The Setagaya Murders
At the turn of the past century, the Miyazawa family - who lived in a suburb of Tokyo called Setagaya - seemed to be a pretty typical middle class family. However, after a quiet New Year's Eve holiday, their bodies were discovered by neighboring relatives... unearthing a tragic question mark that has lingered to this day.
December 9th, 2016 Micheal Whelan
New Year's Eve is typically a joyous occasion. It's a sign of change; that the old is fading away for new. It's a time to celebrate a promising fresh start, generally with your family and closest friends.
In Japan, this day is known as Omisoka, and it is widely regarded as one of the most important days of the year. There are customs and traditions involved, which most people follow. While in America, New Year's Eve is often seen as a time to party and kiss someone at midnight, in Japan, New Year's is treated as the most prestigious of holidays.
But at the turn of this past century, an event occurred that forever marred the holiday season. It occurred in the district of Tokyo known as Setagaya, and for close to two decades, what happened on this night has continued to completely stump investigators.
In Japan, the culture celebrates the end of a century differently than most. While in America, we welcomed the dawn of a new millennium with the infamous Y2K scare, Japan was celebrating the new century an entire year later, with the opening of 2001.
The Miyazawa family were, by most standards, your typical Japanese family.
Mikio Miyazawa, the forty-four year old patriarch of the family, worked for Interbrand, a London-based marketing firm. It's unclear what kind of work Mikio did for the business, but this was a large company with offices in over twenty countries, who had worked on large marketing campaigns for companies like Microsoft, Nissan, Xerox, and many others. Heck, the year before, in 1999, Interbrand was the company responsible for branding the term "Wi-fi."
Fellow employees at Interbrand described Mikio as "congenial." They claimed that he was "the kind of guy that got on well with everyone - definitely not the sort of person to make enemies."
Yasuko Miyazawa, the family's forty-one year-old mother and wife, was very much the same. Seen as kind and compassionate by everyone, she was a teacher that spent a lot of her time with the couple's two children, eight-year-old Niina and six-year-old Rei.
Niina, the daughter, was in the second-grade, and was by all accounts a typical little girl: she was playful, she was fun, she enjoyed soccer and ballet, both of which she was very active in.
Rei, the youngest of the family, had been going through an issue lately: he had had a speech impairment, which had been causing the family a fair amount of stress. Apparently, they had started to seek out professional help for the matter, but it was still a real worry to them.
Mikio and Yasuki Miyazawa had moved into their Setagaya-based home in 1990. At the time, it had been a burgeoning development with over two-hundred families, and it seemed like a nice enough area to raise a family.
Setagaya one of Tokyo's twenty-three districts, the second largest of them all, located just southwest of the main city. Just a short distance away from the Tokyo Bay, Setagaya is a very residential-looking area that stands out from its busy, cramped surroundings.
The Miyazawa family home was an interesting thing, in-and-of-itself.
The home was a shared building that was split into two. So on the outside, it looked like one house, but was much closer to a duplex than anything. It allowed the Miyazawas to live right-next-door to Yasuko's family: her mother, mostly, but also her sister and her brother-in-law, who lived with her during this time period.
This allowed a total of seven family members to live in this shared domicile, although there was no internal connection between the two houses. To get from one side to the other, you need to go outside and enter through another door.
The most impacting fact of the house, though, was the park right behind it. The park had been there for years now, but the city had been planning on expanding it. This meant that most of the Miyazawa's neighbors had been moving out in recent months, in order to make way for this expansion.
The community that had once contained over two-hundred families had now been narrowed just down to four: the Miyazawas and their relatives living next door, and two other families that lived on their street. Besides that, it was a ghost town of a neighborhood.
Most of the activity from the area was happening in the skate park right behind the Miyazawa family home. This was the busiest part of the ever-expanding park, but led to some issues for the Miyazawa clan. See, the skate park was located directly behind the house, separated only by a fence.
In the week leading up to New Year's Eve, Mikio had confronted a group of loud and obnoxious teenagers at the skate park for making too much of a racket. At around the same time, a witness reported seeing him confront a group of young rebels that belonged to the Bosozoku, a Japanese motorcycle gang of sorts.
Due to the increased foot traffic of the park behind them, which the city was planning on expanding further, the Miyazawas were one of the last families to make plans on moving. It was December of 2000, and in just a few months, they would be moving to another house in the area. So all they needed to do was rough out the skate park hooligans for a few months, and then they wouldn't have to worry about it ever again.
Unfortunately, they would never get that chance.
The week before New Year's Eve would be known for some other unusual experiences for the Miyazawa family, besides the encounters with hooligans that Mikio had to deal with.
