Honolulu Homicide

From “Honolulu Homicide”


There's something elemental about murder. No good comes of it, and the tragedy it leaves in its wake never ceases to fascinate. That's because it can happen to anybody. Since the day that Cain slew Abel, murder is the greatest mystery of the human condition.

The new Bess Press book "Honolulu Homicide" by Gary A. Dias and Robbie Dingeman brings to life the details of some of the best-known recent murders in Hawaii, including those of Troy Barboza, Diane Suzuki, Lisa Au and seven Xerox employees. The following is a chapter excerpted from the book, covering the murder-and-arson rampage of Orlando Ganal in 1991.



Couple offers compelling
recounts of murders

There's nothing quite as interesting as mortality. Death strikes us all, but murder is so disturbing that it's the first thing banned in civilized societies. Beneath the tropical pleasantness of the Aloha State, the old animal urges still seethe just below the surface. When they erupt, people die.


With Gary Dias and Robbie Dingeman

Thursday: Bestsellers Downtown, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

Saturday: Waldenbooks Pearlridge, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Nov. 2: Waldenbooks Kahala, noon to 2 p.m.

Nov. 8: Waldenbooks Windward Mall, 1 to 2 p.m.

Nov. 9: Native Books from noon to 1 p.m.; Borders Waikele from 2 to 3 p.m.

Nov. 15: Waldenbooks Mililani, 1 to 2 p.m.

Nov. 16: Borders Ward Centre, noon to 1 p.m.

Fresh on the heels of last years "Honolulu Cop" is Gary A. Dias' "Honolulu Homicide," this time with wife and Honolulu Advertiser reporter Robbie Dingeman equally credited as co-author. One of Honolulu's power couples -- talk about your left brain/right brain combinations; he's the pert, babyfaced former HPD homicide chief and current security manager for The Queens Hospital; she's the crusty, steely-eyed crackerjack reporter for a major metropolitan daily -- what they've put together here is an altogether more serious work, an examination of recent murders Dias was either involved in or has extensive knowledge of.

Thanks likely to the missis, Dias may be the only former policeman in the world who writes in clear English. The cases chosen here are not retold for prurient value. Each one illustrates some sort of ethical or investigative conundrum, and the picture that emerges is one of local policemen doggedly doing the best they can despite accidental procedural weaknesses and terrific public pressure.

For "C.S.I." junkies, the book is also a primer of the continually evolving best-guesstimation of forensic science. It was also a wise choice to illustrate some of the more gruesome crimes with drawings.

Reading this book brought back memories, none of them pleasant, but all absolutely compelling. I wish there had been year dates on the chapter titles to help the reader orient themselves.

Husband-and-wife authors Gary A. Dias, foreground, and Robbie Dingeman autograph copies of their book.



Mass Murder: The Touchette
and Dela Cruz Families

I was asleep when the pager went off. A few minutes later I was on the telephone with the night-shift lieutenant.

"Sorry to wake you, but we have a house fire in Kailua where two children were killed and two adults are in critical condition."

Available at
Honolulu Homicide

"Okay, I'm on my way."

The death of children eats at most of us like no other crime. Usually they are the most innocent of victims, with no means of defending themselves, often killed by adults who try to justify their fatal abuse by blaming the children. These killers wrap themselves in a blanket of self-preservation when they get caught and deflect blame from themselves to innocent children. "Why should I be punished because the kid died. I didn't mean for the kid to die. If the kid had only behaved. After all, it was only a kid." This type of killer makes most of us investigators work even harder to ensure we conduct a complete and thorough investigation.

I was bracing myself for a different kind of death investigation as I drove out to the Kailua scene. A house fire. An accident. Perhaps the result of faulty wiring or a careless cigarette. Either way, two children, Kalah and Joshua Touchette, were dead, The thought that they might have suffered started to work on my mind. By the time I got there I was already tense. And the sight of the fire trucks and hoses and ambulances and police cars with flashing blue lights caused my stomach to tighten further. I saw one of my detectives walking with a uniformed officer, and I parked my car to join them.

"Lieutenant, we just learned from HFD (Honolulu Fire Department) that they suspect the fire was started deliberately. This was not an accident. We have a double murder of the children, and there's a possibility that the parents might die as well."

I felt the anger growing as I walked with the detective around the house and he briefed me on what he already knew. Based on the evidence at the scene and partial statements from the mother of the children, it appeared that someone broke into the house and set it on fire. There was very little information at this early stage, but the HFD preliminary report indicated that an accelerant had been used to start the fire. The firefighters who put out the fire could smell gasoline.

The firefighters still had control of the crime scene, and our investigation was in its earliest stages when my pager went off again. It was the graveyard-shift lieutenant's number.

"Dias, we have another case. A double murder in Waipahu."


