How gruesome photos on a memory stick revealed identity of killer who died days after victim

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 2:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 10:25pm

A suspect who has been dead for seven years has been posthumously indicted over one of the most gruesome killings to shock Japan in living memory.

A joint task force made up of officers from the police forces of Hiroshima and Shimane prefectures in December announced the indictment of Yoshiharu Yano, who was 33 when he died in a car crash in November 2009, on suspicion of murder, mutilating a corpse and abandoning a body.

The victim was 19-year-old university student Miyako Hiraoka, who disappeared on October 26, 2009, after leaving her part-time job at an ice cream parlour in the city of Hamada, in Shimane Prefecture.

A man collecting mushrooms found Hiraoka’s head close to a mountain road in neighbouring Hiroshima Prefecture in early November. Police subsequently found the woman’s dismembered torso, left ankle and a thigh bone.

Police told local media that Hiraoka had been beaten about the head before her death and she had suffered burns. Both her breasts had been cut off at the torso and the flesh appeared to have been scraped off the thigh bone - leading to suggestions in the press here that the perpetrator had tried to eat Hiraoka’s flesh.

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The initial police investigation made little progress and it was not until last summer that Yano’s name came to their attention. A search of the man’s belongings revealed a memory stick for his camera containing 57 photographs of Hiraoka’s body in a bath at his apartment in Masuda City.

The images also indicate Hiraoka was strangled and cut up with a kitchen knife, the Sankei newspaper reported.

Two days after Hiraoka’s head was discovered, Yano died in an accident on the Chugoku Expressway. The vehicle caught fire after colliding with barriers on both sides of the road and Yano and his mother were both killed.

The Nikkan Gendai news magazine quoted an investigator as saying that it appeared that the crash had not been accidental because there were no signs that the brakes had been applied and that the driver appeared to have committed suicide.

Yano’s indictment is a procedural formality that will permit the police to close the case.