Police in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, say traces of blood have been found in the minivan belonging to a 45-year-old man who has been arrested on suspicion of abandoning the body of a 13-year-old girl in the parking lot of a distribution center on the night of Aug 13.
Koji Yamada was arrested last Friday night over the murders of Natsumi Hirata and her 12-year-old classmate Ryoto Hoshino whose body, with his hands and head bound in duct tape, was found covered by grass in a bamboo grove in the mountains of nearby Kashiwara city last Friday. The cause of his death has not yet been released.
Yamada initially said that he invited Hirata to get into his van on Aug 13, but claimed that another man in the front passenger seat beat her to death in the back seat 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.
On Monday, police said a thorough investigation of Yamada's minivan revealed traces of blood inside the vehicle, Fuji TV reported. Investigators will conduct DNA tests on the blood to see if it matches the blood of the victims.
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.
Surveillance camera footage from a convenience store in Kashiwara, taken at around 12:35 p.m. on the day the two children disappeared, shows Yamada buying two roles of duct tape.
However, police said that there were no fingerprints on the duct tape found on the victims' head and hands, nor any fingerprints on their clothes. They also believe Hirata's body might have been wrapped in a sheet when it was taken to the parking lot.
Furthermore, surveillance camera footage taken as at gas station in Hirakata about an hour before Hirata's body was found shows Yamada wearing gloves as he fills up his car.
Meanwhile, NHK reported that a friend spoke with Yamada on the phone on Aug 14, and during their conversation, he said that Yamada hinted that he had done something he shouldn't have. When the friend asked what, Yamada changed the subject.
The friend also said that he was in Yamada's minivan on Aug 16 and that everytime they stopped at a red light, Yamada nervously looked in his rear-view mirror.
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 at around 5:09 a.m. on 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.
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 or where he might have confined them. An autopsy conducted on Hiarata showed that she had not eaten anything for several hours on the day of her murder.
On Aug 21, 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 TV reported. They believe Yamada may have been checking to see if Hoshino's body was still there.
Police then tracked the minivan and apprehended Yamada while he was stopped at a traffic light in Osaka on Friday night.
Yamada was seen again on security camera footage, entering the elevator at his residence at around 11:30 p.m. that night.
Yamada was arrested in March 2002 for abducting and confining an 8th-grade male student with handcuffs in his car in Neyagawa. He had asked the boy to get into his car and show him the way to the train station. He was also arrested again later that year for a similar offense.
Police said Yamada had been doing decontamination work at the Fukushima plant for about eight months, and left on Aug 11 for the Obon holiday. He returned to Fukushima from Aug 17 until Aug 19, police said.
Funeral held for Hoshino
The funeral for Ryoto Hoshino was held on Monday with about 100 of his family and friends in attendance.
Police and teachers were also on hand for the opening day of the new term at the school attended by Hoshino and Hirata.© Japan Today