By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
It’s been a decade-and-a-half since 27-year-old Sean Burgado was found shot to death in a one-bedroom Waiakea Uka cottage owned by his paternal grandmother, and his unsolved slaying has haunted his younger sister ever since.
“I’d say in the past 15 years, I’ve had about 10 detectives I’ve talked to,” Burgado’s sister, Karrie King, said on Friday. “I don’t know if they have leads. They don’t tell me that. But they expect my call every month. For the past 15 years, that’s what I’ve been doing, calling every month. And it’s to the point where I expect what to hear. I’ve gotten real friendly with them, so they know I ain’t stopping.”
What police tell King, now 36 and a divorced mother of two, is that there have been no new leads toward solving the homicide they believe occurred on May 19, 1997. Burgado’s body was discovered on May 21, 1997, after he had missed two days of work as a baker at Hale Anuenue Restorative Care Center and co-workers became concerned.
Burgado had no phone, and a neighbor who died earlier this year found the young man’s body lying in a pool of blood on the living room floor, wearing a white chef’s jacket stained with blood from a bullet wound to the chest.
Police Capt. Mitch Kanehailua, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division, said the case was revisited last year.
“I know we re-interviewed some people on this case when I was here as a lieutenant,” he said. “… It wasn’t really anything that hadn’t been done already. We didn’t learn anything new.”
Burgado, a 1988 Hilo High School graduate and U.S. Army veteran, had severed ties with his mother, Pauline Sugai, and other relatives. Sugai and a paternal uncle had gone to court to seek restraining orders against Burgado. Sugai told the Tribune-Herald in 1999 that Burgado had become abusive and threatening, and after he moved out of the family home, they found evidence in his room that he had been smoking crystal methamphetamine.
“I believe it could have been maybe he owed somebody money, some kind of drug thing, even though they said they didn’t find any drugs on the property,” King said. “… He looked like he was homeless in that shack. He had no food at all, no canned goods, nothing. Trash everywhere. And what really made me upset was to see that he was washing his clothes in a bucket. You’re making some money, so where is it?”
Homicides dominated the front pages of the Tribune-Herald in 1997, but Burgado’s case went cold quickly and didn’t generate the kind of media attention paid to the murders of Dana Ireland, former President of the Friends of the Panaewa Zoo Gordon Granger, musician Johnnie Mae Nuuhiwa, or Nimfa Smyklo, a Puna landlady whose 1997 stabbing death is also unsolved.
King believes her brother’s slaying received short shrift by police, who had few, if any, leads at the time, and by the media, which lost interest when no suspect was identified.
“I believe that they’re all equal, no matter what. It doesn’t matter where they got murdered, how, why. It was a murder,” she said.
King remembers her older brother, who would be 43, as “a funny guy” and “a cool guy.”
“Being that I was the little sister, he picked on me a lot,” she said. “The last I really had a connection with him was when he was in high school, because he left to go to the Army. He came back. He got discharged (because) he got injured. He came home and worked at Lanky’s (bakery) for a long time. Then he was up at Hale Anuenue. That was his last (job).
“I try to envision him now, but I can’t. Where would he be, and what would he be doing? I have a hard time.”
She said her brother would love her 14-year-old son, Wailen Sean, and 7-year-old daughter, Tehya.
“It’s like my son is the reincarnation of him. His face, his body, it’s everything,” King said.
King said one source of her frustration is that police have no detectives assigned full time to cold-case homicides.
“When they do drug raids, where does that money come from?” she asked, rhetorically. “I just wish they could get some money for a special unit so those detectives could concentrate only on unsolved murders.”
Asked if any detectives are assigned to cold cases, Kanehailua replied: “Not right now.”
“We had some guys assigned before, but right now we’re just waiting until their workload goes down and try to assign the cases,” he said.
King believes police did a “sloppy investigation” at the time of her brother’s slaying, and hopes that somehow, a break that solves the case occurs.
“I told my son that if this doesn’t get solved and it’s my time to go, I hope he can take over the case. But I don’t want my children doing that,” she said.
Kanehailua empathizes with King’s frustration, as well as that of other families of murder victims still seeking resolution.
“You gotta put yourself in their shoes,” he said. “The wondering of what happened must be really eating at them. There’s no real closure in these cases, so I understand where they’re coming from, and I always try to find the time to talk to them when they come in. But it’s hard when I don’t have the answers they’re looking for.”
Anyone with information about this case or any other unsolved Big Island murder is asked to call the Police Criminal Investigation Section at 961-2255 or Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.