National / Crime & Legal

All nine victims of Zama serial killer identified, including three high school girls

Kyodo

The police have identified all nine of the dismembered bodies found in an apartment in Kanagawa Prefecture late last month, including three high school girls, the youngest of whom was 15, officials said Friday, sending shock waves through the victims’ families and friends.

The bodies were found in the apartment of 27-year-old Takahiro Shiraishi, who was arrested on Oct. 31 and has since confessed to killing all nine. Investigators had been trying to identify the bodies through DNA analysis and other means.

According to the officials and investigative sources, the victims include Kureha Ishihara, a 15-year-old high school student from Ora, Gunma Prefecture, and two 17-year-old high schoolers from the cities of Saitama and Fukushima — Natsumi Kubo and Akari Suda.

The others include Hinako Sarashina, a 19-year-old female university student from Saitama Prefecture; Hitomi Fujima, a 26-year-old woman also from Saitama; Mizuki Miura, a 21-year-old female company worker; Shogo Nishinaka, a 20-year-old man; and Kazumi Maruyama, a 25-year-old woman. Miura, Nishinaka and Maruyama were all from Kanagawa.

The name of the first victim to be formally identified was released on Monday as Aiko Tamura, 23, from the Tokyo suburb of Hachioji. The search for Tamura is what originally led police to Shiraishi’s apartment.

The nine were dismembered and stored inside coolers in the apartment in the city of Zama. Parts of the bodies showed multiple cuts, and some portions had already been reduced to bone, according to the police.

It was impossible for the police to identify the victims immediately due to the state of the body parts. Some of the victims’ belongings found in the apartment, along with other evidence including GPS data from their mobile phones, led the police to collect DNA samples from their families to help identify them.

Hours after the police released the names of all nine victims, families and friends put their grief into words, with some expressing anger and others finding it difficult to accept the reality of their fate.

“I have been watching the news all night. But I still don’t believe it,” said Hirofumi Suda, 62, the father of Akari Suda. After the list was released overnight, Suda spoke to reporters Friday morning in front of his home in Fukushima Prefecture.

His daughter, who was a senior in high school, said she dreamed of becoming a manga artist, having served as one of the leaders of her junior high school art club and drawing a picture for the front page of a school booklet.

She went missing after attending her school’s sports day on Sept. 26, according to the high school.

Fujima went missing after leaving work earlier than usual on Sept. 13. She moved to Kasukabe, Saitama, with her husband and daughter in 2015 and her family vacated their home in October, according to neighbors.

“She seemed hesitant to leave (on her last day at work). I feel guilty for not saying anything to her,” a male co-worker said. “I can’t forgive the suspect if he preyed on her distress.”

Shiraishi targeted women who expressed suicidal thoughts on social media, seeking to get acquainted with them and earn their trust by posting his own suicidal wishes on Twitter, according to investigative sources.

The only male in the group, Nishinaka, was killed after confronting Shiraishi about the whereabouts of his girlfriend, who was his first victim, the sources said.

Nishinaka was known as an enthusiastic bass guitarist who played in a band while working at a facility for handicapped people. The resident of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, said he planned to tour with his band, an acquaintance said.

The youngest victim, Ishihara, was a high school freshman in the town of Ora. A person associated with the local education board recalled meeting her when she asked about the decline of the town’s population as a member of a Child Assembly program organized by the municipality in July last year.

A student from her school said Friday, “I think everyone was worried about her. I am shocked.”