The investigation into the mid-May murder of a 7-year-old boy in the community of Fujisato, Akita Prefecture, has taken a second bizarre twist since 33-year-old Ms. Suzuka Hatakeyama, who lived two houses away from the boy’s home, was arrested June 4 on suspicion of dumping the boy’s body by a river, and again June 25 on suspicion of murdering the boy.
On July 18, Ms. Hatakeyama was served a third arrest warrant — this time on suspicion of murdering her own 9-year-old daughter, Ayaka — after telling police earlier in the month that she had pushed her from a bridge April 9.
Two factors deserve attention: One is the bizarre nature of the crimes. Why did Ms. Hatakeyama, a divorcee living on welfare, kill her only child and then a neighbor’s son within a span of some 40 days? The second factor is the apparently shoddy police work in the initial investigation of Ayaka’s death. Police concluded at first that Ayaka had drowned accidentally.
Ms. Hatakeyama originally told police that Ayaka had disappeared the afternoon of April 9 after “going to a friend’s house.” The next afternoon her body was found floating in the Fujikoto River, a tributary of the Yoneshiro River. The police announced that Ayaka seemed to have slipped down a riverbank while playing and then drowned.
More than a month later, on the afternoon of May 17, the boy, Goken Yoneyama, went missing. His body was found the next afternoon in grass near the Yoneshiro River in Noshiro, the same prefecture. Days after being arrested on suspicion of dumping the boy’s body there, Ms. Hatakeyama told police that she happened to spot him near her home, called him into her home and strangled him with a kimono cord.
Ms. Hatakeyama then reversed her account of events involving her daughter, saying that she and Ayaka went by car to Osawa Bridge on the Fujikoto River, about 2 km from home, on the evening of April 9 and that the girl accidentally fell into the river. Her body was found about 4 km downstream from the bridge. Later the mother changed her story again, saying she pushed her daughter from the bridge. She said she had taken Ayaka to the bridge because her daughter wanted to see the kind of fish that appeared in her favorite cartoons. When they could not spot any fish, the girl became “annoying” and the mother, irritated with her behavior, pushed her from the bridge, according to the police.
For their part, police say there were reasons early on to believe that the girl had died on her own accidentally, including signs that somebody had slipped down the riverbank. A police dog traced the girl’s scent to the place. But in view of the fact that there are two low-level dams between the river beach mentioned by police and the spot where the girl’s body was found 6 km downstream, some local residents had said it was strange that the girl’s body was found as early as the next day. The girl’s skull was also found to have been fractured.
If police had paid more attention to local residents’ suspicions and the injury to Ayaka’s body, their initial conclusion might have been different, possibly leading to an earlier arrest of Ms. Hatakeyama and prevention of Goken’s murder.
Ms. Hatakeyama’s behavior after her daughter was found dead was strange in itself. She called police time and again to try to get them to restart the investigation following their conclusion that the girl’s death was accidental. The mother also distributed fliers in the community urging people to come forward with any information they might have about her daughter’s whereabouts on the last day she was seen alive. She asked TV stations to help get to the truth behind the death. If she had kept quiet, it now seems unlikely that police and public interest in the girl’s death would have been revived.
Some neighbors say Ms. Hatakeyama did not take good care of her daughter and there were signs she was not given enough food at home. It is said that Ayaka went to school at times in wrinkled clothes, and that her mother would not meet a teacher who visited the house. Police need to unravel the relationship between mother and daughter.
As for the murder of Goken, Ms. Hatakeyama said she reasoned that if another child were killed, people would think that her daughter was killed by somebody else.
Ms. Hatakeyama’s accounts of events and behavior are incongruous, as is her not hiding the kimono cord she used to strangle the boy. The truth will not come out without a determination of the motive behind the crimes. By all means, her childhood and adolescent experiences, as well as relations with relatives, friends and neighbors, must be examined.
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