Tatsuhiro & Keiko

Date of Alleged Crime:  July 22, 1995

Shimada Tatsuhiro and his common law wife, Aoki Keiko, were both sentenced to life imprisonment for the arson murder of Keiko's daughter. On the day of the alleged crime, Tatsuhiro filled the gas tank of his van before returning to his home in the Higashi-Sumiyoshi ward of Osaka. Ten minutes later he smelled smoke and noticed a small fire in the garage under his van. Tatsuhiro searched for a fire extinguisher, but the fire quickly grew and spread. Keiko's daughter died in the fire after being overcome by smoke in a first floor bathroom. Keiko had 15 million yen life insurance policies on both her children. Life insurance on children was not uncommon, but 5 million yen and 10 million yen policies were more typical. The couple had no financial difficulties at the time of the blaze.

The fire investigation produced no suspicious findings, although police found out that Tatsuhiro was a Korean, a possibly discriminatory fact that was not even known to Keiko's father. On Sept. 10, six weeks after the fire, the police separately interrogated both Tatsuhiro and Keiko and demanded that they confess to arson, murder, and insurance fraud. Police hit Tatsuhiro's head, kicked his knees, and applied chokeholds. Keiko was subjected to similar treatment. Both broke down and signed written confessions. Unlike other industrialized nations, interrogations have a unique importance in Japan as suspects have no right to summon legal counsel. In a Japanese magazine, a foreigner who had problems with the law advised revealingly, “If you did it, confess. If you didn't, fight.” Despite police reliance on confessions, the Japanese Constitution prohibits convictions based solely on confessions. Nevertheless, 99.5% of defendants brought to trial are convicted.

Police alleged that on the day of the fire, Tatsuhiro stopped in a local store and bought a plastic pump of the kind used for kerosene heaters in the winter. Upon arriving home, police alleged he parked the van, pumped out six or seven liters of gasoline, laid the pump under the van, and ignited the fire with a disposable lighter. To support their theory, police commissioned a reenactment blaze, but the results differed from the actual blaze. All evidence showed that the actual blaze started small and gradually grew in size.

In a report, an investigator stated what he thought was the most probable cause of the blaze. He suggested that the overfilled van leaked gas from a crack in the fuel line, which was then ignited by sparks from an air compressor that was in the garage. Manufacturers had recalled the air compressor for the spark problem in 1991. The storeowner who allegedly sold Tatsuhiro the plastic kerosene pump did not remember him buying one nor, for that matter, of any customer ever requesting one in the middle of summer.  [6/07]


Reference:  The Higashi-Sumiyoshi Case: A Case of Voluntary Confessions?

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Cases in Other Countries, Arson Murder Cases, Coerced Confessions, Son/Daughter Murder Cases