Family of Lindsay Hawker seeks closure but no breakthrough in sight

by Takaki Tominaga

Kyodo News

When English teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker was found slain in a sand-filled bathtub on the balcony of a Japanese man’s apartment in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, on March 26, 2007, life changed irrevocably for her family in Britain.

Hawker’s father, William, 55, said during a recent visit to Japan that the family receives counseling for trauma and has strong support from the community, but their lives will never be the same.

Lindsay, who was just 22 when she was murdered, was “a daughter to boast about” — beautiful, generous, lively and clever, he said.

“She had just completed her biology degree. She wanted to teach a year and come back to university and convert to medicine. She told me that she enjoyed teaching, while her dream was always to become a doctor, but . . .” His voice trembled and he broke off.

Investigators said the suspect, Tatsuya Ichihashi, attempted to befriend Hawker, who worked for Nova Corp. as an English teacher, several days before her death and pressured her into giving him private English lessons. Security cameras caught them together in a coffee shop on the day before her body was found.

When police called at his apartment on March 26, after the language school reported it had been unable to contact her, and after her roommates identified him as having stalked her, Ichihashi fled from them, managing to slip from his apartment barefoot.

Police have said in their defense that they were investigating a missing person at that point and did not expect Ichihashi had been involved in foul play and would flee.

“We are in absolute anguish that he is still on the streets and has not been caught,” Hawker’s father said, adding that the family continues to grieve for Lindsay but cannot find any closure as long as the fugitive is still at large.

The family came to Japan to mark the first anniversary of Lindsay’s murder and to seek information from the public in the hope it might lead to Ichihashi’s arrest.

Hawker’s 51-year-old mother, Julia, sisters, Louise, 21, and Lisa, 26, all wearing the same T-shirt with Ichihashi’s picture and a catchphrase “Can’t sleep till he’s caught” printed in Japanese, spent time handing out leaflets at Gyotoku Station in Chiba Prefecture and asking for support to find Ichihashi.

Asked what words she would use to describe her life since Lindsay’s death, Louise said, “emptiness, loneliness.”

“Lindsay cannot rest in peace until Ichihashi is caught,” Lisa said, describing the time since Hawker’s murder as “blurred.”

One memorable moment that greatly touched the family during their three-day stay was when they were handing out the leaflets and a little girl who said she had been a student of Lindsay at an English school walked up to them with her mother and gave William Hawker a handmade card that read, “Dear Lindsay, rest in peace.”

William hugged the girl and cried. “I feel very warm. I think it’s a credit to Japanese society that somebody so small can speak so well.”

Since last summer, Chiba police have conducted door-to-door investigations at about 7,000 sites, including restaurants and adult-entertainment areas in the forests of neon in Tokyo and its vicinity in the Kanto region.

They have also sent investigators to 20 prefectures, from Fukushima to Nagasaki, in an effort to track Ichihashi down. More than 44,000 investigators have been involved and more than 3,300 reports have been gathered.

There have been witness reports of Ichihashi from all 47 prefectures, as well as reports from other countries, including Canada and Portugal, according to police.

But there has yet to be a breakthrough in the case.

In the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, one of the areas where reported sightings of Ichihashi have been concentrated, police recently conducted intensive searches.

They asked at a members-only gay bar whether anyone had seen Ichihashi and the owner said, “I heard rumors that he is staying at (a gay bar in) Shinjuku Ward.”

Kohei Tsumura, 21, of Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, who took a leaflet from the family at Gyotoku Station, said, “His height of 180 cm would be a very distinctive trait in Japan and I wonder why he has not been caught yet.”

The family questioned how Ichihashi has managed to be on the run for such a long time and urged the public to look for those who may be supporting him.

“Look for somebody who is supporting him. In my view, anybody who is supporting is an accessory to the murder,” Hawker’s father said.

He said Lindsay had researched Japan on the Internet and it had come up as the second-safest place where she could go to teach.

“Bad people are everywhere, in New York, London, Manchester and anywhere. My daughter met evil in Japan,” he said.

The family told the media earlier in the week that they are trying to move forward but it is hard to do so with the killer still on the loose.

“Ichihashi destroyed one member of my family, but we are determined that he will not destroy the rest of us,” Julia Hawker said.