Muroran Female High School Student Disappearance

The following excerpt is from Kaihan: Bizarre Crimes That Shook Japan, where you can find more cases such as this:

On March 6, 2001, 16-year-old Chida Asami called the bakery she worked at part-time to inform them she would be in soon to take a coffee-making course. A brilliant student from the nearby Hokkaido Muroransakae High School, Chida had the day off thanks to entrance exams taking place at school that same day.

It was a Tuesday. Chida was in the apartment she shared with her parents and younger brother in Hakuchodai, roughly seven kilometres from the bakery in Nakajimacho. Chida normally worked at the branch store across the road from her apartment, but friends claimed she wanted to work at the bakery’s head branch which was closer to school and thus more convenient for her to reach after. She hoped that taking the coffee course at the head store would help her do that.

A female employee of the head bakery answered Chida’s call around 11:30 a.m. Chida explained she would be at the store sometime around 1 p.m. that day and asked if the owner was in. He wasn’t at the time, but he would come in to see her. Chida then hung up and set out to reach the bakery. Her actions immediately following this call proved confusing, however, and to this day still haven’t been explained.

There was a bus stop directly in front of Chida’s apartment, yet rather than getting on the bus here, Chida walked all the way to a further stop and got on there instead. Being a day off, Chida was not in her school uniform, but rather dressed in jeans, a beige blazer, Burberry scarf, and green leather shoes. She looked like any other regular woman heading out for the day; meaning she blended into the crowd more easily than if she had been in school uniform.

After stopping at a convenience store, Chida got on the bus at Hakuchodai Central around 12:25 p.m. Here a friend saw her, and Chida waved to her from the back of the bus. The bus was heading for Higashimachi Terminal, a bus stop outside Chida’s high school. At 12:56 p.m., the bus stopped at Higashidoori, the bus stop immediately next to the bakery. This had Chida right on time for her scheduled 1 p.m. arrival, and yet, she didn’t get off the bus.

Chida eventually got off three stops later, sometime after 1 p.m. She entered the nearby Muroran Saty mall and was seen on security cameras browsing makeup from 1:04 to 1:26 p.m. She showed no signs of being in a rush; on the contrary, she appeared relaxed and took her time looking through items and exploring the store. Chida’s appointment at the bakery was 1 p.m. The bus she took got her there on time, and yet she went right past it and took her time browsing the nearby mall instead. Why?
After leaving the mall, Chida was spotted by two male classmates. They waved at her from across the road and she waved back. Chida got back on the bus heading towards the bakery at 1:31 p.m., and it’s believed she got off at Higashidoori at the scheduled 1:41 p.m. stop. It’s believed because nobody knows for certain. Her two classmates were the last people known to have seen her in public.

At 1:42 p.m., immediately after Chida got off the bus, she received a call from her boyfriend on her PHS (personal handy-phone system, a type of cordless telephone that works well in dense urban areas with many receivers, but less so in rural areas with fewer receivers). She informed him that she’d just arrived at “Shimo,” local slang for the downtown area the bakery was in. It’s important to note at this point that the bus stop was literally next door to the bakery, barely 10 metres away from the shop’s entrance. Her boyfriend called her again four minutes later, but this time Chida informed him, “I can’t talk right now, so I’ll call you back.” This was the last anyone ever heard of her.

The calls made to Chida’s PHS confirmed she was in the area at the time, although they could not pinpoint an exact location. The receiver box for the PHS when she got the calls sat above the bus stop, meaning she was within a 100 metre radius of it at the time. Yet instead of entering the bakery, just a few short metres away, Chida seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth instead.

So, what happened? Was Chida murdered? Abducted? How could her disappearance be reconciled with her strange behaviour beforehand?

Chida was a grade A student. Muroransakae High School was one of the best in the area, often sending its students to top-class universities, and Chida was considered one of the best students there. Not only was she intelligent, but she was both pretty and popular, with numerous male admirers and, apparently, even a stalker. Chida had revealed to both her branch manager and head bakery owner that she was having troubles with an unwanted admirer, but because this was taking place mostly over text messages and phone calls, she herself wasn’t hugely concerned by it. Yet the fact remained that Chida was popular. Very popular.

When Chida’s boyfriend tried calling her again, he was unable to get through to her PHS. According to the bakery owner, he went home at 1:30 p.m. after Chida hadn’t shown up, claiming he felt “unwell.” When Chida didn’t arrive home that night, her parents grew worried and contacted the police. The police were slow to respond, however, and many have criticised them over the years for this fact, blaming them for botching the investigation and potentially letting the criminal slip through their fingers.

In most missing person cases, the police use sniffer dogs in an attempt to locate the missing person. Yet the police carried out no such search for Chida, and angry outcries from the public have accused them of not treating the initial case seriously. Because Chida was a high school girl, perhaps they thought that “teenagers often do this sort of thing” and she would return on her own. Had the police taken the sniffer dogs out to find her right away, the chance of locating her would have been much higher. Yet they did nothing, and the trail immediately went cold.

It wasn’t until March 18, two weeks later, that the police officially announced Chida’s disappearance. One week after that, on March 24, they distributed thousands of missing person leaflets throughout the city, yet they were again criticised for the small number of leaflets they handed out. During this time they also investigated those closest to Chida, and one person in particular stood out as a suspect: the head bakery owner, the man Chida was going to meet.