Apparently in the summer months, the community had started to notice some of the area's animals being physically tormented. There are rumors that rodents had been found, having been killed, and even the local cats - mostly strays - had been tortured. One eyewitness recalls seeing a stray that they were friendly with suddenly appear without a tail one day. Unfortunately, the language barrier prevents me from investigating these rumors more closely, but I felt that they were noteworthy to add.
On December 25th, Christmas day, Yasuko mentioned to her father-in-law that a strange car had been parking in front of their house. This has happened on not just one occasion, but several, despite the fact that there was other parking nearby, which wouldn't require the person parking to jump over a fence to get into the park.
Two days later, on the 27th, a man estimated to be in his forties was seen walking around the Miyazawa family home by an eyewitness. A seemingly-innocent thing, as the park nearby ensures that people would be in the area for a variety of reasons, but in retrospect looks suspicious.
On December 29th, just days before the dawn of the new century, a man was spotted in the nearby Seijogakuenmae Station, which is just a few miles away from where the Miyazawa family was living. This man was wearing a "skater"-type of outfit, which an eyewitness recalled as being odd, due to the weather; they thought that this man, who was wearing a backpack, looked very under-dressed.
It was on this day, the 29th, that police believe a man matching this rough description purchased a sashimi knife from that same shopping area. It was the only one purchased at this supermarket on this day, so it was relatively easy to trace.
On December 30th, a man matching the same description was spotted near Sengawa Station, roughly a mile away from where the Miyazawas lived. This unsub was stated to be in the age range of thirty-five to forty-years-old, and appeared to be getting closer and closer to the Miyazawa family home in Setagaya.
Unbeknownst to them, Saturday, December 30th would be the last day for the entire Miyazawa family.
They went about their daily business, preparing for the pending holiday. There was a festive cheer in the air, due to the upcoming New Year which brought with it the fresh start of a new century.
Sometime in the early evening, at around 6:00 PM, the family apparently went shopping. We can't be sure whether all four of the family members went, but an eyewitness recalled seeing them at a nearby shopping center at around that time. A neighbor, who drove by their house that evening, recalled seeing the family car missing at around 6:30 PM, leading to this story's credence.
At around 7:00 that night, Yasuko called next door to her mother. The families often used the phone to speak to one another, viewing themselves as neighbors. The conversation itself was likely something mundane, and most possibly was Yasuko asking her mother if she wanted to visit with her granddaughter.
This is corroborated by Niina going next door to watch a recorded TV program until 9:30 PM or so. Up until this point in the night, everything was just relatively normal for the Miyazawa family.
The last recorded activity we have of the Miyazawa family is an accessed email, which was read at around 10:38 that evening. It was Mikio reading a work email, which was password-protected, meaning he was likely personally responsible for opening it.
This was the last moment we know that at least one member of the Miyazawa family was alive. And their home, normally quiet and tranquil, was about to become a house of horrors.
At around ten o'clock that evening, a witness walking along the park path behind the Miyazawa house heard what sounded like an argument taking place inside of the house. They didn't recall any loud physical noises, or any particularly earth-shattering screams, but they said it just sounded like a couple getting heated at one another.
About an hour-and-a-half later, a member of Yasuko's family next door would hear a loud banging sound come from the Miyazawa side of the building. They weren't sure of the exact time, but were able to estimate it later on based on the schedule of television programming at the time.
This was around the same time that someone - an eyewitness, or perhaps a neighbor - recalled seeing a man hurrying along the walking path that traveled next to the family's house.
These were the only three signs that something was amiss that night in Setagaya. The terror that had been unleashed in the Miyazawa home wouldn't be discovered for hours.
Within the close proximity of the Miyazawa house, a taxi driver was picking up three passengers. These three passengers - nameless, a mistake on the cabbie, in retrospect - were all middle-aged men, all of whom remained quiet throughout their journey.
The taxi driver recalled this as being very odd for the time; it was well past midnight at this point, and these three men were being dropped off at a nearby station not too far away.
One of the men apparently had a wound on him, and left a blood stain on the backseat of the cab. The driver recalls this as being very odd, and I would have found it to be disgusting, so I can't blame him for remembering the details of that drive very succinctly.
However, the driver would have no reason to panic until the details of what had happened that night became known throughout Tokyo.
The next morning, on New Year's Eve, Yasuko's mother tried calling her daughter's family to make plans for later that afternoon. Surprisingly, her call wouldn't even go through, let alone ring.
