UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Pref. (Kyodo) A woman who saw a man walking with a little girl by a river around the time a 4-year-old vanished in May 1990 has recently told Kyodo News the man’s posture resembled that of someone caught on a security camera who may have been involved in the disappearance of another girl in 1996.

The witness, a 52-year-old former fine arts teacher, provided a rough sketch of the man and girl in 1990.

Kindergarten bus driver Toshikazu Sugaya was convicted of the 1990 murder of Mami Matsuda, 4, whose body was found by the Watarase River in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture. After more than 12 hours of interrogation, he confessed that he took her by bicycle to the riverside.

Although investigators looked into the teacher’s account, they ultimately focused only on Sugaya after he was arrested, apparently because what the woman saw contradicted what their suspect confessed.

“When the DNA test result (on fluids found on Matsuda’s clothes) matched that of Sugaya, everybody believed he was the culprit,” said an investigative officer in charge of the case at the time. “No one had any doubt.”

With Sugaya behind bars, police did not investigate if the man possibly involved in the 1996 disappearance may have killed Matsuda, who had disappeared from a pachinko parlor parking lot.

After spending more than 17 years in prison, Sugaya was released earlier this month after fresh DNA tests failed to match the bodily fluids found on Matsuda’s clothing. He is expected to be acquitted in a retrial.

Although the account provided by the woman may provide a link between the two disappearances, the statute of limitations in the Matsuda slaying has expired.

The other girl, Yukari Yokoyama, 4, disappeared July 7, 1996, also from a pachinko parlor, but in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, which is adjacent to Tochigi.

The video footage from the security camera showed a man wandering around the parlor for about 15 minutes without playing pachinko.

The footage, which was been aired on TV, shows a man around 158 cm tall wearing a black cap and sunglass.

Local police are still trying to locate the man as a material witness, as Yokoyama’s case remains unsolved, as it now appears Matsuda’s does as well.

The witness said the man she saw walking along the Watarase River with a girl at the time Matsuda disappeared and the man the police are trying to locate in connection with the 1996 case resembled each other in posture and walking style.

The teacher told police that a man aged between 35 and 45 and about 165 cm tall was walking with a girl wearing a red dress. Matsuda was wearing a red dress the day she disappeared.

“It may be possible that the same person was involved in both cases,” said Yokoyama’s father, Yasuo. “But I don’t want to think about it because it means Yukari may be dead.”

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