HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Raymond Petry spent more than three decades on the streets of Oahu. His signature outfit ― a black suit ― earned him the nickname “Tuxedo Man.”
But it wasn’t until his death earlier this year that his life’s story came to light.
“He was always just there, in the background,” recalled Manoa resident Danielle Baron. “For a long time, his suits were pristine and pressed and I think that just got harder with his age recently.”
Petry was a fixture at the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus and also frequented Kailua. In August, many were saddened to learn of his death through a Facebook post on My Kailua. Hundreds shared their memories of him, with some recalling warm interactions they’d had with him over the years.
Onlookers also wondered about whether his family had been contacted, and that spurred private investigator Mark Askins to get to work.
He managed to find information about Petry on NamUs, an online “clearinghouse and resource center” for missing, unidentified and unclaimed person cases across the United States.
Askins, who is currently in Seattle, has worked as a private investigator for more than 30 years and is interested in helping reunite families with their loved ones.
“My purpose is to really provide them with a sense of closure, the families and their loved ones who had passed away like Ray,” Askins said.
From there, Askins was able to track down where Petry grew up, went to school, and eventually found his siblings, Marsha and Doug Petry.
Marsha Petry recalls getting that first phone call from Askins about her brother.
“I thought it was a telemarketer, but it didn’t sound exactly like a telemarketer so I let him go a little bit on and he just was asking me, ‘Are you the Marsha Petry that lived in Sacramento and has a brother Ray?’” she said. “So finally I’m like OK, Ray, something’s going on.”
Doug Petry said his brother was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Sacramento. He attended UC San Diego and was interested in science, technology, math and religion.
He remembered him as a very social and outgoing person.
After graduating from college in 1973, Raymond Petry seemed destined for a stellar career. He worked with stealth satellites and engineering and later landed a job with technology company Linkabet.
But along the way, something went wrong.
His siblings aren’t sure what led Raymond Petry to Hawaii.
But after arriving on Oahu, Petry taught math at different schools on Oahu. He also audited UH-Manoa courses through its senior visitor program.
His siblings said Petry lived in different locations before eventually ending up on the streets.
Despite his difficulties, Petry refused help from others, including his brother and sister.
“He really sort of just left that world behind and didn’t value material things,” Doug Petry said. “He accepted just enough to keep going, he knew that, that what he was doing wasn’t bringing in money.”
Petry added that his brother immersed himself in religion, science and exploration topics.
He rarely discussed his personal life.
“He was 69 when he died, and so for 30-something years ― which was longer than he was in a typical pattern of life ― he was in that world he was in out there,” Marsha Petry said.
Marsha Petry kept in contact with her brother through email, and would send him money every year.
Doug Petry was able to visit his brother in Hawaii several years ago and was happy to see him in good spirits and, of course, wearing his signature suit.
“He always had great pride in his appearance and his demeanor, so he never saw himself as a homeless person,” Doug Petry said, in a recent interview. “And I think that was pretty clear, he saw himself as a great intellectual leader and a religious leader, and so he was maintaining his image.”
Askins said that Petry’s case is one that captures the essence of what he’s trying to do as a private investigator: Making homeless people real and not just nameless faces on the streets.
“There was a great Facebook thread about Ray ... and people shared their times with him and talking to him and how much they enjoyed spending time with him and how smart he was,” Askins said.