Unbeknownst to her, the phone lines in the Miyazawa family home had been cut, purposefully disconnected by someone hours beforehand.
She traveled outside and walked over to the home containing her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandkids. She rang the doorbell, to no answer, and according to the police report she would file later, used her set of keys to let herself in.
The house itself was silent, with no noise to make out. As Yasuko's mother entered the house, she would have undoubtedly known something was wrong. And she begin to discover the truth in mere seconds, as she made her way into the family's house, only to be confronted by the body of Mikio Miyazawa at the bottom of the staircase.
The forty-four year old father of the family had been stabbed multiple times, and was lying lifeless at the bottom of the staircase leading up to the second story.
Yasuko's mother recalls going upstairs to the second story, to try and see what had happened to the rest of her family. Immediately at the top of the stairs, she would find the bodies of her daughter, Yasuko, and her granddaughter, Niina, both of whom had been brutally stabbed dozens of times - far surpassing the level of anguish that Mikio's body had received.
Yasuko's mother recalls putting her hands on the bodies of her daughter and granddaughter, perhaps out of sorrow or maybe even hope, trying to see if there was a chance that either were still alive.
Yasuko, her daughter, whom she had raised and been close with for over forty years; and Niina, her granddaughter, whom she had been watching a television program with just twelve hours ago or so. Both of whom were now cold and lifeless, loved ones transformed into corpses by an unknown killer.
In a nearby bedroom, Yasuko's mother would be confronted by the final tragedy: six-year-old Rei, who had been battling through a speech impediment in an effort to please his parents, who was still in bed. He had been strangled to death, leading investigators to think that he had been the first member of the family killed.
Needless to say, Yasuko's mother - this now-traumatized grandmother - would contact the police. But the things she had seen could never be unseen, and nothing would bring back the family she had just lost.
Tokyo Police responded to the incident in shock, just as horrified by the crime scene as Yasuko's mother had been. This was a case that would send shock-waves throughout the local area, and they knew it: an entire family being butchered, in the dead of night by an unknown assailant, is perhaps the scariest situation one can imagine finding themselves in.
At the scene, police began to look at the crime and piece together what had happened. Yasuko's mother, sister, and brother-in-law, who had all been next door when the crime occurred, recalled anything odd or suspicious that might have happened that night.
The only thing that struck a bell for them was the loud thud that had occured at around 11:30 that evening, the timing of which was corroborated by a TV schedule that placed the thud during a certain program airing. Police immediately suspected that the thud might have occurred when Mikio, the father, confronted the supposed killer. Due to the wounds on his body, they believed that he had scuffled with his family's attacker, and the loud thud that Yasuko's family had heard might have been him being thrown to the bottom of the stairs.
The wounds that Mikio had sustained, multiple stabs, were mostly focused on his neck. They would quickly place together that the stab wounds had been made by a sashimi knife, which was left behind in the family's kitchen. This was the knife that had been purchased just a day beforehand at a local supermarket, and had been brought to the scene by the killer. However, in the process of attacking Mikio, the knife had broken in some way.
Unfortunately, the details of how, exactly, the knife had broken is something I do not have. But based on the evidence found at the scene, police immediately theorized that the broken knife had been just one of two murder weapons. The other was a knife the killer had found in Mikio and Yasuko's very own kitchen, which was used to kill the two women upstairs.
Most unusual about Mikio's body being discovered is that he was still wearing day clothes: business-friendly attire that he would wear out-and-about. And one report I read online stated that he was still wearing one shoe, but since I can't find that factoid posted anywhere else, I'd take that with just a grain of salt.
As for the bodies of Yasuko and Niina, I need to discuss the layout of the family's home pretty quickly. The layout of the house is hard to describe, so I will be posting pictures made with a 3D model on the podcast website. But, anyhow, the house was built in a way that at the top of the stairs leading up to the second story, was a ladder leading up to a third-story loft. The third-story loft had a bed and a television, so many have assumed that both Yasuko and Niina were up there at the time of the murders, watching TV and perhaps lying down in bed.
The bodies of both Yasuko and Niina were found at the bottom of the ladder leading up to the third-floor loft, having been stabbed multiple times. Investigators noted the stab wounds as being excessive, and figured that both victims had been stabbed well beyond their point of death. This lead to many theories that the killer was a woman-hater of sorts, or at least held some aggression towards women and girls. Sadly, this is not a sentiment altogether uncommon in these types of murders, but would come to be relevant to the later investigation.
