Shirlene Van Gundy was a popular young woman in Colorado, a former beauty queen. She married and had two daughters who as adults described Shirlene as a free spirit. But Shirlene was unstable. She had a hard time taking care of the girls. When Shirlene left their father, he eventually gained custody of both girls. Years later, Shirlene remarried a man named Kenneth Wakisaka. They lived in Hawaii. The daughters thought Ken was “a likeable guy.” But in 1998, things changed. Shirlene and Ken started to fight a lot. When the daughters visited Shirlene in Hawaii, Shirlene asked them to make a promise: “If anything happens to me, promise me you’ll investigate. Ask for your baby pictures.” On April 9, 2000, something did happen. Shirlene was taken to the hospital where she died of “anoxic brain damage.” The medical examiner said it was due to “assault by suffocation and strangulation.”
Ken Wakisaka was found guilty of strangling his wife Shirlene. He was sentenced to life in prison but his murder conviction was reversed. According to KHON, the grand jury requested to hear from Ken and Shirlene’s tenant (who rented a spare room in their condo) but the prosecutor never subpoenaed him as a witness. But Shirlene’s daughters have kept their promise to investigate. While searching through their mother’s belongings, they found an envelope marked “baby pictures.” Inside was a handwritten journal — from an anger management class — wherein Ken described the abusive ways he treated Shirlene. Dateline NBC will air its investigation of Shirlene Wakisaka’s death on August 27 at 9pm on NBC.