NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Keith Morrison Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/15/2007 9:30:53 PM ET 2007-08-16T01:30:53

Originally aired Dateline NBC Aug. 15.

Polo is the oldest team sport in the world, played by kings. Its devotees have a saying:

"Once you've played polo, you're addicted forever.
The only way to leave the sport is go broke or die."

John Elwin loved polo like he loved life.

He loved to travel the world on a whim and loved his home in paradise, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Women loved him. His exotic girlfriend was devoted.

Money loved him, too, apparently. Once a beach bum, he built a big paint supply company from scratch. And then a health club.

And finally at 50, he was about to make polo, the sport he loved, his life.

It was May of 2006.

He'd gone on a business trip to Southeast Asia and left girlfriend Kirsten Flood at home.

KEITH MORRISON (Dateline correspondent): Did he contact you after he left?


MORRISON: Not at all?


John Elwin just seemed to vanish.

MORRISON: When did you start to worry?
KIRSTEN FLOOD: I left him a message on his cell phone. I let a week go by and I attempted another email. I attempted a couple more messages on his cell phone and hadn't heard from him. And that's when my heart started pumping. I knew from the 'get go' that something wasn't right. (cries)

Elwin had told Kirsten he was going to Cambodia to work on a remarkable plan to develop a luxury polo club designed to meet the needs and tastes of Asia's new wealthy elites.

Elwin's business partner in this venture was a wealthy Filipino-American named Hank Jacinto.

For a decade, Jacinto had been a regular guest at Elwin's Kauai home had become almost like family.

Jacinto told Kirsten he knew nothing about John's travel plans.

They were a devoted partner and a loving live-in girlfriend. Why didn't Elwin tell either one of them where he was going? What he was doing?

Three weeks after his departure, Elwin's birthday came and went without a word from him.

A week after that, his daughter from a previous marriage celebrated her birthday.

KIRSTEN FLOOD: I just called her to wish her a happy belated birthday. And asked her if she had heard from her father and if he had remembered to call her on her birthday. Her response was no. And that she had been trying to get a hold of her dad. And as soon as she said, "No, I haven't heard from my dad. Can you please have him call me."

MORRISON: He always called his daughter on her birthday?

KIRSTEN FLOOD: Always called his daughter on her birthday, yes. The room just started spinning. And my ears were ringing. And my heart was beating. That's when all the alarms and the bells and the whistles and the flags went off.

Now Kirsten felt it impossible to hold back her panic. She turned to an old friend, Denise Tripoli, for help.

DENISE TRIPOLI: She wasn't doing well. She was getting more upset and more worried. She's like "I know something's wrong. I know something's wrong."

Elwin was a very private man when it came to business, and his trips out of town. He'd left no paperwork, no scribbled agenda, at least, none that Kirsten was aware of.

DENISE TRIPOLI: I had experience in Internet security.

Denise Tripoli knew computers intimately.

If only she could hack into Elwin's e-mail account, they might discover where he was.

The two women wracked their brains trying to guess at a pass code that would give them access.

FLOOD: [We tried] his birthday, his social security number. And I just kept going down the list until I hit it.

KIRSTEN FLOOD: And lo and behold, we got into it.

MORRISON: What did you find there?

TRIPOLI: We broke into his account at eleven o'clock at night, and I was up till three in the morning, looking through every e-mail. And I was very disturbed by what I saw.

He was in the Philippines. And one of his reasons for being there appeared to be an affair with another woman.

Denise said nothing to the waiting Kirsten. Besides, by then her attention was riveted on the most disturbing discovery of all:

TRIPOLI: And then there's a point where no one hears from John anymore.

MORRISON: E-mails just stopped.

TRIPOLI: Everything stops. Everything stops after May 15. E-mails aren't read-- his e-mails aren't opened in his own account after May 15th. There's no more communications from him. Everything stopped.

It was as if this happy, successful businessman-polo player had dropped off the face of the earth.

What happened to John Elwin?