The family's son, Rei, as I stated earlier, was found in bed, having been strangled. Police were originally stumped as to why Rei had been saved of a brutal stabbing death like the rest of his family, but as they began to piece together the clues, figured that he was the first of the family to be killed. His final moments, while saved from the terror of his family being attacked before him, were still likely marred by a confusion that his six-year-old mind wouldn't have been able to comprehend.
That afternoon, roughly six hours after the bodies had been discovered, a young man was admitted to a medical center in Tobu Nikko Station. Tobu Nikko Station is a few hours north of Setagaya, the Tokyo district that the Miyazawa family lived in, and the two have many connecting trains that travel between.
This man, told to be in his thirties, was admitted without giving up his name or the reason for his injury. The injury itself was a hand wound, which was apparently severe enough to have exposed bone. Staff at the scene were surprised at how nonchalantly the man was treating the injury, and viewed him as rather suspicious, hence their decent recollection of the details.
This man, as I stated, looked to be well into his thirties, and was wearing a black down jacket with jeans. Despite not giving up any details about himself, the man was treated and then released by the medical staff, who had no idea what had happened just hours beforehand.
Much to the police investigator's surprise, the crime scene was absolutely covered in evidence of what had happened in the early morning hours of December 31st.
First and foremost, the police had uncovered the holy grail of any investigation by discovering the murder weapons early on. Both knives - the one purchased on the 29th and the other, one of the Miyazawa's kitchen knives - were found easily in the kitchen, with blood still on them.
Many police investigations stumble without a murder weapon, but in this case, the police had uncovered two within the early minutes of the investigation.
Besides the knives, though, police would uncover that the Miyazawa family home was a treasure trove of evidence leading them to piece together what had happened that night.
They would find the family's first aid kit had been opened, likely by Yasuko and Niina, sometime during the assault itself. Some of the pieces of bandaging from the first aid kit were found with eight-year-old Niina's blood on them.
In the upstairs bathroom, disgustingly, police would find un-flushed feces. This had apparently been left by the killer, either too ignorant of DNA testing, or too proud of his ability to get away with it. Upon investigation, analysts would discover remnants of a sesame spinach dish, containing string beans, which had likely been eaten elsewhere.
In the years since, internet websleuths have called this somewhat of a "boring" dish, the kind a mother would feed her son. This has evolved into a leading theory of a man that still lived at home with his mother, which I'll address in a little bit.
All over the house, left behind haphazardly in blood stains and in dirt, were the footprints of the assumed assailant. These shoe prints would become widely known as belonging to a specific type of Slazenger shoe. Slazenger shoes, at this point in time, were available all over Japan, but the shoeprint left behind was a very specific size not found in Japan. This shoe size was a Korean shoe size, and the shoe would have likely only been found for-sale in South Korea, which jump-started many theories about the killer's ethnicity.
Other than the bandages from the first aid kit used by eight-year-old Niina, there were also towels and women's sanitation towels which were found, with unknown blood on them. To detectives, this was a startling find: it gave credence to the notion that Mikio had fought the attacker on the stairs, likely resulting in an injury to the assailant that required quick medical attention of his own.
Police would have to send the blood samples away for testing, a process that is by no means an overnight solution. Until then, they would have to keep searching for evidence, which the killer had left behind, as if intentionally.
The most startling evidence uncovered in the investigation was a variety of clothing and items brought by the killer - or killers - and then simply abandoned. It was as if the killer had left the clothing on-purpose, or at least paid no mind to leaving the items behind.
The killer had likely worn an outfit to the crime scene, which was detailed as clothing a skater would wear. I'll just go ahead and list off the items, to save some time. The items were: one gray "Crusher" hat, one black AirTech jacket, a white-and-purple long-sleeved shirt (which has been called a sweatshirt at times and a long-sleeved shirt at others), black Edwin gloves, a multi-colored scarf without any tags, making it nearly-unidentifiable, and a black handkerchief.
The long-sleeved shirt was the most noteworthy of the items, due to the blood stains found on it. It wasn't the same style of clothing anyone in the family would have worn, and wasn't the right size, regardless. The shirt was white with purple sleeves, and was only available in Marufuru shops, a retail chain that also sold the type of gloves and hat found at the crime scene.
The handkerchief was also noteworthy in its own way, as police discovered that the item had been ironed prior to use. This was odd, simply because very few people would go through the effort of ironing a handkerchief. Plus, the idea of a young skater using a handkerchief is, in itself, someone of an odd notion, so internet theorists have attributed the handkerchief being ironed to another clue of the alleged killer living at home with a mother figure.
Forensic analysts would discover trace elements of the male cologne Drakkar Noir on the handkerchief, which is not a case-breaking piece of evidence but still worth noting.
