Hunters Find Human Remains Hanging From Tree in Woods Near Honoka‘a

April 27, 2020, 9:39 PM HST (Updated April 27, 2020, 9:40 PM)
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Eucalyptus Forest

Hawai‘i County Police are investigating skeletal remains found suspended from a tree in a eucalyptus forest near Honoka‘a Monday afternoon.

Jonathan Derego, 20, and Randall Mattos, 18, were hunting pigs in the eucalyptus forest roughly 300 yards northeast of Route 240 in an area known locally as Camp Nine when they stumbled upon what appears to be the remains of a male suicide victim.

“We were walking for maybe about 10 minutes and then my dog disappeared,” Derego said. “She just started to bark. Me and Randall were answering the dog bark, figuring it was gonna be a pig. We climbed up the gulch and seen the rope, and there was a person hanging.”

The rope was slung over a branch about 10 feet off the ground, he continued. Roughly five feet away from the body lay an ax and another bundle of rope.

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“It was recognizable as a human being,” Derego said. “You couldn’t identify the body, but you could tell by the skull it was a human. There was a tank top and some hair on top of his head.”

“I was kind of in shock,” he continued. “I was hoping it wasn’t real. But as we got closer, we could smell him and we could just tell it was the real deal. So right there, we made a little video to show the cops, and then we just turned around and went straight to the police station and made a report.”

Derego and Mattos discovered the body around 4 p.m. Monday. Ken Quiocho, HPD Major of Field Operations Area 1, said an official report was filed at the Honoka‘a Station at 4:47 p.m.

The scene has since been secured and members of HPD’s criminal investigation unit are on-site to rule out any potential foul play.

“Detectives are heading out,” Assitant Chief Sam Thomas told Big Island Now in an email Monday night. “It appears to be a suicide, but ‘appears’ is why we send detectives to double-check.”

Quiocho said as of Monday evening, evidence strongly suggests that what the hunters found was the result of a suicide.

“The body is pretty decomposed at this point,” Quiocho said. “We’re probably going to have to maybe try to utilize some dental records or potentially some DNA to identify who the person is.”

He added that outdoor suicides are not unusual, despite the uniqueness of the scene in the woods near Honoka‘a Monday. Quiocho said he ran into similar circumstances during his time as a detective.

While the evidence suggests the body is that of a man, its decomposition level makes preliminary guesses at an age difficult. Part of the process moving forward will be combing through missing person cases and trying to put together any leads, Quiocho said.

In the meantime, dental records can take up to a week to return but first, the field of potential victims must be narrowed. DNA testing comes with a significant turnaround time as samples must be run through the DNA profile system.

“We’re hoping through good, old fashioned cop work we will identify the body and notify family to give them some type of closure and rule out if this is a more serious (crime),” Quiocho said.

Anyone with information relevant to the case is asked to call the department’s non-emergency line at 808-935-3311.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter, and radio talk show personality covering college athletics in Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing, and his work as a sports columnist.

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