The answer was more than chilling; it was like opening a door to a very dark world in which the currency was betrayal.

Polo enthusiast John Elwin told his live-in girlfriend he was off to explore investment opportunities in Cambodia.

But as Kirsten waited and worried back at their home in Hawaii, Elwin had apparently gone to see another woman -- not in Cambodia, but in the Philippines.

DENISE TRIPOLI: I was very disturbed by what I saw.

Kirsten's friend Denise discovered evidence of the other woman when she hacked into John's computer.

But before she got off the computer, she discovered something else -- something very strange.

It was something that appeared to involve Elwin's business partner Hank Jacinto.

TRIPOLI: I'm looking at e-mails from John that are going to friends of John, saying, "Oh, my friend Hank just picked me up at the airport. I'm with my friend Hank now. Hank's coming with me next week to Cambodia to buy land." And it didn't add up.

TRIPOLI: Hank had said he had never seen John in the Philippines or that he hadn't talked to him in a long time.

TRIPOLI: It was obvious from the get-go that what Hank was saying was not true.

But Kirsten told Denise that over the years she had come to know Jacinto well.

Kirsten: I said, oh, don't worry about Hank. That's the guy that John plays polo with, you know. I don't think there's anything to worry about.

After all, Jacinto and John Elwin were old and close friends. They'd first met on the polo fields more than 15 years ago. Jacinto was a member of elite polo clubs around the Pacific rim including this one in Manila.

Jacinto's success story was well known in the islands: He was a multi-millionaire who made his fortune as the founder and president of Pro-network, an international high-tech firm. The Web site lists the Department of Homeland Security as a leading client.

Compared to Jacinto, Elwin was minor league.

But there was more to Jacinto than just money. He was the founder and president of the Philippine Mission Foundation, a charity dedicated to establishing a nation-wide network of orphanages for his country's impoverished street children.

In the Philippines, the name Jacinto carries a great deal of weight.

Hank Jacinto, by all accounts, came across his upper-class ways honestly. Even the name, Jacinto.

In Manila that's a little like being called Rockefeller. His multi-million dollar businesses, his employees, his charities, orphanage were located in a district called Eastwood, which is one of the premiere neighborhoods in Manila. It's a gated community for the wealthy.

Jacinto's Asian headquarters is located in a high-rise called Cyber-one Plaza, where he also owns a popular Internet cafe.

Across town, he also owns a Land Rover-Jaguar import-repair shop.

His U.S. corporate headquarters is in a century building located near downtown Honolulu.

Kirsten trusted Jacinto. She felt she knew all of John Elwin’s varied group of friends.

Except, of course, that other woman.

Could she be the key to understanding Elwin's disappearance?

The trouble was that neither Kirsten nor Denise had any idea how to find her.

If they went to the police, what could they say? That Elwin, a grownup, a bit of a playboy, had failed to call home? Since he had left no schedule, Kirsten couldn't say for sure he was even overdue.

Overwhelmed, Kirsten turned to another of John's pals for help, his oldest and most trusted friend, Luis Soltren.

LUIS SOLTREN: When you're with someone for 30 year-- almost 30 years, you build this inner connection, this spirit thing-- that is like twins.

They'd arrived in Hawaii at the same time, both beach boys, and certainly an unlikely pair. Elwin was a tall, fair Canadian, while Soltren was a multi-racial Puerto Rican raised in New York City.

SOLTREN: It doesn't matter what color he is, you know. He's like my brother. You know, so. I was going to look for him. It's all about how you love someone.

The two were so close, Elwin even made Soltren executor of his estate -- a significant detail, for in Elwin's absence Soltren could obtain his friend's bank statements and credit card bills.

So Luis offered to pitch in and expand the unofficial investigation.

SOLTREN: And-- me and Kirsten and Denise were just digging. Were digging, digging, and digging.

SOLTREN: Started looking to John's phone bills.

MORRISON: What gave you that idea?

SOLTREN: Well, I wanted to see if there were people there that we could contact.

MORRISON: What did you find?

