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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What’s a newspaper reporter from South Carolina doing hip-deep in Hawai‘i crime?
By Robbie Dingeman
Confessed killer Henry Huihui speaks to reporters in 1974 after a mistrial.
Author Jason Ryan got interested in Hawai‘i crime when a former federal agent told him about Henry Huihui, a confessed killer from Kailua who entered the witness protection program in 1984. “I looked into him and was astounded, and intrigued, to discover that Hawai‘i once had an extensive underworld controlled by incredibly violent men,” Ryan says.
After writing his first book about the South, Ryan craved a more exotic setting for his second book and found it on O‘ahu, where he lived for a month while researching court records, reviewing newspapers and interviewing people.
“I think it’s important for people to recognize how modern-day Hawai‘i was shaped by the existence of the Island underworld and the response from local law enforcement,” he says.
Former Honolulu city prosecutor Charles Marsland battled crime with a personal motive after his son’s murder.
Photo: HONOLULU Magazine Archives
He says the controversial battles initiated by Honolulu prosecutor Charles Marsland prompted a public conversation about the issue of crime in Hawai‘i as well as judicial and political reforms. “Marsland demanded action and transparency in government, but he ruffled a lot of feathers through his blunt and abrasive tactics. I also think this story is relevant because Marsland’s crusade shows the power, and limits, of a person being driven by grief and anger. These emotions can be powerful catalysts, but they can also be overwhelming and cloud one’s judgment and objectivity.”
Ryan appreciated people who were willing to share their personally painful stories. “I interviewed the daughter of one particularly brutal member of the underworld and found her comments to be especially poignant. She spoke with striking candor about the emotional abuse she suffered growing up and her unique childhood perspective of her father’s criminal lifestyle.”
Interviews with two defense attorneys who represented two of the accused murderers of Marsland’s son also proved compelling. “The lawyers were great storytellers, and I was amazed to see them defend their clients so passionately to me even 40 years after young Marsland was killed. Yet, despite their impressive arguments, I still didn’t know whether to believe them or not.”
Ryan says he spent most of his time here in archives, documents and interviews. However, he was impressed with Hawai‘i’s natural beauty, especially the first time he emerged from the tunnel on Likelike Highway to see the green Ko‘olau range above and the sea below. Other highlights included “going spearfishing for octopus, getting crushed by big waves at Waimea Bay and tasting laulau for the first time at a roadside restaurant.”
For his next book, Ryan says he’s contemplating telling a tale of adventure.