On March 26, 2007, as police converged on the Ichikawa City, Chiba, apartment of Tatsuya Ichihashi to find the evidence of his grisly crime, the sole suspect in the murder of then 22-year-old English teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker bolted past the men in blue in his bare feet and vanished without a trace.
But last month, a reporter for Spa! (Jan 20) obtained some startling evidence: that Ichihashi, who turned 30 on Jan 5, had gone to ground in the Philippines. The source was said to be none other than a high-ranking official in the Philippine government.
Using the Manila-based operator of a Japanese “support service” as an intermediary, the reporter was able to arrange an off-the-record meeting with the official.
“Several months ago, I was informed that Ichihashi moved from Cebu to Manila,” the source is quoted as saying. “While wanted posters bearing his ordinary photo have been circulated, he’s been posing as a woman and changes his hideout every couple of days. We haven’t been able to track down his location.”
The source went on to say that Ichihashi had entered the Philippines with his own passport, and that his entry had been recorded by passport control.
“It was over a year ago, but I heard from a friend (a Filipino) in Cebu that he had seen someone who appeared to be Ichihashi,” a 30-year Japanese resident of Manila named “Michael” tells the reporter. “A check of entry data found a person with the same name and age as Ichihashi had entered the country. This was relayed by telephone to the Gyotoku police station in Chiba, which said they’d confirm the details and if it was the same person, they’d dispatch someone to Cebu right away. But they never called back.”
“Until a suspect is made target of a nationwide dragnet, it’s entirely possible to depart the country without any check,” explains Ken Kitashiba, a former investigator in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. “What’s more, to initiate an international dragnet, first the ICPO headquarters in France must be informed in writing. It takes several days to get the information into computers, and several weeks to determine what sort of warrant should be issued. Many criminals have been able to network with the underworld to flee abroad.”
Kitashiba offers several explanations as to why the special squad set up to investigate the Hawker killing might have been slow to take action. “Right after it happened, they were flooded with weird calls round the clock,” he says. “So the problem might have been too much information coming in. It might just have wound up in the stack of other possible sightings.”
The Philippines has become something of a haven for criminals wanted by authorities in Japan, and Kitashiba thinks if Ichihashi adopts a female guise, he might be able to remain on the lam for quite some time.
“For a little over 10,000 yen, he can buy a new identity,” Kitashiba points out. “And if he undergoes plastic surgery, he might not get caught at all.”