The Hachioji Supermarket Triple Murder : True Crime Diva

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Noriko Inagaki, 47, Megumi Yabuki, 17, and Hiromi Maeda, 16, worked part-time at the Nampei Owada supermarket in Hachioji, Tokyo, Japan. Inagaki started working at the supermarket on July 1, 1995. Shortly after, the store’s owner promoted her to night manager.

Yabuki had dreams of going to college and pursuing a degree in education. She wanted to be a preschool teacher. Maeda and Yabuki were friends. Maeda was a bright student who did volunteer work at local nursing homes. 

The two teenage friends were excited about the annual Obon Festival, also called Bon, a celebration commemorating and remembering deceased ancestors, similar to Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

According to Asia Highlights, “Traditionally, Obon is celebrated from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar year. Today, the dates of the festival have been converted to a standard solar calendar date and while most regions of Japan celebrate from the 13th-15th of August, there are some regions that celebrate in July depending on their interpretation of the original lunar calendar.

The 1995 festival in Hachioji occurred in July. Maeda and Yabuki had plans to go to the festival together after work one night, but they never made it.

Triple Murder

On July 30, 1995, Inagaki and Yabuki arrived at the supermarket around 5 p.m. to begin their four-hour shifts. The store had been busy for most of the day due to Bon. The other employees had all left by 6:30 p.m., leaving Inagaki and Yabuki to operate the store alone. However, most of the customers had gone to attend the festival, so the supermarket was relatively quiet.

Maeda had the night off, but she and Yabuki planned to head to a park near work to watch a festival performance after the store closed. Maeda went to the supermarket around 7 p.m. and decided to stay and help the other two. 

At 9:15 p.m., Inagaki called a male friend to pick her up after work. They had made plans to go to a bar together. He arrived soon after Inagaki’s call, but Inagaki never came outside. Her friend thought she might have gone directly to the bar, but there was no sign of Inagaki when he arrived. He returned to the store at 9:50 p.m. with the bar’s female owner, and both went inside. They found all three employees dead on the floor in the second-floor manager’s office. 

The assailants bound the victims with duct tape. Then, they shot Maeda and Yabuki once in the back of the head and Inagaki twice.

Investigation

Police theorized the murders occurred shortly after Inagaki made the phone call. One could only access the manager’s office through an outdoor staircase leading to the office door. The store’s safe was in the office containing about 4 million yen (27,068 USD), police said. Someone had attempted to pry open the safe door, but the money was still inside. 

Police also discovered someone had turned off the store’s CCTV. One source says the cameras were for monitoring and did not record.

Witnesses recalled seeing a person watching the store on the west side of the building. Others reported seeing a young man and woman walking across the parking lot toward the store’s entrance shortly before 9 p.m.

Some also saw a white sedan near the store’s entrance just after 9 p.m. A couple of reports say the vehicle belonged to the couple; others did not mention anything about the owner.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police called the crime a “failed robbery attempt” because the assailants fled without cash, but there are problems with their theory.

According to S.A. Ozbourne, the store had been robbed numerous times, and many locals knew the office door remained unlocked during working hours. Additionally, they had often seen employees carrying money bags to the office unaccompanied by security guards. However, the assailants stole no money from the store or from the victims.

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As night manager, Inagaki was responsible for placing the cash register money into the safe at closing time. Therefore, she knew the safe combination. Additionally, the code was on the manager’s desk in plain view. So, it does not make sense the killer(s) tried forcing the door open unless they did so to make it look like an attempted robbery.

Investigators initially believed the owner of the store and Inagaki’s male friend were involved in the crime. Inagaki was having an affair with the owner. However, police found no evidence connecting the men to the crime.

Another theory is a grudge against Inagaki, which makes the most sense. Ozbourne reported she was beaten and stabbed before being shot, but the teenagers were not. One could speculate the assailants attempted to get information from Inagaki by torturing her. Moreover, the killer(s) shot her twice, whereas they shot the girls only once. 

