An unemployed 45-year-old man who has been charged with abandoning the body of a 13-year-old girl in the parking lot of a distribution center in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, on the night of Aug 13, has told police that a male passenger in his minivan killed the girl, but he has refused to name the man.
Koji Yamada, a resident of Neyagawa, was arrested on Friday night for questioning in the murder of Natsumi Hirata, who disappeared along with her 12-year-old classmate Ryoto Hoshino, on Aug 13. Hoshino’s body, his hands and head bound in duct tape, was found covered by grass in a bamboo grove in the mountains of nearby Kashiwara city on Friday, Fuji TV reported. An autopsy will be held to determine the cause of death.
Hirata’s body was found behind a truck in the parking lot at around 11:35 p.m. on Aug 13. Her hands were tied with duct tape, which was also wrapped around her head. She was wearing a white shirt, black tank top, denim shorts and navy knee-high socks, but she was not wearing any shoes. There were at least 30 cuts on her body, some as deep as to the bone. An autopsy revealed that she had been suffocated, probably about four or five hours before her body was found.
Yamada was quoted by police as saying he called out to Hirata near Keihan Neyagawashi Station, and said he would give her lift, but did not say at what time of the day this happened, Fuji TV reported. He also denied killing Hirata and said another man in the front passenger seat beat the girl in the back seat and that Hirata was dead before he knew it. He said the other man dumped the body in the parking lot. However, Yamada has refused to say anything further about the man, nor has he said anything about Hoshino’s fate.
Yamada also said he had never met Hirata before.
Yamada surfaced as a suspect after police analyzed street surveillance camera footage along the national route between Keihan Neyagawashi Station, where Hirata and Hoshino were last seen on the morning of Aug 13, and the parking lot of the distribution center where Hirata’s body was left.
The license plate of each vehicle caught on camera was checked one by one and an ash-gray minivan appeared to resemble the one that was seen going in and out of the parking lot an hour before Hirata’s body was found. That led police to Yamada.
Police said that surveillance camera footage also showed Yamada's minivan on a street near the arcade twice between 5:10 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.
On Friday morning before dawn, police started following Yamada’s minivan, which went to the mountainous area in Kashiwara. After Yamada left, police searched the area and found Hoshino’s body, Fuji reported. Police then tracked the minivan and apprehended Yamada while he was stopped at a traffic light in Osaka on Friday night.
On Saturday, police said they have also obtained surveillance camera footage from a convenience store in Kashiwara, taken at around 12:35 p.m. on the day the two children disappeared, that shows Yamada buying duct tape.
Yamada was seen again on security camera footage, entering the elevator at his residence at around 11:30 p.m. that night.
Meanwhile, Sankei Shimbun reported that Yamada was arrested in March 2002 for abducting and confining an 8th-grade male student in his car in Neyagawa. He has been decontamination work at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and finished there on Aug 11 before taking a break for the Obon holiday. He returned to Fukushima from Aug 17 until Aug 19, police said.
The children’s last known movements
Here is what is known so far about the two victims' last movements.
On Aug 12 at about 6 p.m., Hirata told her mother she was going out to play with Hoshino. She took her bicycle and a small tent. Meanwhile, Hoshino told his mother at 9 p.m. that he was going to hang out with Hirata.
The two were seen outside a convenience store at 10:30 p.m., eating ramen. A passerby asked Hirata where her parents were and she just laughed. After that, the children apparently started texting friends on the messaging app Line. Around midnight, Hoshino asked a 12-year-old girl if he could spend the night at her house but she said no. Hirata texted a friend and asked if she could come over but the friend said Hirata should go home or her mother would get angry.
At 1:09 a.m. on Aug 13, security camera footage at a shopping arcade showed Hirata riding her bicycle. Then at 5:09 a.m., she and Hoshino are seen walking back and forth in the arcade where they most likely remained until dawn to get out of the rain.
At 6:35 a.m., Hirata texted a friend and said she and Hoshino were going to Kyoto and that she probably wouldn’t be returning to Neyagawa. That was the last time anyone heard from her or Hoshino. When friends attempted to call them on their cell phones during the day, they got no signal.
Japanese media have speculated that Yamada may have sent the 6:35 a.m. message, and not Hirata, although they still do not know at what time the children were taken by the suspect.
The arcade is a short walk from the train station. A boy that looked like Hoshino was seen placing his bicycle in a paid parking spot outside the station at around 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Aug 13. Hirata’s bike was found nearby. However, police said they are now not sure who parked Hoshino's bike there.© Japan Today