By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The 22-year-old boyfriend of a 25-year-old woman whose nude, pregnant body was found May 28 by fishermen off the Kalapana coast is now considered the suspect in her murder, police said Wednesday.
Police believe Boaz David “Bo” Johnson of Petersburg, Alaska, strangled his girlfriend, Brittany Jane Royal of Tustin, Calif.
“We’ve been investigating this for quite awhile and right now, he is our suspect,” said Police Capt. Robert Wagner of the Hilo Criminal Investigation Division. “There’s evidence that leads to him.” He said that Johnson may or may not still be on the island.
Added Lt. Greg Esteban: “During the early stages of the investigation we obtained some information that needed to be validated and we have since validated that information.”
Neither Wagner nor Esteban would elaborate on the evidence that led police to label Johnson as the suspect.
Again, police are asking the public for information on Johnson’s whereabouts. He’s described as Caucasian, about 5-foot-7, about 150 pounds with a slim build and a fair complexion. He was last seen unshaven with medium-length brown hair. He has a tattoo of an upper body of a horse near the right side of his abdomen.
For the first time, police said Johnson “is considered dangerous.”
Johnson’s father, Tom Johnson, said Wednesday he continues to believe his son is not involved in Royal’s death.
“It’s not in his character. We stand by our son and believe he’s innocent,” he said. “I want him to be alive. We miss him. We love him. We back him.”
Johnson’s parents say they last spoke to their son by telephone on May 27, a day before Royal’s body was found tangled in a line of a fishing vessel. Bo Johnson and Royal had been camping near the entrance to the lava viewing area in Kalapana, and had plans to buy 10 acres of nearby lava-covered land to start an organic farm. According to court documents, Johnson’s mother, Kathy Johnson, called police on May 29 to report him missing after he failed to show up for a May 28 appointment to close on the land.
“The most important thing he was going to do, for him, was to buy that property,” Tom Johnson said. “When I talked to him on (May 27), he said the most important thing to him was to make Brittany comfortable because of the morning sickness she was having. I told him I love him and he said he loved me and that was the end of the conversation. That was the last time we talked to him.”
The missing man’s sister, Sarah Johnson said she believes her brother has been portrayed as a suspect “from the beginning.”
“I know that’s not so much the police, but the media,” she said. “… They can consider him that, but I believe that he’s not. I don’t know — well, I do know. He’s my brother. I grew up next to him, close in age. … He doesn’t have that in him.”
Royal’s mother, Julie Royal, said she has “mixed reactions” to the news that police suspect Johnson killed her daughter.
“I’m not crucifying the kid yet; I’m really not. I haven’t seen the evidence,” she said. “I don’t really know this kid. I met him once for five days. I’d like to believe he didn’t do it, you know. He’s the father of my daughter’s unborn child. If the evidence points that way, then that’s a different story. But until then I’m not crucifying him. … They didn’t say what evidence led them to actually call him a suspect, so of course I want to know more.”
Johnson’s parents want more information from police, as well.
“It would be interesting to know what information they’ve got that changed Bo’s status to wanted for the murder,” Kathy Johnson said. “… If they’ve found anything that points to him still being alive, we’d sure like to know that.”
Julie Royal said she was in the process of organizing a memorial for her daughter, and described the past five weeks as “tough.”
“I had a breakdown in Target the other day because I was reading cards,” she said. “I started crying because I’m never gonna see her face again. She will never sit in my house for Christmas. And that part is really difficult.”
“We’re going to remember her and it’s gonna be beautiful. Because she’s never coming back. All we can do is remember her for how she lived and hope that whoever did this to her is brought to justice.”
Royal’s family and friends have started a Facebook page called “Justice for Brittany Jane Royal.” Ted Royal, the slain woman’s father, posted: “Hawaii hopefully will make this murder in the 1st degree with no possible chance for parole, as they dont have the death penalty. So whoever did this to our daughter will never see a free day again! Which is substantially better than what happened to Brit!”
In Hawaii, first-degree murder is reserved for multiple slayings, murder for hire, or killings of police officers, judges, prosecutors, witnesses, and victims who have a restraining order against the defendant. Second-degree murder, which covers most Hawaii homicides, carries a mandatory life sentence with the possibility of parole, but a judge can sentence a murder defendant to life without parole if the slaying is deemed “heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity.”
Both families maintain they want to know what actually happened.
“I want to know the truth about what happened to my son, what happened to Brittany and to their baby,” Tom Johnson said. “Whatever it is, we want to know the truth.”
Said Julie Royal: “If anyone knows, and if Bo is out there, if he’s alive and hiding out, I certainly hope that somebody knows, or sees his face and recognizes him, whether he is or is not the person who did this, I hope that they would come forward and do the right thing. And if Bo’s out there, he needs to come forward. He needs to do the right thing and tell his story.”
Police ask that anyone with information on Johnson’s whereabouts contact Detective Robert Almeida at 808-961-2386 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Detective Fetuutuunai Amuimuia at 808-961-2278 or email@example.com, or Esteban at 808-961-2252 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who prefer anonymity may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300 and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.