayed this disturbing story: someone was planning to buy a couple of parcels near the 10-acre parcel Brittany and Bo intended to buy in order to engage in a lava tour business. But a nearby landowner threatened and intimidated that person into not buying the property. The Realtor wouldn’t go on the record with Big Island Chronicle, however, and wished not to be identified for fear of retribution. The Realtor said the person who backed out of the land deal is “terrified” and also, for fear of retribution, doesn’t want to be identified or publicly discuss what happened.
Meanwhile, with the police so blatantly following the Johnsons, they acknowledge that police could be protecting them. After about seven or eight police officers followed them to Kona and the Johnsons called the police, they were told that officers were assigned to them for their “protection.”
“I feel like they should be investigating the murders, or Bo’s disappearance,” Matt Hale said.
“My belief is there’s a good chance he’s a victim,” Mark Johnson said. “I have to say, with police following us, it gives me hope they know something we don’t know. The hardest part is they won’t tell us enough to get to the point where we can have a conclusion, have that gut instinct.”
“My hope, since they are so intent on us, is that they know something we don’t know,” Kathy Johnson said. “I don’t want to entertain the other possibilities, because that would mean he would be gone,” she said, trying to hold back tears. Not knowing, “that is the thing that is keeping me going, so I don’t want to give up.”
“I look at it as a 50-50 chance that he’s alive or dead,” Tom Johnson said. “Every day we don’t hear from him or police, our hopes slip away that he’s alive. I want justice to be served, and I want to know the truth, whatever the truth is. I want it properly investigated.”
“My gut instinct is he’s still alive,” Matt Hale said. “He’s scared maybe, because his girlfriend was murdered. It’s his unborn child. He’s grieving. Different scenarios have played out in my head. None of them really make sense.”
The Johnson family says they have been in close contact with the Royals, and are on good terms.
“Both families want the truth,” Tom Johnson said. “They know we’re hurting. We know they’re hurting.”
The family referred to online conversations about the case, and how at least one person has indicated having spoken with Bo since his disappearance. The family wants to talk with that person and anyone who has heard from Bo, knows his whereabouts or knows anything about the case. They asked BIC to publicly reveal Kathy Johnson’s cell phone number, which is (309)716-4398.
Anyone with information about the case should also contact police. Almeida can be reached at (808) 961-2386 or firstname.lastname@example.org and the other detective assigned to the case, Fetuutuunai Amuimuia, can be reached at (808) 961-2278 or email@example.com. Neither Almeida nor Amuimuia returned BIC’s messages at press time. And Prosecutor Mitch Roth wouldn’t comment on the case or any of the rumors referred to in this story or generally circulating the community.