Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Kabukichou Love Hotel Murders


Back in the 1980s, Akina Nakamori was one of the biggest pop stars in Japan. Compared to the other idol giant of the time, sweet goody two-shoes Seiko Matsuda, Nakamori sang gloomy songs about being a rebel and getting your heart broken. Recently, while exploring Nakamori’s back catalog, I heard a pretty catchy song called Shoujo A.

The title of the song literally means “Girl A,” but as one translator rendered it, it might better be understood in English as “Jane Doe.” In the Japanese media, for the sake of anonymity, names might sometimes be given as vague pseudonyms like Mr. A, Victim B, or Housewife C. In Nakamori’s song, the 17-year-old narrator calls herself Shoujo A, a nobody who isn’t special and can be found anywhere.

Now legend has it that Shoujo A was inspired by a series of unsolved murders in Tokyo’s infamous red-light district, Kabukichou. These murders, which all might have been committed by the same man, happened a year before the song’s release. The third victim was known as Shoujo A, and like the narrator of the Nakamori hit, was only 17-years-old.

Regardless of whether this is true or not, the story behind the rumor is an interesting one. Between March and June 1981, three women were killed in different love hotels in Kabukichou. The first body was found on the morning of March 20. The victim, Hostess A, had checked into the room with a young man the night before.

When it was coming time for check-out, the room didn’t answer the hotel’s calls. An employee sent to go check the room found Hostess A dead and alone. The cause of death was strangulation. A business card, belonging to Hostess A, identified her as a 33-year-old hostess at a local cabaret.

The name on the card, however, turned out to be a fake one.

Hostess A was actually 45, not 33. Six years before her murder, she abandoned her husband and son and went to work in Kabukichou. Her husband passed away while looking for her, and her son died only a year later. She lived alone and might have worked as a prostitute. It’s possible she picked up her killer at her cabaret job.

The next victim, Hostess B, was found on the night of April 25. This woman had been strangled with her pantyhose. Most of her clothes were missing, though the killer left behind some trivial belongings of hers, like earrings and cigarettes. Her companion, who left the hotel after checking in only an hour later, was described as a salaryman.

While the names for the other victims in this case are pseudonyms, Hostess B is a genuine Jane Doe. The police were never able to establish who she was. All they could tell was that Hostess B was in her early 20s. Since her teeth were in poor condition, and her lungs were exceptionally good, she might have come from a rural area.

The third victim was Shoujo A, the supposed inspiration for the Nakamori song. Her body was discovered on the night of June 14, 1981. Like the other two victims, Shoujo A checked into a room with a man who left by himself. An employee found her naked, having been choked with her pantyhose.

At the scene of the crime, Shoujo A was still faintly alive, but she unfortunately died in the hospital. Her identity was established through some library books she left in the hotel room. Shoujo A was a 17-year-old student from Kawaguchi, a city less than an hour away from Tokyo.

The day of her murder, Shoujo A was hanging out with her 18-year-old fiancé in Shinjuku, the ward where Kabukichou is located. At 4:30 PM, the fiancé headed home, and Shoujo A was left alone. Sometime after this, since some coffee was found in her stomach, she’s believed to have gone to a coffee shop. Around 6:30, she checked into the love hotel with a salaryman. In another two hours, she’d be dead.

Since the other victims were hostesses, Shoujo A is a bit out of place here. She was engaged with a loving boyfriend, so why would she have gone to a love hotel? It’s possible that Shoujo A, like Hostess A, was a prostitute. On the other hand, the killer might have been a new acquaintance. Shoujo A was interested in theater, and the day before her murder, mentioned that she’d met some people who could help her become an actress.

There is another incident associated with the Love Hotel Murders, but it was a robbery, not a murder. Five days after Shoujo A was murdered, a 30-year-old hostess checked into a love hotel with a salaryman. The man tied the hostess up, beat her, and took off with the money from her wallet. Though the victim survived, the man might have been trying to kill her.

All in all, there are some striking similarities between the murders. The first three victims, for example, were strangled, and Hostess B and Shoujo A with their own pantyhose. Their autopsies also showed that the three women had taken some kind of stimulant, possibly from a drink given to them by the killer. Additionally, the victims’ companion was described as being a salaryman in the robbery and two of the murders.

Personally, I’m not so sure that the robbery is connected. At the bare least, the murders of Hostess B and Shoujo A probably are, since both were killed the exact same way. I don’t know how many businessmen were running around in Kabukichou and drugging and strangling women in love hotels in 1981, but it’s a safe bet that Hostess A was killed by the same guy as well.

In an era before love hotels adopted security cameras, the Love Hotel murderer was able to slip away undetected. In 1995, the case was closed without any resolve. Whether or not it inspired Shoujo A, the case is certainly as depressing as an Akina Nakamori song.


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