Feb. 29, 2008— -- Thousands of young people head out into the world to travel, study or work abroad. Most have positive experiences, but three 21-year-olds who left their childhood homes looking for adventure in Tokyo did not come home alive. They were strangers whose families became connected by tragedy.
Lindsay Hawker, the oldest of three sisters from Warwickshire, England, went to Japan to work as an English teacher. She chose to experience a country steeped in tradition and, as researched by her parents, a place thought as one of the safest destinations in the world.
"She wouldn't stop going on about how lovely the people were, how respectful they were, just a completely different way of life," said Lindsay's sister Lisa. "And she embraced it fully. She absolutely loved it."
Lindsay's decision to go to Japan certainly looked like a happy one in videos she sent home. But on a March Sunday last year, communication from Lindsay suddenly stopped.
"I e-mailed her and I didn't get a response, and so I texted her on her mobile phone and didn't get a response," said her mother Julia. "I said, 'I just feel something's terribly, terribly wrong.' I couldn't sleep, I was up nearly all night."
After Lindsay failed to show up at work for two days, the Hawkers contacted the British embassy in Japan and she was declared a missing person.
"It's the worst thing that can happen to any parent," said Lindsay's father Bill. "You know, it's the worst news any parent can get."
Lindsay had disappeared in a crowded and mysterious foreign culture a world away, but her disappearance was an eerie echo of another 21-year-old British woman, Lucie Blackman, who vanished there seven years earlier. Lucie's father, Tim, quickly reached out to the Hawker family to offer advice on how they should proceed.
"Tim Blackman has offered us lots of advice and help," said Bill Hawker. "He's been very helpful."
The Hawkers, like the Blackmans before them, faced a personal trauma unfolding in a culture they didn't understand and in a language they didn't speak.
"It's horrifying to think that another family is facing what we had to face," said Lucie's mother Sophie. "And in such similar circumstances."
The Blackmans had focused on getting the press on their side when their daughter went missing.
"We wanted to get them interested in Lucie's case so that on primetime TV in the evening, Lucie's face would pop up," Tim Blackman said.
Despite their efforts to publicize the case, the Blackman family heard nothing.
For Lindsay Hawker's family, things would move more quickly but with stunning similarity. The morning after they heard she was missing, authorities came to the house to tell the Hawkers that Lindsay's body had been found, buried in sand in a bathtub on the balcony of the Tokyo apartment of a 29-year-old horticultural student named Tatsuya Ichihashi, who had taken an English lesson from her. Ichihashi immediately became a suspect in the murder.
Ichihashi had been obsessively pursuing Lindsay, asking her for English lessons, even showing up outside of her apartment. Lindsay agreed to give him a lesson but only at a public location. She told her friends that she'd be giving Ichihashi an English lesson at a café. Security cameras there captured the meeting on the last day anyone would see Lindsay alive.
When Lindsay vanished, Ichihashi's name was the first to surface. Nine officers were sent to his apartment where Lindsay's body was discovered bruised, head shaved, immersed in a bathtub covered with sand, placed on his balcony.
"My world stopped when I found that she died," said her sister Louise. "And then the world stopped twice when I found out that she'd been murdered and that she had suffered pain."
Bill Hawker flew to Japan where he held a press conference. "Lindsay did not come here to be murdered," he said. "She came here to help people. She came here to teach."
"I have to look back, and look at 22 years of a beautiful daughter," he told ABC News. "I try to blank out probably the last 12 hours of her life. She just met evil. She just met the most evil thing in the world."
The Hawkers were caught in a delicate balance of trying to make sure the investigation moved forward, while trying not to offend the only people likely to catch their daughter's killer. In contrast to American and British authorities, Japanese police share very little information with a victim's family.
"It's heartbreaking, because you're dealing with the loss of one of the most important people in your life, and you feel very isolated and very afraid," said Julie Hawker. "We're just very ordinary, normal people with a wonderful daughter who went over there to teach, and we feel as if we're being treated as if we don't have any rights or any entitlement to any information."