It seemed the most inopportune time to leave the scene of the arson. Arson is a crime that is complicated by possible destruction of evidence by the fire, the addition of tons of water, and firefighters moving throughout the scene. It creates a contamination factor that is extraordinarily difficult to overcome. But in spite of the fire and water damage, three basic questions in an arson case must be answered: Where did the fire start? How did the fire start? Was the fire started deliberately?

Arson investigators look for signs that indicate a fire was deliberately started. This means they must locate the origin of the fire. There are several signs they look for:

>> Alligatoring: This is the checkered blister pattern on the surface of wood caused by heat or burning. An intense alligatoring pattern is an indication of point of origin.

>> Depth of char: The deepest char is often found at the point of origin.

>> Pour pattern: When an accelerant such as gasoline is poured across a surface, a discernible pattern occurs, which often outlines the edges of the spill.

>> Inverted cone, or V pattern: This indicates that the fire started at a particular location and burned upward and outward, creating a V pattern indicating the origin of the fire at the apex of the V.

>> Spalling: When a concrete floor chips due to stress from a burning accelerant, this indicates point of origin.

One other tool in an arson investigation that people forget is the human nose. Many accelerants have recognizable odors, and experienced firefighters can recognize the smell of gasoline, kerosene, or other flammable substances. This is not a perfect method of determining arson, but it is a method that should not be ignored, especially when other evidence has gone up in flames.

To identify the accelerant, char evidence must be collected and preserved. The char evidence is placed into an airtight container and preserved for later laboratory examination. A gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer is used to analyze the suspected accelerant. A graph is produced and compared with known samples. The final result identifying the substance is often very specific.

In arson cases in which death has occurred, an autopsy may determine whether the person died as a result of smoke inhalation or burns from the fire or was dead prior to the fire. Most fires spread rapidly over a few minutes and produce toxic smoke. In most fire deaths, the victim dies as a result of smoke inhalation rather than burning. In an autopsy, the pathologist examines the throat and lungs. If smoke and soot residue is not present, the indication is that the person died before inhaling the smoke, or was dead before the fire started. The presence of soot and smoke residue indicates the victim was alive and breathing during the course of the fire.

In a death by fire, the muscles tighten and contract as a result of the heat. This causes the victim's fingers, arms, and legs to move to a position resembling that of a boxer or prize fighter. This is known as the "pugilistic condition."

When children are involved in fire cases, rescuers must look for them under beds or in closets or other locations where children will hide from the smoke and flame. Every family should discuss evacuation routes and what children should do in the event of a fire.

On April 3, 1988, investigators were called to a fire death in Wai'anae along a dirt road to the rear of a row of houses. In the early morning hours, one of the residents smelled smoke, and when he looked, he saw a vehicle burning. The neighbor called 911 for the Honolulu Fire Department and ran out to the car. By the time he got there, the flames were gone but the interior was filled with smoke. Looking through the glass, he could see a man sitting upright in the driver's seat. When he opened the door it was obvious that the man, later identified as 31-year-old Lorenzo Young, was dead.

Firefighters arrived and extinguished the smoldering fire. They checked Young for signs of life but could tell from their experience that he was dead. The victim suffered damage to his ears, and his body was stiff as a result of the intense heat. One of his hands was on his lap, on top of material from the car's ceiling, an indication that the pugilistic condition had occurred. His arm moved after the material from the ceiling had fallen to his lap. In addition, Young's head was in a full upright position. The homicide detail was called, and a murder investigation begun.

Examination of the interior of the vehicle revealed that the killer or killers had used some of Young's IRS tax preparation forms soaked in an accelerant as fuel. The five-gallon gasoline can was found among the springs of the passenger side of the front seat. The plastic and foam of the seat had burned away, and the can had fallen through into the springs and wires of the seat.

When he started the fire, however, the killer shut the door with the windows up. This created a closed system, and the fire quickly used up the oxygen inside the car. With the oxygen gone, the fire extinguished itself. Fire, also known as "combustion," requires three things to continue: Oxygen, fuel, and a source of heat. Remove either one of the three and combustion cannot continue.

After examining and processing the interior of the car, attendants from the morgue removed Young's body. When they did, several firearm shell casings fell out of the car; however, we could not detect any injuries other than the damage to his ears.

An autopsy conducted the following day showed that Young had been shot several times in the back of his head. His throat and lungs were completely clear of soot, which indicated that he was killed prior to the fire. A check into Young's past showed that he was associated with a suspected drug dealer, and when his friends were interviewed, they told investigators that he owed that dealer lots of money for drugs already used. The investigation at the time identified another Wai'anae resident, Dido Rodrigues, who, years later, was arrested and convicted of Young's murder and sentenced to life in prison.


With very little traffic on the roadway, my drive to Waipahu was a quick one. I would soon learn however, that this second scene was really the first.

