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Witness found woman’s purse the day after she went missing

Moreira Monsalve’s belongings were found in a Wailuku dumpster

Richard “Rusty” Cambra identifies a pink Coach purse he found in a Dumpster at Papohaku Park in Wailuku the evening of Jan. 13, 2014. The purse was identified as belonging to Moreira “Mo” Monsalve, who was last seen the night before. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photos

WAILUKU — A man was looking for recyclables in a dumpster in Wailuku when he found a pink Coach purse that was later identified as belonging to a missing woman.

Testifying Thursday in the 2nd Circuit Court murder trial of Bernard Brown, Richard “Rusty” Cambra said he didn’t find any recyclables but found the purse when he searched the dumpster at Papohaku Park at 6:30 or 7 p.m. Jan. 13, 2014.

The dumpster is within 100 yards of Brown’s apartment at Iao Parkside, where his ex-girlfriend Moreira “Mo” Monsalve was last seen the night of Jan. 12, 2014, Deputy Prosecutor J.W. Hupp said in his opening statement to jurors.

Brown, 51, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder of Monsalve, a 46-year-old mother of three.

Cambra said he climbed out of the dumpster, which was half full on one side, after “maybe three minutes,” only to discover that someone had taken his bicycle.

Murder suspect Bernard Brown (left) listens to testimony Thursday in his 2nd Circuit Court murder trial. With him is his attorney, Randall Hironaka.

“I was kind of mad,” said Cambra, who never got back the bike that he used for his daily route to look for recyclables in the Wailuku area.

He said he didn’t look in the purse before giving it to Brenda Vigil, who also was staying at a homeless encampment on the beach near the Y Hata building in Wailuku.

While Cambra said he gave her the purse that night, Vigil testified it was the next morning. In a matching wallet in the purse, she said she found a Hawaii driver’s license and five to eight cards.

Although she had known Monsalve since the 1980s, Vigil said she last saw Monsalve about five and a half years earlier and didn’t recognize her from her driver’s license photo.

After getting a call from a friend who said Monsalve was missing, the friend picked Vigil up the next day to help put up flyers in Wailuku.

“We just made it down the road, probably to the next turn,” Vigil said, when she read on the flyer that Monsalve was last seen with a pink Coach purse.

“I just knew right away it was her bag,” Vigil said. “I just started crying and I told Sue, ‘This is her bag.’ “

Susan Riley Manini, who lived in Kihei at the time, recalled being in her vehicle with Vigil and telling her that Monsalve was last seen wearing a black-and-white shirt and black shorts and had a pink Coach purse with a matching wallet.

“She started to cry,” Manini said. “I asked her not to cry, I needed help, not crying.

“She picked the purse up off the floor inside my car and said, ‘I think this is her purse.’ It was a pink Coach bag.”

Manini asked where Vigil got the bag and they went back to the Y Hata area to look for Cambra. Manini said she asked Cambra to get in her car and direct her to the dumpster. She took a photo of the purse and texted it to Monsalve’s daughter, Alexis Felicilda, who was in an area with bad cellphone reception and gave her another phone number, Manini said.

She said a woman showed up at Papohaku Park and identified the purse as Monsalve’s. Then Manini called police.

Vigil said she had cleaned the purse and passed the cards to her friend Mitchell to throw in the trash at a gas station before she realized it was Monsalve’s purse.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Randall Hironaka, Vigil acknowledged that she told police she dumped the contents of the purse in a trash can at a park bathroom where she cleaned the purse.

She said she had kept the license because she had thought she should put it in a mailbox before ending up throwing it in the trash.

Vigil said her friend Mitchell wanted the cards from the wallet. “I said, ‘Here, throw them away. You’re not taking them, don’t be using them.”

She said she didn’t know if they were credit cards.

In the morning before she picked up Vigil to put up flyers, Manini said she called Monsalve’s daughter to get Brown’s apartment number and went there before dropping off her 6-year-old granddaughter at school.

Manini said she was with her husband and his co-worker, who went to the door of the apartment and asked if it was Bernard Brown.

“He said yes and he opened the screen door,” Manini said. “He looked at me and my husband and then he jumped back and locked the screen door and picked up the phone to call police.”

Vigil said she told Brown: “What’s the matter, Bernard? Don’t you want to come with us to look for Moreira? Why aren’t you coming to look for Moreira?”

She said no one threatened Brown.

Sgt. Michael Vaituulala, who was working as a patrol officer in Wailuku at the time, said he responded to the harassment complaint by Brown on Jan. 15, 2014. Brown said Manini and her husband had approached him in front of his residence and “yelled out, ‘You’re going to end up missing.’ “

Brown reported he was alarmed by their actions, Vaituulala said.

He said Brown was wearing a red tank top and had multiple scratch marks from his inner biceps to his forearms on both arms. The marks were scabbed over, Vaituulala said.

“It looked like fingernail scratches to me,” he said. “I’m not an expert.”

Asked why he didn’t take photos of the scratch marks, Vaituulala said he knew detectives had already talked to Brown and thought they had seen the marks.

Debra Naeole, a RT’s Service recovery agent, said Brown’s black 2007 Dodge Nitro was repossessed and towed from Iao Parkside on Jan. 28, 2014, after no one answered the door at his apartment.

“It was spotless,” she said, in comparison to “filthy, dirty” vehicles filled with rubbish that are often repossessed.

“It was clean,” she said. “I mean showroom drive-off-the-lot clean, meaning it was detailed.”

Judge Peter Cahill is presiding over the jury trial, which is scheduled to resume Monday.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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