National / Crime & Legal

Osaka murder suspect has history of similar crimes

Kyodo

With the investigation into the murder of two teenagers from Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, apparently making little headway, police are looking into links with that case and similar crimes the suspect was convicted of more than a decade ago.

Koji Yamada, 45, was arrested Aug. 21 on suspicion of abandoning the body of 13-year-old Natsumi Hirata, which was found Aug. 13 with more than 30 cuts and stab wounds.

Yamada was convicted of and served time for robbing and confining a total of seven junior high school male students in 2002.

When Yamada approached at least one of his victims in March 2002, he said: “Can you tell me how to get to the station? Why don’t you get (into the car) and show me on the map?”

In that instance, the victim, a boy in his second year of junior high school, was walking down a street late at night in Neyagawa, just like Hirata and her friend Ryoto Hoshino, who was found dead Aug. 21.

In the March 2002 incident, when the boy stepped into the car, Yamada’s attitude drastically changed.

“I’m a cop. I’m going to check your belongings,” he said as he bound the boy’s wrists with handcuffs. While holding his victim at knife point, Yamada wrapped adhesive tape around the boy’s wrists and blindfolded him.

Yamada then stole ¥1,500 in cash and a cellphone before releasing him about 50 minutes later.

According to both the defense and the prosecution in Yamada’s 2002 case, he was involved in six similar incidents that February and March. The court handed down a 12-year prison term for robbery and confinement of seven victims. The ruling was later finalized and he subsequently served time behind bars.

In a letter Yamada wrote to one of the victims in December 2002, before the ruling was handed down, he said: “I regret what I have done so much that I can’t sleep at night. I spend every day contemplating on how I could take responsibility for leaving you with a long-lasting emotional trauma.”

His handwriting was so angular that it looked as if he had used a ruler.

Hirata, who was found dead in a parking lot in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, on Aug. 13, and her classmate Hoshino, 12, are also believed have been lured into Yamada’s car.

The latest case is similar to those in 2002 in that the victims’ wrists and faces were bound with duct tape.

But unlike in the 2002 case, the lives of Hirata and Hoshino were not spared.

After Yamada was released from prison last fall, he was employed to decontaminate radioactive ground alongside a highway in Fukushima Prefecture’s no-go zone in the town of Kawamata, not far from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Yamada would work every day for about 10 hours from early morning, cutting grass and digging up soil “diligently, in silence,” according to a former colleague.

He wrote on Facebook about parties with his friends and visits to Kyoto, but in reality he might have been frustrated with the reality of his life.

In June, Yamada was involved in a traffic accident in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, and was fired for bringing a woman to spend the night with him in accommodations for decontamination workers.

Although aspects of his background are beginning to come to light, investigators are having a hard time making any headway.

What puzzles the police the most was why Yamada apparently stabbed Hirata so many times.

Investigators hope to get a confession out of him, but he doesn’t appear to be cooperating so far.

During interrogation soon after being arrested, Yamada reportedly admitted he called to a girl he did not know and lured her into his car.

But since then he has remained silent, looking only at the floor. He has even stopped responding to small talk during the recorded interrogation session, according to investigative sources and his lawyers.

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