The Waipahu scene was not as chaotic as the Kailua scene, but there were still a large number of neighborhood onlookers. The house had two stories, with the main living area upstairs. By the time I arrived at the scene, several hours had passed, and the processing was well under way. The lead detective briefed me on the information he got from the suspect's wife.

Orlando and Mabel Ganal were separated. She lived at the scene with her parents and their teen-aged son. Orlando lived in the home they owned together at another subdivision in Waipahu. The couple were separated because Mabel had been seeing another man. She had confessed this to Orlando and left him to go and live with her parents.

Mabel was dating a man who had moved to the islands from the mainland. When they first met, he was staying with his brother and the brother's family on O'ahu. By that terrible night, he had moved to his own place. Mabel admitted that, in the arguments she had with Orlando, she had taunted him about her lover, and it only served to make Orlando even more angry.

On the night of the killings, Aug. 25, 1991, Orlando drove to his in-laws' home armed with a .357-magnum revolver. He climbed the outside stairs to the front door, but found it locked. He demanded entry but was refused. This enraged him even more, and he kicked the door in, injuring his foot. The first person to confront him was his mother-in-law, Aradina Dela Cruz. Ganal shot her in the mouth as she tried to block him from entering the house. She died instantly, falling onto the living-room couch.

Mabel ran down the hall to the stairwell at the rear of the house. She knew her husband would kill her, and her only opportunity to survive was to flee. Orlando fired several rounds at her as she ran, but Mabel was able to run out of the house and hide in a neighbor's yard several houses away.

In the moments after the first shot was fired, Ganal's father-in-law, Santiago Dela Cruz, came out of the bedroom. He was shot as soon as he confronted Ganal. Now in a complete rage, Ganal shot his own teenage son, Orlando Jr., when the boy stepped into the hall.

The mortally injured father-in-law struggled back into the bedroom and called for police and an ambulance. With people lying dead, badly wounded, and dying about him, Ganal stopped and reloaded his gun. The weapon, a revolver, required Ganal to open the cylinder, remove the spent shell casings and reload. In doing this, he dropped a .357 magnum cartridge on the floor. This piece of evidence would become important later to show that Ganal was indeed the suspect at both scenes.

Realizing that Mabel was gone, Orlando left the house and drove away before patrol officers arrived.

He had failed to kill his wife, but in his wake he left his murdered mother-in-law, his wounded father-in-law, who would die later at the hospital, and his critically injured son. But his murderous rage had not yet subsided.

Information we had from both scenes soon made it apparent that the suspect in the Kailua arson was also Orlando Ganal. We confirmed this when Mabel told us that she was seeing a man named Touchette, who had stayed with his brother in Kailua. The family in the burned home was named Touchette. We now believed that Orlando Ganal was responsible for the murders of the two children in Kailua and the critical injuries inflicted on their parents.

Our reconstruction showed that when Ganal left Waipahu, he drove to Kailua, where he stopped at an all-night service station. There, he filled a five-gallon can with gasoline. His next stop was the Touchette home, off Oneawa Street. We're not exactly sure what happened next, but somehow, a spent .357-shell casing, probably from one of the bullets fired at the Waipahu murder scene, fell from his truck onto the roadway. It lay there until it was run over or stepped on as the firefighters arrived.

Ganal then entered the residence of Michael and Wendy Touchette as they slept. He poured the gasoline around the living room, the hallway, and the bedrooms where the Touchettes and their two young children lay sleeping. Then in an act of cowardly bravado, he woke the Touchettes, shouting of his revenge. As he ran from the house, he lit the gasoline, causing the house to burst into flames.

Wendy and Michael ran through the flames, desperately trying to get to their children. But the fire was too intense. It burned their hands, their faces, their bodies. They lost their way in the fire and were forced to run from the house, both engulfed in flames. Their children died that night, lying in their beds.

The coward Ganal drove back to his own house, where police officers arrested him. Ganal was dressed only in his underwear. He told the officers that he went to the beach to wash himself. And he wanted a doctor because he had a cut on his foot. And it hurt. After all the pain and suffering that he had inflicted that night, he complained because his foot hurt.

Orlando Ganal was tried and convicted of murder in the first degree, the most serious grade of murder in the state of Hawai'i, reserved for the most heinous of killers. At the trial, Mabel Ganal professed her love for the man who murdered her parents. She professed her love for the man who murdered two innocent children and their father. And she professed her love for the man who nearly murdered her son, and who maimed and disfigured the mother of the murdered children. She later moved to the mainland with David Touchette, the lover that Ganal had sought to kill.

The two people Ganal had targeted in his anger escaped injury. The Touchette children and their father died; their mother was devastated, severely burned over 40 percent of her body and scarred forever. Their only crime? Providing a place to stay for Michael Touchette's brother at a time when he got together with the wrong woman. Mabel Ganal's parents, Santiago and Aradina Dela Cruz, were also dead. Their crime? Taking in their own daughter and grandson during a stressful time in their lives.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.


E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --