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Hawaii Police Solve Cold 1994 Case Murder of Exotic Dancer Strangled to Death in Her Own Apartment


Lisa Fracassi

Lisa Fracassi was 37 years old when she was brutally murdered in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1994. Now, nearly 30 years later, police say they’ve finally found her killer—though he won’t be facing any legal justice.

Cecil H. Trent was 29 when he killed the exotic dancer and aspiring nurse, investigators said. The presumed murderer himself died in Honolulu in 2013. Although he was never arrested, police say he was the only suspect.

“She was a caring person, like a nurse, who would sit for hours with people who needed help,” said America St. Thomas, one of Fracassi’s friends, at the time of the murder. “She wanted to be a nurse, and started dancing so she could save up money to go to school. But with a regular job, it’s difficult to go to nursing school. Once you get involved in night life, it’s even harder.”

Private investigator Debra Allen offered her perspective on the case in remarks to Honolulu-based CBS affiliate KGMB and NBC affiliate KHN.

“It’s law enforcement saying ‘we have time to go back,’ and let’s look at the DNA in that case and see if there’s some kind of new technology that can be used to make that DNA usable today with today’s technology,” she told the TV stations.

Fracassi was last seen alive during the early morning hours on Halloween in 1994. Her body was found on Nov. 3, 1994–strangled to death in her own apartment in Waikiki, Hi.

Eventually the case went cold. Although the unsolved murder languished for decades, the Honolulu Police Department crucially began using a reliable DNA storage method that avoids contamination the year before the victim’s death.

In 2020, police gave DNA and fingerprints from the crime scene to Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based company that specializes in providing phenotyping services to law enforcement agencies.

The company has been instrumental in creating profiles that have helped police departments and prosecutors across the country solve myriad cold cases in recent years. Genealogist CeCe Moore would eventually identify Trent as the lone suspect in Fracassi’s murder.

Also helpful in unraveling the mystery was a public DNA database similar to popular genealogy sites like or 23andMe.

“His relatives at some point uploaded their DNA to a public DNA site called GEDMatch,” Allen, who did not work on the case, explained to Hawaii News Now. “From there, they may not even know that he did something.”

The suspect’s family said he died from congestive heart failure at the age of 48 in 2013.

After his death, Trent’s fingerprints were taken. This would later help authorities initially link him to the murder in March 2021, according to Honolulu-based Fox/CW affiliate KHON.

“When someone dies, their fingerprints are taken,” Hawaii Pacific University Professor Sheryl Sunia, a former HPD detective who was familiar with the Fracassi case, explained. “So for identification purposes, we are able to ID them through fingerprints. So if the fingerprints came back on that, then I would think in a sequence of events, they would request DNA sample to confirm.”

Local police in Honolulu are currently working on a backlog of cold cases. In 2018, the HPD launched the A’ole Poina (Never Forgotten) project in order to deal with numerous unsolved murders.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to tell the families you’re going to get closure,” Sunia continued. “We know what happened. We know who did this.”

[image via screengrab/Hawaii News Now]

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