What happened to Kevin Winters? He made an ATM deposit in Kahana and vanished
January 31, 2022, 9:44 AM HST
* Updated February 2, 6:29 AM
On Sept. 3, 2021, Maui resident Kevin Winters deposited a check from his mother at the First Hawaiian Bank ATM in Kahana at about 6:45 in the morning, and then disappeared without a trace.
“He can’t just fall off the face of the earth,” said his sister Karen Hopp. “Somebody has to know something.”
She has been spearheading the family effort to find her 51-year-old brother from 4,000 miles away in Michigan.
“The not-knowing where Kevin is or what happened to him has been devastating to our entire family, especially our parents,” Hopp said.
The latest post on the Find Kevin Winters Facebook page has a picture of their parents, Donald and Maxine Winters, with their young grandson. “My [81-year-old] dad survived open heart surgery last year with a double bypass by grace of God and now this,” Hopp wrote. “They can’t sleep at night worrying about their son and if he is still alive.”
Winters always has been a free spirit. In 2007, he moved from Michigan to Maui on a lark, with just a single bag. He never left, falling in love with the island and cobbling together a living he enjoyed with jobs that included trading labor for a place to stay at the North Shore Hostel in downtown Wailuku.
At the time he disappeared, he was single; and he has no family on Maui. But he faithfully called his 75-year-old mother who has health issues nearly every day. Those regular calls abruptly ended Sept. 2.
The family on the mainland became increasingly concerned as the days without word from Winters turned into two weeks. On Sept. 19, they called the Maui Police Department to report him missing.
The case was assigned to Detective John Surina. He said he checked with commercial airlines servicing Maui. None had a record of Winters as a passenger.
“There is no evidence he left the island,” Det. Surina said.
The investigation led to this timeline of Winters’ disappearance.
On Sept. 1, he moved out of the North Shore Hostel, a place he lived and worked for most of the past 13 years. Det. Surina said he was told by the new hostel management that in late August Winters was caught stealing a cell phone left by a co-worker in a common area. He was fired, but given about a week to leave.
“In the past, Kevin might rummage in the fridge after a few drinks and steal people’s food, but to take a phone is out of character,” said Garrett Lueck, who met Winters in 2008 when he worked the front desk of the hostel and Winters was hired as a housekeeper. They have been friends ever since.
Hopp said she was told there was video of her brother taking the phone, but nobody could provide it to her. Det. Surina said Winters does not have a criminal record on Maui.
Winters leaving the hostel is the last verified evidence of anyone speaking with him, Det. Surina said.
It is unknown where he spent the night of Sept. 1. It is possible he slept in a 350-foot storage garage just blocks from the hostel. He had been using it for years to store a 1994 purple Jeep and other belongings. It also has a couch, where he has slept before.
On Sept. 2, bank records showed he spent $27 at Maui Brewing Company in Kahana around dinnertime. Later in the evening, around 9:45 p.m., he deposited another check from his mother for $40 into the nearby First Hawaiian Bank ATM. His mother had routinely been sending him about $200 per month for years, Hopp said.
In both surveillance photos of Winters depositing money at the ATM, he is wearing the same attire: a long-sleeve white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, black jeans and black shoes.
Where he spent the night of Sept. 2 also is unknown. Kahana is about 28 miles from Winters’ garage in Wailuku. While Winters owns a Jeep, it was not working. Friends say he travelled around the island primarily by public bus.
When he went missing, Winters’ bank account had a balance of about $1,100, and there has been no activity on it since that Sept. 3 deposit, according to Hopp. Hostel workers said he never picked up his last paycheck.
Det. Surina said Saturday: “At this time, there is no foul play suspected.”
But he said he can’t rule it out.
Winters is 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, with brown hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks. He cares about his appearance, usually wearing Tommy Bahama or other collared shirts, black or blue jeans, and nice board shorts when at the beach.
Family, friends and former co-workers say Winters is kind-hearted, friendly and has no known enemies.
The word “sweet” comes up often while describing him. Friends say he loves to go to the beach and to drink, especially Big Swell beer and cranberry and vodka cocktails, but does not do drugs – “not even weed” – or smoke, except for the occasional cigar.
Winters is mechanical, with a nickname Big Rev Kev from his days driving a truck in Michigan.
Upon learning Winters was missing, longtime friend Lueck said he searched for him at all their “normal hangouts.”
“I went to Kahale’s and Dog and Duck in Kīhei, Hang Loose in Kahului, the Ale House, the Wai Bar, both Maui Brewing Companies, Dolly’s and the Beach House, Cool Cats and Down the Hatch,” Lueck said. “Kevin definitely likes to drink. Oh, and Pint and Cork in Wailea. I’ve seen him make some long hauls.”
Lueck said he learned nothing at the hangouts. Hang Loose co-owner Joe Molina, and his wife Patricia, held a small search for him in September, also came up empty.
Patricia Molina said Winters came into their bar often, including with a girlfriend he dated for years. She said: “He was always happy. ‘Can I buy you a beer?’ Super nice guy.”
