Body found ‘burned severely’ inside banyan tree

An autopsy is scheduled for today for a woman whose badly burned body was discovered Monday on Banyan Drive in Hilo.

According to police, the Hawaii Fire Department responded shortly before 11:30 a.m. Monday to a report of a large banyan tree on fire across from the Reeds Bay Beach Park.


Upon extinguishing the blaze, fire personnel discovered charred human remains within an opening at the base of the tree and immediately alerted police.

“She was actually inside the tree,” Capt. Rio Amon-Wilkins of the East Hawaii Criminal Investigation Division said Tuesday. “She was burned severely. It’s a large banyan tree that has an opening of about … four feet in diameter, probably, an inside opening, and her entire body was inside there. It was fully engulfed, and there’s evidence of the smoke and flames going pretty high up into the tree.”

Police canvassed the area and interviewed numerous beachgoers. However, no one reported hearing any type of disturbance prior to witnessing the smoke and flames coming from within the banyan tree.

The banyan tree and adjacent brush borders the Naniloa Golf Course and appears to be a homeless camp and hang-out area.

The victim’s remains were transported to Hilo Medical Center, and she was officially pronounced dead at 1:51 p.m.

Asked if there were indications of either homicide or suicide, Amon-Wilkins replied, “At this point, it could be a handful of different scenarios.

“If it was a campsite, it could be accidental. There could be foul play involved, but we don’t have any evidence of it at this point,” he said.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, police said.

The identity of the woman, believed to be an adult, is pending positive identification and notification of next-of-kin. Due to the condition of the body, identification will be done by means of dental or DNA comparison.

Amon-Wilkins said police don’t know for sure the identity of the victim.

“We have a name of a possible party, a homeless person who was known to be in that area. But it’s a 50-50 shot,” he said. “We’re hoping if it is this person, we can get dental records in the next day or so and ID her that way. If we could get dental records, we could ID her within the next week, as opposed to DNA, which could take a month or two.”

Police ask anyone who may have information relevant to this case to contact the East Hawaii Criminal Investigation Section at (808) 961-2255, or the police nonemergency number at (808) 935-3311.

Those who prefer anonymity may call Crime Stoppers at (808) 961-8300.

Email John Burnett at

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