Feds offer $10K reward in cold case murder

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A friend of a 44-year-old man found shot to death in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park almost a decade ago said “it’s a mystery to his family and friends” why the case has gone cold.

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A friend of a 44-year-old man found shot to death in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park almost a decade ago said “it’s a mystery to his family and friends” why the case has gone cold.

The FBI and National Park Service announced a reward Wednesday of up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the murder of Arman Bernard Johnson, whose body was found April 13, 2005, at the southern end of the park about 100 yards off Mamalahoa Highway near the 71-mile marker, in the vicinity of Kahuku Ranch.

Steve Bader, a friend of Johnson before and after the slain man’s move from Seattle to Hilo in 1984, said Johnson’s family has received “very little information on the case.”

“Every time a new (agent) is assigned the case, there has been some contact, but there just hasn’t been the kind of information they’ve been looking for,” Bader said.

FBI Special Agent Tom Simon said the agency saw the 10-year anniversary of the murder as “a good time to revisit the case and find some better theories as to why this happened and, hopefully, bring someone to justice.”

“Most crimes the FBI investigates, we solve, and this one is particularly vexing because it’s been a decade without solution,” he said.

Autopsy reports indicate Johnson died from a single bullet fired by a handgun to the upper back/neck area.

“It appeared to be execution-style, and that was what was most shocking about it,” Bader said. “Someone really had to have planned it, from the way it appeared.”

Shortly after the homicide, friends of the slain man, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine and worked as a massage therapist, said he may have been using drugs.

“He may have hit some hard times, and he may have been hanging out with some questionable people, and that’s how he got himself into that position,” Bader said. “But despite of all that, I can’t see how someone would do that to him.”

Crime scene photos the Tribune-Herald chose not to publish show Johnson’s body face down on an unpaved road or trail, his head and shoulders obscured by a fern plant. He was clad in a dark blue or black tank top, blue surf shorts and low-cut black athletic shoes.

“Our evidence response team is reasonably confident the murder took place where the body was found, rather than being dumped at the national park,” Simon said, a detail previously unreleased.

Bader called Johnson, who danced in Halau Hula O Kahikilaulani and had a weekend radio show on KWXX between 1987-89, “artistic and gregarious, a nice friend.”

Bader said he and Johnson’s family hope the reward will lead to a solution.

“It’s a big island, but it’s small at the same time. Somebody knows something; somebody has some information. Maybe the reward might shake somebody’s memory a little bit.”

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Tips can be called into the Honolulu FBI at 566-4300.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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