All of the clothing items were found to have been washed in hard water, meaning that the water used to clean the clothing was full of minerals and vitamins not usually found in regularly-occurring water. Japan has long used a soft water system, meaning that the water itself is just water with some sodium. This would be a point in favor of labeling the killer someone of Korean heritage, since Korea uses a hard water system which would lead police to believe that the clothes were washed the way that they were found.
Other than the clothing, however, the killer left behind yet MORE evidence, in the form of personal items. The first and foremost of these items was a "hip-bag," like a mix between a messenger bag, a small backpack, and a fanny pack. It's hard to describe without me sounding incredibly fashionably-deficient, so I recommend just Googling it for your own mental image, if you're like me before this episode who had no idea what it was.
The hip-bag itself was rather innocent-looking, but did contain some pieces of evidence that would continue to guide the way investigators approached the case. The first piece of evidence was a piece of grip-tape used for the surface of skateboards. The second was the trace elements of Drakkar Noir, the cologne found on the handkerchief. The last piece of evidence taken from the hip-bag, most shockingly, was sand.
Prior to the making of this podcast, I had no idea how intricate and advanced the scientific testing of sand was. That may sound silly, but it's absolutely true. Apparently, forensic analysts can take a piece of sand and pinpoint the exact area that the sand came from, within a bubble of fifty-to-a-hundred miles or so.
The sand found in that hip-bag could be identified by the area it came from, which pointed to the Southwestern United States. More specifically, the approximate area around Edwards Air Force Base, the military installation about one-hundred-miles north of Los Angeles.
This startling piece of evidence, potentially linking the killer to a military installation thousands of miles away, has been perhaps the biggest wrench in the entire investigation. Many have viewed this as a sign that the killer was perhaps an airman stationed in Tokyo, or a type of contractor that did business in multiple countries. Some have even tried to link this clue to the ironed handkerchief as being a sign of military bearing, as military service does preach ironing as part of its uniform conduct.
Despite all of this evidence being present at the scene, police weren't anywhere near finished piecing the case together. There would still be more revelations to break in the case, and there wasn't even the sign of a solid suspect on the horizon.
Days began to turn into weeks, and then the weeks morphed into months. Police took the evidence they had to the public, appealing for anyone with knowledge of the clothing to come forward. They were able to track down several items of clothing to the people that owned them, but almost every article left by the killer at the Miyazawa house was common. Thousands of each had been sold in Japan in the year or so prior to the murders, so tracking down every owner of the clothing was a fruitless endeavor.
In early April, about one-hundred-days after the murders, police found something interesting. Originally brought in as evidence, they had discovered a small Buddhist statue less than a mile away from the Miyazawa home.
That statue was in the image of Jizo, a Buddhist deity that protects children in the afterlife. In Eastern Asian incarnations of Buddhism, Jizo is said to protect children in the afterlife who die before their parents, keeping them safe from demons as they ascend to the spirit world.
Police originally brought this in as a piece of evidence, thinking that perhaps the killer had left it behind as a sign of guilt or remorse.
Regardless of who placed it there, along a creek bed in the Setagaya province close to the family home, it remains a tragic reminder of the crimes committed to the Miyazawas.
As police continued to work out the evidence and test the forensics against their burgeoning database, which back in 2000 was still relatively new to the crime-fighting world, they had detailed a series of events that led to the family being murdered.
Police had discovered that the second-story bathroom window, accessible to the back of the house and located just above a fence separating the house from the park, was most likely how the killer had entered the house. This would be a pretty physical feat, and require at least some semblance of upper body strength for the killer to climb up into.
After breaking into the house, they suspected that poor six-year-old Rei had been the first to be targeted by the killer, who entered his bedroom and strangled him while he was still sleeping.
From there, the series of events splinters somewhat, with detectives being less than positive about the killer's next steps. They presume that Mikio, downstairs working in the study on his computer, was distracted by some noise upstairs, and when he was walking up the stairs, he encountered the killer. There, a scuffle ensued, ending with Mikio hitting the bottom of the stairs, where he would be found hours later.
If this series of events is to be believed, then Yasuko and Niina were the next to be approached by the killer, who attacked them, either upstairs in the third-floor loft, or at the foot of the ladder leading up to it. We do know that the first aid kit was utilized by Niina at some point, trying to bandage up some wounds of hers, so it is possible that the killer attacked them with his broken sashimi knife, discovered it was unusable, and he retreated to the kitchen to get another. It was during this pause that the pair of Yasuko and Niina tried to get some medical attention for her, believing the killer had run away for good, because why else wouldn't they have alerted the authorities immediately?
