Joji Obara (織原 城二 Obara Jōji , born 1952 in Osaka, Japan) is a convicted rapist who was accused of the rape and subsequent deaths of two women, British hostess Lucie Blackman in the summer of 2000 and Australian Carita Ridgway in 1992, and the rapes of six other women.
Joji Obara was born Kim Sung Jong (金聖鐘) in 1952 to poor Korean parents in Osaka, Japan. During his youth, his father worked his way from scrap collector to taxi driver to immensely wealthy owner of a string of pachinko parlours. At 15, Obara enrolled in prestigious private high schools, a prep school which is owned by Keio University, which at graduation guarantees entrance to the University. Two years later, upon his father's death, he inherited property in Osaka and Tokyo. After graduating from Keio University with degrees in politics and law, he became a naturalized Japanese citizen and legally changed his name to Joji Obara.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Obara invested heavily in real estate speculation. After losing his fortune when the bubble burst and his firm collapsed, he reportedly used his business as a money laundering front for the yakuza syndicate, Sumiyoshi-kai.
His collection of pornographic videos, 4,000 to 5,000 of which were recovered by police, led police to believe that Obara may have raped anywhere from 150 to 400 women. A recreational drug user, he was reported to have an obsession with Caucasians and developed a sex fetish for molesting unconscious women. Police found over 200 sex videos involving Obara's molesting women in this manner, sometimes wearing a facemask, and they reported that his extensive journals made reference to "conquer play", a euphemism describing his sexual assaults on women who he wrote were "only good for sex" and on which he sought revenge, "revenge on the world" drugging them with chloroform.
Lucie Blackman (September 1, 1978 – July 1, 2000) was an English woman who worked as a hostess in Roppongi, Tokyo. Blackman had previously worked as a flight attendant for British Airways and had come to Japan to see the world and earn money to pay off her debts. At the time of her disappearance, she had been working as a hostess at Casablanca, a night club in Roppongi, later called Greengrass. She was 21 years old at the time of her death.
Blackman's mysterious death and disappearance, as well as Obara's trial, received high press coverage in Japan and internationally, especially in the British media. As a result of the publicity surrounding the case, three foreign women came forward to describe waking up, sore and sick, in Obara’s bed, with no memory of the night before. (See drug-facilitated sexual assault.) Several of them, it turned out, had reported him to the Roppongi police but had been ignored.
On July 1, Blackman went on a douhan (a paid date) with a customer from Casablanca. Other than a few calls to a friend during the date, no one heard from her again. The Blackman family, wanting to find her, flew to Tokyo and took the opportunity to start a high-profile direct media campaign, including approaching British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who was in Tokyo at that time. Newspapers started publicising Blackman's disappearance on July 13, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair made mention of the case during an official visit to Japan, where he met with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. An information hotline was staffed by British ex-pats, and an anonymous businessman funded a reward of £100,000.
On February 9, 2001, Blackman's dismembered body was found, buried in a shallow grave under a bathtub in a seaside cave at Miura, Kanagawa, about 30 miles south of Tokyo, just a few hundred metres from Obara's apartment. The body had been cut into eight pieces. Her head had been shaved and encased in concrete. The discovery of the body was too late to determine the cause of the death.
In October 2000, Obara was arrested and charged with drugging, raping, and killing Lucie Blackman and another hostess, 21-year-old Australian model Carita Ridgway, who was drugged by Obara and died of a chloroform overdose on February 29, 1992. Obara was also charged with raping six other women. According to the indictment, he made Lucie a drink containing a drug before raping her at a condominium in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, and she subsequently died.
Obara has maintained his innocence, claiming the drugs that caused her to die were self-administered.
Trial and verdict
On April 24, 2007, Obara was jailed for life on multiple rape charges and one manslaughter, but he was acquitted of Blackman's rape and murder.
Evidence supporting his guilt of rape included the approximately 400 videos he took, which showed him engaged in date rape activities. For the charge of manslaughter of Carita Ridgway, the prosecutor produced an autopsy report showing traces of chloroform in Ridgway's liver and a paper trail showing that the accused accompanied Ridgway to the hospital before she died. In Blackman's case, however, the prosecutor could not produce any forensic evidence linking the accused to her death. Even her cause of death could not be determined, as discussed below.
The judge stated that in deciding on the sentence he did not attach much importance to Obara’s payment of “consolation money” to a number of his victims.
The Japanese judicial system has received some criticism for its handling of the case. It is believed that the police did not take this missing person case seriously "because Lucie was working illegally in a job from which women often flee without notice". As a result, the discovery of the body came too late to determine the cause of the death. The verdict by a panel of three judges cited the lack of forensic evidence as a reason for acquittal. Some foreign media from common law countries also criticised the police for having leaked information in the case to the press that could cause a mistrial. However, as the Japanese civil law system did not, at that time, use juries, this could not be grounds for a mistrial.
Former prosecutor Takeshi Tsuchimoto, now a professor of criminal procedure law at Hakuoh University Law School, criticised the decision to acquit Obara for the murder of Lucie Blackman by pointing to the conviction of Masumi Hayashi due to circumstantial evidence.
The public prosecutor appealed the Blackman-related verdicts, as crucial forensic evidence had not been heard at the original trial, and on March 25, 2008, an appeal trial commenced in the Tokyo High Court. Tokyo's High Court found Obara guilty on the counts of abduction, dismemberment and disposal of Blackman's body on December 16, 2008.
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