This is a story that is almost like something out of a movie. There are so many twists and turns, unanswered questions, red herrings, and obstacles that have made this case impossible to solve even after 27 years.
Even whether this crime was planned or spur of the moment, was it a robbery gone wrong, or a specific hit, are left unanswered. All we know is that a supermarket in Tokyo had two female part-time workers on shift, 47-year-old and 17-year-old. Another 16-year-old part-time worker who was not on her shift was also on-site waiting for her coworker when just after closing time, someone came into the supermarket office, killing the three females, and escaped.
Who was this culprit(s)? Did the police have any leads? Was anyone ever suspected of the crime? How did the women die? Was it a robbery or was it a hit on one of the staff? What happened in the investigation and has there been any progress on the case?
This is the sad and bewildering story of the Hachioji Super Nanpei Incident of 1995 in Tokyo, Japan.
Whether this crime was planned as a robbery or if it was someone taking revenge on one of the workers is still up for debate. But either way, three females were brutally and methodically murdered without any regard for life.
Even more heartbreaking was the fact that two of the victims were teenage girls in high school, who most likely were just collateral damage in the incident. Seventeen-year-old Megumi Yabuki was a high school student who was working part-time at the supermarket to save money. She was a big fan of the local baseball team and was hoping to go to college to become a nursery school teacher.
In an article in Tokyo Shinbun, Megumi’s best friend in high school talked about their friendship.
“We were good friends since junior high. When we entered high school, we both were fans of the baseball player Ichiro and liked the music group Dreams Come True. Sometimes after school, we would go to Shibuya to take photos at pricura (photo booths). Because Megumi wanted to be a nursery school teacher she needed to learn piano and was taking lessons with some friends.”
On the day of the incident, the town was having its annual summer festival that takes place during Obon Season in Japan. There were outdoor food stalls, people dressed in summer kimonos, and there were Japanese drum performances and fireworks. Megumi was looking forward to her shift to end so she could head out to the festival to catch the fireworks and meet friends.
Hiromi Maeda was a 16-year-old high school student who also worked part-time at the supermarket. She was known as a serious and hard-working student who participated in many activities including volunteering at the local seniors home.
Hiromi was off on the day of the incident but decided to go to work so she could get her work schedule. She was excited about the summer festival as well and once at work decided she would wait with her friend Megumi so they could go to the festival together.
Hiromi also noticed that the end of night duties was left to only her friend Megumi and the night clerk woman, Noriko. So despite not being on duty or getting paid, she decided to help the two workers out with the closing procedures. It was her kindness that would keep her at the supermarket and make her a victim.
The main night staff was 47 year old Noriko Inagaki, who was in charge of closing up the cash registers and placing all the money in a safe in the office of the supermarket. She had the key to the safe as well as the information required to open and close the safe.
She had only been working at the supermarket for a month but was placed in charge at night. There were rumors in the town that she was dating the supermarket manager. Not too much is known about Noriko’s past but according to Japanese Wikipedia, Noriko was known to have connections with many men who might have been part of the underworld, yakuza.
Before working at the supermarket, earlier in her career she had worked as a hostess in a Japanese hostess club. Hostesses dress in fancy clothes, serve drinks, and entertain rich salarymen and varied clientele who spend lots of money to drink and talk to women. Through this experience, she had opened her own restaurant and built up a loyal customer base.
However, she was known to be rough and fierce, creating enemies along the way. The police had found that she had filed a complaint of getting threats and even mail with a knife enclosed with a note saying, “there is no life if you continue at this rate.”
A year before the incident, Noriko had closed her restaurant and decided to go back to school to become a licensed caregiver. She was attending school and working nights to make ends meet. Unfortunately, on July 30, 1995, Noriko along with her two young coworkers would be forced into the supermarket office and killed.
A supermarket called Nanpei Owada, located in Hachioji, Tokyo, was open every day from 10 am to 9 pm and sold local groceries and household products. The supermarket had about 20 employees in total. The night shift usually only had a few employees on hand, including one person in charge of taking the money from sales and putting it into a safe located on the second floor. The office could only be reached by exiting the supermarket and using a separate outdoor staircase to get to the office.
The supermarket was having a special four-day sale to celebrate the summer season and the upcoming fireworks festival that was set to happen Sunday night. This meant that there were more than the usual number of shoppers and much more money from the sales in the safe. Police later determined that there was 5.2 million yen ( around $52,000) in the safe at the time.
Megumi whose shift was to start at 5 pm rode her bicycle from her home and headed to work. Around the same time, Noriko got a drive from her friend and arrived at the store just before 5 pm. The friend told police that Noriko and he were going to go for dinner and drinks after work so he had promised to come back to pick her up after her shift.
As Sunday evening was the last day of the sale and people were heading to the festival, Megumi and Noriko’s main job was to serve any last-minute customers, start closing off parts of the supermarket, and then finally cash out.
Around 5:30, a shopper who was later interviewed by the police gave a description of a suspicious man in his 50s wandering around in front of and then inside of the store not buying anything.
