Features — Who Murdered Brittany and Where is Bo? A Lava Murder Mystery


Boaz Johnson, 22, is missing and considered a suspect in the strangling death of his pregnant girlfriend. The body of Brittany Jane Royal, who Johnson was camping with on the lava in Kalapana, was found discarded in the ocean the day after Memorial Day. Johnson has a tattoo of the upper body of a horse near the righst side of his abdomen. Police say he was last seen unshaven.

By Tiffany Edwards Hunt

Nearly two months after the body of 25-year-old Brittany Jane Royal was found in the ocean fronting the Kalapana lava viewing area, her boyfriend Boaz “Bo” Johnson is missing and considered a suspect.

Johnson’s family say they last heard from him around 5 p.m. Monday, May 27, or Memorial Day, when he called his father to discuss a pending purchase of 10 acres adjacent to the lava flow in Kalapana.

Johnson was set to sign papers to buy the land on May 28, but never showed up to an appointment with the Realtor, his parents said.

Authorities pulled Brittany’s body from the water that Tuesday morning.  An autopsy report revealed she had been strangled.

Police won’t say much to the media, but have appealed to the public for leads.

“This is an active investigation, no one is in custody, Mr. Johnson’s whereabouts is currently unknown,” Hawaii Police Lt. Greg Esteban told Big Island Chronicle.

At press time, police issued a statement suggesting Bo is alive, may be on this island, and is considered a suspect.

“Hawaii Island police are asking for the public’s help in locating the 22-year-old former boyfriend of a 25-year-old woman whose body was found in waters off the Kalapana coast on May 28,” read the police statement.  “After the completion of additional follows-ups conducted in this investigation, Boaz David Johnson is now considered the suspect in the murder investigation. He may still be on the island.”

Police describe Johnson as Caucasian, about 5-foot-7, about 150 pounds with a slim build and a fair complexion. They say he was “last seen unshaven” and “with medium-length brown hair.”   Boaz also has a tattoo of a upper body of a horse near the right side of his abdomen, according to police. “He is considered dangerous,” they wrote.

“We have information that leads us to believe he is definitely a suspect in this case and is out there somewhere, maybe on this island,” said Capt. Robert Wagner on July 3.  “He still could be in Puna, yes.  We think he is more familar with Lower Puna than anywhere on this island.  But we don’t know where he is at.”

Wagner added that it is possible that Boaz Johnson was able to make his way off the island.

Shortly before 6:30 a.m., May 28, police reportedly received a call that a body was caught in a fishing line from a nearby boat. With the assistance of a Hawai?i Fire Department helicopter, the body was retrieved from the ocean and taken to a nearby landing zone, where detectives from the Area I Criminal Investigations Section responded and commenced their investigation.

Brittany’s body was identified through fingerprints. The medical examiner reprtedly ruled that she died as the result of strangulation.

Documents police filed in court to obtain search warrants indicate that two days after Brittany’s body was pulled from the water, Neal Davis and Edward Elarth stopped by the Pahoa substation to share with police where the campsite of Brittany and Bo was located.

Police then hiked out with Davis and Elarth to the lava field fronting Kaawaloa Estate and located the campsite.

“While walking along a recent lava flow approximately 100 yards south of the campsite, your affiant observed what appeared to be human hair and human tissue along the lava leading in the makai direction,” Detective Robert Almeida wrote in a request to search the campsite. “This hair appeared to be similar in appearance and length to the victim’s hair in this investigation.”

Almeida also noted the fact that Officer Brian Markham, “while walking through a possible trail leading through the forested kipuka in a makai direction” discovered “a black colored backpack with a cell phone next to it and a knife with an approximately 5 inch blade next to the cell phone.”  In that backpack, Markham found an Alaska state identification card for Bo, Almeida wrote.

Meanwhile, Elarth, or “Kalapana Ed” as he refers to himself, has told sources that he talked with Bo the morning that Brittany’s body was pulled from the water.

“I believe this is a police matter,” Elarth responded, when BIC sought an “on-camera” interview with him.  “If police say it’s okay — this is getting way out of control!”  Elarth noted a June 8 Hawaii Tribune-Herald story in which the Johnson family, here on the island at the time, suggested Bo may have suffered the same fate as Brittany and that there could be a tie with one of the lava tour companies.  “With what was in the paper, I’m not throwing any more heat in the fire.  I’m going to let the police take care of this,” Kalapana Ed said, before hanging up on this reporter.

