National / Crime & Legal

Suspect in Osaka murder may have sent messages from victim's phone: sources

Kyodo

The man arrested on suspicion of abandoning the body of a 13-year-old girl from Osaka Prefecture may have used the victim’s Line smartphone app to send messages to her friend after kidnapping her, investigative sources said Tuesday.

The sources also said a small amount of blood was found in a car owned by the 45-year-old suspect, Koji Yamada, who was arrested Friday on suspicion of abandoning the body of Natsumi Hirata from Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture.

Police are conducting a DNA test in the hopes of determining whose blood it was, suspecting that Yamada might have used the car to transport Hirata’s body.

She was found dead on Aug. 13 in a parking lot in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture.

Yamada, a resident of Neyagawa in Osaka who was a nuclear radiation decontamination worker in Fukushima Prefecture until recently, is also suspected of dumping the body of Hirata’s 12-year-old male friend, Ryoto Hoshino, who was found dead on Friday in a mountainous area of Kashiwara, also in Osaka.

The suspect has remained silent about the charge, police said.

The bodies of the girl and boy, who attended the same junior high school in Neyagawa, were found with their faces wrapped in adhesive tape. The two were last seen alive on security camera footage from a local shopping arcade early on Aug. 13.

Police believe that the two were abducted sometime around 5:10 a.m. on Aug. 13. But messages from Hirata’s Line account were sent to a friend after that time, with the last one being sent at 6:47 a.m. that day.

According to the friend, the last messages said: “I’m not going back to Neyagawa” and “I’m not contacting my parents either,” the tone of which was different from what Hirata would usually write.

Police suspect that Yamada used Hirata’s smartphone to send the messages.

The girl had her hands tied behind her back, and there were more than 30 lacerations on her body as well as marks around her neck indicating she may have been strangled.

The boy had been covered with grass, apparently in an attempt to conceal his body. He is also believed to have died around Aug. 13. The cause of his death remains unknown.

Police have found that Yamada purchased adhesive tape at a convenience store in Kashiwara at around 12:40 p.m. on the day the girl’s body was found.

Soon after purchasing the tape, a gray minivan, believed to be Yamada’s, drove toward the mountainous area where the body of the boy was found. The car later returned, according to footage from a roadside security camera.

Police found Yamada’s car in Osaka city’s Kita Ward early last Friday, and followed the vehicle until 8:22 p.m. that day, when the suspect was arrested in the car while waiting at traffic lights.

While he was being followed, Yamada stopped by the mountainous area, where the police found the boy’s body.

An autopsy determined the girl died of suffocation at around 7 p.m. on Aug. 13. At around 10:25 p.m. that day, Yamada was seen wearing gloves and fueling his minivan at a gas station in Hirakata, near the parking lot where Hirata’s body was found, according to security camera footage.

It was about 10 minutes before another security camera captured the entry of a suspicious car into the parking lot of a distribution company.

So far, Yamada’s fingerprints have not been found on the girl’s clothing or the adhesive tape used on her.

Police suspect the girl was killed elsewhere and taken to the parking lot, as little blood was found there.

Yamada was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of confinement and robbery, after luring a junior high school boy into his car in Neyagawa and robbing him of cash and a mobile phone.