A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow

A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow

by Mike Farris


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Lies, murder, and a legendary courtroom battle threaten to tear apart the Territory of Hawaii.

In September of 1931, Thalia Massie, a young naval lieutenant’s wife, claims to have been raped by five Hawaiian men in Honolulu. Following a hung jury in the rape trial, Thalia’s mother, socialite Grace Fortescue, and husband, along with two sailors, kidnap one of the accused in an attempt to coerce a confession. When they are caught after killing him and trying to dump his body in the ocean, Mrs. Fortescue’s society friends raise enough money to hire seventy-four-year-old Clarence Darrow out of retirement to defend the vigilante killers. The result is an epic courtroom battle between Darrow and the Territory of Hawaii’s top prosecutor, John C. Kelley, in a case that threatens to touch off a race war in Hawaii and results in one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American history.

Written in the style of a novel, but meticulously following the historical record, A Death in the Islands weaves a story of lies, deception, mental illness, racism, revenge, and murder—a series of events in the Territory of Hawaii that nearly tore apart the peaceful islands, reverberating from the tenements of Honolulu to the hallowed halls of Congress, and right into the Oval Office itself, and left a stain on the legacy of one of the greatest legal minds of all time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510712140
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 11/08/2016
Pages: 332
Sales rank: 778,134
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Mike Farris is a commercial litigator and entertainment lawyer in Dallas, Texas. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, and is on the faculty at the La Jolla Writers Conference. His books include Front Row Seat: A Veteran Reporter Relives the Four Decades that Shaped America and Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood. Farris lives in Sunnyvale, Texas.

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii

Part 1 Thalia Massie and the Ala Moana Boys

Chapter 1 The Woman in Green "Are you white people?" 3

Chapter 2 The Ala Moana Boys "Something terrible has happened." 8

Chapter 3 The Accusation "A woman was assaulted by a man." 14

Chapter 4 The Physical Examination "Clean as a new pin." 25

Chapter 5 Thalia's Statement "Now look at your beautiful work." 34

Chapter 6 Rounding Up the Boys "It was a car like that." 47

Chapter 7 The Identification "Our first inclination is to seize the brutes and string them up on trees." 55

Chapter 8 The Alibi "Do you know this is Bennie?" 63

Chapter 9 The Lawyers "The district attorney was too deaf to conduct a trial." 69

Part 2 Territory of Hawaii V. Ben Ahakuelo, Et Al

Chapter 10 Thalia for the Prosecution "I started to pray and that made him angry and he hit me very hard." 79

Chapter 11 The Prosecution Continues "I was instructed to keep that under cover." 93

Chapter 12 The Prosecution Rests "… the prosecution has utterly failed to prove its case." 102

Chapter 13 The Timeline "A white man was following her." 115

Chapter 14 Tying Up Loose Ends for the Defense "She said, 'I am positive they were Hawaiians because of the way they spoke.'" 121

Chapter 15 The Defendants Speak "Were you afraid she was going to choke you to death?" 131

Chapter 16 Rebuttal "… two men held this arm and she tried to get away from these men." 146

Chapter 17 Sending the Case to the Jury "The most damnable thing in the history of the Territory …" 152

Part 3 A Death in the Islands

Chapter 18 Somewhere Over the Pali "The Shame of Honolulu" 165

Chapter 19 The Abduction "Life is a mysterious and exciting affair." 172

Chapter 20 Disposing of the Body "I then noticed a human leg sticking out of the white bundle." 186

Chapter 21 A Funeral in the Islands "Poor Kahahawai, these haoles murdered you in cold blood." 194

Part 4 Territory Of Hawaii V Grace Fortescue, Et Al

Chapter 22 Turning State's Evidence "I never should have pulled that shade down." 205

Chapter 23 Judge Cristy and the Grand Jury "God has not left this world for an instant." 214

Chapter 24 The Heavyweights "[H]e has a damn fine jury personality-when he's sober." 226

Chapter 25 The Finger of Doom "Is Joseph alive?" 232

Chapter 26 Tommie's Story "Don't let him get me!" 236

Chapter 27 The Man Who Fired the Gun "We can trace those impulses back to the cradle." 246

Chapter 28 Delirium with Ambulatory Automatism "What right does he have to say that I don't love you?" 257

Chapter 29 Closing Arguments "Three able men and a cold calculating woman …" 266

Chapter 30 Custody of the High Sheriff "We, the jury, in the above entitled cause find the defendant …" 274

Part 4 Epilogue

Chapter 31 The Pinkerton Report "It has been shown that the five accused did not have the opportunity to commit the kidnapping and rape described by Mrs. Massie " 285

Chapter 32 What Really Happened? "Blasted careers, ruined lives, tragedy, and death." 294

Source Notes 305

Bibliography 309

Index 312

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A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From the first page and on I couldn't put it down. Written clearly and well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had never heard of this case before and when BookBub introduced it, I jumped right on it. I liked Clarence Darrow, courtesy of his famous trials, and was curious about his "last case". He didn't appear in this book until rather far into it, after the accusation that started a domino effect. This book was a great account of a part of the legal history of Hawaii. Thalia Massie, wife of Tommie Massie a Navy Lieutenant, was picked up near one a.m. on Ala Moana Road in Hawaii one night, claiming some Hawaiian men had beaten her. Later, her accusation turned from assault and battery to a brutal gang rape. Five men were caught up in this storm - only four of which were questionably identified (I won't go into too much more detail as I don't want to spoil this book). I found myself angered at the miscarriage of justice by the end of this book. I would love to go into a much longer discussion, but I cannot let myself spoil how everything ended up for those, like me, who have (or had) no knowledge of this case. Everything was well presented and, to me, unbiased as best as it could be. I do recommend it as a good read, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book made me angry as innocent boys got caught up in lies and racism. A shame that even someone like clarence darrow found money to be a great motivation.