Then, if this theory is what happened, the killer returned with his new weapon to finish off the family, killing the pair at the bottom of the ladder leading up to the loft.
Personally, I find it much more likely that the killer attacked eight-year-old Niina after killing her brother, and the girl was possibly with her mother at the time. This was perhaps when Mikio heard the struggle going on upstairs, and rushed up there in an attempt to draw the killer away from his family, unaware that Rei had already been murdered. Their scuffle led them to the stairs, where the killer managed to inflict the fatal founds on Mikio, but also broke his murder weapon and suffered an injury of his own.
Now close to the family's kitchen, the killer then went into the kitchen to fetch his new murder weapon, then went back upstairs to finish off Yasuko and Niina, who had been trying to heal Niina's injury with bandages from the first aid kit. They were maybe heading up to the loft to try and hide from the killer, hoping that the ladder could be drawn up behind them.
However, police would discover in their re-enactment of the crime that the killer hadn't left after murdering the family of four. He would end up staying in the family's home for hours.
Evidence led police to the notion that the killer, instead of fleeing immediately after killing the Miyazawa family, had decided to stay in the house as an unwanted house-guest. He hadn't even gone through the trouble of covering up the four family member's bodies, but decided to make himself comfortable for the evening.
The unsub had apparently napped on the family's living room sofa, which was one of the oddest developments in the story itself. Usually, suspects flee from the scene as soon as they can, as each minute increases the odds of being discovered, but this killer had seemingly savored the intimacy of living in his victim's home for a night.
The killer of the Miyazawa family had helped himself to food from the family's fridge, namely ice cream. Police would eventually discover four ice cream wrappers, also referred to as popsicle wrappers in some of the sources, with the supposed killer's fingerprints on them. These fingerprints matched up with other fingerprints left all over the house, which didn't belong to any of the family members present.
This unsub had also used the family's computer, which was located in the downstairs study. They discovered that the computer had been accessed in the early morning of December 31st, specifically at 1:18 AM, an hour or two after the family was likely murdered. The unsub had visited a website previously bookmarked by Mikio, belonging to the Shiki Theater Company. You see, Mikio had a history of working with theater as it had been a passion of his, so one has to wonder if this was some kind of sick joke on behalf of the killer, or perhaps even the family was murdered hours after many believed them to be.
However, at 1:18 in the morning, someone had visited that website and attempted to buy tickets for a show online, and the odds remain heavily stacked in favor of the killer doing so.
The killer had apparently also logged on hours later, at approximately 10:05 in the morning, to browse the websites of Mikio's company, Interbrand, and the school that Yasuko taught at. Strangely, the killer only browsed websites the family had bookmarked, perhaps to try and relish being in the intimacy of their home.
After using the computer for a grand total of ten minutes, the killer had then unplugged the computer from the wall.
Throughout the night, the killer had gathered an assortment of the family's ID and credit cards, which were all found sorted in the family's living room, nearby the sofa that the unsub had slept in. This was very odd, and many have theorized that this was an attempt by the killer - or killers - to try and guess the PIN codes needed to use the cards. Once he left the scene, he was unlikely to try and keep guessing and risk exposure, so he left them behind.
Before leaving, the unsub had also gathered an odd variety of the family's belongings and garbage, and put them in the bathtub - for whatever reason. These items were mainly garbage, such as ice cream wrappers or advertising leaflets that had been cut up, but also contained some of Mikio's work receipts and Yasuko's school documents, along with some feminine sanitary items that contained the killer's blood. Many have wondered exactly why the killer would leave such an odd grouping of junk in the bathtub, but have figured that he maybe meant to do something with them and just forgot. Perhaps he had meant to let the items soak before being discovered, in an attempt to hide evidence, unaware that he had left boatloads of it throughout the house.
After sleeping in the Miyazawa home for a few hours, police suspected that the killer had stolen some money from the family, approximately one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand yen. That's roughly the equivalent to over a grand, in American currency. However, the investigators were able to easily find more money in the family's study, where the killer had been eating ice cream and using the computer, leading them to think that this wasn't a simple robbery.
Also, if this had been a robbery, the killer might have stolen some valuables, but it looked like the family's belongings were all left behind. The only item believed to be missing was an old jacket, which had belonged to Mikio, but that was it.
When Yasuko's mother had entered the crime scene, she had recalled the front door being locked. This led police to think that the killer had left in another way, perhaps back through the second-story bathroom window he entered. But over the years, Yasuko's mother has become less-than-certain that the door was locked when she arrived, and it has never become absolutely clear how the killer left the scene of this heinous crimes.