SOLTREN: Well-- (SIGH) nothing.

MORRISON: What do you mean?

SOLTREN: After May 14th, nothing.

Finally, Soltren contacted the Philippine National police to report that his friend, John Elwin may, repeat may have gone missing in that country.

Detectives in Manila checked with their provincial counterparts to see if any foreigners had been killed out in the countryside.

The news was not good.

SOLTREN: We got notice that they had found a body.

It was male, white, found along a mountain road, an 8-hour drive north of Manila.

He had been shot to death.

MORRISON: Was there any identification on this person any indication as to who this was?

Philippine police officer: None.


Philippine police officer: No ID. No wallet.

The body, never claimed, was eventually entombed in this village cemetary.

They had no idea who the tall fair skin foreigner was so they simply wrote on his tomb “RIP Amerkano.”

But then it turned out that it could not have been the missing polo player John Elwin. Word came back that the body in the village cemetery was not an American or a Canadian. It was a European.

SOLTREN: They said it was the body of a Norwegian man.

No closer now to finding their friend, Soltren, Tripoli and Flood resumed their amateur investigation, starting over with Elwin's phone records.

SOLTREN: I looked at the numbers that he called the most. So I figure if those numbers are the ones he's calling the most, that's the most important person to him so far.

MORRISON: Right. Sure.

SOLTREN: So I called that. And that turned out to be his friend in the Philippines.

MORRISON: The woman he'd been seeing there.

SOLTREN: Yeah. The one in the Philippines.

It was an enormous break in this investigation by Elwin's friends. The woman in the Philippines was, as far as they knew, the last person to see him before he broke off contact. Any information she could provide would be very important.

And she did, indeed, have news for them, although she was frightened and wanted to say as little as possible.

She'd been with Elwin for a week, she said, but hadn't seen him since he left her to meet a friend of his -- a man by the name of Hank Jacinto.

Here they were, these amateur investigators, desperately trying to find handsome businessman, adventurer and polo player, John Elwin.

The missing John Elwin.

Soon enough they were joined by other friends and family members and managed to track him down to the Philippines.

They'd hacked into Elwin's e-mail account and found a note saying he was traveling with his business partner, Hank Jacinto.

They'd found a frightened 'other woman' in the Philippines, who said she hadn't seen Elwin since he had left her to meet up with his friend "Hank Jacinto."

Then, combing through Elwin's financial records, Luis Soltren discovered Elwin had withdrawn money two days before he broke off all contact from this bank in Manila.

The bank is in an interesting location. It's perhaps 50 feet from the entrance to the Philippine headquarters of Hank Jacinto's business.

Long-time friend Luis Soltren finally called Jacinto at his corporate headquarters in Honolulu and confronted him.

Luis Soltren: So I go to him. "Were you in the Philippines?" He goes, "No, I wasn't there." I say, "Come on, Hank." I say, "I know you was [sic] in the Philippines" and then he goes, "oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I was there."

Jacinto, Soltren says, then made an amazing admission. He confessed that he had indeed met John Elwin in the Philippines but that he had been told to keep that from Elwin's friends, by John Elwin himself who, he said, was now in trouble and "laying low."

Soltren: He told me that John had gotten a couple of girls pregnant over there.
Keith Morrison: Did you believe that?
Luis Soltren: Hell no. I knew that was a lie -- right off the bat.

Or was it? By now, Kirsten and Denise had discovered another e-mail sent from Elwin's account. But this one came nearly a week after all communication with him had stopped cold.

Denise: And the e-mail was almost cryptic and says "I'm hanging out low. I'm laying low in Bangkok, under the radar."

Was it a genuine e-mail?

Was Elwin actually hiding from the angry Philippine father of some pregnant girl? After all, they knew there was at least one other woman over there. Jacinto claimed he was still in touch with Elwin -- but on the QT.

But sifting through Elwin's phone bills, Soltren found that Jacinto never once placed a call to Elwin after May 14 -- the day he disappeared.