The baker owner was suspicious for several reasons. First, he had no alibi for Chida’s time of disappearance. By his own admission, he left the bakery at 1:30 p.m. after Chida didn’t show up for her 1 p.m. appointment. He claimed he “wasn’t feeling well” and went home to sleep. Investigations revealed that the man owned not just the bakery, but the entire building the bakery was located in; the first floor held the bakery front and kitchen, while the second and third floors each held three rental apartments apiece. Of those, two were empty. A small parking lot in the rear of the building was also largely secluded from the public and difficult to see from the street.
One possibility considered was that the owner had kidnapped Chida and hidden her in one of the empty rooms above the bakery before moving her elsewhere. Police held and questioned the owner for three days, searching both his private home and businesses, but they couldn’t find a single thing linking him to the disappearance. In the end he was released without charge, but the police kept him in their sights.

One year later, the owner closed the bakery and moved to a new area before filing for bankruptcy. The building in question was auctioned and sold to a new owner, and the former owner’s private residence was demolished. Not only was the house demolished, but the former owner called in heavy machinery to dig up the foundations. Was Chida buried beneath the house? No evidence was ever unearthed, but the owner remained high on the police’s suspect list. In fact, he was generally considered to be the only real suspect. But that didn’t mean there weren’t others.

Chida’s boyfriend was also briefly considered. The timing of his call right as Chida got off the bus, and then again a few minutes later, moments before she disappeared, seemed almost too convenient. Like he was trying to create an alibi for himself. In addition, few people in Chida’s circle of friends knew of his existence. Why did she keep him a secret from them? Yet this line of reasoning also went nowhere, as there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on the man’s part, only the suspicious timing of his calls.

With the bakery owner and Chida’s boyfriend ruled out due to lack of evidence, the police were not only at a loss, they found themselves confronted with all sorts of contradictory information. Chida started working part time at the bakery’s branch store in December 2000. She’d only been working there four months at the time of her disappearance. According to staff who worked there at the time, the bakery had no “coffee course.” If no such course existed, why was Chida heading to work in the first place? Why did the owner agree to meet her for a course that didn’t exist? And why did she overshoot her bus stop, spend time walking around a nearby mall, and then return over 40 minutes later before disappearing into thin air?

Another point of confusion was Chida’s last call to her boyfriend. She told him that she couldn’t talk at that moment and would call him back. Her boyfriend claimed that it sounded like she was inside a building. That it was quiet. At the time, construction was taking place on the building opposite the bakery, with many large trucks coming and going all day, in addition to the usual noise of construction work. This should have been picked up on the call if she was outside, but he claimed to hear nothing. In the three minutes after his first call to her, Chida had moved somewhere quiet enough that the sounds of nearby construction were drowned out. She didn’t enter the bakery; none of the staff saw her in the front nor in the kitchen. The majority of nearby buildings were private apartments, and she was not captured on the security cameras of any stores. So, where was she?

The media claimed that Chida disappeared in broad daylight from a busy public area, but this was not true. While the bus stop was on was a main thoroughfare, the rest of the area was full of small side streets that saw little human traffic. The local hospital was also just a few streets away, behind which lay a massive forest; the perfect place to disappear in. Police did search the forest, but they found no sign of Chida’s body, nor that she had been there to begin with.

With construction taking place across the road, numerous large trucks were coming and going all day, in addition to delivery vehicles for the bakery (which may or may not have used the hidden car park to the rear of the building). Any of these vehicles could have potentially abducted Chida and ferried her out of sight before anyone realised. Everything had to be considered.

Another theory proposed that Chida faked her own disappearance. Although she got good grades and went to one of the best schools in the area, it was said that Chida had no ambitions of entering a top level university; rather, she wanted to enter nursing school. It was suggested that perhaps her parents had other wishes and were pressuring her, although there was never any proof of this. On the contrary, the Chida family appeared to get along quite well. Yet there were also (unsubstantiated) rumours that they may have been having money troubles, and that the reason Chida even began her bakery job—according to the theory—was to save money so she could run away. And yet no proof was ever discovered of the family having money troubles.

Friends also claimed that Chida was a methodical notebook keeper. At the time of her disappearance, her notebook was still in the house. Suspiciously, it disappeared soon thereafter. Yet there was no sign that Chida was depressed or troubled, nor was there any real evidence to suggest that she had been planning to make herself disappear due to family troubles, financial troubles, or otherwise.

Yet another possibility was that North Koreans had abducted her. She wouldn’t have been the first person abducted from Hokkaido, nor the first to have been snatched in broad daylight from a public area. Eyewitness reports placed a person who looked similar to Chida at Itanki Beach (a few kilometres away) the very next day, lending more support to the theory. The Japanese government currently only recognises 17 abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea, but the National Police Agency claims that the real number could be as high as 879. People targeted for abduction were often young and female. Could Chida be amongst the numerous potential abductees? Nobody knows for sure. There are too many strange elements regarding her case that confuse matters.

With a lack of evidence as to her whereabouts, it didn’t take long for outlandish rumours to start spreading. One story claimed that Chida’s body was disposed of in Horobetsu Dam, roughly 10 kilometres away. Others claimed to see her hanging around local parks. Others said she’d taken on a new name and was living in a different city. Another story claimed that the bakery branch owner—the store across the road from Chida’s house—committed suicide after her disappearance, possibly implicating him in it. Yet none of these rumours were ever substantiated, and to this day, nobody knows what happened to her.

You can still find missing person’s posters for Chida around the area she disappeared, and officially, the case remains open.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: