|This case has remained unsolved for 49 years, 8 months, and 24 days.|
The Hawaiian island of Oahu is the most populous island in the state, and well-known for its beauty and culture. It was less busy in 1974, but still far busier than the other islands thanks to its military bases. Thousands of US military men and women have been stationed on the island throughout the years, helping to bolster its population.
Although the islands had some crime — mostly property crime — violent crime rates remained relatively low compared to the mainland. Due to this and the abhorrent nature of the crime, the abduction, rape, and murder of two teenage girls (and the miraculous escape of one of them) in 1974 sent shockwaves through the community.
Authorities investigated the case back then, but were unable to come to any conclusions. In 2001, a former Marine who was stationed on Oahu when the crimes took place was arrested, suspected of committing the crimes. However, he was later released when the physical evidence didn’t seem to point to him.
Now, almost 50 years later, the crime still remains unsolved. Who abducted the 13-year-old girls back in 1974? And who raped and murdered Dawn Bustamante?
Table of Contents
About the Victims
I typically like to discuss a bit about the victims in cold cases because so many times, they’re forgotten about. All of the focus is typically placed on the perpetrator, or on the crime, or on a poor investigation by relevant authorities, and I want to make sure the victims are not forgotten in the shuffle. If you’ve read my other articles, you’ll know that I always include these “About” sections for the victims.
Because this case is an older one, there was very limited information that I could find about the victims here— barely anything at all. I scoured search engines, flipped through old newspapers, and utilized the Wayback Machine, but there was nothing to be found. If you have information about either victim, please contact me and I’ll add it to their article sections.
Dawn “Dede” Bustamante
Dawn “Dede” Bustamante was born on November 21, 1961. In 1974, when the crimes took place, she was only 13 years old.
After her murder, Dede was buried in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, located in Kaneohe, Hawaii (HI).
In 1974, Cherry Verdugo was also just 13 years old, and was a friend of Dede. She barely survived the attack.
The Day of the Attacks
It was March 14, 1974 on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Oahu in the town of Kailua (not to be confused with Kailua-Kona, which is on the Big Island). Exact details about what happened aren’t clear, but from what I can gather, 13-year-olds Dede Bustamante and Cherry Verdugo (now Verdugo-McCoy) were walking toward the Kalapawai Market, a local market that sold all sorts of goods. It was between 8–8:30 PM.
As the girls were walking along Kailua’s main road, a white Plymouth Valiant pulled up alongside the girls. The man inside tried to talk to them from his car, striking up a conversation and asking if they needed a ride. The girls refused, and the man became angry and pulled a gun on them, threatening to kill them if they didn’t get in the car with him. Begrudgingly, they got in, frightened for their lives.
From there, the terrified teenagers were taken to a remote area behind a local golf course along Kiona’ole Road. The abductor sexually assaulted Dede in the car, but a passing car spooked him, and he then demanded that they all get out and walk into the thick brush near the road.
Once out in the bushes and out-of-sight of drivers on the road, the attacker hit Dede with the butt of his gun, knocking her out cold. He turned on Cherry next, trying to assault her, and she pretended to pass out to stop the attack. However, the man began strangling her and she thought she was going to die. She later explained her horrifying experience:
“I think I was maybe two or three seconds away from passing out, from dying. I was praying and squeezing my thighs so hard I couldn’t feel them anymore.”Cherry Verdugo-McCoy (Source: Honolulu Advertiser)
A Lucky Escape
At that moment, Dede came to and tried to escape. Cherry later described the ordeal, “He let go of my neck and ran after [Dede]. I got up and ran the other way as fast as I could.” Both girls began running in opposite directions and the attacker could only chase one. The suspect eventually killed Dede with a bullet to the head while she attempted to flee.
By some miracle, Cherry was able to escape the attacker and ran for help, using a nearby golf course’s phone to call police. “My hair was a mess, my clothes were torn and bloody and my face was bruised,” she later explained. Authorities were contacted and an investigation began.
Local authorities began investigating the case, taking information from the lucky survivor, Cherry. She told police what had happened and where, and they were able to recover Dede’s body. She’d been killed by the bullet to the head.
Aside from that though, there really wasn’t much information about what the police did, how they conducted their investigation, or how many suspects or persons of interest were interviewed.
A Suspect Questioned
During the course of the investigation, a suspect came to light in the case: a Marine who lived in the area. Authorities brought the man in because he was driving a car that was similar to the suspect’s car. There were also reports that the Marine had asked others to vouch for his whereabouts the night the murder took place. Due to these issues, he was brought in twice for questioning.
According to contemporary newspaper reports, authorities brought Cherry in as well to see if she could positively identify the suspect as the man who attacked her. However, she was unable to do so, claiming to only be about “60–70 percent sure” that the Marine was the attacker, and the suspect was released due to lack of evidence.
1986: Kiona’ole Road Closed
Due in part Dede’s murder, Kiona’ole Road was permanently closed to through traffic in 1986. However, the teen girls’ nightmare wasn’t the only crime that had been committed there: rapes, murders, gang fights, car fires, and all sorts of other mayhem were common issues along the dark stretch of road. There are even some rumors that the area is haunted.
July 2001: Suspect Arrested, then Released
In July 2001, the same Marine who’d been questioned was arrested in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he’d resided for the past 25 years. He was indicted by a grand jury on Oahu in August 2001, and it seemed that the cold case was finally going to be solved. The Marine pleaded not guilty in relation to the charges.
Later, when DNA comparisons were made between the suspect’s DNA and the former Marine, there was no match — that is, the Marine’s DNA didn’t match the suspect’s DNA. The Marine was then released from jail after having spent 14 months behind bars. A spokesman for the former Marine’s family told a news outlet, “[Authorities] clearly had the wrong man and we just pray the family and the system can move on.”
And That’s All We Know
That’s the extent of the publicly-available information that we have in this case. We know what happened and how it happened, but almost 50 years later, we still don’t know who committed the crimes.
Someone out there has to know something. Perhaps they were driving on Kiona’ole Road that night and saw the white Plymouth Valiant pulled off to the side of the road. Maybe they overhead the perpetrator talking about the crimes he committed at a bar years later. Or maybe the perpetrator themselves is finally willing to admit what they did all those years ago.
If you know something, it’s time to come forward. The families and loved ones of the victims deserve justice. Dede and Cherry deserve justice. Do the right thing.
Unfortunately, aside from the suspect who was arrested and then released, there are few updates in this case despite the almost five decades that’ve passed since it happened.
April 2006: Cherry Verdugo-McCoy Speaks Publicly
In April 2006, 31 years after the nightmare ordeal that she and her friend, Dede Bustamante, had gone through, Cherry Verdugo-McCoy spoke publicly for the Victim Assistance Coordinating Council.
Do You Have Information?
If you have information relevant to solving this case, please contact the Honolulu Police Department (808) 529–3111 at or submit an online report here.
Cold Case Questions
- Do you think this case will ever be solved?
- Is the perpetrator in this case still out there somewhere? Or do you think something has happened to him (jail, death, etc.)?
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!
Thanks for Reading!
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