The investigation into the murder of a 7-year-old boy in a farming community in northern Honshu has taken a bizarre twist. A 33-year-old woman from the community was arrested and she initially admitted that she had abandoned the body of the boy near a river.

As evidence against her emerged, she eventually admitted that she had murdered the boy. The woman was the mother of a 9-year-old girl who had drowned slightly more than a month before the boy was murdered. Living two houses away from the murder victim’s home, she was on good terms with his family. Her daughter and the boy played together. The investigators must first determine what the woman actually did. But more important is to find out what caused her to do what she is suspected of doing.

The boy, Goken Yoneyama of Fujisato, Akita Prefecture, went missing in the afternoon of May 17. He was last seen around 3:20 p.m. that day. His body was found the next afternoon in grass near the Yoneshiro River in Noshiro in the same prefecture, about 8 km downstream from his home. An autopsy determined that he had been strangled.

Police suspected that the boy had been put in a car since police dogs failed to trace his scent at a park located about 80 meters from his home, where he was last seen. Between the park and the boy’s home is the home of the arrested woman, Ms. Suzuka Hatakeyama.

The arrest has sent a shock wave throughout the quiet community because the suspect is not a stranger, as is usually the case, but the parent of a child who attended an elementary school in the community.

Ms. Hatakeyama was seen closing the trunk of her car and going out in her car around 3:30 p.m. on the day when the boy went missing, a fact that led the police to begin watching her. Evidence against her includes the same kind of fiber found on the boy’s clothes being found on the floor of her car, and rabbit hair found on the clothes being found in her house. Stains of blood and urine believed to be the boy’s were also detected inside the car’s trunk.

The houses of both the Yaneyamas and the Hatakeyamas are in a small housing complex containing 28 homes. It is extraordinary that the drowning of a girl and the murder of a boy happened within a span of slightly more than a month in such a small community, and that the mother of the girl has been arrested as a suspect in the boy’s murder.

At this moment it is difficult to know why the boy was killed. But a hint may be found in the death of the suspect’s daughter Ayaka. On the afternoon of April 9, Ayaka disappeared after saying that she was going to a friend’s house. The next afternoon she was found dead, floating in a tributary of the Yoneshiro River about 2 km from the spot where the boy’s body was found. Police concluded that she had fallen into the stream and drowned. She was the only child of Ms. Hatakeyama, a divorcee living on welfare.

Ms. Hatakeyama was not convinced by the police’s conclusion, thinking that it was unlikely that her daughter, who was not good at swimming, went near a river. Time and again she called on police to restart their investigation into her daughter’s death. She also distributed flyers with color photographs of her daughter in her neighborhood in an attempt to get information about the situation that led to her death. The possibility should not be ruled out that the mother’s dissatisfaction with the police’s decision not to further investigate her daughter’s death may somehow affected her and led to the murder of the boy. The police need to determine whether their decision was correct and explain to the public why they made it.

Police also need to do their utmost to find out what Ms. Hatakeyama was thinking and how she felt about the drowning of her daughter and the police’s decision to halt their investigation into her death. The body of the boy was abandoned in a manner as if his killer intended it to be easily found. This fact may also offer clues into the motive behind the boy’s murder. Pinpointing the motive would facilitate the creation of measures aimed at protecting children from similar crimes.

To cover the murder incident, a large number of reporters thronged around the house of Ms. Hatakeyama’s parents, where she began staying after the boy’s body was found. She called on the media to show restraint more than once. Although the media heeded her request to some extent, they did inconvenience local residents. But it also must be remembered that the media gathered outside the house because the police were watching her around the clock under the pretext of protecting the “victim” of the drowning incident from the media. Police may have used this pretext in order to conduct surveillance on her.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.