Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023 |
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VALERIE ANN WARSHAY
A 72-year-old prisoner indicted for a decades-old cold case murder was arrested Thursday afternoon in downtown Honolulu.
According to Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz, Steven Ray Simpson was arrested by state sheriff’s deputies at 2:55 p.m. Schwartz said Simpson was on work furlough from Oahu Community Correctional Center and was at his workplace when he was taken into custody.
A Hilo grand jury on Wednesday indicted Simpson on a murder charge for the beating and strangulation death of Valerie Ann Warshay. Warshay’s nude body was found early afternoon on April 23, 1978, by a young girl picnicking with her family at Harry K. Brown Park in Kalapana.
The 26-year-old Warshay, who was a park ranger in Northern California, was vacationing in Hawaii and was camping at the park, which was inundated by lava in 1990, when she was killed.
A bench warrant set Simpson’s bail at $250,000. Simpson’s release from custody, however, is unlikely. He’s serving a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole for the strangulation murder of 24-year-old Mary Catherine “Kathy” Drapp, a University of Hawaii at Hilo student whose body was found Dec. 11, 1978, in a field in Fern Forest.
If Simpson is released on bail, terms and conditions set by the bench warrant call for electronic monitoring.
The indictment doesn’t specify a degree on the murder charge; it’s noted that the charge “is drafted in compliance with the statute as in effect in 1978.”
“Obtaining this indictment is the first step to seeking justice for Valerie Warshay. We hope that the filing of these charges brings the Warshay family some closure,” County Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen said in a written statement.
Simpson is scheduled for arraignment and plea today in Hilo Circuit Court. Waltjen said Simpson would appear via videoconference.
In a news release dated Nov. 1, 2021, police sought information about Warshay, who they said “made numerous friends across the island” and “played a flute or recorder-style woodwind at social gatherings.”
The slain woman’s younger sister, Donna Foster, in November told CBS News in San Francisco her older sister was “amazing.”
“Very talented, musically,” Foster told CBS. “She played the flute, violin and guitar. … Super smart. Funny. She taught me how to swim, she got me into running.”
A story from the July 23, 1978, edition of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald said Warshay’s body was discovered in a nearby coconut grove, partially covered by her sleeping bag, her hair bloodied by a series of blows to the head, and her belongings found nearby, ruling out robbery as a motive.
Warshay had been on the Big Island for about three weeks on a dream vacation — hiking, swimming, diving and making new friends — before her life came to a violent end.
Family described Warshay in the 1978 story as independent, athletic and intelligent, and said the New York City native jogged eight miles daily and hiked in the California mountains near El Granada, where she had moved after completing a degree in exercise physiology from Columbia University.
Her boyfriend, who was unable to make the trip with Warshay, called her “a crazy fantastic hiker, a very physical sort of person.”
“We hiked the entire coast from where we are to Santa Cruz and God knows how many miles through the mountains,” the man said in 1978. He added Warshay always wanted a vacation where there are palm trees and had expressed a desire to hike up Mauna Loa.
Warshay arrived alone in Hilo on March 28, 1978, and camped in several places, including Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo’s Keaukaha neighborhood. Island park employees told said she was conscientious in obtaining the proper permits and paying for her camping.
The final night of Warshay’s life, she and a friend walked six miles from the Kalapana park to Kamoamoa, where they enjoyed what was described as “a jam session for music lovers under the full moon.”
After the musical get-together, Warshay headed back to her campsite.
Police in 1978 said she was approached by two men in the park at about 10 p.m. the night before she was killed, and declined their invitation to join them. That was Warshay’s last known contact before her body was found the following afternoon.
Anyone who might have encountered Warshay during her stay on island or who might have information about her death is asked to contact police Detective Derek Morimoto at 961-2380 or Derek.Morimoto@hawaiicounty.gov, or call the police department’s nonemergency line at 935-3311.
Those who prefer anonymity may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.
Neither Waltjen nor Lt. Rio Amon-Wilkins of the Hilo Criminal Investigations Section responded for comment as of press-time.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.
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