Again, Soltren called Jacinto.

Luis Soltren: I go, "Gee, you never even called John once. Is that because you can't call the dead?"

Soltren's implication was, he knew, outrageous.

Jacinto was a prominent member of Honolulu's elite polo club. He had influence and important friends like lawyer and teammate Robert Miller.

Miller: I dealt with both these guys. I never had any reason to doubt anything Hank said. I never had any reason to doubt anything that John said.
Question: How do you know that Hank is above board?
Miller:  Well, all I know is you know, in the five years that I dealt with him, didn't drink, didn't smoke, did never, ever swore. Was a class act player, okay?
Question: Were you aware of what his business interests were?
Miller: As his attorney, I traveled to the Philippines and actually went and met with a number of his employees, and a number of people that he had contracts with and was doing business with.

Then what was going on?

In early July, six weeks after Elwin disappeared, his friend, Luis Soltren, discovered someone had been using Elwin's credit card for mail order purchases.

Morrison: What were the charges?
Soltren: Polo mallets and some other charges. And then I called where the purchase was made. And the guy said to me, "Oh I just spoke-- spoken with John." And I says, really? When did you speak to John? "Oh, June." I said, really. Where's John at? "1750 Kalakaua."
Morrison: And what address is that?
Soltren: Hank Jacinto's.

Elwin, remember, was a polo fanatic; he shipped his ponies by barge to meets all around the Hawaiian islands.

Right now, the horses were at a polo field in Oahu, and Kirsten went to pick them up.

But before she could take them back to Elwin's place on Kauai, Jacinto called the police. He claimed the horses were his and accused Kirsten of theft.

Kirsten Flood: That was kind of like a kick in the gut. This man came into our lives and turned them upside down and hasn't even blinked an eye about it yet … So John's not here to fight for what's his so it's up to me and John's family and Mr. Soltren to do that for John.

From Elwin's bank statements, Soltren learned Elwin had transferred around a quarter of a million dollars to Jacinto's Philippine account.

Luis Soltren: I believe he transferred $246,000 to Hank's escrow account.

Other strange financial transactions between Jacinto and Elwin were uncovered.

Elwin also signed over to Jacinto the title to his new Land Rover.

Keith Morrison: A car that was probably worth $40- or $50,000, right?
Luis Soltren: Yeah.
Keith Morrison: We're pushing $300,000 that he's turned over to Hank.
Luis Soltren: Easy. Easy. Easy.

Soltren wondered what else of Elwin's could Jacinto now be claiming as his own?

Luis Soltren: I had an escrow company run an escrow search on John's land. … and I was shocked.
Keith Morrison: Why?
Luis Soltren: Because the land that John owned at Kalihiwai came out as being owned by Hank Jacinto.

Soltren pulled the deed and was stunned to find that the document had, indeed, been signed by John Elwin. It had even been notarized.

Keith Morrison: And what did that notarized document imply had happened?
Luis Soltren: It implied that John turned over the land to Mr. Jacinto.
Keith Morrison: And that didn't make sense to you.
Luis Soltren: Of course not.

Now thoroughly frustrated, Soltren called Jacinto frequently.

Luis Soltren: I just told him basically, "You know, Hank, I don't know what you did. But you can rest assured that I'm going to find out." And he goes to me, "This is none of your business. This is business dealings with me and John."

And why wouldn't it be? Elwin and Jacinto were business partners.

Elwin could have very well have given Jacinto the money, the car, the horses, and the land as assets to be used for the development of their Cambodian polo club.

Soltren had no proof at all that Jacinto had acquired any of it illegally.

That's when Soltren had, let's say, a vision.

Luis Soltren: I have these moments in my life where little things click. And I get little warnings, you know.
Keith Morrison: That's odd. What do you mean? Just a feeling?
Luis Soltren: Just a feeling. And it kept coming to John's signature on that page. And then one night I think I got up about two in the morning and I says, "You know, we haven't even attempted to contact this notary, or to find out whether this notary is real."

