An update on past news

Saturday, December 29, 2001

One killer died in prison,
the other faded into history

By Lisa Asato and Debra Barayuga

Question: What ever happened to James Majors and John Palakiko, whose conviction in the 1948 slaying of a widow led to the abolishment of the death penalty in Hawaii?

Answer: Majors and Palakiko were fugitives from an Oahu Prison work gang when they murdered 67-year-old Therese Wilder in her Nuuanu home.

Hungry after a night on the run, the men were lured to her home by the smell of food cooking.

A yardman found Wilder's body five days later -- bound, gagged and beaten. She had died of suffocation.

Majors and Palakiko were 20 and 21, respectively, when they were charged with the murder. Both were condemned to hang for their crime on Sept. 13, 1951, but Gov. Oren E. Long stayed their execution just two minutes before they faced the gallows.

A lengthy and sensational legal battle ensued, saving the men again and again. The condemned men had spent six years in prison when in 1954, Gov. Samuel Wilder King, a relative of the victim by marriage, commuted the death sentences to life in prison.

The controversy led to the outlawing of capital punishment by the Territorial Legislature in 1957.

Then, on Dec. 21, 1962, Gov. John Burns further commuted the 90-year life sentences and released Majors and Palakiko on parole. They walked out of prison the same day.

The next year, however, Palakiko violated parole and was sent back to prison for a three-year sentence. He died of unknown causes on Sept. 11, 1974, at age 46.

Little is known of Majors, who in 1973 was granted two years' probation on an assault charge because of good performance at a job working with youth. He was granted final discharge from parole on Dec. 20, 1968.

In 1978 the Hawaii Paroling Authority said Majors was living on Oahu but that he was no longer under its jurisdiction.

Parole board administrator Tommy Johnson recently said the authority did not have any more information on Majors except that he had unsuccessfully sought a full pardon in March 1966.

Ever wonder what happened to a person, event or issue
that has been in the news? We'll try to find out
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at 529-4747, email to or write us at
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