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Friday, April 6, 2007
Police mum about escape of Hawker murder suspect
By JUN HONGO and ERIC PRIDEAUX
More than a week after Briton Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, was found slain, police have said little about how the prime suspect managed to give them the bare-footed slip when several officers went to quiz him about her disappearance, and retired detectives are questioning how this could happen.
Chiba police have received scores of tips, but so far nothing has panned out.
At around 6 p.m. on March 26, police went to Hawker's apartment, shortly after she was reported missing by the Nova language school where she worked. The school said she had failed to turn up for work the previous day.
Hawker's roommates gave police a piece of paper that had a sketch of Hawker, a phone number and the name Tatsuya Ichihashi written in Roman letters. Police traced the name and number to the condominium where the 28-year-old Ichihashi lived, until he bolted during questioning. Officers then found Hawker's corpse in a detached bathtub on his balcony, covered, except for a hand, in sand.
There has been speculation that Ichihashi was trying to woo Hawker by drawing the sketch. Earlier reports said he had stalked her, chased her as she bicycled home and got her to agree to a private English lesson after gaining entry with a request for water, which Hawker granted because her roommates were there.
Grainy video footage at a cafe near where both the victim and suspect lived showed them together at the cashier on the morning of March 25.
The Gyotoku police station, which is handling the case, would not tell The Japan Times exactly what happened when officers went to Ichihashi's condo to question him.
Gyotoku Deputy Superintendent Takeo Terajima said that at 9:40 p.m. on the evening they received the sketch, at least six officers went to the condo. Terajima did not know exactly how many went to the door, but said that by the end of the night nine officers had been sent to the building.
Ichihashi opened the door when officers knocked. Terajima then said soon afterward he fled by a fire escape, but Terajima did not say where the fire escape is located.
Police gave chase, but Ichihashi, who is 180 cm tall and ran track in high school, escaped, losing his shoes and a backpack stuffed with clothes in the process. It was then that Hawker's body was found in the bathtub on the balcony.
Police have also been tight-lipped about the cause of Hawker's death, only saying she was probably suffocated, after being partially strangled and severely beaten. They would not say whether there had been any sexual assault.
When asked for details about what happened from the time the door was opened to the time Ichihashi fled, Terajima said he "could not comment," claiming he did not have the information.
Terajima said that because there was no immediate indication a murder had been committed when police knocked on the door, Ichihashi technically was not suspected of a crime and, therefore, the officers were not thinking they had to be aggressive. However, Terajima claimed the officers had been "appropriately spread out" around the building.
The argument that police didn't suspect a crime didn't wash with Akio Kuroki, a former Metropolitan Police Department detective who has written several books on investigative tactics based on his 23 years with the metro force.
Kuroki said the sole fact that so many officers were sent to the condo indicates police suspected Ichihashi may have harmed Hawker, and they obviously weren't treating the disappearance as a routine missing-persons case.
Kuroki also questioned whether police had positioned themselves properly before confronting Ichihashi. "There is absolutely no way nine well-placed (officers) would fail to catch one guy," he said. "There are huge contradictions in the police explanation."
Retired detective Ken Kitashiba said it appears Ichihashi, described as an unemployed, college-trained horticulturist being supported by his medical professional parents in Gifu Prefecture, was set to flee and outsmarted police.
Kitashiba agreed with Kuroki that the quick handling of the disappearance with so many officers indicated they were worried. Kitashiba said it was likely due to fears that Hawker might end up murdered like Lucie Blackman, another Briton whose dismembered corpse was found in 2000. Alleged serial rapist Joji Obara, a wealthy property developer, is on trial over Blackman's death and a verdict is expected April 24.
Kitashiba said he believes Ichihashi carefully planned his escape, adding that the suspect was probably aided by the fact that the officers "were likely spread out and not standing all together."
"Ichihashi's every action was planned," Kitashiba said.
Police have launched a nationwide manhunt for Ichihashi, who at present is only wanted for abandoning a body, although this is usually the initial charge in a slaying.
Chiba Prefectural Police have received 200 tips from the public and assigned 150 officers to comb the area, concentrating on deserted places like warehouses and shrines.
Police do not know how much money Ichihashi may have been carrying had when he escaped, but Terajima said Ichihashi has not withdrawn cash from any bank ATM. There have also been no reports of him buying either food or clothing.
"He probably stayed in the area for awhile after fleeing, but has gone to Tokyo," Kitashiba said.
As there has been no trace of Ichihashi, there has been speculation that he may have killed himself. Kitashiba disagrees.
He thinks Ichihashi planned Hawker's murder, ruling out suicide due to remorse.
And in a large metropolis in the spring, when hay fever masks and caps are common, Ichihashi could become the proverbial needle in a haystack.
"I think that he is still alive," Kitashiba said.
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