The notary was, as it turns out, an actual person -- an officer at the Bank of Hawaii in Honolulu. After several tries, Soltren was finally able to reach her on the phone.

Luis Soltren: And she goes, "Oh yes, I notarized a document for John Elwin on April 11." I said, "Was it for the purchase of land?" She says, "No. Not even close."

Luis Soltren: We found out that the notary that Hank had used was for the sale of the Land Rover.
Keith Morrison: Not land at all.
Luis Soltren: Not land at all.

Soltren could come up with only one explanation: Jacinto had attached a genuine notarized document to a fake deed which gave him possession of John Elwin's land.

Keith Morrison: What'd you think when you saw that?
Luis Soltren: John is dead. John is dead as dead can get.

John Elwin, the handsome Hawaii based polo player, had up and vanished somewhere in the vast crowded reaches of southeast Asia.

And now, the friends frantically searching for him had made a disturbing discovery: a sometimes business partner named Hank Jacinto had control of seemingly all of Elwin's earthly possessions, including his car, money and land.

It was as if Elwin had been, simply, erased.

Had his business partner Hank Jacinto robbed Elwin, defrauded a good friend? Seemed like it, and yet it just didn't make sense.

Why in the world would Jacinto, by all accounts a multi-millionaire head of an international high-tech firm swindle a small-time business partner for what amounted to just a few hundred thousand dollars?

Luis Soltren: This guy was like a Donald Trump to John Elwin.

But rich as Jacinto appeared, Luis Soltren, a building contractor with a high school education, felt the time had come to personally confront the powerful mogul head on.

Luis Soltren: I go "Let me go see this guy. This guy makes $63 million a year. He must have a hell of an office."

Soltren flew from the island of Kauai to Honolulu and went straight to Jacinto's corporate office in the skyscraper at 1750 Kalakaua Avenue, suite 3659.

"I find a mailbox drop," says Luis. Post office box 659. It was the full extent of Jacinto's U.S. corporate headquarters.

Maybe, thought Soltren, he'd find Jacinto's true headquarters at his estate in the hills overlooking Honolulu.

As distrustful as they were of Hank Jacinto, Elwin's friends were still hoping there was some reasonable explanation. That it would turn out the mogul was actually helping Elwin out of some jam, and that when it was all over he would come home with a smile on his face and stories to tell.

That hope died right here when Soltren looked through this gate and saw the derelict house, the guard dogs, and the body of old cars half-covered in leaves.

Luis Soltren: That guy's a con man, that's all he is.

A con who had, they were sure, committed a terrible crime.

The three friends of Elwin arranged to meet with Honolulu detectives and with prosecutor Chris Van Marter.

Luis Soltren: And we went there. And we presented our case.

But remember, Soltren and the others were investigative amateurs. They didn't have a "case" really -- not in the legal sense. They only had information they collected and a storyline that was hard to believe.

Luis Soltren: Got grilled by Van Marter. He wanted to pull our story apart.

But the attitude in the room slowly changed as Elwin's friends presented phone records, credit card bills, bank statements and the forged deed.

Luis Soltren: They say, "We need to make copies of all this stuff." And I said to them, "No. These are your copies. We figured save you time."

And that was it. The prosecutor bought the story. Detectives were dispatched and tracked Jacinto down at the polo club. They charged him with theft and forgery and took him to jail.

That's when the mysterious life of Mr. Hank Jacinto began to lift, like a rock, to reveal the sordid and sinister detail crawling beneath.

Michael Young: I think the property is probably worth a million, million and a half, easily by now.

Like the story told by Michael young. This house, the supposed Jacinto estate overlooking Honolulu?

Because of its location, it's worth a small fortune. At one time it belonged to Young's father Arthur until a very strange event back in 1990.

Michael discovered that's when his father had supposedly put the family home up as collateral on a loan involving Hank Jacinto.

Michael Young: Well, as soon as I found out that Hank had control over my family property, I went to go see if I could get it back somehow.