Forensic experts detected DNA from two cigarettes in the parking lot near the entrance. However, police could not find a DNA match in their database. There was also a report of a cigarette with lipstick in an ashtray inside the manager’s office. The lipstick did not match any of the supermarket’s employees.

Ballistic testing on the bullet shells found at the crime scene showed the firearm used in the triple murder was a Philippine-made “Squires Bingham” pistol, allegedly used by gang members.

Suspects

Forensic experts had lifted partial fingerprints off the tape used to bind the victims. Police said they closely matched a Japanese male who died in 2005 of natural causes. The man had lived in the Tama district in west Tokyo, about 12 miles southeast of Hachioji.

Normally, the legal criteria for a fingerprint match are correspondence at 12 or more points, which is why the initial searches of databases failed to narrow down a suspect. An 8-point match is still said to have an accuracy of about 100 million to one. While the prints left behind on the tape could not provide a 12-point match, the man’s prints were in the database due to his having a prior criminal record. At the time of the killings, police found nothing to suggest the man had been in the area where the crimes took place.

Japan Today

After the man’s death, authorities took DNA samples from his family, which did not match those found on the tape.


Just before his execution in 2009, a Japanese man on death row in China for drug trafficking claimed that a Chinese man living in Canada was involved in the supermarket murders. 

Liang He lived in Japan for several years between 1990 and 2002, when he was arrested for passport fraud. Liang escaped back to his home country and involved himself in drug trafficking before fleeing to Canada in 2006.

According to the Japanese man, a mixed gang of Chinese and Japanese men carried out a series of robberies in 1990, five years before the supermarket murder. Liang was part of that group. 

In 2010, the National Police Agency attempted to extradite Liang to Japan. In turn, Liang filed an appeal but lost. Japanese authorities extradited him in 2013, arresting him in Tokyo on passport fraud. A court later found him guilty, and he served two years in a Japanese prison before returning to Canada. Liang’s lawyer had made a deal where Japanese officials could not interview him about his involvement in the 1995 triple murder. Liang has denied involvement but also refuses to discuss the murders.


Tokyo police revealed in 2020 that they had confiscated a pistol from a Yakuza gang member after his arrest in a separate 2009 incident. Ballistics showed it was likely the gun used in the 1995 supermarket murders. He denied involvement in the Hachioji crime and refused to speak to authorities.

The case remains unsolved. On the 28th anniversary of the murders, police publicly appealed for information to help solve the crime. 

Sources

“1995 Hachioji Supermarket Triple Murder Case Remains Unsolved After 28 Years.” Japan Today. July 30, 2023. https://japantoday.com/category/crime/1995-hachioji-supermarket-triple-murder-case-remains-unsolved-after-28-years 

“Deceased Man Linked to Fingerprint in 1995 Supermarket Triple-Murder Had Alibi.” Japan Times. February 20, 2015. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/02/20/national/crime-legal/deceased-man-linked-fingerprint-1995-supermarket-triple-murder-alibi/ 

“In the Case of Three Women in a Japanese Supermarket in 1995, the Youngest Girl was Only 16 years old, and the Murderer is Still at Large.” iNews. https://inf.news/en/world/376a3fc76137ec467726f13511592218.html

“Murder of 3 High School Students at Hachioji Supermarket in Tokyo Remains Unsolved for 27 Years.” Teller Report. July 29, 2022. https://www.tellerreport.com/life/2022-07-29-murder-of-3-high-school-students-at-hachioji-supermarket-in-tokyo-remains-unsolved-for-27-years.SkZd7MT-6q.html 

Ozbourne, S.A. “3 Female Staff Executed at a Supermarket.” Vocal Media. 2021. https://vocal.media/criminal/3-female-staff-executed-at-a-supermarket 

“Three Market Workers Slain in Tokyo.” UPI. July 31, 1995. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1995/07/31/Three-market-workers-slain-in-Tokyo/9651807163200/

“Yakuza Denies Involvement in ’95 Hachioji Triple Murder.” Tokyo Reporter. July 23, 2020. https://www.tokyoreporter.com/crime/yakuza-denies-involvement-in-95-hachioji-triple-murder/ 



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