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Woman from Tustin murdered by boyfriend in Hawaii, police say

Crime, Law and JusticeHomicideCrimeLaw EnforcementCourts and the Judiciary

A couple of days after murdering his pregnant girlfriend and dumping her body in the ocean, 22-year-old Boaz Johnson walked away from his campsite at the Kalapana lava field in Hawaii and made his way into a grove of trees, where he hanged himself.

His dangling body and a notebook containing the murder confession were eventually discovered two miles away in a remote area by the Hawaii County Police Department.

Asst. Chief Henry Tavares laid out the couple’s tragic narrative during a press conference Wednesday, a little more than seven months after investigators had launched a probe into the death of 25-year-old Brittany-Jane Royal, a former resident of Tustin.

Tavares said three handwritten pages of the notebook indicated Johnson had strangled Royal during a heated argument.

“He also indicated his intention to end his life,” Tavares said, adding Johnson used the same type of rope he used to strangle Royal.

Tavares said none of the pages included an apology for her death or an explanation about the argument.

Police determined the notebook belonged to Johnson because he identified himself in the pages, and a forensic document examiner confirmed the writing was Johnson's.

DNA and dental records also identified the hanged body as Johnson.

The murder case shocked island residents and captivated the press for several months as detectives investigated. Royal's family also launched a Facebook page to spread the story. 

Authorities began investigating the homicide May 28, 2013, when police and firefighters responded to a report of a body caught in a fishing line in the waters off Kalapana.

The body was later identified through fingerprints as Royal, who had moved to Hawaii from Tustin and was living in the Kalapana area with Johnson, who had moved from Petersburg, Alaska.

Johnson’s family told police he was in the process of buying land in the region and had gone missing, too. Johnson’s disappearance led to speculation he may have been killed or captured by Royal’s assailants.

But investigators got a break in the case two days later when they were led to the campsite at the Kalapana lava field where the couple had been staying.  

According to search warrants, investigators saw traces of blood on the clothing hanging on a clothesline and on the back of a tent at the campsite. They later discovered human hair and tissue along the lava field about 100 yards south of the campsite, including drag marks.

As they continued to search the area, they discovered a backpack with a cellphone next to it and a knife along a nearby trail. Inside the backpack was an Alaska State identification card with Johnson’s name on it.

By then, authorities began to suspect that Johnson may have been involved in Royal's death.

“After her body was found, Boaz said in a telephone conversation with a friend that he and Brittany were in good health and were on their way to Hilo,” Tavares said. “That phone call, in addition to DNA and other evidence found at the crime scene, made Johnson an early suspect in Royal’s murder.”

Authorities did not give details as to when that telephone conversation took place. They also did not know when the murder occurred.

On June 15, investigators got another lead in the case when the manager of Pahoa Village Café, a hostel, told police a man by the name of Jeffrey Allen had rented a room for a month but had not been seen for several days. The hostel is several miles north of the campsite.

Investigators said the manager was shown several photographs, including one of Johnson. When she was asked to point to the man that looked like Jeffrey Allen, she pointed to Johnson, according to a search warrant. She also told authorities she had not seen Johnson with anybody at the hotel and had last saw him June 10.

On Dec. 18, a grand jury indicted Johnson for second-degree murder, Tavares said. A circuit court judge issued a warrant for Johnson’s arrest and sealed the indictment. Two weeks later, Johnson’s body was discovered by a hiker. 

Royal’s father, Ted Royal, and her grandfather, Jerry Spahn, attended Wednesday's news conference. Ted Royal said he had been waiting for the investigation to be completed for many months.

“The loss of Brittany is something we’re learning to live with,” Ted Royal said.

He thanked police for their work and the media for keeping the story alive.

“Thank you to all, and one evil act will never ruin the Aloha spirit we’ve received and that Brittany so much loved,” Ted Royal said.

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

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