Young: I didn't know how to get a hold of him, or how to reach him, or where his whereabouts were.

There was, of course, one other person who could say whether or not this transaction was legitimate: Michael's dad Arthur.

But here's the other strange thing: Michael couldn't find him, either.

He had disappeared. And is still missing.

Michael Young: My father went to the Philippines with Mr. Jacinto and never returned with him.

Very suspicious. But there was more.

There was another bizarre event involving a close friend of Jacinto's in Hawaii, a man named Doug Ho.

They were so close Doug Ho opened up a mailbox just a few feet from Jacinto's and he's even listed as a vice president of Jacinto's Philippine Mission Foundation.

According to these legal papers, Doug Ho used this family home on the shores of Oahu as collateral in a business deal with Jacinto, just as Arthur Young had done.

And like Young, Doug Ho also went to the Philippines with Hank Jacinto, in 2004, and never returned.

But Jacinto wasn't charged with any crimes connected with Young or Ho.

There was no proof that either man was dead. And there was no proof that any of the legal documents were forgeries.

And so this is what was left: with Elwin simply missing, Jacinto was only charged with financial crimes -- and only against Elwin.

That's when Soltren said he had another one of his "visions."

Luis Soltren: I had a terrible dream one night. And I woke up and I told my wife that, I think I've been visited by John. And in the dream he was really dirty and he asked me if he could bathe. And I told him, "Yeah, go ahead and bathe, John." He said to me, "You know, he killed me." And, you know, he did it with his driver and another guy. And he said, "They beat me up and they shot me." And he said … "You know what to do, and I love you." And then he disappeared.

Hank Jacinto was now in custody. But the John Elwin case was far from over. He was, after all, still missing.

Where had he gone? What had happened to John Elwin?

There seemed to be no question that Elwin's trail came to a frustrating end in the Philippines.

On May 11, 2006, three days before he disappeared, Elwin sent an e-mail saying he was in Manila with his "friend Hank."

The next day, May 12, Elwin made a withdrawal from an ATM at the bank next door to the high-rise that's listed as the headquarters for Jacinto's business and charity.

And just across the street, Elwin placed a charge on his credit card at a health spa.

Had Elwin also paid a visit to Jacinto's office?

Among the scores of employees said to work for Jacinto, wouldn't somebody in the office remember if they saw John Elwin that day? Well, there was only one way to find out: go up and ask.

But there's nothing there. The little room has an abandoned fish tank in it. Two or three chairs. Was the HQ for no fewer than three companies, 60-some employees, with $60 or 70 million in income just one little room? And it's locked.

Was there ever a legitimate business here?

We found the cyber-cafe closed, as well.

We then drove cross town to another one of the businesses Jacinto claimed to own, a restoration house for British luxury cars.

And? Not a car around. Not a soul around.

But if Jacinto's Philippine operations were also, just like those in Hawaii, merely a front, that still didn't explain the disappearance of John Elwin.

By now the Philippine national police had taken up the case.

And before they long contacted Elwin's family and friends back in Hawaii with a strange request.

A murder victim, found months earlier, remained unidentified.

Keith Morrison: No wallet?
Detective: No wallet.
Keith Morrison: No money?
Detective: No money.
Keith Morrison: It must have looked like somebody robbed him.
Detective: The investigator on the case has no idea what was the motive behind the killing of that unidentified foreign national.

In fact, you've heard about this body before. It was the same body police had found back in May, the one they believed had been a Norwegian. The poor soul had been shot in the head, making it nearly impossible to match this photo with that of a living human being.

But the victim had a distinctive watch.

Detective: Seiko diver watch...

…and that got detectives wondering: Would it be possible that one of Elwin's friends had a photo of his watch?

They did. And they matched.

Elwin's dental records were then sent.

Dr. Dindo Herrera: The dental records will show us everything. These are the complete records of John Elwin ... it's the complete set of teeth of John Elwin.

Before he could see if they were a match, Dr. Dindo Herrera had to have the murder victim's body exhumed.