Asked about Elarth’s claim, Esteban put this reporter on hold momentarily, then came back on the line, saying, “This is an active investigation.  We’re in the process of acquiring data or records through subpoena.  It’s a standard practice.”

The Johnson family has been in close touch with this reporter, and has shared that in the time they were on Hawaii Island, police kept them under constant surveillance.  Bo’s parents Kathy and Tom Johnson, their son Mark, and their family friend Matt Hale left out of Kona International Airport on Thursday, June 13, with police following them all the way to the airport, they said.  According to Kathy and Tom, undercover police officers approached Mark in the airport, asked him to present his identification and had him remove his tee shirt to positively confirm he wasn’t Bo trying to board an airplane.

Mark and Matt are back where they reside in Illinois and Kathy and Tom Johnson are at home in Petersburg, Ill., largely because they were so unnerved on the island with police following them around constantly, and then being so evasive with them whenever they have sought information about the case.

But the Johnson family continues from afar to try and figure out what happened to Boaz and Brittany.

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.

Even after the July 3 press release, Sarah Johnson was defensive of her brother.

“The Johnson family stands behind Bo’s innocence, as we have from the beginning.  We know Bo and his character,” Sarah Johnson wrote on BIC’s website.

“I certainly hope it’s true that he’s alive,” Kathy Johnson told BIC July 3.  “I wish they would be more forthcoming on why they believe that,” she added of police.

Tom Johnson said he and his wife talked with a detective a couple of days before the release was issued. They asked the detective if police knew whether Boaz was alive or dead.  “He couldn’t answer that,” Tom Johnson said.

Tom, having read through the search warrant documents, found it signficant that two tents were mentioned.

Both families are undisputed about the fact that Brittany and Bo stayed in a yellow and grey tent.  But the search warrant documents refer to an orange and grey tent.  The Johnsons note that, according to the search warrant documents, the orange and grey tent had trace blood evidence, two clotheslines hanging from it, and rope in it that matched the rope used on Brittany’s neck.

“We know there are two campsites that they checked, according to their documents,” Tom Johnson said.

“I’m really wondering who the person was in that second tent,” Kathy Johnson said.

“It just seems like a progression to me,” Kathy added.  “It’s really not surprising, with all the talk, that they would go toward blaming Bo for Brittany’s murder.  I sure would like to know what the evidence is, what they’re going by.”

“The most important thing for him were two things, getting that land the next day — he wouldn’t have missed that for the world, that’s why I don’t think he is alive — and getting Brittany comfortable,” Tom Johnson said.  “She had nausea, morning sickness, and he was concerned,” Tom added. “When he didn’t show (at the Realtor’s Office on May 28), that was the indicator right there that something was wrong.  I hope he is alive, I can’t say that, I’m 50-50 on that.”

“It could have to do with DNA evidence, it could have to do with the phone records,” Kathy Johnson said, noting that everything is speculation until police explain the evidence they have to say that Boaz is a “suspect.”

“We don’t know how to react,” Kathy Johnson said.

The Johnson family described Boaz as a naturalist who could shimmy any coconut tree who was deeply in love with Brittany, who was an estimated three months pregnant.  They say Boaz planned to wanted to make a life with Brittany 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 after Mother’s Day.

“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.

Meanwhile, according to search warrant documents, police got at least one false lead from the manager of short-term rentals behind Pahoa Village Cafe.  Katherine Merck suggested to police that a man who had been staying in one of the units and left some belongings behind could have been Boaz.  Police searched the PVC unit and seized the belongings. But ultimately located the individual who had rented the unit, and determined Boaz was not using his name as an alias.  Wagner confirmed on July 3 that the PGV lead was “not viable.”

Anyone with information about this case should immediately call the police.

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  1. Mindy
    Mindy says:

    This is such a shame. I hope whoever is responsible for this is brought to justice. All of Petersburg is praying.

  2. Brittanys MOM
    Brittanys MOM says:

    Thank you Mindy! Its been almost 4 months since Brittany was murdered and found. The pain is terrible. We certainly want whomever is responsible to be found, arrested and pay for taking her life and the life of her unborn child.
    Peace and Love!

  3. Kathleen Hancock
    Kathleen Hancock says:

    I want that too, for you the bereaved, and for our community.

    It pains me though, to see you suffering over the amount of time it is taking, with expectations that are not realistic if you look at most similar crimes that occur here, by which I mean crimes without immediate witnesses who are willing to talk, witnesses who are not part of the crime or close to those who are.

