Police said Tuesday afternoon that a body found Jan. 2 in a forested area of a lava field at the end of Highway 130 in Kalapana is that of 22-year-old Boaz David Johnson, whom police called the only suspect in the murder last May of Brittany-Jane Royal.
According to a police log, the body “was hanging from a green nylon rope that was looped around his neck and had been secured to a branch” of a pine tree. The log described the body “to be in the late stages of decomposition and was unable to be identified at the scene.”
Johnson, of Petersburg, Alaska, was the boyfriend of the 25-year-old Royal, who hailed from Tustin, Calif. Royal’s nude, pregnant body was discovered caught up in a line of a fishing boat in the early morning hours of May 28 in waters off Kalapana. An autopsy determined that she had been strangled.
Police said that Johnson strangled Royal and later committed suicide by hanging himself, leaving a three-page note in a composition book stating he strangled her during a domestic dispute and thre her body into the ocean. He also indicated that he intended to end his own life.
The body was identified by a private forensic laboratory by comparing a sample from the body with a known sample of Johnson’s DNA. His identity was also conformed using dental records, police said.
The case has garnered the attention of national media, including “Dateline NBC,” ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CNN’S “Nancy Grace.”
Court documents filed by police stated that Royal’s body had “severe undetermined visible injuries with ligature marks around the whole neck area. Also observed were lacerations to the head and body.” The document stated that the body also “displayed injuries … which may be due to animal/shark activity.”
Police executed a search warrant on the campsite where Royal and Johnson were staying in a Kalapana lava field. They found two clotheslines at the vacant campsite, one strung between two trees about five feet north of the tent, another about 20 feet to the southeast of the tent which had been “cut with nothing attached to it,” according to documents. The clothesline strung between the trees had “several items of clothing hanging” with “possible trace blood evidence on these items.”
Inside the tent, officers found “a bundled nylon fiber-type rope.”
“The width of the rope was consistent with the marks found on the body,” police wrote.
Police also wrote that on a lava flow about 100 yards south of the campsite, an officer found “what appeared to be human hair and tissue along the lava leading in the makai direction.”
“This hair appeared to be similar in appearance and length to the victim’s hair in this investigation,” police wrote. The document stated that there “also appeared to be drag marks and disturbance to the ground leading in the makai direction.”
Found nearby was “a black colored backpack with a cell phone next to it and a knife with an approximately 5-inch blade next to the cellphone.” Documents state that what is “believed to be an Alaska state identification” was also found, bearing the name Boaz Johnson.
Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares told the Tribune-Herald earlier this month that the location where Johnson’s remains were found was two miles mauka of where Royal’s body was discovered.
Johnson’s parents, Tom and Kathy Johnson of Petersburg, Alaska, told the Tribune-Herald in June that the last time they spoke to their son was on May 27, a day before Royal’s body was discovered.
Johnson’s family said that the couple, who had been living in a tent on the hardened lava in lower Puna, had planned on buying 10 acres of land on the Kalapana lava field with plans of building a home and starting an organic farm. Tom Johnson said the land was the topic of the last conversation he had with his son.
“He was upbeat because he was about to do the most important thing he’d ever done in his life; that was to get that property the next morning,” he said.
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.
Royal’s Facebook page showed her as a free-spirited young woman who swam nude in the ocean and loved yoga. She also loved singing and playing guitar, family members said.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.