Dr. Herrera: We could definitely say we have an exact match.
Keith Morrison: And you went thru this tooth by tooth by tooth?
Dr. Herrera: Yes sir.
Keith Morrison: And every single one matches?
Herrera: Yes sir.

So there could be no doubt that the tall, fair-skinned foreigner in the grave by the side of the road was John Elwin and the dreadful story of how he died could be told.

Elwin had been shot along a depressing stretch of road a day's drive north of Manila.

Detective: The body was dragged over there because of the blood stain.
Keith Morrison: Oh, you could see the blood on the highway?
Detective: Yeah, the blood stain.

A woman who lives nearby heard men yelling.

Witness: It was early morning between 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning.

The morning of May 14. The day all contact with Elwin ended.

Keith Morrison: Did you hear people say, "Hurry, hurry, let's go, let's go?"
Witness: Yes.

The next morning when she went to investigate, she found Elwin's body, face down, on the edge of this turnout.

If they dragged him about 10 more feet and dumped him over the edge, the body might not ever have been found.

It was as if the awful scene had played back almost verbatim in Luis Soltren's dream far away in Hawaii.

Near the edge of the road, police found .45 caliber shell casings from 3 different pistols. Three different shooters.

Dr. Reynaldo Dave: There are five shots, actually. We recovered five empty shells from the crime scene.

Dr. Reynaldo Dave (dah-veh) performed the initial autopsy. He found Elwin had been hit by three of the five shots -- two to the body, and one to the head.

Keith Morrison: Would that have killed him right away?
Dr. Dave: Yeah.
Keith Morrison: Would have killed him like that (snaps fingers)?
Dr. Dave: Yeah, instantaneous.
Keith Morrison: It was an execution style killing.
Dr. Dave: And he knows what he is doing, I mean, the killer.
Keith Morrison: Whoever it was.
Dr. Dave: Whoever it was.

And so now Elwin's family and friends knew the worst. Not just that he was dead, but that he had been taken away to a lonely place and summarily murdered.

While they certainly had their suspicions, what they didn't know was the who – or if any jurisdiction anywhere could bring the murderer to justice.

So now there were three:

John Elwin: murdered.

Doug Ho: missing.

Arthur Young: missing.

And each of these three men had one essential thing in common, or rather, one person in common: Hank Jacinto.

Each one had entered into a business deal with Jacinto and then was heard from no more.

Now, in a Honolulu courtroom, Jacinto was being held to account. He was charged with nine felonies, from fraud to forgery.

Van Marter [prosecutor]: This case is going to be about identity theft and document fraud.

But not, however, murder. There was no physical evidence or eyewitness to connect Jacinto to that crime.

The jury would come to learn that fraud victim John Elwin, was dead, but not how he died -- executed along the side of a road.

Jacinto's lawyers were able to keep that out of the trial since it might prejudice the jury, they argued..

Several other pre-trial decisions fell Jacinto's way for that same reason.

At the request of the defense, the jury would not hear about Arthur Young or Douglas Ho, or about Jacinto's numerous aliases, or even that Jacinto had served federal prison time for bank fraud.

So when jurors looked across the courtroom on opening day, they did not see a convicted grifter with a trail of suspicious disappearances. They saw, instead, an industrious businessman who seemed caught up in a horrible misunderstanding.

Chris Van Marter prosecuted this case, however, as if there were more on the line than just money because if Jacinto was acquitted he'd be free to travel the world once again -- beyond the reach of suspicious FBI agents investigating Elwin's murder.

To make his fraud case, Van Marter flew in witnesses for just a few minutes of testimony from as far away as Florida and South Dakota.

Prosecutor: Who is the only one authorized to use that credit card?
Witness: John Elwin.

Prosecutor: Would the Tackeria have charged John Elwin's credit card number if the Tackeria had known he had been dead for 3 weeks before the order was placed?
Witness: Absolutely not.

There were dozens of witnesses who testified about the numbers. There were bank transactions, cell phone records, credit card charges.

