Clarence Darrow holds the distinction of being the lead defense attorney in not one, but two different Trials of the Century. Interestingly, Darrow “lost” both the Scopes Monkey Trial and the celebrated trial of murder experimenternLeopold and Loeb. Darrow’s most interesting case, however, may have been merely the most infamous trial ever held in Hawaii. Did he lose this one as well? Read on.
It all began, allegedly, with a walk and a moonlight swim on a Hawaiian beach in 1931. The swimmer: Thalia Massie, wife of a Navy Lieutenant. According to Mrs. Massie, it was while enjoying the warm waters off Hawaii’s coast that she was confronted by five Hawaiian natives, all young men, all apparently in the mood for profound mischief. The upshot: Thalia Massie accused the five Hawaiian “beach boys” of gang raping her.
The news did not sit well with the legion of Navy boys from the mainland who were stationed in paradise. Rioting took place in the streets of Honolulu as well as other cities around the islands. The servicemen demanded that justice prevail. Justice, in this case, meant conviction and the death penalty. The five young Hawaiians were easy enough to find and authorities arrested them, placed them in jail and then watched as they left courtesy of a little thing called bail. This particular civil right so infuriated some of the American servicemen that they tracked down one of the suspects, Horace Ida, and proceeded to carry out their own version of swift American justice. Horace was beaten with a whip. While Horace was judged, juried and all but executed by the self-made criminal system known as Navy swabs with a grudge, he was still to be given a second chance by a criminal system that was a bit fairer. At least, that was the hope of the Hawaiian natives who saw an element of racism at play in the allegations of gang raping a respected wife of a respected Naval Lieutenant.
Because, you see, Thalia Massie refused the offer to testify against them.
The trial was filled with the heavy drapery of racist tension drawn over it. What the trial was not filled with was any particularly indicting evidence that a rape had even taken place, much less than the young, bronzed, exotic Hawaiian “beach boys” had been the ones engaging in the lewd and much more that lascivious act. To wit: a deadlocked jury and a mistrial.
And Clarence Darrow? Well, he enters the story later. The details of a second trial await your perusal.
The rioting that erupted between American servicemen and Hawaiian nationals was nowhere near as violent or sickening as those that broke out after the miscarriage of justice in the trial of the cops who orgasmically tried to beat Rodney King to death. Rioting it was, however. Racial tensions on the islands of Hawaii reached an all-time high between those born there and those sent there from America to protect democracy and maybe enjoy a moonlight swim with exotic local residents.
Lt. Massie did what any man of any color might do when those accused of gangbanging his wife were set free. He drafted into a private little war two enlisted men. This gang of two tracked down Joseph Kahawawai, one of the “beach boys” who alleged raped Thalia Massie. He was stuffed into a car. Massie’s gang of thugs had the unfortunate luck to have this kidnapping witnessed by someone with the brain matter to quickly jot down the license plate number.
Massie and his co-conspirators brought Joseph back to the Massie household. If tensions could be considered high on the streets of Honolulu, they were in the stratosphere inside casa Massie. According to the Lieutenant and his cohorts, Joseph K. confessed to the rape. Having a gun pointed at you can have that effect. The gun was in the hand of Lt. Massie and, as you might expect, the trigger was pulled, the bullet left the chamber and Joseph Kahawawai was no more. The plan quickly developed to wrap Joseph in a towel and toss him off a cliff into the raging waters below.
The plan went awry. The police had the license plate number, remember, and it could only be considered the apex of American arrogance that Massie and his gang tried to get away with murder and disposal of the corpse. The fact is this: the police stopped the car. Everybody was arrested on put on trial for murder.
Enter Clarence Darrow.
Darrow was hired to defend Massie and his correspondents of mortality. The answer to the question posed in the opening paragraph can now be answered. Yes, Clarence Darrow also lost this Trial of the Century. Makes you kinda wonder how Clarence Darrow ever managed to become the most famous attorney of the first half of the 20th Century, don’t it? Well, he didn’t exactly lose the case. The defense for Lt. Massie that Darrow concocted was temporary insanity. Apparently, Darrow did possess some kind of magic because he got the jury to convict his clients of manslaughter rather than murder in the first degree.
Rioting again erupted throughout Hawaii. The charge from the natives was that Massie’s real defense was being white rather than insane. The facts seemed to clearly point to premeditated murder, yet four white men and one white woman–not Thalia Massie–essentially got off with something a bit more painful than a slap on the wrist, but still. Things would get much worse in the eyes of the Hawaiians who sensed that a literal whitewash was taking place.
The Hearst papers, naturally enough, played a large part in the purely evil actions that were about to rip the heart out of the Hawaiians. Hearst’s Yellow Journalism began referring to what Massie did as a n”honor slaying.” Congressmen and Senators began to chime in with complaints that the verdict was, wait for it, too tough! Tensions climbing to a temperature roughly equal to that inside one of the island’s volcanoes was not enough for the complaints about the verdict on the white side of the spectrum reaching all the way to the White House.
Gov. Lawrence Judd received a phone call from Pres. Herbert Hoover. Hoover, of course, would go down in history as the George W. Bush of his day and if you think that this intellectually-challenged politician was calling to suggest that the Governor sustain the 75-year sentences, well then, you are…wrong.
The white Governor of Hawaii commuted the sentence of Lt. Massie and his co-murderers. Apparently, one of the components involved in this deal with some devils was thus: the good Lieutenant and his good wife packed their bags and left the islands forever and for good.
Divorce awaited the Lieutenant and his wife just a couple of years after leaving the beaches of Hawaii behind. Amazingly–or perhaps not so amazingly in light of the Tailhook scandal that erupted many decades later–Massie was allowed to remain in the US Navy. His wife was less successful in her post-Hawaiian life. She spent much time in hospitals and attempted suicide every now and then. She refused to testify against the ruffians who had allegedly delivered to her such agony on that beach and so there was never any attempt at retrying them.
Postscript: According to at least once source, Thalia Massie’s gynecologist had something quite interesting to say about his patient. The brief skinny: The doctor said that if he’d been called up to discuss everything he knew about Thalia Massie that the result would have been to make monkeys out of everyone involved.