YOKOHAMA – A former employee of a nursing care facility in Kawasaki has admitted to murdering three patients by throwing them from the building’s verandas, police said Tuesday.
Hayato Imai, 23, who was dismissed last May by his employer, S Amiyu Kawasaki Saiwai-cho, so far has been charged with one murder, that of an elderly male patient who fell to his death from a fourth-floor veranda in November 2014, according to the Kanagawa Prefectural Police.
He has admitted to that slaying as well as to throwing two women to their deaths at the facility that December, investigators said.
The male victim, Tamio Ushizawa, 87, fell to his death sometime between 11 p.m. Nov. 3 and 1:50 a.m. Nov. 4, 2014. He died of internal organ rupture.
“I did it to kill (him),” Imai was quoted as telling the police about the death of Ushizawa.
All three residents died within a relatively short space of time.
After Ushizawa’s death in November, an 86-year-old woman fell from the same veranda on Dec. 9, while a 96-year-old woman fell from a sixth-floor balcony that New Year’s Eve.
According to the police, Imai was on duty at the facility when all three died. He maintained his innocence until his arrest Monday, telling reporters he was not involved and that he was aware that he was a suspect.
Imai was arrested last May on suspicion of stealing a purse with ¥25,000 in cash from the room of a woman in her 70s at the facility the previous January.
While investigating the theft, the police began to suspect his involvement in the death of Ushizawa, investigators said.
The police admitted Tuesday their initial investigation had been lax, saying they did not conduct forensic autopsies on the three elderly residents because they did not believe at the time the deaths were linked to criminal activity.
Only after the third death were their suspicions raised, the police added.
The nursing facility, operated by an affiliate of major nursing care service provider Message Co., fired Imai shortly after his arrest on the theft charge.
It was also discovered that residents at the facility were abused following an investigation by the Kawasaki Municipal Government.
“This should never have happened and we take the matter very seriously,” Message President Toshio Sato said in a statement.
The latest news shocked neighborhood residents.
A 55-year-old man who runs a nearby business said: “Why did it take this long for police to arrest the suspect? I think other deaths could have been avoided if police acted thoroughly when the first incident occurred.”
The police admitted that they did not connect the fatal incidents at the facility until the third death was reported.
There has been an increase in recent years in cases involving abuse of the elderly by nursing home workers.
The number of confirmed cases hit a record 300 in fiscal 2014, marking the eighth straight year of increase, according to health ministry data.
The abuses are believed to be linked to the stresses that nursing home workers suffer due to increased workloads amid chronic shortages of caregivers.
The police are still trying to determine the motives in Imai’s case.