YAMAGUCHI – Police have launched a search for a 63-year-old man from Shunan, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in connection with five apparent slayings and two suspicious fires, officials said Tuesday.
Three bodies were found Sunday in two homes gutted by separate fires in Shunan, a mountain hamlet about 16 km from JR Tokuyama Station. Two more corpses were found in nearby houses the following day.
The hamlet consists only of a temple, a community center and about 10 households,
On Sunday night, police found the bodies of Makoto Sadamori, 71, and his wife, Kiyoko, 72, in their home, which had caught fire at around 9 p.m. Their estimated time of death was around 8:50 p.m.
About 80 meters away, police found a corpse believed to be that of Miyako Yamamoto, 79, whose house started to burn around the same time as the Sadamori home.
On Monday, police found the bodies of Satoko Kawamura, 73, and Fumito Ishimura, 80, in their homes.
Autopsies showed that all five suffered skull fractures, suggesting they had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument.
“All of the victims must have been asleep when they were fatally attacked,” criminologist Jinsuke Kageyama said. “Even elderly people resist. It would have been difficult to strike them repeatedly only on the head.”
The police said they had not found a possible weapon.
Investigators Tuesday were examining the four houses. They suspect the two houses that burned down Sunday were torched soon after their occupants were slain. There were no signs suggesting they had tried to escape from the fires, sources said.
Police officers went Sunday night to the home of the 63-year-old man living next door to Yamamoto. He was not there, though two cars were still in his garage. It was not clear whether he owns any other vehicles.
The man, whose name was not released, still had not been located as of Tuesday evening, and the police said they were searching the nearby woods because he could still be in the area.
Inside a window near his front door, the police found a message written in the form of a haiku.
Haiku are usually composed of a three-line verse of 17 syllables in a five-seven-five arrangement. They customarily evoke natural phenomena, frequently as a metaphor for human emotions.
The poem read “Tsukebishite kemuri yorokobu inakamono,” which translates as: “Setting on fire, smoke gives delight, to a country fellow.”
One of his neighbors said the haiku had been there for some time.
According to nearby residents, the man did not interact very much with the other people in the small community.
They said he had previously left the hamlet to live in Kawasaki for some time. After he returned, he would not exchange courtesies and refused to help circulate “kairanban” civic notices around the neighborhood, according to locals.
Some said he had trouble with neighbors over his pet dog.
Kawamura, whose body was found Monday, reportedly told acquaintances that when a dog approached her and she shied clear, the man frightened her by shouting, “Are you going to batter him to death?”
A 58-year-old man from the neighborhood recalled that he had drinks with the suspect about 10 years ago. “He was a tall man, and we had laughs while talking about old times. I think he used to work as a plasterer,” he said.
Kawamura’s home suffered a small fire about five years ago, neighbors said. The police also said that a local house burned down in March 2011 and that they looking into these cases to see if there are any connections with Sunday’s fires.