A man under arrest for abandoning the body of 13-year-old Natsumi Hirata is suspected of having checked on the body of her slain classmate in a bamboo grove shortly before his arrest on Aug. 21, sources close to the investigation said.
Koji Yamada, 45, a contract employee from Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, briefly entered the bamboo grove in the prefectural city of Kashiwara at around noon on Aug. 21, according to investigative sources. Osaka Prefectural Police suspect that Yamada, who was empty-handed at the time, apparently visited the grove to check the body of 12-year-old Ryoto Hoshino, Hirata's classmate at the Nakakida Junior High School in Neyagawa who had been missing since earlier this month.
According to the sources, Yamada was arrested on suspicion of dumping the body of Hirata at around 8:20 p.m. on Aug. 21 when he was driving a light van in Osaka's Joto Ward. Several hours before his arrest, he stopped his van near the bamboo grove in Kashiwara and entered the forest by himself while apparently watching out for potential witnesses.
A couple of minutes later, he emerged from the grove, got on his vehicle and drove away. He subsequently went back to his apartment in Neyagawa. The bamboo grove is about 20 kilometers south of Yamada's home and is situated outside residential areas, with hardly any traffic even in the daytime. The site is close to National Route 170, which leads to an area near a parking lot in Takatsuki where Hirata's body was found earlier this month.
During their investigation, prefectural police officers learned that Yamada had bought two rolls of duct tape at a convenience store near the bamboo grove on the afternoon of Aug. 13, the day the body of Hirata was found. An investigator who had been tracking him since the predawn hours of Aug. 21 spotted Yamada dropping by the bamboo forest. After Yamada left the grove, the investigator entered the site to find Hoshino's body. His body had decomposed after apparently being left abandoned in the open for a long time.
Yamada was engaged in decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture and was back in his Osaka hometown for the Bon holiday period at the time. On Aug. 23, Osaka Prefectural Police searched the lodgings where Yamada is believed to have stayed in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Nihonmatsu.
Yamada was sent to the Osaka District Prosecutors Office on Aug. 23. He had initially denied the allegations against him at the time of his arrest, but has since remained silent during questioning.