5 things to know about the Shirlene Wakisaka murder case

Shirlene Wakisaka
Shirlene Wakisaka allegedly died after she was brutally strangled by her then-husband Kenneth Wakisaka (Image via MSNBC)

Shirlene Wakisaka, a mother of two daughters from her previous marriage and a resident of Hawaii, lived with her then-husband Kenneth Wakisaka when she was rushed to the hospital on April 5, 2000.

According to Kenneth, the deceased, who died five days later, had mental illnesses and tried to commit suicide by taking a dose of sleeping pills with alcohol. However, a subsequent investigation and an autopsy revealed that Shirlene died due to a lack of oxygen likely caused by strangulation.


On Wednesday, February 1, 2023, Oxygen's Dateline: Secrets Uncovered will revisit the case to honor the relentless efforts of Shirlene Wakisaka's daughters who continue to fight to bring their mother's killer to justice. The episode, titled The Vow, will premiere at 8.00 pm ET. Its synopsis states:

"Two tenacious sisters are determined to fulfill a promise to investigate the mystery surrounding their mother's death."

Shirlene Wakisaka murder: Five quick facts to know about the decades-old strangulation case

1) First responders were firstly called to the Wakisaka residence early in the morning on April 5, 2000


On April 5, 2000, at around 6:20 in the morning, Honolulu first responders arrived at the Wakisaka residence after one of Shirlene's daughters made a distressing 911 call, requesting a medical check on her mother. At the time, Kenneth told the personnel that his wife Shirlene had consumed sleeping pills with beer.

The authorities discovered after an inspection that 52-year-old Shirlene was in a distressed situation and didn't appear to recognize their intention to help her. They added that she also seemed a little upset, but otherwise normal, and that there was no sign of alcohol in her breath. Authorities then concluded that she was neither under the influence of drugs nor alcohol.

2) During the second emergency call, Shirlene Wakisaka was rushed to the hospital

@DatelineMediaHI contributed archive footage to @DatelineNBC on the Shirlene Wakisaka murder in 2000. Watch it tonight on KHNL-8.

In response to a second emergency call that was received at around 2.10 pm, Honolulu fire department officials and paramedics went right back to Wakisakas' home that same afternoon. According to Kenneth Wakisaka, his wife Shirlene was allegedly choking and had already collapsed.

Authorities discovered the victim's skin was blue around her lips and had a reddish tint around her neck upon a closer look. They concluded that the blue color was either due to a heart attack or from a lack of oxygen. Shirlene Wakisaka was initially examined at home before being sent to the hospital, where she was taken off life support on April 10, 2000.

3) Shirlene's daughters and detectives investigating her death found some incriminating evidence

About a year after the incident, Shirlene Wakisaka's daughters from a previous marriage, Tiffany and Tammy, discovered their stepfather had been abusive towards their mother in the time leading up to her death.

Tammy claimed that her mother left her with a number of unsettling messages the day before she was rushed to the hospital on the answering machine and that the former was only able to contact her mother early in the morning on April 5. Shirlene then told her that "[she] was afraid for [her] life and, if anything happened to [her], to please investigate."

Her two daughters also found Shirlene's handwritten notes and other documented evidence that indicated towards domestic violence between the couple. They also found empty pill bottles in Wakisakas' backyard - something detectives claimed was absent at the time of their initial investigation.

4) A detailed autopsy report confirmed that Shirlene Wakisaka died of strangulation

Alright gang, we’re taking the party over to Oxygen for some #Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.

On April 11, 2002, a delayed autopsy revealed that Shirlene Wakisaka had been strangled, which likely caused her death. Medical examiners reportedly discovered a diagonal bruise on Shirlene's neck, just below the jaw line. The bruise was classified as a ligature mark, leading to the conclusion that she had died as a result of "ligature strangulation."

According to reports, the victim's neck tissue was damaged, and bleeding was discovered in her right eye, which thus indicated that pressure had been applied to Shirlene's head and neck's blood vessels. The findings demonstrated that she did not die from a heart attack and that the level of drugs in her system was not fatal.

5) Kenneth Wakisaka's conviction was overturned not long after a jury found him guilty of strangling his wife


Two years after Shirlene Wakisaka's death in 2002, her 46-year-old husband Kenneth was found guilty of second-degree murder and was therefore sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

However, his conviction was vacated in October 2003 on the basis of a wrongful conviction resulting from the prosecution's misconduct and the ineffectiveness of his trial attorney.

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Edited by Abhipsa Choudhury
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