Relatives of murder victim Brittany-Jane Royal say they are grateful to police for their efforts after it was announced Tuesday that her boyfriend confessed to killing her in a suicide letter.
Royal’s father and maternal grandfather said Tuesday they came back to thank police and prosecutors for their investigation into her death, which determined that she was strangled by her boyfriend, Boaz David Johnson.
“I wanted to come back today to thank, especially the police force, who do what is often a thankless job,” said Ted Royal of Tustin, Calif., father of the slain 25-year-old woman.
He praised police and prosecutors “for their tireless pursuit of justice” and thanked the Big Island community for its support.
“One evil act will never outgrow the aloha spirit we’ve received and that Brittany so much loved,” he said.
Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares confirmed at a press conference that the body found hanging by a rope from a tree in a Kalapana lava field on Jan. 2 was that of 22-year-old Johnson, who came to Hawaii from Petersburg, Alaska. He said that Johnson’s badly decomposed body was identified through DNA and dental records.
“A composition book found near Bo’s body contained three handwritten pages,” Tavares said. “The writer identified himself as Boaz Johnson. He confessed to strangling Brittany while involved in a domestic dispute and to throwing her body into the ocean. He also indicated his intention to end his life.”
Tavares said a forensic document examiner determined the writing was Johnson’s.
An autopsy revealed the cause of death was asphyxia due to hanging and that it was suicide. He said the medical examiner ruled out foul play in Johnson’s death.
He said Johnson didn’t reveal the nature of the domestic dispute in the note nor did he express remorse over the homicide. He said the note indicated Johnson ended his own life within a couple of days after Royal’s slaying. He also said the rope Johnson used to hang himself was “similar” to the one used to strangle Royal.
Tavares said a Hilo grand jury indicted Johnson for second-degree murder in Royal’s slaying on Dec. 18, and a warrant for his arrest had been issued.
“At the request of the police and the prosecutors, the indictment was sealed to give state and federal law enforcement agencies the opportunity to locate and arrest Mr. Johnson,” Tavares said, adding that the indictment has been unsealed after the remains found earlier this month turned out to be those of Johnson.
Royal’s nude, pregnant body was found caught up in the line of a fishing boat in waters off Kalapana in the early morning of May 28, 2013, police said. Royal’s body was identified by fingerprints.
Johnson’s parents, Tom and Kathy Johnson, told the Tribune-Herald in June the last time they spoke to their son was on May 27, a day before Royal’s body was discovered.
Johnson’s family said the couple, who had been living in a tent on a lava field in lower Puna, planned on buying 10 acres of land on the Kalapana lava field with hopes of building a home and starting an organic farm. Tom Johnson said at the time the land was the topic of the last conversation he had with his son.
They said they discovered their son was missing when he didn’t show up for his appointment to close the property purchase and the Realtor contacted them. Police issued a bulletin about his disappearance on May 30.
Soon afterward, police turned their investigation toward Johnson as the sole suspect in Royal’s murder.
“After Brittany’s body was found, Boaz said in a telephone conversation with a friend that he and Brittany were in good health and on their way to Hilo. That phone call, along with DNA and other evidence at the crime scene, made Boaz a suspect in Brittany’s murder,” Tavares said Tuesday.
Tavares said Johnson made other calls and contacts after Royal’s body was found, but declined to say whom he contacted. He said the last recorded contact with Johnson’s family was on May 27.
Police Lt. Greg Esteban of the Hilo Criminal Investigation Section said Johnson’s and Royal’s tent appeared neat but there were drag marks and human tissue located at the north end of the campsite, about 100 yards from the tent.
“The tissue trail actually led us towards the direction of the ocean,” he said.
Jerry Spahn of Carlsbad, Calif., Royal’s maternal grandfather, said he didn’t think he would ever “see the day when your granddaughter precedes you in leaving this world, but we have learned to endure that thought, and she is still with us in thought.”
Spahn revealed that Royal’s unborn child was a boy and she was going to name him ‘Io, which is the Hawaiian hawk. He read a statement from his daughter, Julie Royal, the slain woman’s mother, who marveled that “a 25-year-old free-spirit hippie girl could touch so many lives.”
“Brittany’s life was about peace (and) love. We can all learn from her. She was searching for the perfect place to call home and to raise a child. She is now in that ultimate paradise,” Julie Royal wrote.
Tavares said police followed up on all leads and its investigation excluded other individuals as being responsible for Royal’s death.
He said case is still open due to some minor follow-ups which need to be conducted and it will ultimately be forwarded to Prosecutor Mitch Roth’s office for a final review.
The Tribune-Herald was unable to reach Johnson’s father for comment. A voicemail message left for Johnson’s sister, Ruth Johnson, was not returned by press time.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.