The lead detective on the case testified the deed giving Jacinto possession of Elwin's land was a fake.

Prosecutor: Based on your investigation ... did you conclude that exhibit two was a forged instrument?
Detective: Yes sir.

A travel agent testified that 10 days before his murder, John Elwin flew to the Philippines in coach -- and that Jacinto followed him there a week later flying first class.

Prosecutor: And Hank Jacinto put his first class ticket, $2,385.50 -- that all got put on John's credit card?
Travel Agent: Yes.

Video: State: It’s about deception and betrayal But the trial, based on binders full of financial documents, took a dramatically different tone when Elwin's girlfriend, Kirsten Flood, took the stand.

Prosecutor: At any point did you have contact with a man by the name of Hank Jacinto?
Kirsten Flood: (tears up) Yes, I did.

Flood told of an upsetting call she had with Jacinto six weeks after Elwin's disappearance.

Flood: He told me that John had women pregnant in, like, southeast Asia somewhere.

Elwin's old friend -- and executor of his estate -- Luis Soltren, testified about one of his early phone calls with Jacinto.

Soltren: I ask, "Why the hell is the property under your name? Why does it say, 'Hank Jacinto is owner of this property?'" and he says, "Oh, no way. And I says, "It's under your name." and he says, "Oh, maybe my lawyer did it."

In and out of court, Jacinto's team was more offense than defense. Claiming that if this property deed is a fake then Jacinto, not Elwin, is the victim.

They alleged Elwin had borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars from Jacinto who ended up with a forged and worthless property deed as collateral.

And the defense implied Elwin was a crooked businessman, who used offshore bank accounts and a safe in his paint store to cheat on his taxes.

Defense attorney: Was that money that was reported to the government for tax purposes?
Luis Soltren: John handled that. I couldn't answer that.

And the defense attacked Elwin personally, letting it be known that Elwin had cheated on his girlfriend Kirsten. It was a charge which Elwin's friends could not deny.

And the defense implied Elwin's friends were in over their heads, incapable of understanding the complicated business deals between Jacinto and Elwin.

Defense attorney: Do you folks own any property jointly?
Kirsten Flood: No.
Defense attorney: Do you folks have any joint bank accounts?
Kirsten Flood: No.
Defense attorney: How about any joint investments?
Kirsten Flood: No.
Defense attorney: OK.

Jacinto chose not to testify in his own defense -- or talk to us on camera.

So, whose case would the jury believe? The state's: that Hank Jacinto methodically stole Elwin's land and money, or the defense: that Elwin, desperate for funds to invest in his polo club, swindled his old polo partner?

It took the jury just under two days to reach its verdict.

Guilty on eight of the nine counts, bringing a minimum of 20 years in prison.

But for prosecutor Chris Van Marter the case is far from over. Investigations continue into the disappearances of Doug Ho and Arthur Young, and the murder of John Elwin.

Van Marter: We're not through. We have several agencies that are assisting us in the homicide investigation. There are law enforcement officials in the Philippines right now working on that part of the investigation.

And they tell us their leads point to Hank Jacinto.

Police officer: Yes. We consider him a suspect in our investigation.
Keith Morrison: So you actually have a chance at solving this case?
Police officer: Yes.

Jacinto denies he had anything to do with Elwin's murder. As far as Doug Ho and Arthur Young are concerned, Jacinto has told worried relatives that both those men have married and settled down in the Philippines in areas too remote for phone service.

And Jacinto's friend Bob Miller tells us that the Philippines can be a violent destination for travelers who let down their guard.

And while Luis Soltren's part of the investigation is finally over, he won't be able to let go, he says, until Elwin's killers stand trial.

What brings him peace, though, is knowing his dear friend -- once lost -- is finally back home in Kauai.

Luis Soltren: Where he was loved, you know? Where we can visit him. (crying) And, you know, just have him.

The FBI is now involved in the investigation. Hank Jacinto is due to be sentenced for the fraud conviction at the end of this month.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments