The search for Peter Boy: A 20-year murder mystery, a family that never gave up

The search for Peter Boy: A 20-year murder mystery, a family who never gave up
Published: Jul. 20, 2017 at 10:26 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 20, 2017 at 10:43 PM HST
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It was a 20-year murder mystery.

In 1997, Peter Boy Kema disappeared. The community rallied to help in the search, police scoured for leads, and his parents lied … for two decades.

But finally this year, the lies came to an end.

First his mother pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Then, his father did the same.

After two decades, Hawaii now knows what happened to the 6-year old Hilo boy — before and after death.

Hawaii now knows "Where's Peter Boy" —  from his father's own reluctant confession.

But why did it take so long to get answers?

In this special report, "Inside the Search for Peter Boy," meet the people inside the investigation and the deals made to get the convictions, the family members who never gave up and who else is still being blamed.

PETER BOY CAPTURED the hearts of Hawaii. Old videos of the boy show him flashing an adorable, wide smile. Behind that smile, trauma. Peter Boy suffered for much of his short life. Even from the day he was born, May Day 1991.

THE FAMILY LIVED in Nanawele Estates; their home, a house of horrors for the Kema children, especially Peter Boy, his father's namesake. Bruises and broken bones were the physical injuries, but torture came in many forms. "Putting him in a trash bag and letting him eat feces, and everything else," said his grandfather, Jimmy Acol.

PETER BOY'S BROTHER and two sisters last saw him alive in June of 1997. But it wasn't until six months later that his parents finally filed a missing persons report. The search for Peter Boy would spread from the Big Island to Oahu, and would rally a community around the family.

FOR THE BIG ISLAND'S enforcement community, it was never a question of who killed Peter Boy. His parents were always the only suspects. But despite well-documented child abuse and multiple accusations by their other children, Peter and Jaylin Kema weren't charged with the murder of their 6-year old for 19 years.

GETTING A CONVICTION for murder – proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt after 20 years and with no body – would be a huge challenge. It was also risky.  Prosecutors had to charge murder because time had run out for any other possible charge, including manslaughter. If they lost at trial, the Kemas would have escaped justice forever.

PETER BOY'S FINAL resting place is a remote site on the Puna Coast. It's here where Peter Kema Sr. says he threw a cardboard box with Peter Boy's remains into the ocean.

SHOULD THE STATE Department of Human Services, specifically Child Protective Services, also be held accountable in Peter Boy's death? Peter Boy Kema's grandfather, Jimmy Acol, said it was agonizing knowing the 6-year old was in danger, and no one would intervene. "Let the state learn a lesson on this," he said, "do not let this happen again."

AT HER JUNE sentencing hearing, Jaylin Kema broke down. "I know I deserve the punishment of imprisonment. For far too long, I kept a secret of the abuse of my children, especially Peter Boy," she said. But was the apology 20 years later, or 20 years too late?

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