At one time there were several “Gypsy” families that made Honolulu and Hawaii their home. They ran several fortune telling spots around town, and ran the traditional gypsy scams all over. But they mostly worked around The Hotel street and Waikiki areas.
Now understand these were “real” gypsies, Romany from central Europe. They spoke their own language and all the kids were home schooled in the arts and lessons of the conman and thief.
They were pretty much broken down into three major families and each had its own area. “King John” and his family started on Hotel Street in the ‘60’s reading palms, telling fortunes with cards and such, and of course picking pockets. It wasn’t until years later that his family took over all the Gypsy camps in Honolulu and they lived and worked in Waikiki.
“John”, which I know is not even close to his real name, solidified his hold over all the Gypsy families in Hawaii by marrying his youngest daughter to the oldest son of his major rival. It was a true “shotgun” wedding in that John held a shotgun to the head of the leader of other family until he agreed and thus the marriage was made.
The wedding was held in the old Ala Moana Center ballroom and after the ceremony there were the traditional Gypsy toasts, dancing, insults and brawl. The later involved several hundred guests from both families, and 15 to 20 police officers. There were numerous cuts, abrasions, contusions, but no arrests. Just good, clean Gypsy fun.
In the later 1970’s, times turned hard for the Gypsy clans in Hawaii. There became a greater awareness of their auto repair scams, and palm reading cons due to a number of front page newspaper articles and high visibility trials.
Soon they had completely disappeared from Hotel Street, and only a few shops outside some of the military bases, and had maybe 6 locations in Waikiki they were still operating.
My foot beat partner Ray and I got to know “King” John and his wife “Stella” as we often spoke to them as we walked our beat. The apartment complex they occupied was almost dead center in our walking area and we tried to maintain a peaceful co-existence.
One night as we approached the area where they all lived, John’s wife and several “daughters” ran into the street screaming and crying out for help. We both figured it was some scam but we were wrong. When we got there we found “John” was lying on the floor clutching his chest and barely breathing. As we were moving the women out of the way, I noticed there were no men around; they probably went out the back doors as they knew Ray and I kept up on the warrants issued.
We moved the women and it was apparent “John” was having a heart attack. We started CPR on the prone “King” while radioing for an ambulance. We were there at just the right time. We continued the CPR until the ambulance and EMT’s arrived, then we had our hands full keeping the entire wailing female side of the clan from climbing into the back as the EMT’s loaded the “King”. They were determined to ride with their “King”, and probably emptying the ambulance at the same time.
“Stella” spent several minutes telling us how grateful she was and trying to hug us, all the while trying to block us so one of the “daughters” could climb in back.
“King John” did survive the attack. He had been lucky that Ray and I had been there.
The hospital was not so lucky. They finally had to post a guard on the room whenever the extended family came to visit. Even posted guards didn’t stop the family from walking out with anything and everything they could, every time they visited.
As for “John”, he recovered and when the hospital tried to send him home he actually faked another attack in an attempt to stay longer. They almost had to have him physically removed from the room.
For years after Ray and I had a sort of direct line into the Gypsy doing’s on Oahu. We became almost honorary members of “King John’s” family.
The family told us stories of Gypsy legends and history. He snitched out several of his rivals and enemies. We had no illusions that he was telling us everything and he never said anything about his “family”, but he did provide information on the others.
Once in a while he would help us recover “lost” items, for a small fee of course.
The Gypsy families finally had to leave Hawaii. I never knew what happened to “King John” or if his sons had the traditional battle over who would be the new King. I hope so; John would have wanted it that way.