Trouble in Paradise Mystery: Book 11
Publication Date: November 2, 2021
When I was in school, I thought history was boring. Instead, I was captivated by all things science. In my mind, our space program was cool; old stuff, not so much. But that was then, and these days, I find diving into historical records fascinating. Especially when they concern something as bold as the 1893 theft of Hawaii’s Crown Jewels.
From vagabond to jewel thief
George Ryan was about fifteen when he arrived in Honolulu. He’d been born in Kentucky, moved to San Francisco and sold newspapers on the street, and then stowed away on a ship headed to Honolulu. It didn’t take Ryan long to get into trouble. He was arrested on a weapons charge and ordered to leave the islands. But Ryan wasn’t much for following orders and stayed.
Perhaps he saw an opportunity on the horizon. Hawaii’s King Kalākaua had recently died. Queen Liliuokalani was attempting to take back some of the constitutional powers the king had given up. In the United States, the government had passed the Tariff Act of 1890, placing a 50% tariff on foreign sugar imports. Since Hawaii was still an independent nation, the sugar growers in Hawaii knew they needed to do something before the new tariffs put them out of business.
It was a perfect storm of political forces at work, and anyone who lived in Hawaii during those times would have known trouble was brewing.
In January 1893, the sugar growers, which included a man named Sanford B. Dole (perhaps you recognize the last name?), staged a coup d’erat against the queen and created a provisional government. Ryan quickly joined the new government’s militia and was just as quickly promoted.
Ever the opportunist, Ryan used his access to vandalize and steal more than 500 gems from King Kalākaua’s crown, which he was ostensibly on duty to protect. He and his fellow conspirators used a wide network of criminals, opium dealers, and hack drivers (early version of a taxi) to fence the gems.
There were a number of others involved in the theft, but Ryan appears to be the central figure in the crime. Had Ryan left the islands after the theft, he probably could have retired in comfort, but he stayed (again). He gambled away some of the stones, sent a half dozen to his sister, and still had a few in his possession when Detective William Larsen arrested him for the theft.
Most of the Crown Jewels were never recovered. They were probably sold through the network and ended being used in jewelry around the world.
One opportunity too many
After his release from prison, Ryan enlisted in the US Army and was sent to the Philippines. While there, he again decided to chase a big score and went in search of treasure that had been buried by the Chinese. This time, his luck ran out. He found his treasure, but while digging it up, he was captured by natives. George Ryan died that day. He was twenty-five-years of age. His grisly death was reported in The Times, Washington on May 30, 1899 after American troops discovered his body tied to a raft and floating down a river.
How this relates to Mystery of the Eight Islands
Had George Ryan not decided to steal Hawaii’s Crown Jewels, Mystery of the Eight Islandsmight be a completely different book. I’d spent several years trying to figure out how to incorporate the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy into a current-day mystery, but hadn’t found what I needed. After reading the Honolulu Magazine article Malice in the Palace, which covers the theft in great detail, I realized I had my storyline. It involved theft, greed, and betrayal…what’s not to like?
Once upon a time, in a life he’d rather forget, Terry Ambrose tracked down deadbeats for a living. He also hired big guys with tow trucks to steal cars—but only when negotiations failed. Those years of chasing deadbeats taught him many valuable life lessons such as—always keep your car in the garage.
Terry has written eighteen books, several of which have been award finalists. In 2014, his thriller, “Con Game,” won the San Diego Book Awards for Best Action-Thriller. His series include the Trouble in Paradise McKenna Mysteries, the Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mysteries, and the License to Lie thriller series.
You can learn more about Terry and his writing at terryambrose.com.
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