Japan suspect in serial killing questioned

Mari Yamaguchi
Associated Press

Tokyo — Japanese investigators knocked on the door of a suspect’s apartment and asked him about a missing woman. “She is in here,” the man reportedly replied, pointing to a cooler box.

More chilling details emerged Wednesday about Takahiro Shiraishi, 27, who police say confessed to killing and dismembering nine bodies found in his apartment. Shiraishi was handed over to prosecutors for further questioning.

Police arrested him Tuesday after finding the bodies — eight females and one male — in cold-storage cases inside his apartment in Zama, a city southwest of the capital. Police say Shiraishi confessed he tried to hide evidence.

Police found the bodies, some covered with cat litter, while searching for the 23-year-old woman who had disappeared after exchanging Twitter messages, allegedly with Shiraishi. They are working to identify the victims.

The gruesome case captured widespread attention in a country known for public safety, topping news with reports that showed the building where the suspect lived in a small studio apartment.

Media reports quoted investigative sources as saying Shiraishi started killing as soon as he moved into his apartment in late August. His first victim was another woman whom he got in touch with via Twitter, offering to assist her suicide wish, then killing her boyfriend to silence him, according to the media reports, including NHK public television. They said Shiraishi used similar tactics to kill seven other women, four of them teenagers.

A police official who spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday said a toolbox and saw found in Shiraishi’s apartment may have been used to dismember the bodies.

Japanese media quoted his neighbors as saying they had noticed foul smells coming from the apartment. Shiraishi threw out some of the body parts as garbage, along with the victims’ belongings, reports said.

They said the missing woman contacted Shiraishi via Twitter in late September, seeking a partner for a suicide pact and saying she was afraid to die alone. The two were recorded by security cameras walking together outside train stations near her residence and the suspect’s apartment on Oct. 23, the reports said.

The woman’s brother reported her disappearance to police the next day. When he sought information about his sister’s disappearance on Twitter, an unidentified woman replied that she had met Shiraishi and agreed to cooperate with police by setting up a fake appointment. Two investigators then followed Shiraishi back to his apartment and knocked on the door, public broadcaster NHK said.

When they asked him if he knew where the missing woman was, Shiraishi pointed to one of eight coolers, saying “She is in here,” NHK said, quoting investigative sources.

The suspect told police his motives were money and sexual abuse, Japanese media reported Wednesday. Police refused to confirm the reports to AP. Japanese police release information only through limited official statements or through news conferences exclusive to journalists in the police press club.

Local media ran a junior high school photo of the suspect, beaming, his hair fluffy, braces on his teeth suggesting a relatively well-off family background. But there was little other information about his education or where he comes from, except that he is from Zama. Reports say he was working as a “scout” in the sex industry, recruiting women in entertainment districts in Tokyo.

Internet suicide sites have been a concern since the late 1990s. In 2005, a man in Osaka lured three people via the internet with promises to assist in their suicides, and strangled them. He was sentenced to death.

Although Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it has witnessed some high-profile killings recently. Last month, a man was arrested for allegedly stabbing his wife and five children after setting fire to their house. In July last year, a former employee of a home for the disabled allegedly killed 19 and injured more than 20 others.