At 6:30 one of the last remaining staff from the day shift left leaving only Megumi and Noriko to run the store until closing. Around this same time is when the festival began so large crowds of people started heading to the local park and the loud sound of music and drumming could be heard.
Just before 7 pm, Hiromi, a 16-year-old high school student who also worked at the supermarket stopped by to check her schedule to see her next shift. While there, she started talking to Megumi and they decided to go see the fireworks festival together once Megumi finished her shift.
While waiting, Hiromi was kind enough to help out with the closing up of the market to speed up the process and help her fellow coworkers. By 8 pm, there were almost no customers in the store so Noriko decided to have Megumi close her register and start cashing out. Noriko took Megumi’s till and deposited the money into the safe in the office.
Around 8:30 while Noriko was in the office, some customers witnessed some suspicious men in their 40s and 50s wandering around the store while Megumi and Hiromi stood and talked by the register.
The last confirmed sighting of all three females was just before 9 pm closing. Hiromi bought milk and eggs for herself while Megumi started closing up the curtains and dividers in the supermarket. A shopper who was having a conversation with Megumi was told by her that she was going to go to the festival after closing up.
The final purchase at the shop was recorded at 8:56 pm when a couple bought some fruits and snacks. They were also driving a white car and might have been the last people to see the three women alive. They also may have seen the culprit but still have not come forward despite police searching and asking for assistance.
Once the store officially closed, Noriko closed the final register and deposited the money into the safe. She locked the safe which required a key and passcode. Only employees who were in charge of the money had a key and the passcode was written and visibly noticeable on the manager’s desk.
After 9 pm, Noriko and the two girls locked the supermarket, turned off the lights, and were closing up to leave. Around the same time, a man who lived nearby who had his car parked in the market parking lot said he saw a man standing next to the supermarket. But the man had his head down so he couldn’t be identified.
At 9:15 pm, Noriko called her friend from the supermarket office and asked him to pick her up. She activated the security system of the supermarket before supposedly leaving the office. But just a minute later, the security system was deactivated. Police believe this culprit(s) must have forced the three back into the office as they were leaving and made them deactivate the security.
Just a couple of minutes later, bursting sounds could be heard but nearby residents and even some high school students who were out on the street told the police they thought it might have been the sounds of the fireworks.
At 9:20, just 5 minutes after Noriko had called her friend, he came to the supermarket to pick her up. The supermarket was closed but there were still lights on in the office so he waited in his car for Noriko to come out.
After waiting until 9:45 pm and not seeing Noriko he thought she might have gone home to change or gone to the restaurant before him so he headed to the restaurant to find her.
Once arriving at the restaurant and finding she hadn’t arrived, he thought she might still be in the office changing so he brought a female restaurant staff with him to go back to the supermarket to check.
At 10 pm, the friend waited in the car while the woman went to check on Noriko. She found the door unlocked, got no response so went back to the car. Had she looked further in the room and on the floor she would have screamed.
When the friend and the woman both went back to the office and looked closer, they saw all three of the workers on the floor dead. The two high school girls had their hands, legs, and mouth duct-taped and had been shot in the back of the head while a pool of blood spread around them. Noriko was found propped up against the safe and also had bullet wounds to her head.
The friend and female restaurant staff rushed to the police station near the main train station and notified the police who called in police investigators.
Evidence Left Behind
The first thing the police noticed was that there were four security cameras in the supermarket that could be monitored in the office upstairs. However, they were only for monitoring and were not recorded. Any footage of the culprit or suspicious activity was never captured making it difficult to narrow down suspects.
Police found that 5 shots had been fired that night. One shot was at close range to the back of Megumi’s head, killing her instantly. Then another shot at close range to the back of Hiromi’s head killing her instantly as well.
However, with Noriko, medical examiners found that she had been beaten on the arm and head with the butt of the gun. She had also been stabbed before being shot in the head twice.
The fifth shot was a shot aimed at the lock area of the safe. This might have been because although the key was in the safe slot, the culprit might not have known the passcode and shot the safe out of frustration.
However, Noriko knew the passcode and it was also written on the manager’s desk so an alternative theory is the culprit made it look like a failed robbery in order to kill Noriko, the main target.
The safe had remained closed, the money was still inside, and nothing was stolen including the money, wallets, and purses of the three victims.
Police were also able to confirm that the gun used in the shooting was a .38 caliber Squires Bingham revolver made in The Philippines. This gun is a knock-off of the famous American Colt gun and thousands were illegally smuggled from The Philippines to Japan by criminals and the yakuza.
Since guns are not popular in Japan and gun violence is rare, this made the case even more shocking to the Japanese public.
Along with bullet casings left behind, the only other evidence that the police had to work with was some footprints on the floor that confirmed that the shooter wore size 26 (US 8) shoes. They also found some sweat and partial fingerprints on the duct tape used to tie up the two girls.
Mysteriously, there were also many cigarette butts in the office ashtray with lipstick but it didn’t match any of the staff at the supermarket. This was one of the mysteries that the police are still seeking answers for.
