Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Jackie Koja

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I am profiling one Asian or Pacific Islander MP for every day of the month of May. Today’s case is Bongak “Jackie” Koja, who disappeared from Oahu, Hawaii on June 9, 1997, her 59th birthday. She was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. in 1962, thirty-five years before her disappearance.

It’s no mystery what happened to Jackie: she was the victim of a horrific crime, the stuff of nightmares.

She went on her usual early morning walk at 3:00 a.m., probably looking forward to spending her birthday with her husband and their four dogs. She never returned from the walk, and people heard screams in the area around four.

Later, a janitor at the local high school found blood all over the sidewalk. He thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t a joke. Jackie had been brutally beaten to death in a completely random attack by a career criminal who was under the influence of cocaine and crystal meth.

Who knows whether anyone would have ever figured out what happened if the murderer, Frank Janto, hadn’t gone to the police himself a few days later. He confessed to everything and there was evidence to support his statement — the blood for one thing — but Jackie’s body was gone. He’d thrown it in a dumpster after he killed her, and it had already been hauled away.

Janto was sentenced to 75 years in prison for Jackie’s murder, and he was later convicted of the 1987 murder of another woman who was killed under similar circumstances as Jackie.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Bernadette Behmlander

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I am profiling one Asian or Pacific Islander MP for every day of the month of May. Today’s case is Bernadette Ruby Behmlander, a 50-year-old woman who disappeared from Battle Creek, Michigan on October 1, 1997.

Bernadette is of Chinese descent, but she was born in Trinidad. (There are about 4,000 people of Chinese descent in Trinidad and Tobago.) Her nickname is Susie.

Her case, unfortunately, is one of the “few details” ones, and I can’t find squat about it. The only thing that turned up is this notice, posted in the March 17, 2006 edition of the Battle Creek Enquirer:

behmlander

Why they awaited eight and a half years to appoint a conservator is not clear to me.

Thoughts on today’s updates

It’s 11:47 p.m. as I type this, so perhaps by the time it’s finished, “today” will be “yesterday.”

For all the updated cases today, except Jahi Turner and Donna Mezo, you can thank Mion, who kindly gathered together a bunch of old newspaper articles about cases I had and emailed them to me.

Regarding my Donna Mezo update, I hope it clarifies the situation with her boyfriend’s death. Earlier I had said there was a suicide note and his death was ruled a suicide in spite of the fact that the gun used was found in “a nearby lake.” Well, I have since learned that “nearby” was more like “a few feet away.” I think what probably happened is that Jeffrie either threw or dropped his weapon into the water during or after firing it.

I found quite a lot on Newspapers.com for Marcell Byers‘s case. His NamUs profile includes a clipping about how the people charged with kidnapping him disappeared and their lawyer had been threatened and maybe it was foul play.

Well, the two suspects did disappear, leaving a van shot full of holes, but I guess it was all just an attempt to evade prosecution because they were alive, back in custody and well enough to cop a plea less than a year later.

It’s disturbing that Marcell was never found. All this over a gold chain. The Zuppos pleaded no contest to kidnapping, meaning they didn’t even admit they were guilty. They’d be out of prison by now and I’m not sure what they’re up to these days. I think Gerald Sr. may be dead; someone with the same name and birth year died in North Carolina in 2003.

Tejin‘s case is just sad. (Also, NamUs has him listed as a girl? I admit you can’t really tell from the pictures. If I hadn’t found some articles on his disappearance I’d have been none the wiser.) I found his Facebook page and one picture was of him holding a little turtle, whom Tejin called “my son.” This was just a few months before his presumed death.

Julie Davis‘s case is sad too. Judging from the Facebook page created for her, she was lost for awhile before she disappeared. They only have the one not very good quality and out-of-date photo of her, and from the Facebook page her family apparently wasn’t really clear on when they’d last heard from her. They mentioned getting a letter from her “around 1985 or 1986.” (I’m not sure where NamUs’s date of disappearance comes from.)

