SYDNEY – Nine years ago, the naked and partially decomposed body of 29-year-old Kayo Matsuzawa was found in a locked cupboard near the stairwell of a shopping center in Auckland.
The warm and vibrant young woman from Yamagata Prefecture, who had been on a working holiday in Christchurch for just under a year, traveled to Auckland for one last sightseeing trip before returning to her country.
She was murdered on her first night in Auckland — Sept. 11, 1998. Police made the grisly discovery of her body in the cupboard 10 days later. Her killer has never been caught.
Now, however, police have revived the “cold case” of Matsuzawa’s murder to take advantage of public interest revived by a television documentary on the crime.
Earlier this month, police offered a reward of 75,000 New Zealand dollars (roughly ¥6.6 million) for any new information that leads to the arrest of Matsuzawa’s killer.
The reward and the documentary, which aired on local television this month, have prompted a flood of calls from the public with information about the murder.
The documentary’s creator, Bryan Bruce, believes Matsuzawa’s killer can be caught, and indeed, that police are closing in.
In the documentary, Bruce reveals new evidence about the murder.
“When I was making this documentary, one thing became clear to me, and that was that the killer had to have worked in the building where the body was found,” Bruce said. “To get access to the building’s cupboard, you have to have a security key.”
Working on the theory that the killer was a staff member in the building, Bruce discovered computer records were missing from the night Matsuzawa was murdered.
Less than a handful of the building’s staff had access to both the stairwell cupboard and the computer records, Bruce said.
“I think we are really close to finding out who did this. It used to be a needle in a haystack, but now suddenly the haystack has gotten really small. We have got it down to three people,” he said. “It’s no longer a cold case. It’s boiling hot. What police need is some evidence that will link one of the suspects to the crime.”
Besides appealing to the public for information, Bruce believes there is a good chance someone in Japan can help.
“I think Kayo, being the kind of person that she was, a friendly outgoing person, could have met one or a group of Japanese tourists at her hostel and spent the day sightseeing with them. I think she could have met her killer in the company of others,” he said.
“Someone, somewhere in Japan, may have a photograph of Kayo taken with the man who murdered her. They may have returned to Japan, without knowing Kayo was murdered,” Bruce said.
“I think there’s a possibility this case could be solved in Japan,” he added.
The police officer in charge of Matsuzawa’s case, Detective Senior Sgt. Simon Scott, has joined Bruce in his appeal for information from Japan.
“It may be a Japanese tourist who was staying in the Queen Street backpacker hostel had been with Kayo that night of the 11th of September, and left the next day without knowing what happened. We would be very keen to talk to anyone in those circumstances,” Scott said.
Scott, who collaborated closely with Bruce on the documentary, traveled to Japan in January to meet with Matsuzawa’s family and friends.
“Cold cases that are unsolved in New Zealand are never closed. We are always wanting new information,” he said.
“It was good for me to go to Japan and see the family. It was good for them to know that we still want to find who was responsible for Kayo’s death,” he said. “I think the family really appreciated us being there, and that Kayo wasn’t forgotten.”
Not all of Matsuzawa’s family were happy with her decision to go to New Zealand, but in the end they respected her free spirit and desire to travel, Scott said.
“By all accounts she had a great time in New Zealand, in Christchurch, for the time that she was here. It was only really that last fateful trip that led to her demise. It’s so sad,” he said.
Scott is far more circumspect than Bruce about the chances of finding Matsuzawa’s killer and bringing him to justice.
“I don’t think we can speculate to the degree that Bryan can as a documentary maker,” he said.
“Some, or all, of the documentary’s theories may be true, but we have to have the evidence to support those theories,” he said.
Although there had been suspects in the case before, including a Russian tourist, police had never had enough evidence to charge anyone with the murder, Scott said.
Many circumstances in the case have proved baffling, he said.
“It has been a very difficult case to solve,” he said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the length of time she was in the closet, and also the fact that she was alone in Auckland. We couldn’t find anyone that we could say, 100 percent, she had anything to do with on that Friday night.
“And then, she was put in that room, that cupboard. I mean, it’s such a strange place to be,” Scott said.
Solving a homicide often has as much to do with the information supplied by the public as any other factor, Scott said.
Although it is too early to say if any of the recent calls police received will result in a solid lead, Scott said the sheer number, more than 60, is promising.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the number of calls that we have had. For a murder that happened nine years ago, to get that amount of calls is very, very positive,” he said.
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