“Everybody here knows everybody else.”
Hiji, in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu, is – or was – that kind of place, a placid, friendly little seaside town, population 28,000, 25 km from Oita City, the prefectural capital. Calm was shattered in June when an elderly couple was stabbed to death in their home.
Police were still puzzling over that – there were no signs of forced entry, no apparent robbery, no imaginable motive – when, in September, a 36-year-old housewife suddenly went missing.
The next day there occurred the third of three mysterious “incidents” that the weekly magazine Friday (Oct 21) says have the town reeling – a two-year-old child vanished from her mother’s car in a supermarket parking lot.
Takafumi Kasagi, 86, and his wife Kumako, 84, were farmers. Their bodies were discovered on the evening of June 27 when relatives dropped by, surprised at not having seen them in a while. An autopsy showed they had been stabbed to death about three days earlier. By whom? With what? Why?
The stab wounds themselves are the only indications of force. The murderer must have been invited inside as a relative, friend or acquaintance. The only other apparent possibility is suicide, which Friday does not even raise. Presumably there are reasons for considering it incredible.
The housewife who disappeared is Machiko Mitsunaga. It was the morning of Sept 12. Friday reconstructs the preceding hours. At 9:45 a.m., Mitsunaga received a call from her daughter’s elementary school – the child had a problem with a tooth, could Mitsunaga come and get her? She drove to the school, took the girl to a dentist, stopped briefly at a supermarket, drove her daughter back to school, apparently returned home because that’s where the car was – and that’s all anybody seems to know; she hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
Early in the afternoon of the next day, Sept 13, Yuko Emoto, 34, drove with her two-year-old daughter Kotone to the local supermarket. Kotone was asleep and Emoto left her in the car. She was in the store for five minutes. When she returned, the child was gone. Prefectural police authorities put 5,500 officers on the case – so far to no avail. Not a single eyewitness has come forward.
Three mysteries and not a single clue! Does any common feature link them? Friday does come up with two intriguing coincidences, but far from dispelling the murk, they only seem to deepen it. The murdered couple’s farmhouse is only a few dozen meters away from the Emotos’ house. The supermarket from which Kotone disappeared is the same one Mitsunaga dropped into before her own disappearance. Haunting rather than enlightening – or so it seems.
One thing is sure, Friday says: Unless police make some progress, “the anxiety of local residents will only grow.”© Japan Today