She was just sixteen years old and already out on her own, almost four hours from her hometown.  I know things were a bit different back in the eighties, but that’s still pretty unusual. I wonder if she was in foster care. Obviously her family cares about her or they wouldn’t be trying to find her. I hope she’s alive out there and doesn’t even know anyone is looking, and isn’t a Jane Doe somewhere, or worse, dead and never found.

For this case, normally I’d have listed her as just regular “Missing” but then I saw the detail about the track marks and thought “drugs” and upgraded her case to “Endangered Missing.” Question: do track marks ALWAYS mean drugs? There are some medical conditions that require a person to get frequent injections; do those people get similar scars?

Ashley Lynn Thomas has such striking eyes, so big and dark against her pale skin and hair. I hope she’s okay. I hope she and the baby are both healthy and being looked after.

Stuart Owen Collins got a big update today. (Thanks again, Mion!) It does sound like something bad happened to him, and one inevitably wonders about the woman he was with, and even more so about her husband.

With Paul Egan (another big update there) the whole rendering theory is just awful to contemplate. The police seemed to suspect Paul’s friend. They said his friend was not a suspect, but they also made a point of saying they couldn’t confirm the friend’s story.

It could have happened something like this: Paul and his friend got into some kind of argument at the plant after hours — his friend was a foreman, Paul a technician — and things got out of hand something went horribly wrong, and his friend is panicking and thinks “well, there’s this rendering machine, if I just chuck him in and keep my mouth shut, no one will ever know.” I doubt such places had security cameras in 1975. The rendering machine was designed to grind up horses; a human corpse would be easy.

Of course that’s all supposition. I did look up the friend in the Florida DOC database and on Facebook and couldn’t find anyone by that name. I did find a Newspapers.com mention of a person by that name (and a photo of that person) from 1970, five years before Paul disappeared. Nothing since then. I wonder if I’ve got the spelling of his surname right.

As far as the note Elsie Elsinga left behind — and her daughter’s poo-pooing the significance of that note — I don’t know. Her daughter said something like “How could someone of that age have done anything to mess up their life?” But perhaps Elsie’s “possible mild depression” was more significant than her daughter thought.

For Helen Robinson, I wonder if she decided to take a plane to visit one of those CB radio friends she had, and maybe something happened that prevented her from coming back. It was two solid years before her van turned up; by then, the weeds might have grown over the flight records. Robinson is definitely dead now; I don’t think she would have lived long in any case, because of her emphysema.

I added 27 updates and I’m very pleased with my work output today. I hope y’all have noticed how much more productive I’ve been ever since the site got redesigned. It takes less time to add/update stuff, since I don’t have to write all the code by hand, or hand-add case names to the lists.

MP of the week: Kevin McClam

This week’s featured missing person is Kevin Lamont McClam, who disappeared from Goose Creek, South Carolina on March 30, 1997, just days before his fifteenth birthday.

The circumstances of his disappearance are a bit strange to say the least. His clothes were found scattered along the road near a construction site, and a witness reported seeing him walking nearby, wearing only sneakers and boxers, “alone and not under duress.”

As in the Wojciech Fudali case, I just don’t understand this. If I saw a man or a teenage boy walking down the street almost naked, I think I’d call the police or at least ask him if he was okay. But I haven’t found any evidence that the witness actually interacted with Kevin.

There are two suspects in Kevin’s disappearance, both of whom would have been in their teens at the time. The police are pretty sure Kevin was murdered, but no one has ever been charged in his case.

The latest MWAB news

I thought I’d do a run-down in the latest news in murder-without-a-body cases:

