It’s been a year since Englishwoman Lindsay Hawker was murdered. The chief suspect, who escaped capture when police came knocking at his apartment door to question him, still hasn’t been found and brought in for questioning. The BBC’s Tokyo correspondent has an online report here.
The practice of showing people photographs of a suspect with possible disguises is not unusual here. But why has he not been apprehended?
“When an offender is determined to run and hide,” the detective says. “It’s hard to find him. Ichihashi didn’t have a phone or a credit card, anything that might make him easier to trace.”
Lindsay Hawker’s family have expressed their frustration at the lack of progress in the police investigation, although they say they have no alternative but to keep faith with the Japanese police.
Her friends too are frustrated.
Recently they gathered on a Sunday to hand out fliers appealing to the Japanese people for any information that might lead to the arrest of Tatsuya Ichihashi.
Paul Dingwell, a fellow teacher who knew Lindsay well, says the fact that this man has been able to disappear reflects badly on the Japanese.
“They should feel some kind of guilt that this has happened in their country, to someone who came here to help,” he says.
“If someone is hiding him they are just as guilty as he is, if not more.”
I was disturbed last year when Hawker’s father called her death some kind of national “shame.” At the time, of course, her death was a raw wound for her family and friends. Also, I wondered whether the invocation of “shame” might not be a shrewd way of playing off Japanese psychology to make solving Hawker’s murder seem especially urgent.
Be that as it may, statements such as “they should feel some kind of guilt that this has happened in their country” are rather nasty in their implications. Every country has criminals, the U.K. most assuredly not excluded. That part about “came here to help” doesn’t sit well, either. It feels condescending, somehow. (Wouldn’t the English find it creepy if, say, an Indian surgeon were murdered in London and her relatives complained that her death was unjust because she’d only come to England to help?) Plenty of Westerners come to Japan to teach English mostly out of a desire to have an exciting adventure abroad and sock away some money, and they deserve not to be murdered just as surely as does someone who’s motivated by a saintly desire to bring correct English to the Japanese.
And it’s hard to believe that Hawker’s friend thinks disappearing into the landscape in Japan requires some kind of sinister network of assistance. Light plastic surgery that uses surgical wire to nip in the nose or cheeks or to raise the eyelids is cheap, fast, and popular. It doesn’t change bone structure, but it would be very easy to use to avoid recognition. Besides, Japan is a country of 127 million people with huge, anonymous metropolitan areas, isolated mountain hamlets, and a very rapid transportation system. I don’t think you’d have to be Jason Bourne to figure out how to hide out. Of course, an accomplice would help, but it wouldn’t have to be Japanese society in general–just one easily gulled woman with an apartment and a source of income could do it.
I wouldn’t have a difficult time believing that the investigation methodology isn’t as advanced as what you’d find in London or Miami, but that’s because Japanese police just don’t have to deal with cases like this one very often. And even at home, murder investigations frequently drag on for years. It’s great that Hawker still has friends who are dedicated to helping to find her killer, but I don’t think it follows, in this case, that the police force–let alone “Japan” as a generalized, amorphous entity–isn’t doing enough.