Over the years that have passed since this crime was committed, nearly sixteen as of the recording of this episode, pieces of supposed evidence have been bandied about by internet websleuths in an effort to find answers. But, unfortunately, some of these clues have been proven to be entirely false, simply items that were falsely reported by investigators or misinterpreted altogether.
The first of which would be postcards, which were reported as being missing from the family's home in the days after the murders. Early on, reports came out that the family's holiday greeting cards, sent by family and friends in the weeks before the crime, had been stolen by the killer.
I've seen this brought up a lot on internet message boards, but I hate to say that it is patently false. The "missing" postcards had simply been taken by an investigator, who was following up with the family members and friends that had sent the cards to the Miyazawas. After all, where do you start any criminal investigation? With the people closest to the victims. The postcards never went missing, per se, because they were always in the possession of law enforcement.
The second piece of evidence that has since been discredited is the trace amounts of red dye found at the scene. For years, people have used this factoid to point to the killer being involved in the meth trade, or perhaps even trying to link the Miyazawa family themselves to producing methamphetamine in their basement. Websleuths have often linked the red dye to red phosphorous or red iodine, used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Sadly, the trace amounts of red dye turned out to be an ingredient commonly found in red highlighters, which could mean anything.
I just wanted to get those two pieces of information out there, because almost every internet message board has thrown them out as being vital pieces of information, when in fact, they're both outdated information. Unfortunately, there are not many English-language articles that have come out to correct them, so most of the information regarding this case is close to two decades old.
Over the years, no new answers have come to light. The unknown killer had become an urban legend, the type told by those who remembered an entire family murdered by a midnight demon. We have our fair share of those in the Western Hemisphere, as well, offenders whose antics become larger-than-life in the retelling of their stories.
But in 2006, forensic testing had progressed to the point where investigators could bring this demon back to life. Or, at least, take him from the mid-2000s zeitgeist of the Setagaya district and transform him back into a mortal man, made of flesh and bone.
Using the blood left on towels and feminine products at the scene, DNA genome testing had been utilized to find out exactly what kind of person this killer was, and the results were unexpected.
Police discovered that the likely killer of the Miyazawa family was mixed race, and probably not a Japanese citizen. The unsub's parents had belonged to two varying cultures, one of which was Eastern Asian and the other was of Southern European descent.
“The killer was a male of Asian extraction,” a police source told the magazine 'Japan Today'. “His DNA carried a marker from his father that occurs in one out of every 13 Japanese; one out of about 10 Chinese, and one in every 5 or so Koreans. Based on mitochondrial DNA, his mother had an ancestor originating from the southern Mediterranean area, probably around the Adriatic.”
Just to clarify that statement a little bit: there is a chance that the perpetrator of this violent act is a Japanese citizen, but with the fingerprints not matching up with anything over the past sixteen years, the odds are slim. In the years after September 11th, countries around the world have made it a priority to obtain fingerprints for anybody entering their borders, to catch criminals such as this. The odds of someone committing this act and then not showing up on anyone's radar, or at least committing a similar crime, are very small.
But the DNA doesn't lie: this unknown killer has a mother whose heritage lies in Southern Europe, perhaps Hispanic, and whose father is Eastern Asian. The only true inconsistency comes from trying to guess the overall heritage of the father, seeing how the genome found is prevalent in Koreans, but is also found in those of Chinese and Japanese descent.
However, besides the potential DNA, we also know a few other facts about the killer. We know that he stands about 175 centimeters tall, roughly five-foot-seven, which was discovered by matching up the clothing he left at the crime scene. He wore a Korean-specific size of shoe, totaling in at about 27.5 cm long - just under eleven inches. And based on the blood recovered at the scene not matching with the family, he was of the blood type-A.
Of course, we know these details about the killer, but he has somehow found a way to escape justice for sixteen years now.
One of the major inconsistencies facing the investigation is the total number of killers. I have been approaching this episode with the presumption that it is just one, but rumors have long persisted that as many as three men were present at the Miyazawa house the night in question.
These rumors began circulating when the news broke about the taxi driver, who picked up three suspicious gentlemen the night of the mass murder. I told you about one of those passengers leaving behind a blood stain, which the early news reports point out as being an interesting piece of evidence by investigators. Those reports hint at the police trying to test that blood stain with the evidence left behind at the scene, but in the years since, there has been no word on whether or not it matched up with anything. One has to assume that it turned out to be a false lead, or led to a dead end for the investigation.
