Killer Janto indicted in ’87 Hilo cold case
Bongak "Jackie" Koja's murderer is accused in an old Hilo slaying
STORY SUMMARY »
Both were older women who liked to walk alone early in the morning.
Bongak "Jackie" Koja, 56, strolled near Leilehua High School in Wahiawa.
Rose Chiquita, 65, of Hilo collected discarded soda cans along her route.
Chiquita was found stabbed to death in 1987 in a Hilo service station, and for 10 years police had no suspect.
That changed in 1998, when Frank Janto was convicted in Koja's murder and Honolulu police noticed similarities in the cases.
With Janto as a suspect, Big Isle police renewed their investigation into the Chiquita murder. Yesterday, after 21 years, a grand jury indicted him.
"This will be a difficult trial for everyone -- prosecution and defense -- because of the passage of time," said Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville in Hilo.
Norma Jean Castaneda, who knew Chiquita as a fellow member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, said yesterday she resented her grand jury subpoena at first.
But after testifying she remarked, "I feel kind of peaceful now."
Janto remains in a mainland prison, serving a minimum term of 75 years for Koja's killing.
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STAR-BULLETIN / JULY 1998
Frank Janto, convicted murderer of Wahiawa resident Bongak "Jackie" Koja, speaks to the Hawaii Paroling Authority at Halawa prison.
HILO » A man serving a life prison term for a notorious Oahu murder was indicted yesterday in a 1987 killing in Hilo.
Both victims were older women walking alone early in the morning, a similarity that led police to link the slayings.
A Big Island grand jury indicted Frank Janto, 44, yesterday for the Jan. 15, 1987, murder of Rose Chiquita, 65, of Hilo.
Janto is in a mainland prison for killing Bongak "Jackie" Koja, 56, early in the morning of June 9, 1997, near Leilehua High School on Oahu. He was convicted in April 1998.
That same year, Honolulu police noticed a similarity in the two slayings and, learning that Janto had lived on the Big Island, passed along the information to Big Isle police.
Hawaii County police Lt. Randall Medeiros said Big Island police wrapped up their investigation in 2001 and turned the case over to the prosecutor. Aside from a brief additional investigation, the case has been with the prosecutor since then.
After a stint with the state attorney general's office, Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville rejoined the prosecutor's office in 2004 and received the Chiquita case. He declined to say anything about the delay in seeking an indictment.
"This will be a difficult trial for everyone -- prosecution and defense -- because of the passage of time," Damerville said without elaborating.
Chiquita apparently had almost no family ties and never married. However, she became godmother to Norma Jean Castaneda, then a teenager and a fellow member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Papaikou just north of Hilo.
Castaneda, called yesterday to testify to the grand jury, said she was not happy at first.
"After all these years, why?" she asked. But after testifying she said, "I feel kind of peaceful now."
Chiquita's body was found on the bathroom floor of a Hilo service station. Police said she bled to death from knife wounds.
For more than a decade, they had no suspect.
In the 1997 case, Koja was heard screaming as she was attacked, but witnesses told police they thought they were hearing rowdy teenagers. Koja's body was never recovered, but police determined that Janto dragged her body to the back of Leilehua High and threw it in a trash bin.
Later that day, the bin was taken to the HPOWER plant at Campbell Industrial Park, where her body was presumably destroyed in the incinerator.
Janto was convicted in Koja's murder and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. The Hawaii Paroling Authority ordered him to serve a minimum of 75 years.
James Koja, Jackie Koja's widower, now 77, said last night he is still healing from the pain of his wife's murder.
"I'm getting over it," he said. "It takes a lot of time."
As for Janto, Koja said, "I try not to think about him. It's been more than 10 years already."
Koja said he does not know whether Janto's indictment in the Hilo case matters much "since he's still in jail, and there's nothing he can do."
Janto was born in South Carolina in 1963, the youngest of seven sons. He moved to Hawaii with his mother in 1970 when his parents divorced. He eventually dropped out of school and was an alcoholic by age 15, city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said in a statement to the parole board.
As a youth Janto was convicted of terroristic threatening, car theft and two assaults. His first felony as an adult was car theft, Carlisle said.
Janto was put on probation and given substance abuse counseling but continued to beat his girlfriend, threatening to disfigure and kill her, Carlisle said. He was also convicted of molesting his girlfriend's 7- and 9-year-old daughters.
A later conviction involved a 65-year-old woman who was beaten near the Ala Wai Canal but escaped with severe injuries.
Star-Bulletin reporter Leila Fujimori contributed to this report.