• Kyodo

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A local youth on Monday brought police to the charred remains of his 16-year-old friend and told a harrowing tale of how he escaped the same fate.

Masato Takahashi, from the town of Mishima, Niigata Prefecture, was apparently set ablaze by two men who the night before had summoned him and the friend, whose name is being withheld.

The friend was barefoot and wearing clothes that were soaked and smelling of kerosene when he came looking for help, a local resident told police.

Takahashi’s body, found in the Warabino Tunnel, a highway tunnel in Muikamachi, Niigata Prefecture, had been doused with kerosene and burned beyond recognition, police said, adding they are treating the case as a homicide.

An autopsy later revealed the youth died either of shock from the burns or from suffocation after being suddenly enveloped by flames, police said, adding that it was highly likely he had burned to death.

According to police, Takahashi’s friend received a phone call from two men in their late 20s or early 30s at around 11 p.m. Sunday and was asked to meet with them in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture.

Takahashi joined them at around 5 a.m. Monday, they said.

The two men then took the two boys to the tunnel in their car, police said. They added that Takahashi’s friend said another car drove up to the scene after the first vehicle arrived.

The friend told police that he and Takahashi were assaulted by the men inside the tunnel. Police quoted the friend as saying the two men poured kerosene on Takahashi and set him on fire.

The friend, whose name was withheld, managed to escape and called the police. He told police that he knew Takahashi’s alleged killers, both of whom fled the scene.

Murder arrest looms

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Police Monday were expected to arrest a 29-year-old former coworker of a woman whose charred body was found in Eniwa, Hokkaido, in March, on suspicion of murder and dumping a body.

According to police, a passerby found the charred body of Kaori Hashimukai, 24, from Komakomai, Hokkaido, on a street in Eniwa, on the morning of March 17.

The direct cause of her death was determined to be suffocation, and police suspect Hashimukai was burned at the scene after she was murdered.

Hashimukai had been unaccounted for since she left her office in the city of Chitose, near Sapporo, on March 16.

A police investigation found Hashimukai’s vehicle in a parking lot at JR Osatsu Station in Chitose near her office.

Her cellular phone, which was found in her office locker, was used after she was murdered, they said.

Police suspected someone familiar with Hashimukai committed the slaying, and they had been investigating her close friends.

The former coworker from the town of Hayakita, Hokkaido, whose identity was withheld, was with Hashimukai when she left the office the night of her disappearance, police said.

Meanwhile, the suspect filed a civil suit with the Sapporo District Court the same day demanding 5 million yen from the Hokkaido government for the emotional suffering caused by her questioning at the hands of police.

According to the lawsuit, the woman was placed under observation by investigators for roughly a month after police decided she was a possible suspect in the case.

She was admitted to the psychiatric unit of a hospital in Sapporo after being questioned over a 14-hour period as part of voluntary questioning sessions, the lawsuit said.

The former coworker, who was discharged from the hospital Monday, maintains in the lawsuit that she suffered mental anguish from the investigation, which she said was not based on objective evidence but was merely aimed at obtaining a confession from her.