However, it is possible that the theory of three killers marred the early investigation, and focused the detectives in on the wrong angle. These rumors perhaps mingled with Mikio Miyazawa's alleged spat with skateboarders and bikers, and the police may have spent a good amount of time following that angle. After all, the killer was wearing clothes familiar to skateboarders, but theories over the years have considered this perhaps a careful ruse: if the killer was someone who had planned on killing the Miyazawas in advance, wouldn't it be a good cover to wear the uniform of the people that the patriarch had been publicly spatting with?
In the early reports regarding the investigation, journalistic sources claimed that police were also investigating whether or not the killer had left sometime during the night and returned. I haven't seen this backed up by any of the evidence, but it would also fit in with the multiple killer theory; what if, instead of leaving, there were three people at the crime scene, with one entering through the second-story window and letting the other two in later?
That being said, this is just a theory. There has been no evidence to presume that three killers were involved with the crime, or conspired to kill the Miyazawa family.
Besides the rumors regarding there being three killers, there have been a few other strong theories to crop up over the years.
I addressed the first earlier in the episode, but it regards the killer being a member of the military, in some fashion. Evidence found in the hip-bag left behind by the killer point to an area in the United States Southwest, just north of Los Angeles, which leads us to Edwards Air Force Base. There has been a decent US military presence in Japan for decades now, and it's quite easy to make the assumption that someone who had gone through training at Edwards Air Force Base would then be stationed at Yokoto Air Base, located just forty minutes west of the Setagaya district.
However, it is also worth articulating a counterpoint: that the evidence found in the hip-bag, some sand, could also be an accidental misdirection. It is very possible that the bag itself had been obtained secondhand by the killer, as many skateboarding items are: purchased in a thrift shop, or at a used skateboarding shop, or even on a site like Ebay, which was very active at this time in late-2000.
I haven't been able to discover whether or not the Tokyo detectives handling the case have been able to double-check the fingerprints with military systems throughout the decades, but it stands to reason that there wasn't a lot of crossover in the years before 9/11.
Another major theory regarding the killer is that he was a travelling vagrant, who utilized the train system to make his escape. This is due to the Miyazawa home being located in Setagaya, a large district of Tokyo with easy access to several train systems, a couple of which were less than a few kilometers away. That, paired with the unnamed man who was treated at a train station's medical center just a few hours away, has led many to believe that he might be a wandering criminal, who simply took advantage of the situation.
And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't throw out the most probable backstory of the killer: that he was someone the Miyazawas were personal with, or was one of the skaters that Mikio had picked a beef with in the weeks before his untimely demise. This is very much a real possibility, and one I avoid because of how (quote/unquote) "easy" it is to throw out there.
In December of 2015, noted true crime author Fumiya Ichihashi published a Japanese-language book titled, in English, "The Setagaya Family Murder Case." In this book, he details his alleged suspect, a man he calls 'R,' who was a former member of the South Korean military.
Ichihashi utilizes evidence found at the scene, including dirt left behind that he traced back to a Korean province which 'R' lived in. Ichihashi also claims to have obtained the fingerprints of this suspect, which he alleges match up perfectly with those left behind at the crime scene.
Only time will tell whether this book leads to any answers, but the truth is that over 250,000 Japanese police officers and investigators have been involved with the investigation over the past sixteen years. The hard work of those quarter-million investigators, paired with a countless number of internet theories, has resulted in this suspect escaping justice for the better part of two decades.
The investigation to find the killer of the Miyazawa family is still unresolved.
Sources and further reading
- Wikipedia: Setagaya family murder
- Wikipedia (Japanese, translated): Setagaya Family murder case
- NHK - "The Setagaya Family Murder: Near the scene, a man with bloody hands" (Japanese language article)
- Google translation of NHK article
- Keishicho Metro Tokyo flyer
- Google translation of Asahi article "The Setagaya Family Murder: Did the killer leave at 3 AM?"
- The Guardian - "Brutal murder of family heightens Japanese fears"
- MorbidStreak (Blogspot) - "The Setagaya Family Murders: the bizarre unsolved murder of a family of four"
- The Japan Times - "Shirt may be linked to family's killer"
- TMC News - "Setagaya killer may be Asian or Japanese of mixed descent: report+"
- Japan Policy & Politics - "Suspect stayed at Setagaya home half day after murders"
- Japan Daily Press - "Murder of family of 4 in Tokyo still unsolved after 12 years"
- Japan Daily Press - "Tokyo police remember 13th year of family's slaying, vow to solve case"
- The Mainichi - "Police vow to solve 2000 murder of Tokyo family"
- Japan Today - "New book claims to shed light on Setagaya family murders in 2000"