By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Homicide victim Brittany-Jane Royal appeared to have been strangled with a rope or cord, and there was evidence of dragging near the campsite she shared with her missing boyfriend, Boaz “Bo” Johnson, according to court documents filed by police.
The nude body of the 25-year-old Royal, of Tustin, Calif., was discovered by a fishing boat in waters off Kalapana in the early morning hours of May 28. Police wrote that the 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.”
An autopsy performed on May 29 found that Royal had died due to strangulation and her death was ruled a homicide. She was positively identified by fingerprints on May 30.
Also on May 30, 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 wrote that on a recent 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. The 22-year-old Johnson lived in Petersburg, Alaska, before coming to Hawaii a few months ago.
Police Lt. Greg Esteban of the Hilo Criminal Investigations Section said earlier this month that evidence collected in the search of the campsite and surrounding area has been sent off-island to a forensic laboratory for analysis.
Johnson’s mother, Kathy Johnson, called police on May 29 at about 7:45 p.m. to report that she had not heard from her son since May 27 at about noon, documents state. She told police that her son had failed to show up on May 28 to close on a Kalapana property he and Royal had planned to live on. Police issued a media bulletin on May 30 declaring Bo Johnson missing.
Johnson’s mother, his father, Tom Johnson, and brother, Mark, told the Tribune-Herald earlier this month they fear that Bo Johnson may also be the victim of foul play. They said that Royal was pregnant and the couple was excited about starting a family and establishing an organic farm on the 10-acre Kalapana property.
Police still consider Bo Johnson to be a missing person and have not excluded him as a suspect in Royal’s death.
A search warrant was also executed on a Pahoa hostel on June 15 after its manager picked Johnson’s picture out of a photographic lineup and identified him as a person who had contracted to stay a month at the establishment, according to court documents. The manager told police that she last saw the individual, who had checked in under a different name, on June 10.
“We have excluded that name as an alias for Mr. Johnson,” Esteban said Monday afternoon.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.