The police have two theories as reported by NTV News; the robbery theory and the grudge theory.
At first, the police focused on the incident being a robbery gone wrong. The fact that the culprit(s) knew the closing time, location of the supermarket office, and waited for after closing time on the last day of the sale means they knew a lot more money than usual would be in the safe.
The supermarket had been robbed many times before as the office was located on the second floor and could only be reached from an external staircase. Residents around the market also knew the office was usually left unlocked, and female staff were often seen carrying bags of cash from the market and going up the stairs unattended by security guards.
Using a gun was rare as only Japanese-Chinese mafia gangs were known to own guns and often conducted criminal activity like robberies. The police felt this supermarket could have been a target but when the safe couldn’t be opened quickly, the shooter panicked and killed the three female workers and escaped.
However, just as convincing, are later theories once investigators found out about the background of the supermarket and Noriko.
Considering that Noriko had the key and the passcode but the safe was still unopened might point to the idea that the real target of the crime was Noriko herself. Through forensics and footprint analysis, police found that the culprit walked directly from the office door to the safe. Then went to the center where they shot the two girls, then went back out of the office.
There were no footprints of the culprit with blood, no fingerprints on any of the walls, desk, shelves, or safe, and nothing looked like it had been moved. It was a quick enter, shoot, and escape-type crime with little movement around the office.
The fact that the killer quickly and effectively shot and killed the two high school girls at close range but beat, stabbed, and shot Noriko shows that they may have had a grudge against her.
The culprit was knowledgeable about guns and shooting and seemed like a professional so they could have been someone who had a grudge or was hired to assassinate Noriko. As mentioned before, Noriko was known to have a rough personality, was often seen screaming at men, and was also receiving threats on her life before the incident.
Since the gun was originally from The Philippines, Japanese police asked for the help of police in that country to track the gun. However, there have still not been any clear updates on who bought the gun or brought it into Japan.
Despite very little evidence that could be helpful to solving the case, the biggest clue was the fingerprint on the duct tape used to bind the two high school girls. Although it was a partial print, the police were able to identify a suspect.
Investigators were able to lift the print from the tape and compare it to the more than 10 million fingerprints on the Metropolitan Police Department database. They were able to find an 8 point match to a Japanese man who lived in the area and owned a white sedan.
The man’s son had been in an accident and was in debt to pay a large amount of damages to the victim. The man might have had a motive to steal the money to help his son.
He was brought in and questioned but seemed to have an alibi. Also, because the fingerprint was only an 8 point match, it wasn’t enough to use as evidence. A 12 point match is necessary as the standard for concluding the identity of a person.
The man also later died in 2005 and when police took DNA samples from his family, it was concluded that it didn’t match the DNA left at the scene.
According to the Toronto Star, a Chinese man working at a supermarket in Ontario, Canada was also suspected to be the culprit in Japan. A man named Liang He lived in Japan from the 1990s to 2002. He was caught for overstaying his visa and was deported. While in Japan, he had joined a gang that was involved in burglaries and other crimes.
In 2002, creating a fake passport, along with a Japanese associate, he started dealing drugs in China. He then escaped to Canada in 2006 when his partner was caught. His partner was jailed and sentenced to execution for his crimes. While awaiting his execution in 2009, he told the police he knew the identity of the person who killed the three workers at the Japanese supermarket in Hachioji.
China informed Japan and they asked Canada to extradite Liang back to Japan for his passport forgery crimes. In November 2013, he was finally taken back to Japan to face charges of passport fraud. He was found guilty and served two years in prison before returning to Canada. According to the deals with his lawyer, he was not allowed to be questioned by Japan about his involvement in the supermarket murders.
Whether the police questioned him about the case or not, legally they were not allowed to ask him for a statement regarding the case.
The case is unsolved but still ongoing and the police have had their eyes on two other possibilities. One is the last couple who bought something at the shop. Since there was no video footage, police have not been able to identify them and they have not come forward.
Could the couple be involved? The cigarette butts in the office with lipstick with DNA that doesn’t match any of the staff at the store; could that belong to her?
Another man, who is currently in jail for various crimes also had many guns confiscated, with one matching the one used in the crime. The man says he bought the gun from someone in 2009 but can’t recall who. He most likely has been ruled out as the culprit but the person who sold him the gun could be the person who used it to kill three innocent women.
In the end, whether the culprit(s) are in Canada, China, Japan, are the last couple who shopped at the store or are part of some yakuza gang, it has been 30 years and there has been no justice for Hiromi, Megumi, or Noriko.
Almost 30 years with not much progress, witnesses have gotten old or passed away. The culprit(s) might have already passed away, been locked up in prison, or could be living a normal life.
Unfortunately, unless the police get a lucky break like a confession or some DNA match, it is most likely going to stay unsolved. The supermarket was rebranded in 1998 but ultimately closed down. It was torn down and now a parking lot sits at the location. There is still a sign in memory of the victims and the crime that occurred there in 1995.