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."
The hunt for Lindsay Hawker's suspected killer began in Tokyo, but he escaped capture. Police have issued an arrest warrant in his case, for abandoning a body. Authorities say they've received 3,000 tips as to where the suspect may be. Some unsubstantiated reports believe Ichihashi fled to Canada or the United States.
It took much longer for the Blackman family to learn about the circumstances surrounding their daughter's death. Eight months after she disappeared, Lucie's dismembered body was found in a cave, some 30 miles from Tokyo, near the sea.
Lucie had worked in one of Tokyo's numerous hostess clubs, a uniquely Japanese setting that became central to the mystery around her disappearance. When she vanished, police theorized that a hostess club client may have wanted more from her than he got in the club.
The investigation led authorities to a seaside condominium and its owner, real estate millionaire Joji Obara — a bachelor who had a taste for expensive boats, flashy cars and Western women.
Obara had been arrested in a separate rape case, and eight women eventually came forward to say he'd drugged them, raped them and videotaped himself doing so.
"He videotaped at least 50 of these occasions," said Jonathan Watts, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper. "The women recall waking up the next day and being told by Joji Obara, 'you drank too much last night. I put you to bed. I hope you don't mind. Here's some money 'cause you missed a whole day's work.'"
Obara maintained the sex was always consensual. But once he was in custody on the rape charges, police began to connect him to Lucie Blackman.
As police investigating Blackman's disappearance searched Obara's numerous properties, there were leaks about developing evidence — sources said telephone records showed Blackman made a call from one of his mobile phones. And Obara's seaside apartment was located less than 300 yards from where Lucie's body was eventually found.
Police gathered enough evidence against Obara to charge him in Blackman's death, and shockingly, he was also connected to the mysterious death of a young woman from Australia, Carita Ridgway, who died in 1992.
Like Blackman, Ridgway moved to Tokyo when she was 21 and began working at a hostess club. For Ridgway, hostessing allowed her to sightsee and earn extra money to put toward her dream of becoming an actress.
That was until she was dropped at a Tokyo hospital gravely ill by a man calling himself Nishita. He told doctors Carita had a violent reaction to bad shellfish, then left her at the hospital. Busy emergency room staffers had no time or reason for suspicion, but Carita's sister did.
"I asked her who this Nishita guy was and I asked her what had happened ... she couldn't answer anything," said Samantha Ridgway, who was living with Carita at the time. "All she did was put her hand out. She just wanted her hand held."
When Ridgway's parents arrived in Japan, the family's requests for an investigation into the mysterious Nishita were, they say, ignored by both the Australian embassy and the Tokyo police.
Ridgway was moved to a second hospital, and her family was told she had suffered liver failure, was in a coma, brain dead and on life support.
"We decided, you know, we can't keep her like that, so just turn it off and let her, you know, die peacefully," said Samantha. "Which it was. Very peaceful."
Carita was cremated on the day before her 22nd birthday, and her ashes were brought back to Australia, but whatever peace the family made with her death over time was shattered seven years later when Lucie Blackman's remains were found.
After an arrest was made in the Blackman case, Ridgway's family was told that the so-called Mr. Nishita, who had brought Ridgway to the hospital, was really Joji Obara, who was being charged with killing Lucie Blackman, and was suspected in administering a fatal dose of chloroform to Ridgway.
Among the evidence police found in their search of Obara's homes was a diary note that read, "Carita Ridgway, too much chloroform," and a videotape of Obara raping her.
"They could have caught him then," said Samantha Ridgway.
Obara's trial lasted for almost seven years, a length not unusual for complex cases in Japan. On April 24, 2007, the verdict was announced, leaving one victim's family in utter shock and disbelief. Obara was found not guilty for Lucie Blackman's death. "The prosecution were horrified. I mean, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, you could hear their jaws dropping on their chest when the announcement was made in the court. They were devastated," said Lucie's father Tim Blackman."
For Carita Ridgway's family, the outcome would be different. Obara received a sentence of life in prison for her death.
"The verdict is what it is," said Sophie Blackman. "And, you know, the guy's going to be in prison for life. And that's what was always important, was a justice in that way. He would not be out on the streets. So, I think I decided quite quickly that that was going to have to be sufficient."
With two different verdicts, both families were still left with tremendous pain. "When you lose a child, there is no closure. It's just a buzz word, I suppose perhaps to make people feel more comfortable — there's never a day that goes by that I don't think about Carita," said her father Nigel Ridgway.
"You don't want to think someone you love died a horrible death, it makes it so much worse," said Samantha Ridgway. "You never really get over it. I'm not, I'll probably never get over it. Anytime it's ever brought up, you know, emotion wells up, it's very difficult to speak. It just won't go away, really."
Within a month of Lucie and Carita's families getting their verdict in Tokyo, Lindsay Hawker's loved ones were just beginning their ordeal. Unlike the cases surrounding Lucie and Carita's deaths, Tokyo police had an immediate suspect in Lindsay's grisly death. Ichihashi, who was able to elude capture at his apartment, is still pursued on an arrest warrant for abandoning a body.
Tokyo police official Shinya Oguma said, based on their investigation, Ichihashi is the sole suspect in the case, and Lindsay's family fears that he could be anywhere in the world.
On their family Web site devoted to Lindsay's case, they display Ichihashi's picture and information surrounding the case. They want as many eyes on his face as possible so that justice can be served for Lindsay. But when and if that day comes, and Ichihashi is captured, Lindsay's family says peace would be hard to perceive: "We'll never have peace, but we'll have a little bit more peace if this man is caught. Our world will never be the same again."
Lindsay Hawker's Web site is www.lindsayannhawker.com
Lucie Blackman's Web site is www.lucieblackmantrust.org