A Look Back on the Case That Rocked the AJA Community 90 Years Ago

Jonathan Y. Okamura
Commentary
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

This year — Sept. 18, to be exact — marks 90 years since Myles Yutaka Fukunaga, a 19-year-old Nisei, killed Gill Jamieson, a 10-year-old Punahou student in Waikïkï. In a highly publicized case which some have referred to as “the most horrific murder in the history of Hawai‘i,” Fukunaga was arrested a short time later and convicted just weeks later. He was hanged for the crime on Nov. 19, 1929, at Oahu Prison after legal efforts led by the Hawaii Hochi to obtain a new trial for him all failed.

Why did Fukunaga kidnap and bludgeon to death an innocent haole boy, a brutal act of violence that all those who knew him found unbelievable given his responsible manner and quiet disposition? By all accounts, Fukunaga (Myles was his chosen “American” name) was the typical Japanese “good boy,” who had never been in trouble before and worked long hours at Queen’s Hospital to help his impoverished parents financially. As the chönan, or eldest son, with six younger siblings, he had to go to work rather than continue his education and dutifully gave $35 of his $40 monthly earnings to his parents. He spent the remaining $5 going to the movies and buying reading materials, his only pleasures in life. According to his former teachers and Fukunaga himself, he was a bright student who thoroughly enjoyed reading and took his education very seriously. Living in downtown Honolulu, Fukunaga could have easily attended McKinley High School, but the poverty of his family meant that was not to be. He referred to his inability to continue his education as “the biggest disappointment” of his life.

A partial explanation for Fukunaga’s crime is that Gill Jamieson’s father was a vice president of Hawaiian Trust Company, which managed the leasing of the house that the Fukunaga family rented. Following a heated argument with a rent collector regarding overdue rent of $20, Fukunaga developed what he described as a “hatred” for the company, which led him to select Gill Jamieson as his victim after learning that the boy’s father was a Hawaiian Trust executive. Fukunaga was arrested four days after kidnapping and killing the boy and collecting $4,000 in ransom money from the Jamiesons. He readily admitted his guilt to police. Fukunaga was quickly tried, convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang, all in just over two weeks after his capture.

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Jonathan Y. Okamura is a professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. Besides “Raced to Death in 1920s Hawai‘i: Injustice and Revenge in the Fukunaga Case,” to be published next year by the University of Illinois Press, Okamura is also the author of “From Race to Ethnicity: Interpreting Japanese American Experiences in Hawai‘i,” published in 2014, and “Ethnicity and Inequality in Hawai‘i,” published in 2008.

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