After two years and seven months on the run, it was murder suspect Tatsuya Ichihashi’s repeated bids for cosmetic surgery that finally got the police on his trail after many previous failed attempts.
Ichihashi, 30, suspected of slaying Briton Lindsay Ann Hawker in 2007 in Chiba Prefecture, finally left a trail when he appeared at a clinic in Nagoya for plastic surgery in late October. Later, it was revealed that he had attempted to have another operation in a hospital in Fukuoka Prefecture.
With the photograph of his new altered face — double-fold eyelids, a higher nose bridge and thinner lips — taken by the Nagoya clinic released last week, people around him began to notice him.
Immediately after the picture hit TV screens and appeared in newspapers, a construction company in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, reported to police that a man who resembling Ichihashi had been working there until Oct. 11.
In addition, it was the quick thinking of ferry terminal officials in Kobe and Osaka that led to the arrest of Ichihashi on Tuesday.
Ichihashi’s game was finally up when an employee of a ferry operator in the city of Osaka contacted the police Tuesday evening saying someone who looked like Ichihashi after surgery was waiting for a boat to Okinawa.
According to A’Line Ferry Co., the alarm had first been raised when Ichihashi turned up at the ferry terminal in Kobe wearing a gray knit hat and sunglasses.
Fugitive’s flight after Briton’s slaying
March 26, 2007 — The body of English-language teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, is found on the balcony of Tatsuya Ichihashi’s apartment in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. Ichihashi flees when police officers show up to question him.
March 27 — The Chiba Prefectural Police put Ichihashi on the wanted list on suspicion of abandoning Hawker’s body.
May 7 — The police release images of Ichihashi recorded on a security camera in hopes it will help locate him.
June 27 — Hawker’s father, Bill, and two other family members come to Japan and are briefed by police about their investigation.
June 29 — The National Police Agency sets a ¥1 million reward for information leading to Ichihashi’s arrest.
March 13, 2008 — The Chiba police release posters and fliers with images of Ichihashi dressed as a woman and in other disguises to solicit information from the public.
Aug. 19 — Ichihashi starts working at a construction company in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture.
June 2009 — The NPA raises the reward to ¥10 million.
Oct. 11 — Ichihashi disappears from the construction company.
Oct. 13 — He attempts to undergo plastic surgery at a clinic in the city of Fukuoka.
Oct. 24 — He gets a nose job at a clinic in Nagoya.
Tuesday — Police arrest Ichihashi in the city of Osaka.
The suspect had got out of a taxi and asked if there was a boat to Okinawa. An employee, who informed Ichihashi that ferries to Okinawa leave from Osaka, became suspicious when he noticed the surgery mark on his nose and immediately contacted the Osaka ferry terminal.
This prompted employees at the terminal in Suminoe Ward, Osaka, to keep a lookout, and they discovered a man who looked like Ichihashi sitting and reading a book in the waiting room at around 5:30 p.m.
They decided to wait until boarding time to check his identity, but when the man did not appear, they returned to the waiting room around 6:30 p.m. to find him apparently asleep. Their suspicions heightened, they contacted police at 6:44 p.m. Ichihashi was arrested after a fingerprint check confirmed his identity.
From the calls made to police since the photograph was released, it became evident that Ichihashi had been living and working in Osaka for over a year until October under the alias Kosuke Inoue before briefly moving to the city of Fukuoka.
Meanwhile, previous police attempts to catch the suspect by circulating photographs had reaped no leads.
After Ichihashi escaped police in March 2007, Chiba police issued an arrest warrant and distributed pictures of him captured on a security camera in an elevator taking out garbage from his apartment.
In March last year, they circulated posters and leaflets of pictures of how he would look wearing a wig and dressed up as a woman, but to no avail.
In a desperate attempt to seize him, Chiba police distributed many wanted posters and offered a whopping ¥10 million reward for information.
Ichihashi faces an initial charge of abandoning the body of language school teacher Hawker, 22, at his apartment in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. But the Chiba Prefectural Police, who are now holding him at Gyotoku Police Station, are expected to press for murder charges.
Ichihashi escaped from police officers when they called at his apartment in March 2007 and then found Hawker’s body inside a sand-filled bathtub on the balcony.
As he had left evidence by dropping his shoes and socks, and appeared not to have much money, Chiba police speculated he would be captured when he ran out of cash.