Real Life Tale: Maui Shark Attack Or Murder?

Move over, Agatha Christie. Here’s a new whodunit for the books. One of our subscribers, John W., read last week’s report of a shark attack death which had been questioned in social media following a misleading statement from the state. It reminded John of the nightmare death of a woman kayaking with her husband in Hawaii over 20 years ago. As you read about what happened, you’ll find it to be an unforgettable and somewhat convoluted story of a kayaking death that, to this day, defies explanation. If you are an amateur sleuth, maybe you can piece the clues together and solve this mystery.

Here are some key facts and questions: Could the shark be the scapegoat goat and accused unfairly? Some thought it should be hunted and killed. The husband made it to Kahoolawe, some 12 miles from Maui, where he summoned help. His wife, according to him, was attacked by a shark. Her life jacket was recovered, left unbuckled (if so, by the shark?), and there were no signs of blood. Maui PD found that “No trace of blood was found on the kayak by a chemical examination.” No charges were filed, and her death is still considered a missing person’s case. They added that it was “kind of unusual” under the circumstances of an arm being completely bitten off not to find chemical traces of blood. Now read on for more details, and let us know your thoughts.

It started with the death of a newlywed bride in the crystal clear waters off the coast of Maui.

Her husband said that she bled to death when a shark bit off her arm. There were no eyewitnesses to the shark attack, and her body was never found. During a trial that was only partially related to her death, conflicting information was presented regarding what actually happened.

The woman’s husband told the story of their kayak stuck in overpowering trade winds far from shore. At the time of the incident, Maui Police Department said there was no reason to doubt the man’s story, although it didn’t end there.

The man, Manouchehr Monazzami-Taghadomi, now 52, had lived in California for two decades when he met a then 29-year-old gynecologist, Iranian-born Nahid, who he asked to marry him two years before her death. They were married in Iran and later returned to the US, where the man was a naturalized citizen. Following her immigration, they booked a honeymoon trip to a place he’d frequented, Lahaina.

On March 18, 1999, the couple decided to try kayaking for the first time. They rented a plastic shell kayak with surface-mounted seats (rather than an interior). This type of kayak can be challenging to keep from tipping in rough water.

They headed out near Lahaina that fateful day, around noon, in good weather. The husband reported they had two paddle outs, a brief one and a slightly longer one, which took 3 hours in total. However, it was on their third trip late in the day when things went awry.

He said that at her request, although he was already tired from the prior two outings, they went into the ocean again at about four that afternoon, and the water on entering was still calm.

But further offshore, there was a small craft advisory for boaters. The man said that significant winds “came out of nowhere” and drove them further from the Maui coastline. Fearing the worst, he said that they knew they were in trouble and waived their paddles and screamed but to no avail.

He reported that the kayak frequently capsized, and the water was at the same temperature as the air. Feeling warmer in the water, they decided to stay there. He said, “I was shivering and cold, and my wife begged me to come in the water, so I went in, and every wave that washed over us just felt so good.”

The man said that while he was worried about sharks, his wife was more concerned about cold than about being attacked.

Moments later, he said, it was Davoodabai who cried out, “Shark!” after which she was pulled under.

When she resurfaced, her arm was missing at the shoulder, and she was bleeding so profusely that he couldn’t stop it, although he said he tried doing so using his bathing suit string.

He claims that about thirty minutes later, she stopped screaming and was dead. He said the kayak capsized again, and he lost her body into the ocean.

When he woke up, he hit a rocky shore at nearby Kahoolawe, some 12 miles from Maui.

It took several days, but he eventually found a bunker that miraculously contained a telephone with which he could dial 911.

State DLNR was summoned and reported, “When we found him, he was totally dehydrated and in shock.” His kayak was found on the beach the next day and had no damage other than scratches and rock dents. Several days later, Maui Police found a blue life jacket “similar to the one reportedly worn by Davoodabai.”

At the time, Maui police said they were examing the life vest to determine if it had any signs of a shark attack or blood. And while MPD said there was initially no reason to doubt the husband’s story, much more information would come out. In the end, no traces of blood were found anywhere.