    Four months is not long at all for this type of situation, if the murderer is part of this community. Years is the norm. Someday, someone who knows will slip, or will get angry at someone who is being protected by silence, or will cut a deal.

    If the people who know the truth were the type of people who do the right thing, they would already have done the right thing. You know? So you?re in the sad position of waiting for morally bankrupt or intimidated people to have some change in circumstance that will cause them to speak. That can be a long wait.

    I urged you to read “Murder in Paradise,” not only to sympathize with that family, but to understand what you are dealing with. To me that is the gift of that particular book, how it explicates the way communities here hold onto secrets, the barriers faced by law enforcement.

    IF Bo did this, then most likely he will be caught, and you will get closure sooner, but I think everyone I know except maybe one person who has heard the story, immediately thinks he was also a victim. Most think that he was first framed for Brittany, then put into something like lava that would tell no tales, so that the police would go after him instead of looking for the person or persons who murdered a couple.

    A lot of people think that is what happened.
    Obviously, it there is some real evidence pointing to him that has not been released, that is incorrect, but just from what has been made public, it looks like another crime somewhat like the Dana Ireland story.

    I wish you the best and the soonest closure. I support you pushing for action and answers as hard as you can. I just hate to see you counting each month as a milestone, when this situation could continue for a long time.

  4. Brittanys MOM
    Brittanys MOM says:

    Kathleen, thank you for expressing, again, your condolences. For me, I have resolved myself to the fact that this is not going to happen overnight. From talking with many other families in this situation this is the norm. And not just on the Island.

    I do believe that no matter who is the killer of Brittany time will tell. Through evidence, DNA or, like you said, someone slipping up. It happens and I WILL be patient. I will no persecute myself with the “what ifs.” My job as Brittany’s mother is to love her memory and continue to pray for justice for her and her baby.

    The milestones I count isn’t because her killer has not been caught, just the simple fact of her being gone for X amount of time. That will never change. There will always be milestones: her Birthday (November 26), the 1st Thanksgiving without her, the 1st Christmas without her, when her baby would have been born; the list goes on and on. Life will never be the same without her; but life does go on. I have a wonderful husband Jeff and 2 fabulous sons, Sky and Zack. And my family. I will not let that bastard who took Brittany and her baby take my life too!

    Mahalo again for the Aloha and love!
    Peace and Love,

  5. Kathleen Hancock
    Kathleen Hancock says:

    I so admire your attitude, Julie.
    I understand about the milestones. I have friends who lost their three year old to leukemia this year, who just celebrated his fourth birthday. They mark each milestone of his life by month and by anniversary, both the happy and the sad ones, and hold events, and write beautifully on their blog. And through them, this last year, I have become aware of many parents who are grieving and remembering.

    What you have been through is pain that I can only try to imagine. I know I cannot feel it as you do.
    I also have hopes that something will break sooner rather than later, but being prepared to wait is a good attitude I think.

  6. Mark P
    Mark P says:

    I’m trying to contact Ed Elarth, I have not heard from him for sometime now, I live in California, Ed and I grew up together, “Kalapana Ed” Elarth, Please email polishone@cox.net, Thank you

  7. Kalapana born and raised
    Kalapana born and raised says:

    Down Kalapana Lava flows is a scary place for a “haole” to be living, and buying up 10 acres… No disrespect to haoles, as im one myself, as in white, but i am local. Some locals down there are very territorial, and dont like it when what they think is there homeland, is bought up by foreigners. Is it coincidence that this missing person and murder came up a day before signing the land in there name??? Do you really think a to be father would murder his pregnant wife, when they are trying to buy land to make a future??? Would he leave out his knife and his bag, if he was a killer??? I think whoever is to blame for (these) murders is someone that lives right next to those 10 acres, and has access to a boat, maybe a lava tours boat… Someone strong, that has access to a boat, and that lives closeby, is the only way this couldve been done in my opinion. Comeon investigators wtf! Sincere condolences to the victims familys

  8. Ken
    Ken says:

    As Greg rightfully mentions, this murder has been solved.

    However, with that being said, lets explore as Kalapana born and raised states: “Some locals down there are very territorial……” and then continues with “…..and dont like it when what they think is there homeland, is bought up by foreigners.”

    OK – so then – if that’s the case, here is my question. What’s worse, the “white man” who buys, or the “local” who just sold out?

    If we must stoop to the “knuckle draggers” who consistently have to through the “white man” turd on the table as the problem here, then let’s put every nasty OTHER piece of shit on the table as well.

    Now – back to reality – Bo murdered Brittany.

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