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Malice in the Palace: The Hawaii Crown Jewel Robbery

Did the Hawaii Guard steal gems, fence them and even swap them for opium? Read on for the sordid tale.


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The Fashion Stables on Union Street, near the intersection of Hotel and Bishop Streets, may have been a base of operations for the jewel fencers.

Stone and his unnamed companion persevered, going to a saloon and offering the diamonds to yet another Chinese man, Quon On, who led them to a third man, the pawnbroker Lo Chit Sam, at his house on Kekaulike Street.

There, Stone’s companion—going by the name of Jack Duarte—offered to sell the diamonds to pay for Stone’s lawyer. The pawnbroker turned them down, saying the gems might be stolen. Duarte then threatened him if he ever went to the police.

Larson uncovered all this, but it was never proved that Duarte was, in fact, Ryan.

Ryan did use multiple aliases. On June 16, it was discovered that Ryan had served a sentence in an Oregon penitentiary, and another at Oahu Prison in 1887, under the name Jack McVeigh (or McVey). Ryan would admit nothing. He later said his name was actually Preston Horner.

The Honolulu police had recently begun using the Bertillon system of photographing criminals and noting their height, weight and physical characteristics. They had on record a photo of Ryan, alias “Jno [?] McVey, alias Preston Horner.”

The mugshot of convicted jewel thief George Ryan.

Ryan’s case was continually postponed, perhaps in hopes more jewels would be discovered.

On June 28, Larsen discovered one of the “larger jewels” at the barracks.

Postponements continued until August, as Larsen contacted witnesses. Although he interviewed Lo Chit Sam, Quon On and Ah Fook, Stone was the only one they could identify by name.

A third man who tried to fence the jewels was identified as another guardsman, William Wagner (who signed his name as “William Wagener”).

The cast kept expanding to include several men who were not members of the Guard: Charles Nelson, Robert Levi and John Santos.

A look at city directories of the period reveal that they were drivers for local carriage companies. Larsen seems to have theorized that the thieves had established an ingenious fencing system: They recruited from carriage stables the hack drivers who picked up numerous travelers from the wharf and nearby hotels. Nelson and Levi, of the Fashion Stables on Union Street, and Santos, of the Hustace Draying Co. on Queen Street, had offered opals, emeralds and pearls to the many fares they carried throughout the city. Even hoseman Charles Sillitoe, of the Tower Fire House, next door to the Fashion Stables, was enlisted.

Then something inexplicable happened: Ryan’s charge was reduced to second-degree larceny. He was held at the Oahu Prison for trial in August. (As the prison was then situated on the beachfront at Iwilei, the jail was referred to as “The Reef.”)

Before he went to trial, he donned a black suit, blackened his face and hands with soot, climbed a trellis at the wall of the prison and escaped as far as the slaughterhouse and cattle-pen area at the end of Iwilei. There, he found a telephone and called for a carriage. Unfortunately for him, he was met instead by Police Capt. Robert Parker, who arrested him at 9 p.m. Ryan remarked, “I am out of luck.”

Finally on trial in late August, Ryan, having been through the system before, defended himself in Judge William Austin Whiting’s First Circuit Court. It was reported that “the penalty prescribed for larceny in the second degree is a fine double the amount stolen, and confinement in prison for a period not to exceed five years.” By law, he would have to pay $5,000 in restitution.

Smith called to testify palace chamberlain Robertson, Lt. Col. Joseph Henry Fisher, of the Hawaii National Guard, former chamberlain George McFarland, and William Wagner, the Hawaii guardsman, who avoided prosecution by turning state’s evidence.

Smith then introduced into evidence several recovered diamonds that had been in the possession of Richard Stone and another guardsman, Carl Wishard, who had also been involved in the Pantheon Saloon brawl and had been found in possession of one of the jewels.

Smith called Larsen to testify as to how he had discovered the stones on Ryan and Wishard. Smith then called J. E. Gomes, watchmaker and jeweler (of Fernandez and Gomes, 409 Fort St.), who testified that he had been given diamonds to set into rings. Smith rested the prosecution’s case. The Chinese merchants were never called.

Ryan, in his own defense, called Maj. George McLeod of the Guard and a man named K. Hinds to try and establish an alibi. He himself then testified that he was innocent. He rested his case at 3:40 in the afternoon and spoke for two minutes, summing up his case.

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Honolulu Magazine June 2019
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