On October 11, 2000, a serial rapist named Joji Obara was arrested in Tokyo for the murders of bar hostess Lucie Blackman and Australian model Carita Ridgeway.
At the time of his arrest, he was also charged with raping six other women. Obara, a wealthy property developer, was reported to have an obsession with raping unconscious Western women.
The case would shock the country of Japan, which has a very low violent crime rate, and illuminate the potential dangers faced by young women who work as bar hostesses in Tokyo nightclubs.
Lucie Blackman was a 21-year-old English woman who had previously worked as a flight attendant for British Airways, and came to Japan to see the world. She soon found work as a hostess at the Casablanca nightclub in Roppong.
Very loosely descended from the geisha house tradition, hostess bars hire out women by the hour to act as companions for customers. They are not prostitutes — they are more like paid, platonic girlfriends — but some will accept outside dates with customers.
On July 1, 2000, Blackman went on a douhan — or paid date — with Obara, who had offered her a prepaid mobile phone if she would accompany him to a restaurant near the beach.
Her roommate Louise Phillips was still in bed in their room when she left, but told investigators that they had plans to meet that evening along with Blackman’s boyfriend Scott Fraser, a U.S. Marine stationed on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kittyhawk.
Blackman called Phillips at 7:00 P.M. and told her that she would be back in half an hour from her date, whose name she did not give Phillips. She was never heard from again.
Prosecutors later said the call was traced to a prepaid cell phone bought by Joji Obara.
On January 10, 2001, Blackman’s dismembered body was found, buried in a shallow grave under a bathtub in a seaside cave around 30 miles south of Tokyo, just a few hundred meters from Obara’s apartment. Her body had been cut into eight pieces, and her head was shaved and encased in concrete.
When police searched Obara’s residence, they found over 200 sex videos that showed him molesting women, sometimes while wearing a facemask.
One of them was 21-year-old Australian model Carita Ridgeway, who had died in hospital in 1992. Police said Obara was the man who accompanied her there.
“In Carita’s case, he had used chloroform to knock her out and then filmed himself raping her. She’d died of liver failure. Her parents had been told it was food poisoning,” journalist Jake Adelstein, who went undercover in Roppongi nightclubs to investigate the case, wrote in his book Tokyo Vice.
Police also found numerous journals, where Obara wrote about “conquer play” and the revenge he took on women who were “only good for sex” when drugged with chloroform.
Blackman’s mysterious death and disappearance, as well as Obara’s trial, received high press coverage in Japan as well as internationally — especially in the British media.
However, Blackman was not the first foreign woman employed in Japan’s mizu shōbai (literally “water trade“) to disappear — and many people criticized Japanese police for not taking the missing persons case seriously.
As a result of the publicity surrounding Lucie’s case, three foreign women came forward to describe waking up sore and sick in Obara’s bed, with no memory of the night before. The women claimed that they had reported the incidents to police, but been ignored.
According to Obara’s indictment, he made Lucie a drink containing a drug before raping her, and she later died. But he has maintained his innocence and said that she took the drugs that caused her to die herself.
The case made headlines again when Tim Blackman, Lucie Blackman’s father, accepted £450,000 in mimaikin — or condolence money — from a friend of Joji Obara.
The other members of the family were against the acceptance of the money since, under Japanese law, a gift made by the those who confess their guilt to the victim’s relatives may be taken into consideration by judges when sentencing.
On April 24, 2007, Obara was jailed for life on multiple rape charges and one manslaughter charge, but he was acquitted of the crime of Blackman’s rape and murder.
The date rape claims could be backed up by the videos he took and, in the case of Ridgeway, the prosecutor was able to prove manslaughter by producing an autopsy report showing traces of chloroform in Ridgeway’s liver.
In Blackman’s case, however, the prosecutor could not produce any forensic evidence linking the accused to her death.
The public prosecutor has appealed the Blackman-related verdicts and on March 25, 2008, an appeal trial commenced in the Tokyo High Court, which found Obara guilty on some counts on December 16, 2008.
Hostess clubs – and “host” clubs that cater to female clientele – continue to make big money in Tokyo.
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Main photo: Lucie Blackman [Joji Obara, The Lucie Blackman Murder : Serial Killer Documentary – Serial Killers Around The World / YouTube (screenshot)]