An Excerpt from ‘Hell-Bent’: Ronnie Ching, Hawai‘i’s Most Notorious Hit Man
Author Jason Ryan delved into the darker side of Hawai‘i during the 1970s and 1980s to write: ‘Hell-Bent: One Man’s Crusade to Crush the Hawaiian Mob.’ This is an excerpt from his recently published book. In this selection, we focus on Ronald Kainalu Ching, who admitted to four murders—including that of a state senator and the son of the city prosecutor. Ching went on to serve a life sentence in Hālawa Correctional Facility, where he died in 2005 at age 56.
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Warning: This excerpt includes graphic descriptions, sexual situations and strong language. It has been lightly edited for style and space considerations.
Witness Clarence “Rags” Scanlan produces a weapon to defense attorney James Koshiba during the Chuckers Marsland murder trial.
Confessed killer Ronnie Ching sits in a Honolulu courtroom, with the tail of a shark tattoo visible on his arm.
Photo: Courtesy of Jason Ryan
Ronnie Ching’s life of crime supposedly had started in earnest at age 16, when Ching claimed to have “made his bones,” or killed for the first time. This murder was the beginning of a criminal career that would include turns as a thief, pimp, drug dealer and professional killer. In short order, Ching went from being a high school dropout and Navy malcontent to Hawai‘i’s most notorious hit man, allegedly responsible for a dozen or so deaths. When acquaintances described him, they used words like “cold-blooded,” “reptilian” and a “stone killer.”
Among Ching’s earliest misdeeds was the assassination of state Sen. Larry Kuriyama, who was shot with a silenced pistol in 1970 as he arrived home late one evening from a political rally. For this murder, Ching claimed only to be a lookout, that another man pulled the trigger as the senator exited his automobile after parking under his carport. Still, Ching was close enough to help finish the job if necessary. Like Kuriyama’s family inside the house, he heard the dying senator’s screams.
In 1978, freshly released from prison, Ching took a much more hands-on role in the abduction and murder of Arthur Baker. In his final hours, Baker had been enjoying the comforts of booze and women, passing a Sunday evening in the Sunday Lounge, a Honolulu hostess bar where he sometimes performed odd jobs. But his weekend, and life, came to a violent conclusion when Ching and a crew of heavyweight men stormed into the lounge and headed his way. They flashed police badges to the startled lounge patrons and then savagely pummeled Baker, destroying any illusions that these men were legitimate police officers. The large men handcuffed Baker and dragged him from the bar. Outside he was forced into a waiting station wagon, which quickly left the scene.
Baker was driven to a beach that night and unloaded from the car, along with shovels. His four abductors continued to beat him, and Baker could put up little fight. Beyond being cuffed, he was outnumbered and undersized. Ching weighed close to 300 pounds, and yet that was only half the weight of another alleged abductor, Pierre “Fat Perry” Wilson. Wilson was so large that when he was jailed six years later, authorities had to weld two bunks together to make him a bed. He could not walk more than 10 feet at a time and was consequently transported around jail on top of a food cart. The 670-pound man’s girth was so substantial he could not fit into the jail’s medical examination rooms and would ultimately die behind bars of massive heart failure.
But, in November 1978, the massive Wilson was alive and allegedly blocking any chance Baker had of escape. Ching, Wilson and the other abductors allegedly dug a crude grave for their captive at Mā‘ili Beach on the rural Leeward Coast of O‘ahu. Before throwing Baker into the shallow pit, the men beat him again and again. For his part, Ching no longer only used his thick fists, but also a claw hammer to smash Baker’s skull.
Once Baker was beaten senseless, his inert body was covered with sand. Realizing that he was being buried alive, Baker summoned his remaining strength and began to struggle. His tormentors saw the sand of the recently filled grave start to shift. Some of the men then allegedly stood atop the grave, using their considerable heft to keep Baker underground. They heard mumbling and groaning from Baker below, and then saw a depression open in the sand just above Baker’s mouth as their victim inhaled one last time. Then all was quiet.
Ching later expressed regret over the incident.
“If I had anything to do all over again,” said Ching, “I would hit him again with the hammer one more time, just for the fun.”
A year-and-a-half later, Ching again terrorized bar patrons by murdering rival gangster Bobby Fukumoto in an ambush at one of Fukumoto’s favorite watering holes in Honolulu, the Brass Door Lounge. The 51-year-old Fukumoto’s criminal record reflected more than a dozen gambling convictions. He also had sold heroin and was convicted by a federal court in 1970 for narcotics offenses. That conviction came after two trials and despite the pretrial murder of a government witness’s wife. Fukumoto and Ching had once been close, with Fukumoto acting as a criminal mentor to the young thug. Then they had a disagreement, and Ching, who at this period of his life was often under the discombobulating influence of heroin and other drugs, believed Fukumoto to be a threat. For Ching it was kill or be killed. There was also talk that Fukumoto had become an informant, which would have been another reason to kill him.
Fukumoto’s demise began when a bartender at the Brass Door Lounge called Ching to inform him that Fukumoto had arrived at the bar. Then Fukumoto’s bodyguard, a man named Fluff, betrayed his boss and also called Ching to give him notice of Fukumoto’s location. Leery of being set up, Ching called a waitress at the lounge to confirm Fukumoto was sitting at the bar and vulnerable. She said, yes, Fukumoto was there.