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Zama murders prompt awareness of youth issues

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

Readers who may be contemplating homicide should be aware that concealing evidence of your crime — referred to in the language of jurisprudence as corpus delicti — is next to impossible.

Even before the emergence of DNA testing and other forensic techniques, killers determined to evade the consequences of their act, whether by such means as burial, dismemberment, encasement in cement, decomposition using acid or immersion in deep water, have eventually been exposed and brought to justice.

As authors JHH Gaute and Robin Odell noted in their 1982 work “Murder What Dunit,” “the human body is surprisingly durable and its destruction without trace is difficult.”

That said, the city of Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture will long be recalled in the annals of crime for the “Halloween Murders” of 2017, when it came to light that during a two-month spree, a 27-year-old unemployed man had used social media to entice nine young people to his lair, where he strangled them to death.

On Oct. 31, investigators were aghast to find the dismembered remains of eight women and one man stored in ice chests in his apartment.

While undergoing interrogation, Takahiro Shiraishi complained of feeling indisposed, and was provided with medical attention. At least one tabloid couldn’t resist raising the possibility that he may have eaten portions of his victims, and while there’s no concrete evidence to suggest such a thing occurred, Shukan Bunshun (Oct. 23) alleged he photographed his dead victims using a smartphone camera.

Nikkan Gendai (Nov. 3) cites a police source who relates that the suspect had moved to Zama while young and attended local schools. A former classmate had described him as quiet and docile. After graduating from high school, he worked at various jobs, including a supermarket and pachinko parlor.

“Then from last year he started working as a ‘scoutman’ in Kabukicho (Tokyo’s largest red-light district),” said the cop. Such “scouts,” for the unfamiliar, earn large commissions by accosting young women on public streets — a felony — to work in drinking establishments or the “pink” trade.

Shiraishi’s scout activities led to his arrest last February, and in May was sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment, suspended for three years. The next month, he was said to have told his father, “I have nothing worth living for.” It’s possible his own despair led him to the suicide sites that he later used to entrap his victims.

In any event, he left his family home and on Aug. 22 moved into an apartment. Within days, according to Flash (Nov. 27), he had strangled and cut up the bodies of three victims: office worker Mizuki Miura, 21, high school student Kureha Ishihara, 15, and the sole male, Shogo Nakanishi, 20. Four were to follow in September and two in October.

It was Shiraishi’s final victim, Hachioji resident Aiko Tamura, 23, that led to his apprehension. Tamura, reportedly despondent over the death of her mother in June, had been contemplating suicide. Seeing her partially aborted Twitter message on Oct. 23, her elder brother became concerned and began an intensive search.

Shiraishi’s arrest almost immediately spawned media comparisons with previous multiple murderers, like serial rapist Kiyoshi Okubo who, posing as an artist with the alias Ivan Tanigawa, took eight lives (six of them teenagers) during a six-week-long murder spree in Gunma Prefecture in 1971. Others raised parallels with Tsutomu Miyazaki, who murdered four small girls in Tokyo and Saitama over a two-year period in the late 1980s. Both men were found guilty and hanged.

Weekly Playboy (Nov. 27) featured a two-page spread looking for factors in common with Satoshi Uematsu, who on the night of July 26, 2016, used a knife to murder 19 sleeping residents and injure another 26 at a care facility in nearby Sagamihara. Both men, the article noted, were born in 1990 and raised in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Shinji Miyadai, a professor of sociology at Tokyo Metropolitan University, has observed a marked difference between people born before and after 1986.

“In the generation born after 1986, such events as the (Great) Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and the Aum Supreme Truth cult’s attack on the Tokyo subways (both in 1995), or the boom in enjo kōsai (teen prostitution) occurred before they were old enough to understand what was going on around themselves,” he said. “Through these, they developed a negative impression that ‘society never changes.'”

On top of such a dismal outlook, Miyadai pointed out that from the 1980s, the nature of so-called bed towns on Tokyo’s periphery changed, as traditional family neighborhoods “hollowed out” and nuclear families became the norm.

“Parents exerted a greater influence on their children, and it’s clear that more of them grew to adulthood imprinted with delusionary thoughts that didn’t mesh well with society,” he said, warning that with the deterioration in feelings of empathy among today’s youth, such psycho killers may increase in the future.

Among the anticipated repercussions will be the shutting down of accounts that foster suicide on Twitter and other social media. But Aera (Nov. 20) expressed fears that such controls probably won’t work. From 2008, a crackdown on so-called encounter sites targeting minors under age 18 went into force, but violations shifted to Twitter and other social media, and the 1,736 victims in 2016 reached an all-time high, according to police statistics.

Young people, feeling unable to share concerns with parents or friends, may set up accounts under other names and tweet messages to alleviate pent-up feelings.

“Controls are needed on tweets that relate to suicide, but the fact is, these are the only places where teens can get true feelings off their chests,” Takae Moriyama, director at an NPO named 3keys, told Aera. “Making it harder for them to use it will just aggravate their loneliness, exacerbating the dangers.”

What’s really needed, the article concludes, are controls to prevent predatory adults from abusing the system.