The kayak was rented from Extreme Sports Maui. The company stated, “We tell everybody to stay inside the wind line and within the sheltered areas. And Mr. Monazzami was told all this.” In addition, the company stated, “Mr. Monazzami signed a rental agreement explaining the dangers in detail associated with strong wind and surf conditions related to water activities on the island of Maui.”

The case took unexpected turns.

Two years later, in 2001, a judge issued a death certificate. The judge said he was convinced that the woman died at sea following the shark attack. The husband sued the kayak company claiming they had failed to warn them of the small craft advisory in effect.  Also, at the time, police were awaiting analysis of human hair found in a tiger shark’s stomach off nearby Molokai, the result of which was never publicized.

In 2003, Extreme Sports was found not guilty. And more information was revealed.

Two years more went by until Extreme Sports Hawaii was found not negligent in a jury trial. Initially, the plaintiff sought $6 million in damages, which was later reduced to $2 million.

Moreover, it came to light that there were inconsistencies in facts associated with the husband’s version of what happened. The jury, however, did not go further in the investigation of those issues and merely found the kayak company to be not negligent.

Life vest buckles were all open when the device was found.

Maui police department retrieved the kayak, paddles, and the life vest that the kayak company said was the same brand they used. The vest had no shark bites or tears and was found with all three front buckles open. Also, the husband claimed that there was only one paddle and the other one had been lost during the night the attack took place. The police, however, found both paddles, with one of them leaning on nearby rocks.

Maui police classified the case as one of missing persons because the body was not found.

Moreover, both the husband and the deceased’s parents sued the US Coast Guard, alleging they were negligent due to not seeking additional help in the search for the missing pair. The U.S. District Court, however, ruled in favor of the government due to the statute of limitations.




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8 thoughts on “Real Life Tale: Maui Shark Attack Or Murder?”

  1. This current December supposed shark attack still really bothers me and I was in Maui at the time for a few months but this never made sense. I know I’d love to see that snorkel. She’d have Bitten deep into it. Where did her body go? A piece of her bathing suit was all that was found? I could go on and on but seems like a dateline upcoming story to me.

  2. Wasn’t this latest “story” just off of Keawakapu? I lived right around the corner from there for a couple of years. It seemed strange to me that a shark would come in that close in that area. No I’m not a water person(hangs head in shame)and yes, the planet is changing so fast now(sad). But….feel free to correct me if needed!

  3. A bit like the snorklers in Hawaii where the wife has conveniently gone missing supposedly in the jaws of a shark. They entered the water knowing a shark was present.
    He went back to his accommodation before calling 911 some time later.
    A recent, real case!

  4. Thanks for the many details of this story, which I had briefly written to you about a few days ago. I had just moved to Maui (Spring, 1999), when this happened, and had thought at the time, that this story sounded slightly fishy, and as a Physician myself, it’s always sad when a young member of our profession dies so tragically.

  5. Several years ago, our mail carrier was thought drowned or eaten by sharks off of Running Waters Beach near Lihue.
    Hundreds of people looked for him for 3 days and never found. His lunch bucket and drinking bottle was found on the beach.
    A few years later he turned up in Las Vegas doing well.

  6. I remember this case and the speculation-I am also aware of the sudden gale force winds along the south shore of Maui-isn’t this where Edie Akau was lost at sea?
    There was and continues to be racial profiling related to this case
    Because of my understanding of the sudden unpredictable weather in Hawaii/Maui,I believe this man’s tragedy-it’s unfortunate that the Coast Guard,Kayak company and other agencies were dragged into a lawsuit

  7. Guys, I think you are great but this – not so much. Why would you bring that up now. It was the police, etc that created all the controversy and had everyone thinking the recent shark episode was not real. I feel so bad for that husband and family…everything thinking they had some dark part of her disappearance when there were many witnesses. Please remove this story and let this family be at peace to grieve.
    Ane T

  8. I love you guys but, wot, short on material today? I am a retired criminal defense attorney who has lived on Maui a long time. I am amazed what people believe despite an absence of solid evidence. Remember, there was no attempt at prosecution in the 20 year old case. Just cuz a story sounds “fishy” doesn’t mean a crime was committed. But hmm, husbands seem to survive

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