The Murder of Lisa Au

Every year thousands of tourists flock to to the Hawaiian islands for a dream vacation. A lucky few get to live their lives among the beauty of the islands. The island of Oahu is a true paradise, but that doesn’t mean you’re safe.

Lisa Au

Lisa Au grew up on the island of Oahu and lived an idyllic life. In 1982 Lisa was just 19 years old and life was just starting for her. Lisa worked as a hairdresser at Susan Beers Salon. On the night of January 21, 1982 this is where she left from, before heading over to the apartment of her boyfriend’s sister to have dinner. The only stop she made between the salon and the apartment was a local shop in order to purchase poke for the dinner.

Lisa Au left the apartment alone after dinner in the pouring rain. Lisa never made it home that night.

Lisa Au (Source: KHON2 / Originally from the family of Lisa Au)

The Next Morning

When Lisa Au still had not arrived home by morning her parents became gravely concerned. Lisa’s parents contacted her boyfriend, Doug Holmes, with whom she was with the night before, at his dorm at the University of Hawaii. Doug confirmed that Lisa had indeed left his sister’s apartment to go home the night before, but volunteered to go out and look for her just to be safe.

During Doug’s search for Lisa he found her 1976 Toyota, which Lisa had only purchased just a few days prior, along the side of the highway abandoned in Kailua. Doug contacted police.

When the first officer on scene arrived he found an unexpected sight. The windows on Lisa’s car were partially rolled down. Considering there had been a deluge of rain during Lisa’s drive home the night before one would not expect her to leave her windows open. The car was completely drenched with water. The seats of the car were soaked. There was at least two to three inches of water on the floorboards of the car. However, the oddest aspect of the scene was Lisa’s purse. The purse was placed on one of the sopping car seats, but the purse itself was completely dry. It was as though someone had placed the purse on the seat long after the rain had stopped.

When crime scene technicians arrived it was determined that Lisa Au’s car had been wiped cleaned of any evidence that could help police. It was also found that while everything else appeared to be normal with the car, Lisa’s temporary driver’s license, that she had just received two days earlier, and the car’s registration were missing. It was also determined that Lisa’s boyfriend, Doug Holmes, was the last one to see Lisa.

The Search for Lisa Au

Young and beautiful, the disappearance of Lisa Au shocked the island of Oahu. Thousands of missing persons fliers were distributed across the island. News of a missing girl struck the island hard and thousands of volunteers sprung into action in the search for Lisa. Ten days after Lisa went missing, on January 31, 1981, the remains of her nude body was found. The cause of death could not be determined.

Theories into the Murder of Lisa Au

Witnesses came forward claiming they saw a car with blue flashing lights behind Lisa’s car. This prompted two theories. The first of concern was that there was a killer on the loose that was impersonating a police officer and was targeting young women. This theory was never ruled out as a possibility.

The second theory was that a real police officer was the suspect and some islanders began fearing the police. However, after an investigation into this possible angle police officers on the island of Oahu were ruled out.

Either way, the Honolulu Police Department, who was in charge of the investigation knew they had to do something to help put the public’s mind at ease. The police department banned the use of supplemental blue lights on all vehicles with the exception of patrol cars. The police department also assured the public that at no time did they have to pull over for an unmarked vehicle and that only marked patrol cars would be allowed to pull over citizens.

Doug Holmes, Lisa’s boyfriend, was also suspected in Lisa’s death. The first responding officer on scene when Lisa’s car was reported found that Doug had scratches on his face. The officer found the injuries to be unusual and concerning under the circumstances and worth noting. Nelson Lum, a lead detective on the Lisa Au case, looked into Doug. Doug had admitted to Lum that he had been trying to end his relationship with Lisa. Doug also failed two lie detector tests regarding the death of Lisa Au. Doug Holmes claimed he failed the tests because he felt guilty for allowing Lisa to drive home alone late at night in a heavy rainstorm after only having her driver’s license for a few days. Lum agreed that Doug’s claim seemed reasonable and did not feel that Doug had a motive to kill Lisa.

There were also theories into what actually happened to Lisa Au, as it was never determined by police. Some believed that Lisa was abducted from where her car was found and was later killed elsewhere. Others believed Lisa was killed either in the location her body was found or somewhere else and that her car was left by her killer in order to stage it as an abandoned vehicle.

Bert Corniel: Homicide Division

Soon Bert Corniel from Honolulu’s Police Department’s Homicide Division got involved and it is a case he has never been able to let go of even after his retirement.

Corniel was able to track down witnesses that had been dismissed early on in the investigation. Corniel found and interviewed Thomas Thornburg, the security guard at Doug Holmes’ sister’s apartment complex. Thomas was able to confirm that Doug and Lisa did indeed leave separately and that Lisa left first. However, that wasn’t the only thing Thomas reported witnessing. Thomas went on to state that he saw Lisa and Doug arguing with each other before they left the apartment complex.

Bert Corniel was also able to speak with Charlotte Kamaka. Charlotte was a long time newspaper delivery driver in the area. She reported that at approximately 2:20 a.m. she witnessed a man driving a blue car with what appeared to be an unconscious woman beside him. Not long after Charlotte once again saw the same car driven by the same man, but this time the woman was not with him. It should be noted that this sighting look place in the vicinity that Lisa Au’s body was found. Charlotte Kamaka claims that she repeatedly contacted police about what she witnessed, but was ignored until Corniel became involved in the investigation.

Bert Corniel also found out what came to be of Lisa’s Au missing driver’s license. It turns out the license had not been missing from Lisa’s car. Instead, when Lisa had stopped at the store to buy poke on the night of her disappearance she had to use her driver’s license to write a check. Lisa had simply left her license behind at the store. Not a surprising mistake for someone who had only been in possession of a driver’s license for a few days.

39 Years Later

Time has passed, but the beautiful, young woman that people spoke so highly of has never been forgotten. Lisa Au’s case is still open, but no one has been charged in her case. Tragically, both of Lisa’s parents passed away without ever getting justice for their daughter. Two of the best witnesses in the case, Thomas Thornburg and Charlotte Kamaka, have also passed away. Bert Corniel has since retired and lives in Florida, but the case of Lisa Au has never stopped haunting him. And, Doug Holmes? Doug has since moved and has started a new life in Australia.

Someone knows what happened to Lisa Au. Someone has gotten away with her murder. Her killer needs to be brought to justice.

If you have any information on Lisa Au’s case please call Honolulu Police Department’ Criminal Investigation Division at (808) 723–3609.


Kawano, Lynn. Hawaii News Now: 37 Years Ago, Her Murder Gripped Oahu. But from the Start, the Investigation Went Astray. April 16, 2019. A Gray Media Group, Inc. 2002–2021.

KHON: Woman’s Murder Remains One of Hawaii’s Biggest Unsolved Mysteries. November 2, 2017. Nexstar Media Inc. 2021.

Kuka, Freya. Top Secret Writers: Why the Murder of Lisa Au Remains One of Hawaii’s Biggest Mysteries. June 22. 2019. Top Secret Writers. 2020.

Lakritz, Talia. Insider: The Most Notorious Crimes is Every State. September 1, 2020. 2021.

Teacher * Psychology * Unsolved Crime * Forensics * Mystery * Animal Lover * Fashion * Southern California

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store