TOKYO—The disappearance of a young Japanese woman this month turned tragic over the weekend when police found her severed head in a suitcase.
The American man suspected of killing her, Yevgeniy Vasilievichon Bayrakta, a 26-year-old resident of New York City, originally was arrested last week on charges he’d imprisoned her. Today the Hyogo Prefecture Police announced that they had found the woman’s head and, based on the testimony of Bayrakta, they had found what appeared to be the rest of her dismembered body scattered in isolated mountain forests in Osaka and Kyoto.
The victim, a 27-year-old office worker from Sanda City in western Japan, went missing on Feb. 16.
On Feb. 22, the Hyogo Police, who had been searching for the woman, arrested Bayraktar on suspicion he was holding her hostage in an apartment in Osaka. The two had met via the popular Japanese social networking site LINE, and also had communicated on Instagram.
According to the police, the suspect has admitted to dismembering the body but is not yet discussing the circumstances of her death or his role in it. The police will continue to question Bayraktar and plan to arrest him again on charges of desecrating a corpse as early as next week.
Here is the sequence of events as they are known at present:
Bayraktar, who has visited Japan several times, arrived on a tourist visa in January at Kansai International Airport. He stayed at several lodgings in Kansai (western Japan) and became acquainted with the victim via LINE and Instagram.
The woman, a bilingual office worker from Sanda City in Hyogo Prefecture, told friends at work that she was going to “meet a man named Jay” on Feb. 15. After she left the office, security camera footage shows her at JR Morinomiya Station and there is also video of her entering an apartment building with Bayraktar just past midnight on Feb. 16.
She did not come to work that morning and was unreachable; her phone battery apparently had died. Her family filed a missing persons report the next day and the police opened an investigation.
On Feb. 18, video footage shows Bayraktar leaving several times with a large bag from the apartment he’d rented. There was no video footage of the woman leaving the apartment. While the suspect was allegedly disposing of the body, the police, after examining security cameras, telephone records, and other evidence reached the conclusion that Bayraktar must know of her whereabouts and was holding her prisoner. A warrant was issued for his arrest but he had fled the apartment before it could be served.
Bayraktar was found in Nara Prefecture on Feb. 22 and arrested on charges of imprisonment. Some Japanese media have reported that he was getting ready to flee the country. At the time of his arrest, he did not have the bag shown in the video. The police later found the woman’s head at the apartment where he was staying, and today recovered what are believed to be her scattered remains. However, they are still conducting tests to make sure that the pieces recovered are from the same woman and not another victim.
Police say that Bayraktar met several women using dating apps and social media during his time in Japan and the authorities are trying to determine if those women are alive and safe.
The police are likely to re-arrest Bayraktar on charges of manslaughter and/or murder later in March or early April, after arresting and holding him on charges of desecrating a corpse. Nippon News Network reported that they had managed to interview Bayraktar’s parents in New York. The network reported that his mother said her son had a great fondness for Japan, had hoped to live there and marry a Japanese woman—and he wasn’t capable of committing such a heinous crime.
The case is already causing a ripple in Japanese society, stirring concerns about the dangers of meeting strangers via social media—and stoking fears about renting to foreigners.
Murders in Japan are rare, but, grisly dismemberment of a corpse is a common feature in many cases which are known as “bara-bara” (dismemberment) murders. “Bara-bara” is an onomatopoeic word in Japanese derived from the word, barasu, “to take apart.”
Last Halloween, Tokyo Police arrested a Japanese man, Takahiro Shiraishi, on charges of improper disposal of a body after nine heads were found in his apartment and they have re-arrested him several times on murder charges. Shiraishi met many of his victims via Twitter and other social networking sites and actively recruited women wishing to commit suicide.
Many of Japan’s newspapers reporting on the story mentioned that Bayraktar had been staying at facilities not licensed for lodging, which is likely to damper Japan’s troubled B&B businesses.
On the still popular internet bulletin board 2channel and other social media, the case is being discussed as an example of how dangerous it is to let foreigners into Japan, tapping into a quiet xenophobia that permeates the country, especially under the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
However, even some Japanese have fired back by pointing out that the majority of such crimes are committed by Japanese men. One individual posted a detailed listing of past bara-bara murders, while others noted that victims of such crimes have included two foreign women visiting Japan.