  • Per everybody, Antolin Garcia-Torres has been found guilty of the murder of Sierra Mae Lamar, a fifteen-year-old girl who disappeared from Morgan Hill, California five years ago. Her abduction and killing is of the most terrifying kind: she was just snatched off the street in a random act of violence.
  • In Iowa, Tait Purk has been found guilty of murdering his girlfriend, Cora Ann Okonski, who disappeared from the town of Tama on April 16, 2000. Unlike in Sierra Lamar’s murder, there wasn’t anything in the way of physical evidence here. However, Purk supposedly confessed to at least two other people that he had killed Cora and buried her body.
  • No charges have been filed as of yet, but Dale LaFleur‘s grand-nephew, Philip, has confessed to murdering him and the police are looking for the body. Philip is currently in jail for the 2015 murder of another man. He’s only 23 now, and Dale disappeared in 2011, so chances are Philip was a minor when he (allegedly) killed his great-uncle. (Not that it’ll matter.) He says he put Dale’s body inside his (Dale’s) car and dumped it in the Atchafalaya River. Police have said they’ve found an “object” in the river that might be the car. Fingers crossed.
  • And as for Peter Kema, alas, I don’t know anything more than I did three weeks ago: namely that Peter Sr. has led police to the alleged disposal spot. I seem to recall some article that claimed the remains were cremated and dumped at sea. If that is so, they’re almost certainly unrecoverable. But I don’t know if that information is correct. There’s a big difference between outright cremating a body and merely setting it on fire. I think if the cops had found something, they would have said so by now, but who knows?

Peter Kema’s dad leads police to alleged disposal spot

This just in: Peter Kema‘s father, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this month, has lead police to where he says he put his son’s body. This location is, of course, as yet undisclosed, but it’s somewhere in the district of Puna.

Here’s to hoping there’s actually something recoverable there, and this 20-year saga can finally be over.

Peter Kema denouement

Sorry everyone, the internet was kaput for much of this week. I could access it on my cell phone using data, but the house connection didn’t work. Michael and I have been having issues with our provider since November.

It goes like this: we had to cut down on our expenses so decided to switch our cable and internet package to just internet. The service provider said okay, and yet EVERY SINGLE MONTH SINCE THEN, they’ve billed us for cable, phone and internet, and the result is either our account gets overdrawn and we have to pay fees to the bank, or our service provider stops providing service — ALL service, not just the services we no longer want — because we can’t pay the bill. Then Michael will call them and remind them that we’re only supposed to be getting internet now, and they will apologize, reduce our bill accordingly and promise it won’t happen again. Then it happens again.

Anyway. Now we’ve got our internet back and Michael plans to switch providers because he’s understandably fed up.

So. It looks like the Peter Kema case may be finally reaching its conclusion. Peter’s mother reached a deal with the prosecution last year, pleading guilty to manslaughter and agreeing to testify against her husband. Earlier this week, Peter’s father also pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to twenty years and must serve a minimum of six, and he has agreed to lead police to the body. If he doesn’t follow through with that part, his sentence could be increased to 25 years.

At least they are going to jail, and this way Peter’s siblings will be spared the ordeal of having to testify. And I highly doubt Peter Sr., anyway, is going to get out after just six years. I expect he’ll have to serve the whole term, because the case is so notorious in Hawaii, and for the same reason I doubt he’ll be terribly popular in prison. Jaylin, unfortunately, is getting almost no time, even though she’s just as responsible for her son’s death as Peter Sr.

Peter’s parents did nothing but torture, neglect and abuse him his entire brief life. If there was any justice they ought to be getting a manslaughter conviction AND enough child abuse convictions stacked on top of one another to amount to life sentences for both of them.

I mean, read Peter’s Charley Project page to get an idea. Or take what it says in one of the articles I found about the case:

In Peter’s case the abuse started being documented when he was just three months old. After being brought into the hospital, x-rays showed old and new fractures in his shoulder, elbow, ribs and knees. He and his older siblings were removed from the home and they lived with their grandparents for the next three years.

Once he was back with his mother and father, his siblings reported Peter was again physically abused: suffering broken bones and black eyes, as well as enduring mental abuse like being forced to eat dog feces. But those reports came too late to save the six year old boy.

Why weren’t either of his parents charged with child abuse when he was an infant? Why were his parents allowed to regain custody of him? Jaylin’s parents loved Peter and they loved his siblings; it wasn’t like there was no one else willing to take care of the kids. According to the articles, since Peter’s death there have been “reforms” in Hawaii’s child protection system, in order to prevent more such tragedies. I certainly hope so.

We’ll see if Peter’s body can be found. It’s been 20 years so it may be unrecoverable. Here’s some articles: