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.