Confrontation with Lankford detailed
John Thoma, visiting a makeshift memorial as he grieved over the death of a friend, spotted a man digging a hole by flashlight at about midnight April 12 at a Kahana Bay fishpond.
Thinking the man might have had something to do with the death of his friend, the homeless Thoma confronted the man, who abruptly left.
After carving the man's license plate into the ground and a road paint stripe, Thoma called police and helped link Kirk Matthew Lankford to the presumed murder of Japanese visitor Masumi Watanabe.
Lankford, 23, is on trial in Circuit Court on second-degree murder charges. Watanabe was last seen April 12 in the Pupukea area.
The memorial was for Thoma's friend Linda Hannon, 56, whose body was found at the fishpond Feb. 25, 2007. The Honolulu Medical Examiner's Office ruled her death a homicide. The case remains unsolved.
Thoma testified yesterday that the man he confronted in April appeared to be wearing new coveralls and gloves and was using a new shovel.
When he asked the man his name and what he was doing, Thoma said, the man identified himself as Matt Ford and said he was looking for a chain he lost there two months prior. The man said a search with a metal detector indicated the chain's location.
Thoma said he did not believe the man, especially since he did not see a metal detector. So he said he asked the man to produce some identification. When the man said he did not have any, Thoma told him he was going to call police to talk to him. That is when he said the man abruptly gathered his things, loaded them into the pickup truck and sped off, squealing the tires in the process.
Concerned that he would forget the truck's license plate number, Thoma said he first scratched it in the dirt. He said he later used his knife to scratch the number on white road striping on Kamehameha Highway.
The next day, Thoma called Honolulu police Detective Randal Nakamura, who was investigating Hannon's murder but at the time was also involved in the search for Watanabe in Pupukea.
Later that day, Nakamura testified he went to Kahana Bay, did not find Thoma but found enough evidence to confirm what Thoma had told him. And when he returned to Honolulu Police Department headquarters, he discovered the license number Thoma gave him is of a Ford F-150 pickup truck registered to Lankford.
"It was clear that part of (Lankford's) name was used in the conversation (with Thoma). Matt being part of Matthew, Ford being part of his last name," Nakamura said.
He said he also learned that Lankford was a pest control technician.
When he saw officer Phil Camaro of HPD's Missing Persons Detail the following Monday, Nakamura asked him how the search for Watanabe was going. Camaro told him that based on information from an eyewitness who said she saw Watanabe get into a pest control truck, Camaro interviewed someone over the weekend.
"And I asked him, by chance, the person that he interviewed or spoke with was Kirk Lankford. And to my surprise he said, 'Yeah, it certainly was,'" Nakamura said.