When asked if a hike-turned-tragic scenario was a possibility, Lueck said Winters never hiked. A dirt bike accident left him with one leg shorter than the other. Most of the time, Winters wears black shoes with a special lift in one of them to ease the pain to his hip. He appeared to be wearing those black shoes on the day he went missing.
After the missing person report was filed in September, Hopp immediately called the hospital and morgue on Maui.
“I know that sounds morbid, but I really fear something bad happened to him,” she said.
She also called the hostel and tracked down his friends on the island. She has made numerous calls to Det. Surina. And she is working with Maui missing person advocate Kimberlyn Scott.
Winters is one of 44 active missing persons cases within Maui County, according to the MPD Criminal Investigation Division. He is listed on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as case #MP85886.
Hopp was getting nowhere finding Winters from Michigan. “Det. Surina repeatedly told me I needed to come to Maui to shake the trees,” she said.
So in November Hopp did, with her husband Mike, after raising the money for the costly trip through GoFundMe.
Hopp was frustrated nobody with the police department would meet with her during the week she was on Maui. Det. Surina said he could not because he came in contact with someone with COVID-19 and had to quarantine.
Maui Police Department spokeswoman Alana K Pico said by email: “When Ms. Hopp was on island, Det. Surina was in quarantine, and therefore unable to meet in person at that time. He did speak to her over the phone informing her of this. Unfortunately, when she showed up unannounced to the station, no one was available to meet with her.”
It was Hopp and her husband’s first trip without their three kids since their honeymoon two decades earlier. They spent almost every waking hour shaking trees.
They talked in person with his friends and co-workers; visited the hostel; tracked down people to question at his known haunts around the island; and went down several rabbit holes that people suggested, including trying to find a place at Thousand Peaks where someone thought he was sleeping at night.
They hung up missing person flyers at places that didn’t already have them.
At the hostel, Hopp soaked in the atmosphere where her brother spent much of his time on Maui. She also tried to get answers about his dismissal.
The owners were not there. Darren Knauss, who worked at the front desk, did not know what occurred but said: “Kevin doesn’t have any enemies. We all don’t know what could have happened to him. But we hope you find him.”
The Hopps also scoured Winters’ storage garage for clues. Someone had broken the lock and ransacked the contents, but evidence of Winters’ life was still there, including his Jeep that he likes to tinker on, an LED TV, clothes and other belongings.
Hopp cried when she saw a dish cloth. “My mom made that for Kevin.” She picked it up, adding: “I’m also looking for anything sentimental.”
Hopp found a bank account statement that showed her brother had $7,917.60 in his account in mid 2020. It had several thousand less when he went missing. It is not known what he did with the money.
“But if he wanted to disappear on his own, why would he not drain his account or pick up his last check from the hostel?” Hopp said. “It doesn’t make sense. And he would never stop calling our mom.”
She returned to Michigan with a better understanding of her brother’s life, but no closer to knowing what happened to him.
Hopp has kept a large notebook with notes, names and numbers from her own exhaustive investigation. It is filled with one dead end after another. But she keeps trying, with help from her husband and her brother Kurt.
She continues to push for her brother’s phone records, to see who he talked to in the days before he went missing. She was told that the last ping of his phone was around 11 a.m on Sept. 3, in the Kā’anapali area.
Det. Surina said the primary sources haven’t “bore any fruit so far,” but “there are secondary and third and fourth” sources to check. “We are going to go back to some of the phone records and other numbers and try to figure out what else can be done.”
Hopp continues to post on the Find Kevin Winters Facebook page, trying to let people know that her brother was loved, and has parents and family who deeply care about him and are in deep pain not knowing where he is or if he is still alive. She doesn’t want Kevin to be forgotten.
Kevin was the second of the Winters’ four children. His family has increased the reward to $2,000 for information leading to his location.
Hopp recently learned about the Maui Bulletin Board Facebook page and posted a picture of her brother’s one-way ticket to Maui on United Airlines on Oct. 14, 2007. His seat was 14C. She framed the ticket with some tiny coral rocks from the island as a gift for her mother.
“Wow. I couldn’t believe it when I found the ticket in the storage garage,” Hopp said. “Kevin kept everything.”
Finding the ticket caused Hopp to cry again, conjuring up the memory of the last time she saw her brother. It was at the now-closed Amtrak station in Grand Rapids, MI.
“We dropped him off there, so he could take a train to Chicago and then a bus to the airport,” she said. “I just remember giving him a hug and saying goodbye. When my husband and I got home, I said we would probably see Kevin back in Michigan in a month.”
Winters had left with only one bag. The family thought he would never make it on Maui, one of the most expensive places to live.
“But he loved it there,” said Hopp, who talked with her brother by phone a couple times each year.
“When I was on Maui, I could see why. It was pretty surreal walking in his footsteps. I was a little bitter he would not let us bring him back home, but I could see why he wouldn’t want to leave.”
She made arrangements to have her brother’s Jeep shipped to Michigan.
“It will be waiting for him,” she said. “We are not giving up hope.”
Anyone with information on Winters’ whereabouts is asked to call the Maui Police Department’s non-emergency number at 808-244-6400; or if it’s an emergency, dial 9-1-1, and refer to MPD report #21-031489. Or you can contact Karen Hopp at 616-403-4552.